'Unemployment pandemic is gaining momentum': Alan Winde pleads for lifting of booze ban

11 August 2020 - 08:28
By Bekezela Phakathi
Western Cape premier Alan Winde. File photo.
Image: HETTY ZANTMAN Western Cape premier Alan Winde. File photo.

Pressure is mounting on the government to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol and to allow for more economic activity to prevent huge job losses.

The DA-led Western Cape provincial government took a firm stance at the weekend, stating that domestic alcohol sales should be allowed immediately, “with smart recommendations in place”.        

“These positions have been taken with a view to reducing the impact of a second, equally dangerous pandemic: unemployment. We will now engage the national government on these positions,” said Western Cape premier Alan Winde.

“The impact of this temporary ban is not just felt in our agricultural and farming communities but also in our tourism and hospitality sector,” he said.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) is meeting on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to address the nation no later than Saturday, when the state of disaster he declared in March is due to expire, the newspaper reported.

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Winde said restaurants relied on alcohol sales to remain profitable. “If properly licensed establishments are not allowed to sell alcohol on site, they will not be able to remain financially viable.” 

The liquor industry, which contributes 3% to SA’s GDP and is responsible for more than 1-million jobs, was dealt a heavy blow in July when the government again banned alcohol sales, arguing that this was necessary to lower the alcohol-related trauma load on hospitals and free up desperately needed resources for Covid-19 patients.

This was the second such ban. The first one, which came into force when SA entered the strict lockdown at the end of March, lasted about 10 weeks, costing the industry R18bn in lost revenue and 100,000 jobs. The industry is worth about R140bn.

Groups representing players in the liquor industry have been engaging with the department of trade & industry and pleading with President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the ban, arguing that the industry’s contribution to the economy far outweighs the harm it causes due to irresponsible drinking. But their efforts have been in vain so far.

Recently, scientists advising the government and health minister Zweli Mkhize on the Covid-19 response suggested the ban be lifted as it has achieved its objective.

Winde said for as long as the Western Cape can assure access to health facilities for all Covid-19 patients, all businesses should be allowed to open safely provided they follow clear health guidelines designed to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The ban also threatens the future of the wine industry, a crucial sector and jobs driver in the Western Cape economy. Stats SA food and beverage data for April and May shows a decline in revenue for the sector of 94% and 87%, respectively, from 2019 revenues.

Winde said pressure had eased on the health-care system, with the number of Covid-related hospitalisations dropping to below the 1,200-mark over the past few days — the lowest hospitalisation numbers recorded in the province since June.  

“In fact, the Western Cape government has now reached a point where we have to carefully consider whether all our field hospitals need to stay open, given these statistics and the scenario provisioning projections,” the premier said.   

“While we are seeing an easing on our health platform, the second unemployment pandemic is gaining momentum in our province ... businesses that employ tens of thousands of people are buckling under continued restrictions on economic activity, low confidence and reduced demand.”

Winde said higher levels of unemployment will affect food security, the nutrition of adults and children, and violent crime, and will cost lives now and in the future.

“That is why we have maintained that we should not view our response to Covid-19 as a zero-sum game. We can ready our health-care systems to respond and provide care, and we can open our economy safely at the same time.”

The provincial government fully agrees that alcohol-related harm is a major problem in the province and the country, said Winde.

“When the domestic sale of alcohol was suspended during the lockdown, and then again recently, the number of trauma cases dropped immediately. But we cannot view this in isolation of the other consequences a continued ‘ban’ on the sale of alcohol is causing,” he said.

DA MP and trade & industry spokesperson Dean Macpherson said SA needs to urgently turn its focus to the economic disaster playing itself out across the country.

“That is why it is critical that the alcohol ban is lifted,” he said, noting it was having a devastating effect on jobs and the economy in the Western Cape and across SA. “Farmers, farm workers and retailers are suffering due to this illogical ban by the national government.”

The department of trade & industry did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

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