Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
3 minute read
11 Aug 2020
2:00 pm

Don’t punish us for entering liquor industry, women tavern owners say

Sandisiwe Mbhele

'This situation is absolutely devastating... We need to leave a legacy, a legacy for our daughters,' said Rita Zwane, owner of popular shisa nyama Busy Corner.

A shebeen in South Africa. Picture: Pinterest

During this year’s Women’s Summit, held in Meadowlands, Soweto on 7 August, the liquor industry focused on tavern owners and liquor traders who were itching to reopen.

The Gauteng Liquor Board, partnering with Diageo, decided to address the many issues this lockdown has brought to the predominately women-run industry, including the vilification of alcohol.

Speaking to tavern and liquor store owners, Gauteng Liquor Board director Cleo Bodibe-Lushaba, said this Women’s Month should be different as many of the businesses in the industry have taken a huge knock.

“Covid-19 has changed our lives. Think about your business, how you should incorporate sanitisation in many aspects to protect ourselves and others. Alcohol is being blamed, which is not new. People don’t want to talk to us or address liquor traders.”

Lushaba said there were over 35,000 liquor traders in the country and their grievances were not being heard.

Lucky Ntimane from the National Liquor Traders Council said that when the ban was reinforced, they were not consulted.

“It has been a difficult three weeks, we have visited various provinces and experiencing the pain that liquor traders are going through. It has been disheartening, our traders are more concerned about poverty than Covid-19.

“People can’t even pay back their loans; it is time that liquor manufacturers support us.”

He said this lockdown had subjected traders to an even more severe lockdown, because they couldn’t leave their premises, believing that their stock would be stolen.

The industry, like many others, has had enough and want to be allowed to trade again.

Ntimane said they contributed billions every year and about 1% of GDP.

“We are a big sector, government doesn’t seem to care. It is like we are talking to a brick wall.”

He wants more women in the industry to lead the conversation.

“This fight can only be won by female liquor traders because it is 54% owned by women. Women need to take charge and head the conversation.”

Rita Zwane, owner of popular shisa nyama Busy Corner, said women who were in the industry were driven to feed their families.

“This situation is absolutely devastating. It’s tearing at the very fabric and livelihoods of families and the wider community. We are pleading for someone to hear the cries of the desperate in our areas.

“We need to leave a legacy, a legacy for our daughters. We cannot be punished for entering the liquor industry.”

She pleaded with the president to release their retirement funds to feed their families.

Zwane stated despite the tough times they needed to reinvent their businesses and open other businesses if possible, to stay operational for the time being.

Corporate relations director Sibani Mnagadi from Diageo, a leader in global spirits market, said the ban had been a do or die situation, particularly with investors pulling back, such as SAB.

He tackled the government’s main reason behind reinstating the alcohol ban, referring to hospitals having increasing strain in trauma units for patients outside Covid.19

He said there were three “flaws” in the government’s decision:

  • The number of hospitals calculated did not include hospitals built before 1999, that there was undercounting in that regard.
  • No reference to the figure of 50% of beds being used for trauma patients when alcohol was unbanned.
  • Internal and external stakeholders were not given the opportunity to address the issues government was concerned about.

According to Mnagadi, the industry has lost R19 billion in revenue so far and the government has lost R4 billion in tax.

“We are losing R300 million a day due to the ban. We hope our leaders can hear us. Its is a desperate situation.”

Mnagadi added that engagements with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni led to the decision to have tax payment delayed for three months.

Talks have been started about R800 million financial assistance from liquor manufacturers, so they could offer liquor traders R20 000 each in relief payments.

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