Rumours abound of fresh alcohol ban but presidency says not 'at this point'

08 June 2020 - 15:56 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
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People queue outside a Liquor City on Beyers Naude Drive in Johannesburg before its 9am opening on Monday June 1.
People queue outside a Liquor City on Beyers Naude Drive in Johannesburg before its 9am opening on Monday June 1.
Image: Kgaugelo Masweneng

As WhatsApp rumours surfaced that the ban on the sale of alcohol would be reinstated, customers rushed to liquor stores to stock up on Monday.

However, the presidency said on Monday afternoon that there had not been any calls to reinstate the ban on alcohol sales. This comes as a number of voicenotes were circulating claiming that the government was going to reinstate the ban on alcohol sales this week.

The ban on sales was lifted under level 3 of the lockdown, but sales are only allowed from Monday to Thursday.

“No such calls have been tabled before the national coronavirus command council at this point,” said presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko in response to questions on Monday.

Cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) spokesperson Mlungisi Mtshali was quoted by Caxton as saying that the government had not taken a decision to reverse the ban. The department, through minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is responsible for gazetting the Disaster Management Act regulations.

It seems that many people are reacting to the rumours and stocking up.

A Liquor City in Ferndale, Johannesburg, was already closed when TimesLIVE visited, with customers seen lining up inside with their trolleys.

An employee said the store had been busy since 11am on Monday.

"As soon as the rumour surfaces, people came in droves to buy alcohol. It looks like people are stocking up. I think someone is spreading an unnecessary rumour. This is good for business, but if we run out of alcohol we will be forced to close because we won't get stock for the next three weeks," said the man, who asked not be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

He said there were about 20 people inside the store at the time of TimesLIVE's visit.

South Africans have been unable to purchase cigarettes since the start of the nationwide lockdown on March 26 2020. The restaurant business has been severely affected by the lockdown and some of those in the industry who are now jobless have resorted to trading illicit cigarettes as a means of survival.

Sandiswa Mahabeni, who was still wearing her work uniform, said she heard last week the speculation that liquor stores would be closed on Wednesday.

"I heard last week that they are closing on Wednesday. I'm here to get a few items," she said. Her trolley had bottles of gin and ciders.

Another customer, who did not want to be named said, he was also aware of talk that liquor stores would be closed.

"It's the reason I'm here. It's the reason everyone is here. It could be someone who thought let's start a rumour to boost alcohol sales," the man said. "This is causing panic."

He bought two cases of beer, two of ciders, bottles of whiskey and wine.

Meanwhile, in Durban, an employee at a bottle store said they had been busy on Monday and had heard the speculation, but nothing official had come through to staff.


'Alcohol is a problem generally'

In one of the circulating voicenotes, an unidentified man claimed his “captain” - an apparent reference to a police officer, but even this was not detailed - was a member of the national command council and confirmed that the ban would be put back in place.

Another voicenote was from a woman - again unidentified - saying that “a friend of a friend who is a manager at a Spar liquors” received an e-mail stating that the ban would be put in place again this week.

On Monday, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane told eNCA that the government was considering lobbying for a ban on the sale of alcohol in the province.

“Alcohol is a problem generally. In our command council as a province, we said we must lobby to close down this problem,” he said, adding that they were concerned about the way in which some people had celebrated last week's lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol.

Also on Monday, Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku said the return of the sale and consumption of alcohol had put a “massive strain” on emergency departments at hospitals in the province.

“It is something of great concern because now we have to navigate in terms of the competing needs of the resources that we have,” he said while visiting schools that reopened on Monday.

Masuku said these concerns would be raised with the national and provincial command councils on the coronavirus to ensure the strict regulation of alcohol.

A senior ranking Cogta official in KZN said there had been discussions regarding stopping alcohol sales again, with the driving factor being the number of fatal accidents since the ban was lifted. However, he stressed no action had been taken at this point.

EFF leader Julius Malema has also strongly opposed the lifting of the ban on alcohol sales, while Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has been on a campaign for an alcohol-free SA.

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