DURBAN restaurant owners joined their counterparts from around the country this week in putting up a spirited protest against the government’s ongoing ban on alcohol being sold at their business premises.
Eatery owners set up dining chairs and tables on pavements as part of the “Million seats on the street” campaign to voice their discontentment with the booze block.
The protest action was initiated by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa) following their letters to the president, which outlined their dissatisfaction and raised solutions on how alcohol sales could be accommodated on site.
Earlier in the month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the Cabinet had decided to ease restrictions on restaurants for sit-down meals. However, no alcohol could be sold, either as takeaway or in-house consumption.
Representing Rasa, Ashton Naidoo, partner at Mooney Ford Attorneys, directed another letter to Ramaphosa on Monday and accused him and the National Coronavirus Command Council of obliterating the industry.
The letter proposed that in areas identified as “hot spots” for alcoholrelated trauma, a higher level of restriction could be imposed or the ban even reinstated. It also requested that restaurants with valid liquor licences be allowed to sell alcohol and that purchases and consumption must be accompanied by main meals and limited to two drinks per customer.
“Our client implores the presidency to give serious consideration to its proposal so the industry can attempt to heal. Our client has asked that we stress its desire to work co-operatively with the government to find a solution that not only saves lives but allows for the restaurateurs to continue to feed their staff and families.”
Naidoo said he would consult the president and promised a response soon.
“We already have new ideas that we can put forward to try and lift this ban. We are hoping they will accept our invite to converse and create a dialogue between the parties,” he said.
“As things stand, Wednesday was a brilliant success, people came together. Metro police tried to stop protesters but they stood firm.”
He said there was no violence or destruction of property reported, but that the protest was orderly and peaceful, indicative of the conduct of the industry, which was law abiding.
Damian Boyack, manager at Butcher Boys on Florida Road, Durban, which employs 40 staff, said the alcohol ban was gravely affecting restaurants. He said his business had remained closed because reopening without the sale of liquor would result in huge financial losses.
Boyack said staff participated in the protest to show solidarity with others in the sector. He said during the protest metro police officers had arrived to disperse the crowd.
“We made up signs, we set tables and chairs out on the pavement, and just after midday, metro police attempted to disperse us, saying that our peaceful protest was illegal and told us to pack everything away.
“We want to be able to sell alcohol to our patrons, we’re an upmarket steakhouse and they want a glass of wine with their steak. We’re known for our wine selection and good steaks.
“The ban is unfair on restaurants and customers alike,” he said.
Trevor Wolf, owner of Al Pescatore in Ballito, said the industry was in tatters. He said 45% of his turnover was generated through alcohol sales and since reopening, the business was suffering without the sale of alcohol.
“We’re doing about a third of what we used to do. We’re really in trouble facing huge retrenchments,” he said.
“Customers want to have a glass of wine with their seafood platters or a cold beer with a burger. Therefore, we are pleading to the government to listen to us. We understand there is a huge problem with Covid-19, but if the government could look at controlled consumption, the industry could survive.”
– Sunday Tribune