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2020: The year Mzansi went sober

22 December 2020 - 15:00 By kyle zeeman
The ban on the sale of alcohol left many angry this year. Stock photo.
The ban on the sale of alcohol left many angry this year. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Somchai Jongmeesuk

If you started 2020 suggesting to your friends that SA would spend a large chunk of the year unable to buy alcohol and, when able, with certain restrictions, you would probably have been laughed at.

Yet, the global Covid-19 pandemic changed not only the way we shop and socialise, but also many people's drinking habits.

It has been a rollercoaster of a year for those who like a good wine for dinner or beer with the boys, and here's how it all went down.

Initial ban

As the coronavirus gripped the world, threatening to cripple health systems and send economies into free fall, the SA government in March announced a nationwide lockdown and a total ban on the sale of alcohol to help stop the spread of the virus locally.

Bars, taverns and shisanyamas would be shut throughout the initial 21-day lockdown period, while public spaces were also closed and all gatherings prohibited.

“Movement of alcohol will be restricted. There shall be no movement of liquor from point A to B. If we find liquor in your car's boot, that is illegal. If you break these laws, you are six months in jail or fined,” police minister Bheki Cele warned at the time.

The ban is extended

The lockdown, and restrictions on alcohol were extended by a further two weeks at the beginning of April.

The national command council which oversaw SA's response to the virus rejected the Gauteng Liquor Forum's request for a relaxation of the ban on alcohol sales.

The forum said it would not go through with its threat of legal action, but demanded to know whether the lockdown would be extended, how much longer it would last, and whether the government would extend financial assistance to unregistered shebeens.

Try this at home

The bans led to a flood of searches on the internet for recipes on how to make homemade beer, with one of the main ingredients, pineapples, selling out at some supermarkets because of demand.

BusinessLIVE reported that on the first day of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, the Johannesburg fresh produce market sold about 10,000 pineapples. On April 6 and 7 — a few days before the Easter weekend — 60,000 pineapples were sold.

Two weeks after Easter, volumes skyrocketed to 90,000 pineapples.

Ban lifted

After more than two months, the total ban was lifted in June. However, there were still restrictions prohibiting the sale of alcohol from Friday to Sunday.

It was enough to send many into euphoria, with liquor outlets registering sales to rival those of Black Friday and New Year’s Eve.

“Where we do see a big emerging trend is with online buying. Some members reported that the surge was so great that they couldn’t handle order levels, with them only able to fulfil delivery orders eight days after they were placed or having to disconnect their online systems all together,” Liquor Traders Association spokesperson Sean Robinson said at the time.

Second ban

A second ban was imposed in July, with President Cyril Ramaphosa insisting it was to help reduce trauma-related injuries in hospitals as the country battled to halt the spread of Covid-19.

“The sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect. There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence as well as trauma that is alcohol-induced,” said Ramaphosa in an address to the nation.

Cele issued a stern warning about public drinking and gatherings during the ban, saying alcohol was allowed to be consumed in private but could not be transported or consumed in public places.

“You cannot take your alcohol next door and drink there. Cele can’t go to Mthembu. Cele must drink by Cele and Mthembu by Mthembu.

“Once you come together that’s a gathering. As you have said, if you drink in the car on the road, that’s public. If you really want to drink in a car, park it in the garage. You can drink there.”

Ban lifted again

The ban was lifted again in August, with the country moving to level 2 of the nationwide lockdown.

Ramaphosa said the government was confident that the easing of the ban and other restrictions would no longer undermine health infrastructure.

“We have made progress in our fight against Covid-19. Over the last three weeks, the number of new confirmed cases has dropped from a peak of over 12,000 a day to an average over the past week of about 5,000 a day. The recovery rate from coronavirus has risen from 48% at the time of my last address and now stands at 80%,” he said.

Restrictions in hotspots

In November, a second wave of infections brought a return of some regulations in areas of the country identified as hotspots. This was initially only the Nelson Mandela Bay area in the Eastern Cape, but later extended to the Garden Route in the Western Cape and Sarah Baartman district in the Eastern Cape.

The restrictions included no alcohol sales on weekends, no sitting and drinking at taverns and no more drinking in public spaces.

“The sale of alcohol from retail outlets will only be permitted between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Thursday, while alcohol consumption in public spaces is strictly forbidden,” Ramaphosa said.

Beer association interventions

The Beer Association of SA (Basa) also rolled out several “no-nonsense” interventions to help limit the spread of the virus during the upcoming festive season, including setting up patrols, education drives and cutting supply to non-compliant outlets that had their licences revoked by provincial liquor authorities.

Restrictions spread

In an address on December 14, Ramaphosa announced new restrictions on the sale, distribution and drinking of alcohol. Alcohol sales at retail outlets were restricted to Mondays to Thursdays between 10am and 6pm.

“On-site consumption of alcohol at licensed establishments is not permitted after 10pm. No consumption of alcohol is permitted in public spaces such as parks and beaches,” he added.

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