South Africa’s wine industry is finally heading to court over the third liquor ban that was compounding financial losses already suffered by wine farms, retailers and related businesses during previous COVID-19 lockdown related bans on the sale of alcoholic drinks.
In a statement, Vinpro indicated that it would approach the Western Cape High Court to ask for urgent interim relief, which would afford the Premier of the Western Cape the power to adopt deviations to enable off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the province.
The matter is set down for a hearing on Tuesday, 5 February.
The third ban on liquor sales was announced on 28 December 2020 as part of harsher lockdown measures that were implemented due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, and according to government it was intended to free up hospital beds that would normally be taken up by liquor-related trauma cases.
Vinpro said it was believed that a more flexible, nimble approach was needed, based on credible empirical data, in which provincial authorities should be empowered to deal with the retail sale of liquor during the remainder of the pandemic.
The organisation explained that provincial authorities were normally responsible for regulating the sale of liquor, and were in charge of healthcare and provincial hospitals. Therefore, local government was better equipped to manage “the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods”.
“Also, the pandemic affects provinces differently at any given point in time, and capacity requirements in hospitals will therefore differ across the country. Despite this, government has never differentiated between provinces when it comes to implementing or lifting of the liquor ban.
“Instead, a nationwide ban has been imposed and then again lifted, without regard for the circumstances in individual provinces.”
According to Vinpro, the number of new infections, active cases and hospital admissions were dropping across the country, particularly in the Western Cape, which made the liquor ban no longer justified in the Western Cape.
“Accordingly, [if] the situation does not change for the worse, and if the liquor ban is still in force in the Western Cape by 5 February, the Western Cape High Court will be asked to invalidate Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ban in the Western Cape with immediate effect.”
Vinpro added that ultimately, similar relief would be sought in respect of other provinces.
Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said during his weekly digital press conference on COVID-19 that he fully supported Vinpro’s action. He said he supported the allocation of more federal powers to local authorities, as well as managing ‘hot spot areas’ for the rest of the year.
“The Eastern Cape and parts of the Western Cape went into an earlier lockdown and I supported the differential approach, but now it seems as if we are all coming out of it at the same time. In future, we need to be able to differentiate to manage the virus, but also in balance with the economy,” he said.