The move to alert level 1 and the easing of restrictions have been welcomed by South Africans looking to return to some semblance of normality after a long and difficult lockdown.
We can now stay out later, in larger groups (with masks and physical distancing in play), see friends and family, and generally move more freely out in the world.
With international travel allowed from October 1, it is hoped that South Africa’s tourism season can be partly salvaged, but the outlook is less rosy for many of the country’s alcohol producers.
As it stands, alcohol for home consumption can be sold between 9AM and 5PM from Monday to Friday.
On-site consumption at restaurants and bars will be allowed in the hours before the curfew, which is in effect from midnight until 4AM.
While this is an improvement on alert level 2 restrictions, some in the industry are concerned that it won’t be enough to help them regain their footing economically.
As Christo van der Rheede, deputy executive director of Agri SA puts it, per BusinessTech, the parameters in which they are required to function under alert level 1 are “a punch in the gut”.
This is because the continued restrictions placed on the alcohol industry could have a further, negative impact on wine farms, which attract large numbers of visitors and tourists, especially over weekends.
“This comes during a time when the wine industry, with a significant number of small and medium enterprises, is in dire need of economic recovery, job retention and growth.”
Wine farms rely heavily on sales from cellars for home consumption. The sale of alcohol for home consumption is prohibited over weekends, which will effectively deny these businesses an avenue of income that could significantly contribute towards their financial recovery.
South African wine farms are also a major contributor to domestic and international tourism in the country, which will be lost if they are unable to sustain an income.
Industry insiders have already spoken about an impending jobs bloodbath, and ruling out weekend sales is just another sizeable hurdle on the road to recovery.
According to EWN, CEO of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association, Kurt Moore, says that the alcohol sales sector more broadly is also struggling.
“With most of the indicators tracking the spread and impact of the pandemic showing a positive decline, the key priority for the country is to focus on the economic recovery plan as discussed at Nedlac. This is why the sector was disappointed that the government did not allow alcohol off-site consumption outlets to trade in terms of their licensing conditions or at least in some trade on weekends.”
In other words, while the reduction of the curfew and extension of trading hours is a step in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough.
The industry is going to need more than a few WhatsApp voicenote panic sales to keep its head above water.
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