Much more than the frustration in the market place of wine lovers struggling to get their hands on a bottle wine or than guests visiting the Boland being disappointed because wine tasting at an expensive cellar restaurant is also prohibited, farmers, workers and towns are suffering as a result of a draconic measure prohibiting the sale and transport of wine.
With the excuse that alcohol consumption leads to domestic violence, street violence, accidents and other crime occupying beds in the high care unit of hospitals that need to be available for COVID-19 patients, restaurant-goers cannot even buy a glass of wine for lunch.
A total ban on alcohol is the dullest instrument the government possibly could have used with which to carry out a delicate operation. In the meantime hundreds of wine farms and dozens of towns are bleeding to death, job opportunities are lost quicker than COVID-19 money going missing in the public service and one of South Africa’s oldest agricultural industries is on the verge of collapsing.
The argument that an alcohol ban leads to the availability of beds in hospitals as we experienced over New Year in hospitals is accurate. But just as many beds are being occupied as a result of taxi accidents, but no attempt was made to rid them from our roads or even to reduce their passenger load. The government says that it is all about work, income and livelihood. But with what mandate can the government decide that the survival of job opportunities in the taxi industry is more important than those of the wine industry?
There is already a curfew keeping motorists off the roads between 21:00 and 05:00 and that is being policed by officials and roadblocks. There is no rational reason risking the continued existence of a family farm that has been keeping the Boland’s economy afloat for centuries simply because an office worker thinks that they can subsequently keep a few beds open for COVID-19 patients.
In a similar case, Saai and other stakeholders brought a case before the court involving the tobacco ban and in which a damning judgement was delivered against the constitutionality and rationality of the ban. We can indicate that 20 weeks of a tobacco ban and economic damage amounting to billions of rand, job opportunities and livelihoods of thousands of families will save maybe 18 beds at most according to the state’s own figures!
Wine is an agricultural product and wine and food go together, that is why one can purchase it from the shelves of supermarkets (unlike other alcohol). Hundreds of wine farmers are staring financial ruin in the face. Even if the industry is soon freed from its shackles, the damage is irreparable.
Tanks and barrels in cellars are full and there isn’t any room for the harvest of 2021. Farmers aren’t getting delivery quotas and harvest time has begun. You cannot close a farm for a year – especially not after it was closed the previous year.
A worker on a wine farm told us that he would rather die from COVID-19 than from hunger and sorrow; but death is death!