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Cape Town restaurateurs slam state for stalling court battle against booze ban

11 August 2020 - 17:47 By Philani Nombembe
Western Cape restaurateurs have accused the government and cooperative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of unfairly delaying the lawsuit seeking the unbanning of alcohol sales
Western Cape restaurateurs have accused the government and cooperative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of unfairly delaying the lawsuit seeking the unbanning of alcohol sales
Image: GCIS

Cape Town restaurateurs embroiled in a legal fight to lift the ban on alcohol sales have accused the government of spoiling the broth.

The lawsuit — brought by 10 restaurateurs against cooperative governance & traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the ministers of tourism and health — was set down for Tuesday in the high court in Cape Town, but was postponed.

Liam Tomlin, one of the litigants, cried foul after the matter, which had been brought on an urgent basis, was shifted back two weeks.

“It is with a strong mixture of disappointment and anger that we unfortunately have to report that the government and its (nine) advocates have used legal technical delay tactics to force a postponement of our court matter scheduled for August 11,” said Tomlin.

“The matter will now be heard in (two) weeks’ time, on August 25 and 26, in the Cape Town high court. The predominant reason for the postponement is government is fighting with all its might.”

Tomlin said apart from challenging the countrywide ban, the restaurateurs are also “pursuing an order with more limited effect to declare it as such  only in the Western Cape” should be court be unwilling to grant an order for the entire country.

“This must have frightened the hell out of them,” he said. “They immediately clambered for the postponement to take this up with Dr Dlamini-Zuma. This notwithstanding the fact that the minister has already considered that option and came out strongly in her affidavit before court, stating brazenly that it against government policy to lift the ban in any province without also lifting it throughout SA, which is absolutely astonishing and unconstitutional.”

Tomlin said the litigants have spelt it out in their court papers that the province is past its Covid-19 peak.

“In the papers before court, we have made out a proper case that the Western Cape had its coronavirus peak as long ago as mid-June and had, ever since, daily reported substantially lower infections rates, all signs of excellent recovery. Public medical services in the Western Cape, even at the peak of the virus, public hospitals and medical services were under pressure but never overwhelmed and, even then, never reached capacity in the province,” he said.

“We are particularly concerned that the government has, in its affidavits filed in court  through Dr Dlamini-Zuma, declared it to be dead against government policy to release some provinces from the Covid-19 regulations and others not. This is unconstitutional and unlawful.”

Tomlin laid into the ANC and Eastern Cape province.

“For the government to insist to keep the Western Cape and possibly other provinces,  where the pandemic does not present any critical health threat at present, still under the harsh restrictive regulations which have a devastating effect on business and jobs until the last province — probably the Eastern Cape, where medical services are falling apart due to decades of neglect and corruption in the public medical field and in government in general — has also recovered, is atrocious and shocking,” he said.

“Worryingly, this makes it clear the government ranks party politics above the constitution and the rights of the people of SA. It appears the main reason for them to refuse to relieve the Western Cape from the unnecessary continuation of the draconian  ban on the sale of liquor, and the curfew regulations, is to be found in nothing other than the fact that the Western Cape, led by a DA government, has put the ANC to shame on their poor preparation of public medical services.”

In her affidavit, Dlamini-Zuma said the high number of alcohol-related trauma patients put a strain on SA’s health facilities. She said this hampers Covid-19 treatment.

“All indications from independent health experts, provincial health MECs, the department of health and health workers on the ground, were that our health-care system was getting overwhelmed and being placed under significant strain,” her affidavit reads.

“One of the primary barriers to treating Covid-19 patients efficiently and effectively was the fact that emergency centres and hospitals were again experiencing a high number of alcohol-related trauma patients, and were facing continuing demand in this regard. This was contrary to what had been experienced during the previous prohibition on the sale of alcohol during levels 5 and 4, when there was a significant drop in trauma patients, more particularly alcohol-related trauma patients at emergency centres and medical health facilities.

“These facilities were once again besieged by alcohol-related trauma patients, placing tremendous burden on our health-care personnel and beds available at hospitals and emergency centres, both in ICU and other wards. Stricter measures that would yield immediate results needed to be put in place to avoid the health-care system being overwhelmed..”

The ANC in the Western Cape weighed in on the debate. The party’s caucus leader in the provincial legislature, Cameron Dugmore, said the party had noted premier Alan Winde’s call on the national government to lift the ban in the province.

“The statement followed a provincial executive meeting on Friday that resolved the Western Cape has flattened the Covid-19 curve sufficiently to support the opening of the economy safely, including lifting the ban on alcohol sales in the province,” said Dugmore.

“The ANC wishes to remind the premier that he again runs the risk of repeating the mistake he committed in April, which resulted in the Western Cape becoming the Covid-19 epicentre of the country and continent. While both the infection rate and death toll are decreasing, the full reopening of the economy and the lifting of the ban on alcohol sales are likely to accelerate a secondary wave of infections.

“The officials of the provincial health department made it clear to the legislature standing committee that they do not support the lifting of the alcohol ban. They provided evidence of the huge pressure on our hospitals during the lifting of the ban on alcohol sales. Despite this warning, premier Winde persists in making a call which has the potential to reverse the  steady progress now made.”