Recovering from the alcohol ban – but only if South Africans play their part

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The alcohol ban has been lifted, and many bars are open once again. But will South Africans be able to drink responsibly? Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
The alcohol ban has been lifted, and many bars are open once again. But will South Africans be able to drink responsibly? Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

For 13 weeks hundreds of thousands of people who rely on alcohol for a livelihood have stared financial ruin in the face. Now that the ban on the sale of alcohol products has been lifted, they face another fear – that South Africans will not drink responsibly and force the government’s hand in banning booze again.

Alcohol ban in numbers:

The good

85 000 – the number of jobs saved since the ban has been lifted

1 million plus – livelihoods will be protected now that the ban is over

The bad

R5 billion – the investment cancelled by South African Breweries due to the previous ban

R6 billion – the investment cancelled by Heineken SA

R21.8 billion – GDP lost in the first ban

90% – income lost by the informal waste recycling industry during the ban on alcohol sales

Close to 120 000 – jobs lost due to the suspension of alcohol sales during first ban

3 out of every 5 – taverns, bars, restaurants and shops will be forced to close

10 000 – taverns have already closed permanently

12 500 – taverns barely getting by

It has been a week since the ban on the sale of alcohol has been lifted, but for the many people making a living in this industry, the hard fightback has only just started.

Liquor stores, bars and taverns are trading again after more than 13 weeks of no income. While this is good news for all the people in the alcohol industry supply chain, the real battle lies ahead.

Faced with no income for the past 13 weeks, everyone who makes their living from this industry is slowly clawing back their lives and their financial situation, but for many of them it is too late. Statistics already show that many taverns and bars have just not re-opened. Look around your own neighbourhood, there are many To Let signs up in the windows of restaurants and bars.

But while the lifting of the alcohol ban is good news for people in the industry, they live in fear that irresponsible drinking and bad behaviour from their fellow South Africans, will again place their livelihoods in danger.

At least 54% of taverns in South Africa are owned by women. Just before the ban was lifted we spoke to Nomasonto Moloi who owns the Moloi Tavern in Harrismith. She has been running her tavern for the past 12 years and says that in all her years of business, this has been the toughest period she has ever faced.

“My business helped me live life like everyone else who has a normal job. Through my tavern I was able to take my child to a good school and she made it to varsity but now she has had to stop her studies because I am unable to pay for her fees.”

Nomasonto says the house she lives in was built by the money she was making from her tavern and now she cannot even afford to pay for her bills.

“I used to stay in a RDP house but I was able to build my family a home through my business. I am the only breadwinner in the house, everyone looks to me for food and their day to day survival, but the alcohol ban brought everything to a standstill.”

Nomasonto is one of the 192 000 people who rely on taverns for their livelihood in South Africa, and without another source of income she was forced to join the many unemployed people in South Africa due to the alcohol ban. The same applies for her employees whose salaries she could no longer pay.

“At the beginning of the lockdown I used my savings to pay my employees, and even then I was only able to pay half their salaries, now I can’t afford to give them anything because all my funds have run out.”

“It’s different when you shut everything down because you shut down our lives as well. When everything is closed and we cannot operate even in the slightest, all hope for a better future is gone.”

Her wish for the ban to be lifted has since been granted, but the road ahead is rocky and arduous.

The alcohol ban has been lifted, and many bars are open once again. But will South Africans be able to drink responsibly? Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

Nomasonto’s sentiments are echoed by other South Africans reliant on the alcohol trade for their livelihoods.

Lindela Fasi: “I’m a cleaner at Skosies Tavern. The ban on alcohol has affected my livelihood as I’m not working. Since the alcohol ban started, I have been sitting at home and I’m not able to afford the basic necessities.”

Marc Pendlebury from WhiskyBrother: “Our retail store in Hyde Park, our whisky bar in Morningside and even our online store were all forcibly shut and instead of the expansion we had planned this year, we are instead fighting for our very existence. Although we are a small and independent business, we directly employ eight staff who in return are responsible for a total of 28 other people – children, spouses, parents. Even though we can’t sell any whisky, we still have rent due and salaries to pay so our staff can have roofs over their heads and food on their tables. We are literally having to borrow money from the bank to make ends meet.”

Read: Advertorial | The devastating economic impact of the alcohol ban

Lieza van der Merwe from Merwida Winery: “We are responsible for more than 300 families. These families include elderly, current workers and their children along with farm managers, winemakers, accountants, drivers and administrative staff. Merwida Winery is supported by only two producers, Alweda Farms and Hexwal Farms. Both producers are Fairtrade accredited and all the current projects (creché facilities, community centers, transport facilities and medical assistance) that are supported by Fairtrade, cannot continue if we cannot sell wine. Many of our workers have been living and working on our farms for generations. We at Merwida understand the pressure put on hospital ER’s as a result of alcohol abuse, but the country will be facing a tenfold increase in poverty and joblessness should the wine industry fold. Please help save our livelihoods by encouraging safe drinking.”

As many like Lieza, Marc and Nomasonto scramble to rebuild their businesses and hopefully recover all that was lost during the ban, the onus now lies on South Africans to adhere to government regulations and drink responsibly.

With millions reliant on the alcohol industry to make a living and support their families, the stakes are high for many who fear they may never be able to recover should the ban be reinstated. It is easy to allay those fears if all of us buy and consume alcohol products responsibly, someone’s life really does depend on it!

To pledge your support for the drink responsible campaign, go to save my livelihood and sign the pledge

Despite the alcohol ban being lifted, many drinking spots are still shut. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

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