Just a week after SA Breweries took the government to court over its alcohol sales ban, a group representing about 4,200 family-owned wine farms is threatening to launch its own legal challenge, says a Business Day report. The Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai) said the ban had left many small farmers in a financial bind. It has also left the R140bn liquor industry reeling amid fears of another jobs bloodbath across the value chain.
“We are considering our options and will be engaging government regarding the current ban,” Saai CEO Francois Rossouw told Business Day. “We have instructed our attorneys to request a meeting with President Ramaphosa and his advisers to discuss the ongoing ban. We are also consulting with counsel and farmers regarding our legal options.”
The report notes it would be the second application by the industry body group to have a ban on alcohol sales, specifically wine, lifted. An urgent bid in 2020 was postponed after the government rolled back restrictions the day before it was due to be heard in August.
The wine industry, which contributes about R38bn to the fiscus and supports 350 000 jobs, could lose an estimated R1.5bn worth of stock as it runs out of storage space for excess wine as the new harvest starts. It says it is losing R300m a week as a result of the ban on domestic sales.
The Presidency has confirmed it has received a request from liquor traders for a meeting with Ramaphosa to discuss the impact of the alcohol sale ban.
Liquor Trader Formations convener Lucky Ntimane called on Ramaphosa to allow for the resumption of alcohol sales with immediate effect, primarily off-site consumption (takeaways), support for taverns and shebeen permit holders by means of financial assistance to the value of R20,000 per outlet, and a moratorium on liquor licence fees payable for a period not less than a year. Ntimane said the ban on alcohol sales continued to wreak havoc in the sector and looked set to condemn thousands to poverty, while the future of taverns remained in doubt. Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Tyrone Seale reportedly confirmed to the Cape Argus that the Presidency had received the request from the liquor traders.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa is reportedly quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that steep taxes and a higher legal drinking age are among the measures the government is considering as it seeks to curb the “ugly” abuse of alcohol. He said that steps have to be taken given the pressure alcohol abuse places on the healthcare system.
The alcohol sales bans during three separate periods since the COVID-19 lockdown was first imposed at the end of March last year have reduced pressure on hospitals, which are battling to cope with waves of COVID cases. The ANC national executive committee has suggested that the government introduce stricter liquor laws on a permanent basis.
“I think South Africans need to get to grips with the impact of alcohol,” said Ramaphosa. “The legislative part is something that we need to look at very closely to see how do we begin to … reduce the abuse of alcohol,” he said. “It could revolve around things like age limits; we need to deal with age limits, to raise the age limit. Or do we need to look at trading hours for the purchase of alcohol, do we need to look at things like taxation?”
Ramaphosa noted consumption had dropped in countries where liquor taxes had been raised. “We could look at advertising as well,” he said.
Sibani Mngadi, chair of the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association, said the industry was already fighting alcohol abuse. “We hope that the process of regulatory changes being proposed will be objective and fair as required by our democratic Constitution, and will consider all evidence-based suggestions from all parties on how the problem can be resolved,” he is quoted as saying.
Full Business Day report
Full Cape Argus report
Full Sunday Times report