'Alcohol is everywhere, but expensive': lockdown's leaky prohibition

31 July 2020 - 09:00 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Suppliers of illicit alcohol are coining it as they charge double or triple the amount of booze usually sold at local stores and taverns. File photo
Suppliers of illicit alcohol are coining it as they charge double or triple the amount of booze usually sold at local stores and taverns. File photo

Despite the lockdown ban on the sale of alcohol, booze is widely obtainable from SA's illicit market — booming as profiteers charge double or triple the usual cost of liquor sold at stores and taverns.

On July 12, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the sale of alcohol was suspended with immediate effect, the second time during the coronavirus lockdown that booze has been placed on the restricted list.

While the president’s announcement left tens of thousands of South Africans seething and frustrated, suppliers of alcohol in the black market are seeing it as an opportunity to enrich themselves.

TimesLIVE spoke to men who source alcohol from the black market for both consumption and business.

Andile* told TimesLIVE in a sit-down interview that he had not stopped drinking alcohol during the prohibition.

“It’s not difficult to buy alcohol, apart from that you have to dodge the police when you come back from your supplier.

“Beer is the most easily available. It’s everywhere. The only problem is that it is expensive,” Andile said.

“We are spending a lot more [money] now. A bottle of beer that we were getting for R20, now costs R70.

“The 1-litres are the ones going for R70 and your normal [750ml] quarts are going for R50.

“A bottle [of gin or vodka] that cost R150 now costs between R400 and R600, depending on who you are buying from and what type of bottle it is.”

Andile said he bought his alcohol from people he knew.

“Some of them are friends. Some are just connections.”

He said he bought the alcohol from a “middle” man and not directly from a liquor store or tavern owner.

He spends a lot more on alcohol now. On any given day, he spends between R600 and R700 on alcohol, pooling resources and sharing with friends.

“I buy a bottle of vodka or gin. I spend the rest on buying the small sachets of whisky.

“This ban is giving other people opportunities to make money. Some people are getting rich from selling the alcohol, but it’s not helping us because we are spending more money now. The president must open the country so we can go back to spending less on alcohol,” Andile chuckles.

If I can get wine, the ladies will be running after me. I am looking into sourcing it
Lockdown liquor fixer

Lawrence* is one of Andile’s suppliers. He sells vodka.

“I am selling Smirnoff 1818. I usually get a bottle for R250 from my supplier and I sell it for R350 or R450, depending on who the client is. Myself and the other guy who is also selling, we usually buy a box that contains 12 bottles. We split the bottles and take six each.”

He charges a customer R350 if they buy three bottles.

“If you buy one bottle — because I take a risk and travel with it, I charge R450. If I get caught, I pay the police.

“My brother was caught and he gave them [police] money and a bottle of vodka and they let him go. Some cops buy from him when they want to drink,” he alleged.

“People there in Joburg [CBD] always have stock. If I run out of stock, I go to Joburg to buy. The only issue is that there are too many police officers that side, so I must be careful to not get caught.”

His customers are “everywhere”, he says.

“I approach others, even here by the parking; I tell them that I have stock.”

He makes a snap judgment call to gauge whether they are “safe” to approach. “I’m very careful of who I talk to.”

Lawrence said he was selling alcohol because he wanted to have access to it for his own consumption too.

“I drink my profit. If I am selling 10 bottles, I keep two for myself. That two costs me my profit. It’s not a matter of me being in business — it’s for me to be able to drink.”

Ban or not, Lawrence says people want to drink and they buy alcohol mostly on weekends. “Everyone wants to drink, especially from Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If I have booze now, I’ve got gold because everyone wants it,” he said.

He hopes to expand his stock to include wine and gin. “If I can get wine, the ladies will be running after me. I am looking into sourcing it.”

His sources for alcohol include liquor stores and tavern owners. “At night, they go to their shops and remove the alcohol and sell it. They sell it for double the price.”

Across the road from Lawrence, is Bheki*, who sells wine, charging R250 for a 750ml bottle.

“I sell wine, vodka and gin. Sometimes I buy a bottle of wine from my supplier for R100 or R150. I buy a box of 12 bottles. I pay R3,000 for a case of vodka or gin.”

From a box of 12 bottles of vodka or gin, Bheki makes a profit of R1,200.

“People are spending a lot on alcohol. Some are addicts and don’t mind spending a lot on it.”

His clients are his friends and people known to his friends.

Asked if he was not scared of being caught, he said: “I’m not because we drink with some of the police officers.

“The trick is to not stock too much because when they confiscate your alcohol, you will lose a lot of money. When I go buy, I carry a small amount of alcohol with me and I go back to fetch the rest in batches.”

For him, every day is a “busy” day.

Bheki said the profit he makes helps to support his family.

“There is no work these days, so I use the money to support my wife, mother and my kids. It helps me a lot because my wife works [only] 10 days a month. It’s big challenge. Sometimes you have to risk to get money. That is what life is about, taking risks.”

* Not their real names.

© TimesLIVE