Major retailer pushing for alcohol ban to be lifted as SAB loses case
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Cape Town – Retailer Pick n Pay has urged the government to reopen liquor sales to help sustain its businesses.
This comes as a legal bid by SA Breweries (SAB) against the government's latest alcohol sales ban under the adjusted level 4 lockdown was dismissed with costs by the Western Cape High Court.
Yesterday, judgment was reserved 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 determined at a provincial level.
Pick n Pay chief executive Pieter Boone has been visiting damaged stores, warehouses and distribution centres in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng this week. At least 136 of Pick n Pay’s stores – which includes about 76 liquor stores – were looted during the recent civil unrest.
Boone told a news website the alcohol sales ban needed to be lifted urgently in order for the industry to recover, as it endangered the future of many independent retailers.
“I’d like to call on the president to really review the alcohol restrictions imposed. We all know that over 300 liquor stores have been impacted across KwaZulu-Natal, with over R500 million of illegal stock currently on the market,” said Boone.
SAB applied on an urgent basis to have the ban declared unlawful and invalid, and wanted it to be reviewed and set aside. It argued, among others, that the fourth ban on alcohol sales in 18 months was unsubstantiated by robust scientific evidence.
But Judge Robert Henney dismissed SAB’s application with costs.
He ruled that the regulations are not inconsistent with existing legislation. The judged also accepted the minister's contentions that the rapid spread of the Delta variant "justified the lack of full and proper consultation with all the stakeholders, including the SAB".
The main court application in the Vinpro matter, which represents about 2 600 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders, is set down for hearing in the Western Cape High Court before a full bench from August 23 to 26.
If alcohol bans are to reduce demand on hospitals and save lives, then the decision of when to implement them should not be left to the national government, Vinpro argued in court. If successful, Vinpro intends to seek similar interim relief for other provinces too.
Vinpro managing director Rico Basson said because of the continued lack of consultation and assistance from the government, the organisation had to pursue legal action as a last resort to reopen trade urgently and prevent further business closures and job losses.
“We also remain committed to seeing through our main court application that is set down for hearing in the Western Cape High Court before a full bench from August 23 to 26, 2021,” said Basson.
Basson said while the wine industry stood in solidarity with all businesses and individuals affected by the events of last week, the wine industry itself was at the edge of a cliff after its revenue stream had been cut off intermittently over the past 16 months.
“Many legal, tax-paying wine and tourism businesses, especially smaller companies who do their part to keep the economy afloat, are facing potential closures, leaving thousands of employees struggling to feed their families,” said Basson. “This while illicit trade continues to flourish, including the looting of various liquor traders and distributors last week.”
Earlier this month, the National Liquor Traders – which represents 39 000 township-based taverns, shebeens and bottle stores – wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa pleading for the lifting of the booze ban.