Brewers in danger of losing everything, call for Ramaphosa to lift booze ban

06 January 2021 - 14:45
By nonkululeko njilo AND Nonkululeko Njilo
Some small businesses and craft breweries are on the verge of collapse due to the third alcohol ban, says the Beer Association of South Africa. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/VLADISLAVS GORNIKS Some small businesses and craft breweries are on the verge of collapse due to the third alcohol ban, says the Beer Association of South Africa. Stock photo.

The survival of small business owners and craft breweries is in peril due to the alcohol ban, says the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa). The association on Wednesday issued an urgent call to President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the ban.

The booze ban, which came into effect on December 28, has had a devastating impact on the industry and forced some members to dip into their savings. But these have now been depleted in some cases, leaving them in desperate need of financial relief.

“The third ban is devastating to craft brewers, who are small businesses owners who work within small margins, always putting the welfare of their staff before their own. It is now no longer a question of keeping businesses open – it has become a question of whether business owners, their employees and families will have any food to eat this month,” said Wendy Pienaar, CEO of the Craft Brewers Association South Africa (CBASA).

“To make things worse, these craft brewers are the same people who stepped up during the hard lockdown last year by producing soup and stew in their brewhouses from donated vegetables to feed more than two million hungry people, while also manufacturing sanitiser to help fight Covid-19.

“It is heart-breaking to receive calls from brewers who are now in danger of losing everything.”

The association said it was aware of the severity of the Covid-19 crisis and understood the difficulties faced by both the government and citizens as infections surged. It expressed an interest in working with the government to save lives and livelihoods.   

One of the most affected business owners is Lethu Tshabangu, the owner of Ukhamba Beerworx, who recently opened a new taproom at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. He has incurred R300,000 in debt and has rental fees which he cannot afford to pay as he is unable to sell. 

He is concerned for the education of his children. Without any sales, there has been no income - and he does not know how he will pay for his daughter to start her first year of high school in 2021, the association said.

“We need to fight Covid-19 without starting other fires – you don’t bring a snake into your home because you have a problem with rats. The president is protecting us from Covid-19, only to kill us with hunger because we are not allowed to work,” said Tshabangu.

“The government has condemned my livelihood, and those of my employees, whose jobs meant a great deal to them – they also have families and children to feed.”

Another hard-hit business owner, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, SA's first black female brewery owner, of Brewsters Craft, said she had no idea how they will make it through this third ban.

“I am hoping we can re-open to make a few sales so that we can at least pay our employees something. But I have had to make them aware to not expect much at month-end - that is our reality.”

The situation faced by small business owners and craft brewers is dire. The last two alcohol bans had a devastating impact on the beer industry, with an estimated 7,400 jobs lost, R14.2bn in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.4bn loss in taxes and excise duties, according to Pienaar. 

CBASA said it was appealing to Ramaphosa to consider the plight of craft brewers by not extending the blanket ban on alcohol beyond January 15.   

The association has proposed that alcohol be sold through safe alternatives, such as the use of click-and-collect platforms to assist in ensuring the safety of consumers.

CBASA said the current curfew (9pm to 6am) should remain in effect, along with the 8pm closing time for businesses.  

“This, together with a ban on gatherings, increased policing and enforcement, will ensure that we protect lives and livelihoods while we fight the spread of the virus.”