SOUTH AFRICA – The Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) has welcomed the re-opening of the sale of alcohol under Alert level 2 of the lockdown especially for restaurants, bars and taverns. 

“We can assure customers that we are ready to serve them under the strictest safety conditions, taking into account social distancing and health protocols.

“We also welcome government’s consideration that protecting livelihoods is equally important as saving lives,” stated the association in a press-release.

South Africa first imposed the ban on 27 March and lifted it on 1 June, and later re-imposed it on 12 July.

Alcohol sales are now permitted between 9am and 5pm at liquor stores from Monday to Thursday, while on site consumption of alcohol at restaurants and pubs would be permitted until 10pm.

According to the association, many businesses in the beer industry are yet to recover from the first nine-week ban, including 8, 000 licensed taverns and 30% of craft breweries that were bankrupted.

The second ban, forced an additional 15 % craft breweries and thousands more taverns to shut down permanently. This is a tragedy of epic proportions, especially since 54% taverns are owned by women supporting their families.

In addition to jobs losses, the bans forced a couple of industry players to cancel their developmental and investment plans.

South African Breweries, subsidiary of AB InBev, canceled R2.5 billion (US$143.7m) of planned infrastructure upgrades for the current financial year, while a planned investment of a similar amount R2.5bn (US$143.7m) for the next year has been placed under review.

Heineken South Africa has also halted plans for a R6 billion brewery expansion in KwaZulu Natal, which would have created 400 new jobs.

South African glass packaging manufacturer, Consol Glass, indefinitely suspended construction of a new R1.5bn (US$87.1m) glass manufacturing plant in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, due to the reduction in demand for glass products as the alcohol industry is its main market.

In terms of trade, spiritsEurope lamented over constrained exports of spirit products from the EU region under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed between the two parties in 2016.

BASA said that the ban also placed a huge financial strain on businesses who had bought stock, which they were prevented from selling and had to be subsequently discarded due to being expired.

The second ban was imposed following a rise in trauma cases related to alcohol abuse, which was overburdening the already overwhelmed health-care system.

“We appreciate however the challenges government is facing when it comes to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. As responsible South Africans, we will continue to work with government to identify hospitals in need of support during the pandemic and will provide personal protective and other related equipment,” stated BASA.

“The beer industry, along with the broader alcohol sector, also recognises that we have a responsibility to help fight alcohol abuse in communities,” it added.

The association indicated they are working with government, labour and community on a social compact to address the underlying societal issues linked to alcohol abuse, and how South Africans’ views and behaviour around alcohol consumption and abuse can be changed for the better.

It also added that they are committed to partnering with government to implement its Gender Based Violence Masterplan and furthermore support government’s zero tolerance for drinking and driving campaign, as well as amendments to the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers.

“We can, and we must, fight against alcohol abuse and its underlying causes. But we must also recognise that alcohol consumption and abuse does not stop just because the trade of alcohol is banned or restricted,” BASA highlighted.

The illicit black market is said to have had flourished over the past few months with people having continued to find ways to consume and abuse alcohol, often more recklessly and dangerously than before.

“We are determined to play our part in cooperatively dealing with issues as they may arise rather than having another ban summarily imposed.

“Together, we can devise sustainable solutions that encourage citizens to responsibly exercise their choices, that prioritise lives during the Covid-19 pandemic and that safeguard livelihoods across the value chain,” the association concluded.

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