Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has disputed a claim by a group of restaurants that people are not frequenting restaurants solely because no alcohol can be sold with meals.
She said restaurant groups have not considered that there are risks associated with frequenting public places during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In her 103-page affidavit submitted to the Western Cape High Court, opposing the application led by Cape Town-based Chefs Warehouse restaurants, Dlamini-Zuma said the restriction on on-site consumption of alcohol was rational and lawful.
“It is denied that the eating-out experience would ‘be so absurd and unpleasant that nobody would actually want to do it’. The statement assumes, as a fact, that all people that frequent restaurants consume alcohol or go out for the alcohol, not the food,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
She said it was patronising for the group of restaurants to assume that everyone who visits restaurants wants alcohol, given that only 31% of people in the country consume alcohol.
“I do not dispute that a number of people do enjoy alcohol with meals in normal circumstances, but we are not living in normal circumstances. There are unprecedented times, which require all South Africans to adapt until we overcome Covid-19,” she told the court.
Dlamini-Zuma reiterated the argument she made in other court challenges against the alcohol ban: That the prohibition on the sale of alcohol was taken as a temporary measure – until the rate of infections slows down.
“There is no desire on the part of government to leave this prohibition in place for longer than it is regarded as necessary,” she said.
The group has asked the court for an order that “all restaurants in possession of a valid liquor licence” should be allowed to serve alcohol with meals to their patrons on-site. This would be subject to the conditions of their liquor licence and all other applicable laws, they said.
The group is also contesting the physical distancing regulations.
It says the requirement to have 1.5m between all patrons should “exclude patrons voluntarily deciding to sit at the same table, sharing it”.
Dlamini-Zuma, however, said physical distancing remains the basic tool used to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Restaurants also argued that they should be allowed to sell wine and beer, with the prohibition only for hard liquor.
Dlamini-Zuma said the government did consider imposing less restrictive measures.
“Making allowance for the sale of specific types of liquor, such as wines and spirits, even if this was implementable, in identified industries, would not provide the effective relief on the healthcare system that is required at a time of a huge surge in Covid-19 cases.
“The fact is that such a measure would be difficult to enforce.”
In response to the arguments of the economic consequences of the alcohol ban, Dlamini-Zuma said the government will re-evaluate the ban regularly “to also limit hardships facing the economy and individual livelihoods during this period”.