Alcohol sales ban: Wine industry body wants court to turn lights back on in Western Cape

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Vinpro would like to see what it calls the responsible reopening of the legal wine trade according to a risk-adjusted approach which differentiates between provinces.
Vinpro would like to see what it calls the responsible reopening of the legal wine trade according to a risk-adjusted approach which differentiates between provinces.
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  • Wine industry body Vinpro wants an urgent court interdict to allow the Western Cape government to decide on the necessity of alcohol bans.
  • The Western Cape High Court heard the urgent application on Wednesday.
  • Vinpro argued that hospital capacity and the stage of the third coronavirus phase in the Western Cape should be considered - instead of the national state of affairs.

Judgment was reserved on Wednesday in a case that saw wine industry body Vinpro seeking an urgent interdict to allow the Western Cape government to decide on the need for alcohol sales bans in the province.

Vinpro wants liquor sales bans to be decided upon at provincial level, based on the local risk posed by Covid-19.

Vinpro likened the imposition of a countrywide blanket ban on sales – aimed at preserving capacity in hospitals – to switching off the lights in an entire house when it may only be necessary to do so in one or two rooms.

It also wants off- and on-site consumption sales of liquor to be allowed in the Western Cape, which will see the legal wine trade operating again.

"Rather than switching off the lights of an entire house, look instead at hospital capacity on a provincial basis.

"Government's blanket ban approach would have made sense if South Africa had only one big hospital, but we know that hospitals are spread throughout and the pandemic peaks at different times in different provinces. Government has also not transferred patients between provinces," Advocate Johan de Waal, SC, argued on behalf of Vinpro.

But in opposing Vinpro's application for an urgent interdict, Advocate Nazreen Bawa, SC, argued on behalf of government that SA is actually more like an open-plan house.

Bawa said not one of the reports supplied to national government suggested a provincial approach when dealing with alcohol sales bans.

"Courts are unanimous that we are dealing with an exceptional context in which drastic measures have had to be imposed. I am not facetious about the difficulties the wine industry is facing. Government is mindful of the hardship SA is facing, not due to lockdown measures, but due to the pandemic. Those measures seek to balance lives and livelihoods," said Bawa.

Edge of a cliff

Vinpro represents about 2 600 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders. If successful, Vinpro intends to seek similar interim relief for other provinces too.

The main court application in the Vinpro matter is set down for hearing in the Western Cape High Court before a full bench from 23 to 26 August 2021.

According to Vinpro, the wine industry is at the edge of a cliff after its revenue stream has been cut off intermittently over the past 16 months due to five Covid-19 disaster management alcohol sales bans, including the most recent one, which was implemented on 28 June.

It argues that many wine and tourism businesses are facing potential closure with numerous jobs at stake, while illicit trade flourishes.

Vinpro further believes the matter is urgent because businesses face imminent closure. De Waal said a survey in the wine industry has shown that about 13% of respondents indicated that if no domestic alcohol sales are allowed up to the beginning of August, there is a high risk of their businesses having to shut down. Among black business owners in the wine industry, 36% of respondents indicated that that there will be such a high risk of having to close their businesses.

If Vinpro has to wait until the main case is heard on 23 August, then 37% of respondents to the survey (68% of black respondents) indicated that their wine businesses will be at a high risk of having to close, De Waal said.

Furthermore, it is estimated that about 12.5% of the workforce in the wine industry has already lost their jobs, mostly in rural areas where there is often no other work for them than on wine farms. 

Judge Noluthando Nziweni reserved judgment in the urgent application, but said she understood the urgency of the matter and would try to expedite the judgment.

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