Lockdown | Alcohol sales will have to wait till end of lockdown, Presidency confirms

Alcohol traders will have to wait until the end of the nationwide lockdown to resume trade like most other businesses, the office of the state attorney has said in response to the Gauteng Liquor Forum. 

The state attorney, acting for President Cyril Ramaphosa, emphasised on Friday that the sale of alcohol is “not an essential service” and could derail government’s efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

The president said consumption of liquor has proven to increase crimes that land people in hospitals and South Africa could ill afford to have its emergency rooms filled up when it has to deal with Covid-19 cases.

“As we have previously noted, the decision to impose a lockdown on South Africans was not taken lightly and was only taken after full consideration of all relevant factors and expert advice,” read the letter sent to the forum on Friday. 

The forum, which represents more than 20 000 taverns and shebeens in Gauteng, wrote to the president on Saturday threatening to take its fight to the Constitutional Court if the president did not lift the ban on alcohol sales during the lockdown.

The forum initially asked Ramaphosa to respond on Tuesday, but the president asked the group to give him until Friday to give an answer as he wanted to discuss the group’s demands in a National Command Council meeting.

Ramaphosa first banned the sale of alcohol during the initial three-week lockdown which started on March 27.

Members of  the alcohol industry in the main supported Ramaphosa’s measures. However, after the president announced an extension of the lockdown until the end of April, the forum complained that its members would not be able to deal with another two weeks of generating no income as their taverns and sheebens are their only source of earning a living.

The forum’s lawyer, Eric Mabuza argued his clients’ odds were worsened by the fact that they could not qualify for any of the financial relief offered by the state to small businesses.

Ramaphosa said in the letter Mabuza’s clients are not the only ones feeling the economic impact of the lockdown.

“This is a regrettable, but inevitable, consequence of a lockdown,” read the President’s letter.

Analysts had widely predicted that it was unlikely that the National Command Council would give in to the Forum’s demands, pointing out that many other sectors were in the same boat and that increased alcohol consumption would be counterproductive to efforts of keeping people indoors.

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