We've got news for you.

Register on TimesLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Black market alcohol takes a dive due to 'Janu-worry', rise in Covid-19 cases and fewer suppliers

22 January 2021 - 06:00 By nomahlubi sonjica
Black market alcohol sales have declined because people are broke, Covid-19 cases are rising, there are fewer suppliers and the police are more visible.
Black market alcohol sales have declined because people are broke, Covid-19 cases are rising, there are fewer suppliers and the police are more visible. 
Image: 123rf/Jakub Godja

With the rise in Covid-19 cases, more police visibility and “Janu-worry” blues, alcohol sales in the illicit market have slumped.

“Business is bad,” Lawrence told TimesLIVE in an interview this week. “We never got a chance to stock up. Our suppliers, too, did not get a chance to stock up before alcohol was banned.”

Lawrence, which is not his real name, was essentially an alcohol bootlegger during the first lockdown. The first time around, South Africans were given time to buy booze before the ban kicked in. The most recent ban, announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on January 28, however, was with immediate effect as lockdown level 3 was implemented.

“He caught us off guard. No-one suspected that he would ban the sale of alcohol, especially during the festive season. Even the guys who are our suppliers were not aware,” said Lawrence.

He said there were fewer suppliers of alcohol this time around.

“We all buy from the few that have alcohol. One minute they have it, the next minute they don’t. So this time sales are very bad. We are still selling, but one or two beers a day,” he said.

He sells a 750ml bottle of beer for R35.

“It is not like the last time when we had enough alcohol to sell and people were willing to spend.”

Another factor at play, he said, was that people were broke because it was January. Also, people also do not trust the brands of alcohol they now offer. Only the desperate buy.

“We are offering some brands I myself do not even know,” he said. “It’s some vodka called Commandor. I don’t even know where it is coming from.”

A 750ml bottle of the Commandor is sold for R200. The normal price for the vodka is R60.

“It gets you drunk like crazy because it’s cheap alcohol,” says Lawrence, as he fixes his car.

He also sells 50ml sachets of Alomo, a herbal gin popular in Ghana and Nigeria.

“That is what we are surviving on now. It’s R10 a sachet. I can also sell a packet of 10. That gives me 50% profit.”

Beer, once his mainstay, is now not a commonly sold item — largely because his suppliers are scared of the police. “The cops are more visible than they were the last time. This time around, it’s not even easy to bribe.”

Despite the intense police visibility, Lawrence says he does not hide his alcohol when he delivers to clients.

“I don’t really hide it. I just put it in a bag and go. I just pack and go. Sometimes I take an Uber.”

One of his suppliers is an employee at a bottle store.

“His boss gives him the bottles to sell for himself because he is not working now. He is selling for his own survival. But the boss decided to give him the cheap shit to survive.”

Moses, also not his real name, sells beer. He has had to lower his prices because it is January and people do not have money to buy the expensive alcohol he and others in the black market sell.

“People are not buying. I even dropped the prices. A six-pack of beer was R250. I am now selling it for R200. I think people are broke because it’s this time of the year. It’s really tough. I’m also feeling it.”

He said sales during the previous alcohol ban were higher.

“The previous lockdown was better. There’s more police visibility now.”

Asked if he had not been arrested or met the police on his way to deliver alcohol to his clients, he said: “I have not been arrested. I have been stopped though, but you have to bribe.”

Simon, who also did not want to be identified by his real name, said he sold alcohol during the first ban, but decided not to do it this time around.

“I sat down and thought about what we as a country are going through in terms of this pandemic. I thought about my family as well. As much as I needed the money, I did not want to risk contracting Covid-19 through contact with different people. When you sell, you are bound to be in contact with people.

“Covid-19 affects us all and I took it up on myself to be a responsible citizen,” he said.