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Wine industry heads to court over booze ban in Western Cape

29 June 2021 - 13:24 By TimesLIVE
The nationwide alcohol ban is too broad, unnecessary, unjustified and counterproductive, argues an organisation representing close to 2,600 wine-related businesses. File image.
The nationwide alcohol ban is too broad, unnecessary, unjustified and counterproductive, argues an organisation representing close to 2,600 wine-related businesses. File image.
Image: Esa Alexander

Vinpro, which represents close to 2,600 SA wine grape producers, cellars and other wine-related businesses, on Tuesday launched an urgent interim interdict application to lift the ban on the sale of wine in the Western Cape.

The preliminary date for the hearing is July 2.

“The latest ban of two weeks that has been imposed follows 19 weeks of revenue loss over the past 15 months, which has had a devastating effect on the wine and tourism sector that employs more than 269,000 people,” said Rico Basson, Vinpro MD.

“A large number of our wine producers and wineries are small. More than 80% of the 529 wineries are small and medium enterprises and are reliant on direct sales to customers.”

He said although wine exports may continue during the adjusted lockdown restrictions, the industry exports less than 50% of annual production, with the other half sold on home soil.

“With no financial support from government for these businesses, their prospects and that of employees are extremely bleak.”

Vinpro said it and industry partners made submissions to the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) over the past weekend, which entailed specific interventions that would ensure a balanced approach to curb the spread of Covid-19 while also keeping the economy afloat.

“Unfortunately representations in respect of this risk-adjusted approach were not taken into account and a blanket ban was yet again announced.”

Vinpro had initially approached the high court on January 27 to seek urgent relief during the previous ban. This was subsequently postponed when the restrictions were lifted and the matter was set to be heard in the Western Cape High Court in August before a full bench of judges. Vinpro, however, reserved the right to launch an interim interdict in case of a full ban being reinstated before the court date.

The organisation argues the nationwide alcohol bans are too broad, unnecessary, unjustified and counterproductive.

“A more flexible, nimble approach is needed, based on credible empirical data, where the provincial executive should be empowered to deal with the retail sale of liquor for the rest of the pandemic, as provincial authorities are normally responsible for regulating the sale of liquor and in charge of healthcare and provincial hospitals. They are, therefore, better equipped to manage the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods.

“Although the liquor ban is intended to ensure hospitals have the capacity to treat those who become ill, the pandemic affects provinces differently at any given point in time and capacity requirements in hospitals will therefore differ across the country. Despite this, government has never differentiated between provinces when it comes to implementing or lifting of the liquor ban.”

The interim relief Vinpro seeks is to allow the premier of the Western Cape the power to adopt deviations to the national ban to enable off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the province. Similar relief will be sought in respect of other provinces.

“We need to make and implement decisions that balance preserving both lives and livelihoods. Decisions should be made at a provincial level, based on scientific evidence and according to the infection rate and hospital admissions across these provinces,” said Basson.

“Government’s failure to both adequately prepare the health facilities for possible dangerous additional waves and to administer an adequate and efficient vaccination rollout cannot hold our wine and tourism industry at ransom any longer.”