President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphatically denied a request from the Gauteng Liquor Forum to ease the restrictions on the sale of alcohol during the nationwide lockdown.
He said that the decision was taken to uphold the restrictions because of the “dangers associated” with the sale of alcohol.
Also, he said in a letter sent through the State Attorney, that the sale of alcohol was “not an essential service” and that selling it would impact negatively on the country’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Alcohol was also responsible for an increase in crime and was a major reason for medical emergencies.
A week ago the forum threatened to go the Constitutional Court over the restrictions, which they said would “gravely” affect the 20,000 micro and small businesses in Gauteng they represent.
The extension of the lockdown — in combination with the total ban on alcohol sales — would “most likely ruin” these businesses, the forum said.
Ramaphosa was initially given until Tuesday to respond, but asked for an extension until Friday.
In the letter Ramaphosa denied the request, saying that the ban on alcohol sales was in line with the government’s measures to address the pandemic.
The State Attorney said Ramaphosa, his cabinet and the National Command Council met this week to “consider the economic implications of the continued lockdown on SA”, including on township-based shebeens and taverns.
“During the discussions held this week, the National Command Council, cabinet and the president carefully considered inputs from all relevant sectors and experts in fields including financial, social, economic, scientific and medical. Having done so, the decision was taken not to ease the restrictions on the sale of alcohol during the lockdown,” the letter to the forum read.
It added, emphatically: “The sale of alcohol is self-evidently not an essential service. On this basis alone, it was considered that the sale of alcohol should not be permitted. The sale and consumption of alcohol also has proven links to an increase in violent crime, motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies and results in full emergency rooms and hospitals.
“In the face of a pandemic such as Covid-19, the experience of the rest of the world has shown us that hospitals need to be prepared to receive and treat vast numbers of Covid-19 patients and to quarantine them from non-infected patients.
“Prohibiting the sale of alcohol is also aimed at ensuring compliance with the lockdown regulations, social distancing protocols and proper hygiene practices by reducing or eliminating the number of intoxicated persons, in light of experience of non-compliance by intoxicated persons in general.”
The letter continued that, should the spread of Covid-19 — the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus — not be curtailed, then it was those the forum represented who would be hardest hit.
“In the absence of a lockdown, the worst effects of the spread of Covid-19 are likely to be felt in those very sectors of society that you claim to represent — those who live in the poorest conditions, without access to sufficient resources — the most vulnerable in society. The lockdown is aimed at preventing Covid-19 from ravaging those sectors of our society,” the letter read.
It also addressed the forum’s claims that their members would be economically battered should the restrictions not be lifted, saying that they were not unique in this regard.
“We further note your clients’ concerns in relation to the economic impact of the lockdown on your clients’ businesses. However, the economic impact of the lockdown is not felt only by your clients — but by all industries which have been forced to close down for the duration of the lockdown.
“This is a regrettable, but inevitable, consequence of a lockdown,” the letter read.
Ramaphosa also urged the forum not to go to court, as was initially threatened.
“We hope that before approaching the courts, your clients will consider the global effect of this pandemic, particularly in densely populated areas and the potentially devastating consequences it could have in a country such as SA in the absence of a lockdown — and therefore to understand the approach that government has chosen in these difficult and unprecedented circumstances to protect all South Africans,” the letter reads.