/ 14 April 2020

President asks for more time on lockdown liquor ban court case

South Africa's biggest maker of beer faces strikes as workers object to a 7% offered wage increased.
Less strict measures are in place as South Africa moves through Covid-19 second wave. (AFP)

The Presidency has responded to the Gauteng Liquor Forum, saying its concerns about the total ban on alcohol sales during the lockdown were already on the table for discussion this week.

The forum had demanded that the total ban be lifted; or it would take legal action. It had given the president until midday on Tuesday to do so. 

The forum had said in its letter of demand — sent on Saturday — that the total ban had gravely affected the thousands of micro and small businesses. “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,” said the letter from Mabuza Attorneys on behalf of the forum.

However, a letter from the state attorney on behalf of President Cyril Ramaphosa said the National Command Council, the Presidency and others were meeting this week “specifically to discuss the details of [the] government’s economic assistance programme”. 

This included “assistance offered to small businesses such as those of your clients, and other measures to mitigate the effects of the lockdown extension,” said the letter. 

The state attorney said: “We anticipate that the results of these discussions may well have a bearing on the issues raised by your client. Therefore, in order to be in a position to respond to your letter fully, we ask that you afford us until close of business on Friday, April 17 2020, to respond to your letter.” 

The discussions this week “will factor in the many submissions by various sectors, including the liquor industry”. 

The letter also referred the forum to initiatives that had been put in place to assist small businesses, and named the Tourism Relief Fund, “which provides capped grant assistance to small, micro and medium-sized enterprises, to ensure sustainability”. 

“Kindly indicate whether your client’s members have attempted to access assistance through this mechanism and if not, why that is so? That would be helpful inter alia for purposes of the discussions happening this week, to which we have referred above,” said the letter. 

In its letter of demand the Gauteng Liquor Forum said the lockdown regulations breached their members’ constitutional right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely. A limitation on their clients’ trading hours would have been readily accepted, said the forum. But the total ban is “unreasonable and it has no rational connection to the mischief which is sought to be prevented”.

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.