The South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) and National Liquor Traders (NLT) said they have written to President Cyril Ramaphosa, urgently calling on the government to declare a State of Emergency under section 37 of the Constitution and the State of Emergency Act to protect people, communities and businesses in areas affected by the unrest.

“The mass looting, threat to lives and livelihoods, and destruction of property have reached proportions that require the rapid and effective deployment of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to assist business owners, Salba chief executive Kurt Moore said in a statement yesterday. “Many of these are small and medium enterprises and are unable to protect their employees, businesses and livelihoods alone.”

Moore said the lack of police presence and SANDF support and visibility had resulted in the stores of more than 200 of Salba’s members being targeted and looted. Stock worth millions of rands at warehouses and retail premises across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has been stolen and stores damaged.

After the ransacking of retail stores, the warehouses of liquor companies and distributors had become the primary target of looting and vandalism, Moore said.

“Our big concern is that the focus is now shifting to our primary production sites (breweries and distilleries), where high-volume pre-production alcohol is stored,” said Moore. “Any attack on these sites poses a serious safety risk for our security personnel on site, as well as looters and surrounding communities.”

The convenor of NLT, Lucky Ntimane, said the industry believed that many of the attacks were politically orchestrated, as well as co-ordinated by organised crime, which served to grow the illicit alcohol sector.

“If the destruction continues unabated, the liquor industry will reach a point of no return and more than 200 000 people will be out of work,” Ntimane said.

Earlier yesterday, the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) called on the government to deploy more troops across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Basa warned that the plundering and vandalism of alcohol warehouses, along with the bans on the sale of alcohol, could result in the total collapse of the liquor industry.

“With incidents of criminality continuing, the beer industry is calling on the national government to urgently declare a state of emergency,” Basa said. “President Ramaphosa needs to act now to save what is left of our industry, or the country will face the prospect of devastating job losses throughout the beer value chain.”

The liquor industry was already on its knees because of the ban on alcohol sales in terms of the level 4 lockdown.

Ntimane said many tavern owners who have been robbed of their stock would be unable to trade once the ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted.

“All we have seen is the devastation to people’s lives and the economy due to the government decision to use prohibition to achieve public health goals and save livelihoods.

“Instead of ramping up the vaccination roll-out and increasing enforcement measures to prevent illicit trade activities, the government has opted to pursue a policy that only serves to entrench the illegal market. That illegal market is now in danger of becoming a permanent feature of the post-pandemic economy,” he said.

Reports indicate that more than 600 retail and liquor stores have been damaged, with conservative estimates indicating direct damage amounting to billions of rand.

Two SAB depots in KwaZulu-Natal were looted and set alight on Tuesday.

The industry has been devastated by four bans on alcohol sales over the past 16 months, which have put 233 547 jobs at risk and resulted in lost tax revenue of R34.2 billion and lost excise revenue of R10.2bn.

With unemployment the worst it has been in years, the destruction seen over the past days will only exacerbate this problem, resulting in thousands more living in poverty.

The chairperson of the Liquor Traders Association, Sean Robinson, said liquor stores had definitely been targeted by looters.

“Many of our members, who are already experiencing crippling damage to cash flow as a result of the ban, have lost their entire stores’ stock running into hundreds of millions of rands,” Robinson said.

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