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Woes mount as SA wine industry reacts to second drinking ban

Published:  14 July, 2020

South Africa’s already hard-pressed wine industry has greeted the renewed ban on alcohol sales with dismay, with Vinpro describing the government-imposed clamp down as a “devastating blow”.

The organisation, which represents the domestic sales side of the industry, issued a statement condemning the lack of engagement or warning for producers ahead of the ban.

“Despite continuous engagements with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, especially over the past month, the industry was given no warning about the recent ban, nor an opportunity to consult with the National Coronavirus Command Centre (NCCC) before a decision was made and no consideration was given whatsoever to the immediate logistical difficulties it poses for both suppliers, distributors and retailers alike,” it said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said that ban would take pressure off the national health care system after growing reports of drunken group behaviour threatening to spread the virus.

South Africa’s producers are already struggling following an earlier five week ban on exports and nine week ban on domestic sales during the early Covid-19 lockdown, with Vinpro estimating losses of up to R3bn as a direct result of that time.

And while exports are allowed to continue, the second loss of domestic sales will cause further job loss and permanent winery closure, said Vinpro, which has estimated that 18,000 jobs, 80 wineries and 350 grape growers already stand to lose their livelihood as a result of the earlier shutdown.

“The wine industry has taken all necessary precautionary steps to ensure safe and responsible trading, while promoting the moderate consumption of alcohol. However, we now need government to take up its role in policing the regulations, including law enforcement measures to curb illicit trade,” said Vinpro.

A collective response from South Africa’s leading alcohol bodies has called on government to respond to the trade’s “commitment to partner with government to create a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol”, while stressing the economic impact of the ban.

Meanwhile, many bodies, exporters and producers, have responded with a rapid call out to key markets such as the UK, urging that importers and retailers encourage people to buy and drink South African wines to support the beleaguered industry.

“This is a big blow to the wine industry. A glimmering hope is that we can still export. Please do your best to support the South African Wine Industry by buying your favourite wine brands,” prompted a mailer from export agent Vaar Merchants, with such calls linked to the hashtag #drinksouthafrican.

Vinpro added that as a matter of urgency it is “in the process of gaining clarification on certain practical implications of the current legislation, including the transport and storage of wine and other activities in the wine value-chain”.