Banning the sale and onsite consumption of alcohol is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, there is no denying that the sale of alcohol has, throughout the lockdown, had an immediate, tangible effect on the ability of hospitals to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases.
So, when our numbers started rising, and that second wave took hold, it was seen as a necessary step towards ensuring that our healthcare system could sustain itself amidst the influx of new cases.
At the same time, industries that produce and sell alcohol have been hit hard, with falling profits, stock going to waste, and jobs lost.
In a letter to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde spoke about the ‘balancing act’ that needs to be in place between saving lives and saving livelihoods.
He presented the minister with a list of proposed changes to the current adjusted alert level 3 restrictions, including a request that wine farms be allowed to sell alcohol on weekends when they get the most visitors.
In the wake of this, the Institute of Cape Wine Masters, the Cape Wine Academy, the Cape Winemakers Guild, and the Cape Wine Auction Trust have penned an open letter to President Ramaphosa asking him to ease the restrictions, which they say is having a devastating impact on the industry.
In the letter, they outlined the ways that the industry contributes to South Africa and the effect that a continued ban would have on the country.
Mr. President, the South African wine industry plays a vital role as an employer in the agricultural and food sectors, but also throughout the value chain creating more than 265 000 jobs: affecting sommeliers, wine farm representatives, suppliers, restaurant, retail and tasting room staff, wine educators, garagistes, wine journalists and media workers – and all their families and dependants.
We contribute more than R55 billion or 1,1% to the GDP of South Africa and ensure a positive effect on the balance of payments through significant exports. In various rural economies, the wine sector is the backbone of communities and towns.
They point out that they are on the “brink of harvest 2021”, with a significant amount of unsold stock which runs the risk of going to waste and destroying large sums of economic value.
As South African Agri Initiative (SAAI) CEO, Francois Rossouw, told TimesLIVE, the industry is unlikely to survive the ban if it continues.
“Because this is the third ban, farmers are looking for final solutions. They do not have cash flow. They are letting workers go now instead of reducing their time.”
Previous bans created a backlog in the value chain with an estimated 260 million litres of unsold wine from last year, which takes up space and limits storage for this year’s batch.
“Farmers are exporting on prices that are not profitable. Damage is already done. Our hope is that the ban is lifted as soon as possible.”
With all of this in mind, Winde’s suggestion that wine farms be allowed to open on weekends seems a reasonable one, because while some wine farms offer other activities, their primary income is from sales, tourism, and wine tastings.
He also proposes that restaurants be allowed to serve alcohol, as the current ban is affecting their ability to turn a profit.
You can read the open letter in full here.
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