President Cyril Ramaphosa has requested that he be given until Friday to respond to the lawyers’ letter from the Gauteng Liquor Forum (GLF) demanding that the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma immediately remove, amend or lift the regulation which places a total ban of the selling of alcohol.
The president was expected to respond to the letter no later than 12pm on Tuesday, or else face legal action.
The GLF is a non-profit organisation of stakeholders made up of associations of mostly township-based shebeens and taverns, representing approximately 20 000 micro and small businesses around Gauteng.
In the response, the office of the state attorney, representing government, explains that the president is still working on a plan to alleviate the strain faced by business owners and that his response would be dependent on his engagement with various stakeholders.
“The national command council, the presidency and other relevant parties are meeting again this week, specifically to discuss the details of government’s economic assistance programme. This includes assistance offered to small businesses such as those of your clients, and other measures to mitigate the effects of the lockdown extension,” the state attorney said.
This past weekend a letter was sent to the president from Mabuza Attorneys on behalf of the forum, calling the alcohol ban “unconstitutional” and stating that there was no authority under the law and the Constitution to issue the regulations.
The attorneys, through their submission, also pleaded with government to find the proper balance between “the interests of our clients and the need to prevent or alleviate the spread of the virus”.
The attorneys explained that the limitation on their clients’ trading hours, as was the case when the first Covid-19 regulations were published on March 18, was acceptable.
However, a total ban on the selling of alcohol unduly and unlawfully infringes on their section 22 Constitutional rights.
Before the full lockdown was instituted, liquor stores could operate from 9am-6pm during the week and 9pm-1pm on weekends.
“Public statements which have been made by senior members of Cabinet suggest that the alcohol ban is being used to achieve ends which are not related to combating Covid-19,” the letter read.
The GLF further lamented the fact that there was no consultation process with members of the various liquor trade organisations even when the decision was made to extend the lockdown last week.
The government decided to extend the nationwide lockdown for a further two weeks.
“Our clients have rights to be consulted when decisions of this magnitude are taken given the adverse economic impact. Given the urgency, even a shortened process of consultation on the issue of banning of alcohol could have sufficed, but there has been no consultation at all,” according to the letter.
The EFF has now also issued a letter to the president about the matter, saying that it would be unfair to other non-essential traders if the alcohol ban was lifted or relaxed to accommodate liquor traders.
The red berets, who are represented by Ian Levitt Attorneys and Conveyancers, on Monday said they would like to be given the opportunity to make representations if the government does consider the amendment.
“The government has decided that only essential goods may be sold during the lockdown. Alcohol is not an essential good,” according to the letter.
The EFF argued that there should be other measures to compensate alcohol traders during this period without having to give them preference over other businesses.
The letter also explains that the operation of shebeens and taverns defeats the purpose of the lockdown.
“Alcohol consumers will be obliged to gather, buy and consume alcohol and the risk of the spread of the virus will exacerbate tenfold,” according to the EFF.