On Sunday, 27 June President Ramaphosa announced the fourth alcohol ban since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in SA. This time the sale of alcohol was banned for both onsite and offsite consumption as part of the level 4 restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus as the country once again sees a surge in infections.

This latest ban comes as many businesses in the alcohol value chain are still reeling and struggling to recover from the impacts of the previous three alcohol bans. A recent Business Day Dialogues digitised conversation, in partnership with the Beer Association of South Africa and moderated by Lynette Ntuli, founding director and CEO of Innate Investment Solutions, put the spotlight on the unintended consequences of the alcohol bans, how to save both lives and livelihoods during the pandemic and possible alternative solutions to bans, as well as how to curb excessive drinking that causes social harm.

The Beer Association of South Africa, an organisation representing the main beer manufacturers in the country including the Craft Brewers Association SA, Heineken South Africa and South African Breweries, has long maintained that it is possible to save both lives and livelihoods – but that blanket alcohol bans are not the solution.

Although the Beer Association of South Africa has put forward a number of potential alternative solutions to blanket bans, these solutions are in all likelihood not being taken to the National Command Council given that there has been no consideration for them, reported CEO Patricia Pillay. “Although there are a number of platforms available for business to engage with government, to date we have never received any opportunity to engage or negotiate with government before a ban is implemented,” she said.

Given that Covid is likely to be around for many years to come, she said persistent alcohol bans are not a sustainable solution and would end up further decimating an industry which is a big employer and contributor to the fiscus.

Not only had the industry offered to assist with logistics – something it is renowned at doing very well – around the vaccination rollout, but it has also been a significant contributor to the Solidarity Fund and contributed to the establishment of Gauteng’s Nasrec field hospital. In addition, it subsidised patrollers to assist law enforcement at the end of 2020 and in early 2020 as well as over the Easter period. “We’ve shown up and taken responsibility but we have not been met halfway by government,” said Pillay.

The industry had resorted to court action as they felt they had no other recourse and because there were more than one million livelihoods at stake, she added.

Rather than bans, Pillay said continued restrictions on gatherings and curfews were more effective at curbing the spread of infections. Ultimately, however, decisions should be made based on evidence-based research, she insisted.

One of the casualties of the four successive alcohol bans is Brewsters Craft, a business established in 2015 by the first black female brewer, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela. “It’s been a tough 16 months which has taken a toll,” said a still emotional Nxusani-Mawela, adding that she tried everything to remain in business, but just as she was starting to recover another ban would be announced.

Despite much talk from government about support for SMMEs, she said the reality was very different and that there was no support forthcoming for the craft beer industry.

Prior to the pandemic the alcohol industry in SA was worth an estimated R180 billion. In the last 16 months, however, its value has eroded as the industry – including those in the value chain such as agricultural producers, packaging, logistics and distribution businesses – paid the ultimate price for the successive alcohol bans, revealed Nadene Johnson, an associate consultant at Euromonitor International.

She added that the successive alcohol bans had resulted in billions of rands worth of planned investment from the likes of South African Breweries, Heineken and Consol Glass being shelved amidst the ongoing uncertainty.

Paula Quinsee, a growth mind catalyst, pointed out that there has been a marked increase in anxiety, panic and depression since the onset of the pandemic. Different people had different coping strategies and if they wanted alcohol they would find a way to buy it illicitly if it was not available legally.

The panellists agreed that more education was required to curb an excessive drinking culture in SA.

To re-watch this discussion click here