Gauteng Liquor traders threaten court action over lockdown alcohol ban

A forum representing about 20 000 micro and small businesses in Gauteng has written to the president demanding that the total ban on alcohol sales be lifted — or face a court challenge.

The Gauteng Liquor Forum said in its letter, sent this Saturday, that the lockdown regulations breach their members’ constitutional right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely. 

The letter reads: “Since the declaration of the national state of disaster on 15 March 2020, our clients’ businesses have been gravely affected by the prohibition on a total ban of selling of alcohol. The extension of the lockdown period… will most likely ruin their businesses. They do not have access to other means of surviving, while the lockdown continues.”

The letter, from Mabuza Attorneys on behalf of the forum, said a limitation on their clients’ trading hours would have been readily accepted. But the total ban is “unreasonable and it has no rational connection to the mischief which is sought to be prevented”.

“Unless we receive [a] written undertaking from the Honourable President by no later than 12h00 on Tuesday 14 April 2020, our clients will have no option but to approach court on [an] urgent basis for appropriate relief,” said the letter.

It said that public statements from “senior members of cabinet” suggested the alcohol ban was “being used to achieve ends which are not related to combatting Covid-19”. The letter does not refer to any specific public statements but Police Minister Bheki Cele has been vocal about how the alcohol ban has led to decreased crime levels.

“We also submit there are less restrictive measures which could have been put in place to prevent or alleviate the spread of the disease”. 

The attorneys said their clients were not consulted about the ban, not even in a shortened consultation process. They had a right to be consulted, “when decisions of this magnitude are taken given the adverse economic impact.”

“Even when the President announced an extension to the lockdown period, no opportunity was given for representations to be made on the issue of relaxing some of the draconian provisions such as the total ban on alcohol and cigarettes.” 

The forum is made up of associations of township-based shebeens and taverns, including the Boksburg Vosloorus Food and Beverage Association, Diepsloot Liquor Traders, Katlehong Liquor Traders,  Sedibeng Liquor Traders and Yeoville Traders.

“These members associations operate mainly in the townships and predominantly support township-based business owners … our clients have always been responsible liquor traders and operate according to their own code of conduct and under applicable laws and regulations,” said the letter. 

The first set of disaster regulations, which set strict trading hours but did not ban the sale of alcohol outright, “achieved a proper balance between the interests of our clients and the need to prevent or alleviate the spread of the virus”. 

“In the circumstances, we are instructed to demand, as we hereby do, that the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs should immediately and forthwith remove, amend or lift the regulation which places a total ban of the selling of alcohol.”

The forum also raised a concern that the disaster regulations were “unconstitutional as a whole and there is no authority under the law and the Constitution to issue the regulations. It is also notable that the entire framework for disaster management is not subject to any Parliamentary scrutiny and the risk for abuse of power is manifest.”

Read the letter below:

Letter to the President from the Gauteng Liquor Forum by Mail and Guardian on Scribd

At the time of publication, the presidency had not responded to a request for comment. Once comment is obtained this story will be updated.

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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