South Africa’s beleaguered liquor industry – already suffering under yet another Covid-19 ban on the sale of all alcohol – is calling on government to declare a state of emergency following riots and looting in the country’s two most populous and economically significant provinces.
The South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) and the National Liquor Traders (NLT) body on Wednesday became the latest business organisations to make the call, saying more than 200 liquor shops have been looted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
The two provinces, which together contribute over half of SA’s GDP, are bearing the brunt of violent protests, looting, sabotage and destruction of property. Shopping centres, warehouses, established and informal retail stores and even brewery plants are being targeted.
On Tuesday, the Beer Association of SA made the same call, while the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other organisations like the SA Property Owners Association (Sapoa) have being making similar appeals since the weekend.
Urgent declaration needed
Salba and NLT said in a joint statement on Wednesday that they had written to President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently calling on government to declare a state of emergency under Section 37 of the Constitution and State of Emergency Act.
The two organisations believe that making such a declaration would “protect people, communities and businesses in areas affected by the continuing unrest”.
In the words of Salba CEO Kurt Moore: “The mass looting, threat to lives and livelihoods and destruction of property has reached proportions that require the rapid and effective deployment of SANDF [South African National Defence Force] troops to assist business owners.”
Moore noted that many of the affected are small and medium enterprises and are unable to protect their employees, businesses and livelihoods alone.
“The lack of police presence and SANDF support and visibility has resulted in more than 200 of our members stores being deliberately targeted and looted.”
“Millions of rand worth of stock at warehouses and retail premises across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has been stolen and stores damaged,” added Moore.
“After the ransacking of retail stores, the warehouses of liquor companies and distributors had become a primary target of looting and vandalism.
“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.”
Moore noted: “Any attack on these sites poses a serious safety risk for our security personnel on site, as well as looters and surrounding communities.”
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NLT convenor Lucky Ntimane said the industry believes that many of the attacks were politically orchestrated as well as co-ordinated by organised crime, which serves 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,” said Ntimane.
Patricia Pillay, CEO of the Beer Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that as incidents of criminality were continuing in areas across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the beer industry had called on the national government to urgently declare a state of emergency.
‘More troops please’
The association, which represents the interests of the Craft Brewers Association as well as Heineken South Africa and South African Breweries (SAB), also appealed for a drastic increase in the number of SANDF troops deployed in hotspot areas in these provinces.
“The last few days have seen the country in turmoil with thousands of businesses and jobs being destroyed by mobs of looters and arsonists,” she said.
“Our call echoes that of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa, the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the former National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Vusi Pikoli,” added Pillay.
“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,” she warned.
“This has included scores of liquor outlets, depots, warehouses, distribution centres and specialised manufacturing facilities being targeted, which is threatening the total collapse of the alcohol industry that is already on its knees due to the four alcohol bans that have been enforced over the past 16 months,” said Pillay.
“Reports indicate that over 800 retail and liquor stores have been damaged, and in some cases, destroyed, with conservative estimates indicating direct damages amounting to billions of rands.
“Heineken’s Pinetown warehouse was looted on Sunday and cleaned out by Tuesday. All office equipment, IT equipment, batteries and tyres from trucks were stolen. Crates, empty bottles and stock were also taken.
“Furthermore, two SAB depots in KwaZulu-Natal were also looted and set alight on Tuesday.”
Fears more SAB depots will be targeted
Pillay added: “There is a fear that the other three remaining SAB facilities in the province will also be targeted. Courier companies carrying alcohol and raw material such as malt for export have also been attacked.”
She said that while private security companies have tried to protect these facilities they have been overwhelmed by the number of looters and have received very little support from the SANDF and the South African Police Service, due to their own lack of capacity on the ground.
Meanwhile, Salba and NLT point out that latest losses related to the looting and vandalism “exacerbate the dire economic situation that the liquor industry finds itself in after the four successive alcohol bans over the past 16 months related to Covid-19”.
“These [bans] have decimated the liquor industry, already putting 233 547 jobs at risk and causing tax revenue losses of R34.2 billion as well as R10.2 billion in lost excise revenue,” it noted.
“The industry urges the President to take the necessary steps to stabilise the country, mobilise the necessary resources to restore law and order in the affected areas, and prevent further violence, loss of life and economic destruction.”
Listen to Fifi Peters’s interview with Salba chair Sibani Mngadi and Consumer Goods Council of South Africa executive Neo Momodu: