Booze-ban court case on ice for now, if Ramaphosa plays open cards about lockdown

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Lawyers for the Gauteng Liquor Forum, a body which represents more than 20 000 taverns and shebeens in Gauteng, say they will not proceed with their contemplated court action to force the government to let them sell alcohol, provided the state tells them this week whether a decision has been made or is likely to be made to extend the nationwide lockdown.

This forum last week threatened to take the presidency to the Constitutional Court to test the validity of regulations barring the sale of alcohol if President Cyril Ramaphosa did not lift the ban. 

On Friday the state attorney, acting for Ramaphosa, replied to the forum's initial letter of demand by saying the sale of alcohol is "not an essential service" and could derail government's efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The president said consumption of liquor has proven to increase crimes that land people in hospitals, and the country could not afford to have its emergency rooms full as it deals with Covid-19 cases.

On Saturday lawyers for the forum accused the office of the state attorney of misunderstanding its arguments. The group was not arguing for on-site consumption, it said, but for "off-consumption sales where the consumers will enjoy heir beverages responsibly and in the comfort of their homes."

This was necessary, it said, because many of its members do not qualify for state relief under the Tourism Relief Fund.

The forum said on Saturday that it would not, at the moment, continue with its contemplated legal action to test the constitutional validity of the lockdown regulations, provided the state tells it by Thursday whether a decision has been made, or is likely to be made, to extend the lockdown. The lockdown is currently set to end on April 30.  

It has also demanded to know how long the likely extension would last, and whether the government was prepared to relax the current conditions for qualifying for assistance to include unregistered shebeens and shisanyamas.

"If there are no satisfactory responses and more particularly if our clients’ fears of a lockdown extension prove to be well-founded, then our clients hereby reserve their right to approach the court on an urgent basis without any further written notification to yourselves or the Presidency," the letter states. 

 
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