Without a doubt, millions of lives were changed almost overnight when the country was placed on lockdown as the scourge of Covid-19 ravaged the world.
More so in the informal business sector, particularly the taverns and shebeens whose livelihoods were heavily dependent on the sale of alcohol and could not turn to the government for financial relief.
Several shebeens and tavern owners celebrated when President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the country under Level 2 lifting among others the ban of selling alcohol. However, the taverns and shebeen owners claimed it was too early to count the profits after months of not trading.Elisa Mahlasela owner of Mahlasela’s Place, a tavern in Sebokeng Zone 10 in the Vaal was cautiously excited about the lifting of the ban saying at least she was starting to pick up the pieces after months of hardship. She told Vutivi Business News that the profit she had made so far was a drop in the pond. She owned the tavern with her husband Joseph Mahlasela and they were in it for twenty years.
“It has been bad. We lost our only source of income and struggled financially. We discovered that we needed to buy things like sanitisers, personal protective equipment (PPE) and gloves. Soon enough we started living on the money we would normally use for stocking for the tavern.” She added that even when taverns were allowed to sell alcohol during level 3, the tavern was unable to make up for lost profits.
“There was a glimmer of hope when the ban was lifted on level 3 but it got worse when the alcohol ban was reinstated again until recently.” She said she approached the Department of Small Business Development to register for relief fund, the department was unable to process her application.
She claimed she was informed that her business registration number did not match the requirements for obtaining funding. In spite of the many efforts by businesses from various sectors to provide relief, Elisa felt like government could do better in ensuring that the funds were accessible to small businesses. “Many families survive from taverns, and yet we seem to be left out in the cold,” she lamented.
There are some customers that buy, but there are a few. My biggest fear is that they will reinstate the ban because South Africans are so careless when it comes to drinking. Faranani Tavern is also another liquor establishment that took a financial knock because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In operation since 2005, the tavern has been the preferred drinking hole in Sebokeng but since the outbreak, the tavern has been floundering amidst fears that it might close down for good. Tavern employee Azwitisi Rambuda, who manages the tavern for her Limpopo-based employer Thomas Netshiavha, told Vutivi that when business was forced to close doors because of the lockdown, it became increasingly difficult for the business and the employees to survive. “We have no source of income, and we also tried to receive government funding but to no avail. This business is our livelihood, and we take our children to school and afford them a better life,” she said. Rambuda, like Elisa, said that although they were operating now under level 2, not much profit was being made. “It’s still too soon to tell, because people are not buying as much as they used to. Maybe people have lost their jobs and cannot afford to buy alcohol anymore.” Her sentiments were echoed by the National Liquor Traders’ Council’s national convener Lucky Ntimane in an open letter to Ramaphosa who pointed out that the liquor ban “condemns families to an uncertain future.” “Workers in the alcohol value chain—from farmers right down to the packaging suppliers and employees at local retail outlets—will again find themselves sitting at home with no income after only working for a month,” Ntimane said in the open letter.
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