SAB calls on government to apply rationality and reason to impending Easter restrictions

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When the line between lives and livelihoods becomes increasingly blurred, the reinstitution of draconian alcohol regulations will do more harm than good, writes SAB Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Zoleka Lisa. SAB believes that there is a better way.

South Africa’s first lockdown brought with it a blanket ban on the sale, transportation and distribution of alcohol. The truth is that the beer industry is still in recovery from the devastation wrought by 19 weeks of no trade. As we face the very real prospect of a third wave it should behove the South African government to prioritise both lives and livelihoods because in many cases these are becoming one and the same.

The last year came at a high cost for our entire industry. It lost R36.3 billion in sales revenue and over 200,000 jobs were shed. That’s 200,000 people who were suddenly unable to support their families due to closed businesses, a loss of revenue and a decline in investment.

As we navigate the pandemic and uncertainty over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, there is an urgent need to implement a balanced solution and, above all, a more transparent and co-operative environment for the alcohol industry to support government in this fight.

Therefore, it is an absolute imperative that we deliberately refocus our collective efforts on protecting both lives AND livelihoods. As our economy continues to crumble, we believe that they are one and the same.

The South African Breweries along with other industry stakeholders has already proactively made recommendations to government through various structures on alternative measures to manage the upcoming Easter period and other holidays amidst concerns of a third wave.

Our plight in beer is such that it is too early to feel any economic recovery as full trade only resumed not two months ago in the beginning of February. Regardless, we acknowledge our responsibility and have set in motion a number of initiatives during this period to ensure that our consumers and customers uphold COVID-19 regulations.

This includes reduced event sponsorship, heightened responsibility awareness by our brands and acceleration of our harmful consumption reduction programmes. What else can we do? Enforcing further restrictions on trade is simply not an option and will put us back on the path to destruction.

If our trade is restricted in the coming long weekends, our government should know that any interruption in sales, particularly on Friday and Saturday where 50%-60% of sales are made, will put thousands of small businesses at a serious disadvantage. Many of these small businesses, who our President deemed “crucial for the South African economy”, and who only just started to recover from the hardship of the 2020 bans, will not survive another wave of restrictions.

If it’s going to happen, at least give us a rational reason for signing this veritable death warrant. To date off-site liquor traders are yet to be provided with a rationale by government as to why they are treated unjustly and with patent unfairness when it came to restrictions in trading hours and days in comparison to on-site traders.

Didn’t our government know that off-site traders only account for 30% of liquor volume sales and happen to be the safest way to purchase alcohol from a COVID-19 protocol perspective? Clearly not because the industry was not consulted when it came to the instatement, and reinstatement of these draconian regulations.

Do these traders really have to suffer when we already had other, more rational and effective regulations in place right from the beginning of lockdown? Limiting mobility and mass gatherings were a proven mitigator. Now it seems government is quick to buckle to pressure put on them by the very people they are trying to protect. Don’t limit trade, limit movement like hundreds of other countries around the world. Do this, and continue to enforce social norm like mask wearing and social distancing in public places, and we can truly save lives.

We cannot hide from our economic reality. It is bleak but it is ours. Our fiscal stability must be protected as we protect ourselves from the coming third wave. But we must remember that the line between lives and livelihoods is becoming blurred as economic devastation continues to run rampant in our society.

The alcohol industry will continue to help protect the lives and livelihoods of South Africans. We understand our responsibility to reduce the harmful consumption, but this requires a broader engagement between our industry, alcohol policy, regulations and innovation to foster a culture of alcohol moderation.

Unjust and reactive regulations will do more harm than good. So, we ask government and civil society to accept us as a partner so we can find and implement solutions to the challenges that face our society without destroying hundreds of thousands of livelihoods in the process. There is a better way, if we work together.

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