Women tavern owners bear the brunt of alcohol ban

The taverner industry in South Africa, a bedrock of economic activity in the informal sector, has been decimated by the ban on alcohol sales during the national COVID-19 lockdown.

Among those most severely impacted are women, who make up the majority of the registered 34 500 licenced tavern owners in South Africa. According to the National Taverners Council, 54% of tavern owners are women.

Economic impact of lockdown

While many tavern owners are holding out hope for a reversal of the ban, it is already too late for a large number of tavern businesses who have not been able to survive the devastating economic impact of the lockdown.

Asked if an immediate lifting of the ban on alcohol sales could still save some of the businesses in the tavern industry, Lucky Ntimane, convener: National Liquor Traders Council said: “It may be too late. The damage has been done.”

“It will take months, if not years, for liquor traders to recover, just like many other businesses, both big and small. Sadly, many businesses have been shut down. People have lost their jobs.”

Women’s Month summit for female tavern owners
Rita Zwane owner of “Busy Corner” Imbizo Shisanyama

Survivalist strategy

The dominance of women taverners in impoverished areas goes back decades and speaks to a survivalist strategy, allowing women to secure a stable income while looking after and providing for their families at home.

On Friday 7 August, the Gauteng Liquor Board in partnership with Diageo South Africa hosted a Women’s Month Summit to hear and discuss the concerns of the tavern industry and, in particular, the impact on women.

9 August is celebrated as Women’s Day in South Africa and August is regarded as Women’s Month in the country.

The Summit brought together representatives from the Gauteng Liquor Board, the National Taverners Council, as well as a number of prominent women tavern owners, including Rita Zwane of Bizi Corner in Tembisa and Fanny Mokoena, of Ndofaya Hospitality Academy in Soweto , to discuss the situation confronting the industry.

South African businesswoman Rita Zwane, founder of Imbizo Shisanyama, famously known as Busy Corner, says: “This situation is absolutely devastating. It’s tearing at the very fabric and livelihoods of families and the wider community. We are pleading for someone to hear the cries of the desperate in our areas.”

Mokoena founded Liquor Traders Against Crime (LTAC) in 2000 to combat alcohol-related crimes such as domestic violence, rape and assault. In addition, she is a currently the president of The Gauteng Liquor Forum and leader within the Meadowlands.

The Summit also hosted Sibabalwe Sesmani, founder of the #WithoutUS movement, which encourages women to form their own ecosystem and harness their power as a collective.

Unilateral decision

Diageo SA Corporate Relations Director Sibani Mngadi said a unilateral decision was taken to ban alcohol “without consultation nor consideration of other measures that could have been taken to strengthen the health response”.

He says global research institute Kantar as well as the research teams at the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Witwatersrand had identified shortfalls in the SA Medical Research Council, such as that hospitals built after 1999 were not included in the bed capacity. “Nor does the research measure the impact of other interventions applied together with the alcohol ban, such as a curfew or stay-at-home rules implemented during lockdown level 5 and 4, placing a disproportionate blame on alcohol misuse as the sole contributor to the health system’s historical difficulties.”

“We must find a workable solution and a proper balance between lives and livelihoods. We hope this summit with women tavern owners will provide the best possible ideas on how best we can safely navigate through this and achieve an outcome which addresses the concerns of everyone,” says Mngadi, who is also spokesman for the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA). “As producers, we do our best to support traders and have already given support in terms of providing PPE, and will do so once taverns are allowed to reopen.”

The Gauteng Liquor Board, which falls within the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, is supporting the liquor traders and fully appreciates the challenges that their businesses are experiencing as a result of the lockdown.

“While the GLB may not have the authority to change the status quo and unban liquor trading, we certainly want to support liquor traders in any way possible and help find possible solutions,” says Bodibe-Lushaba.

The Summit explored ways in which the industry can seek to operate in a safe environment, taking into account all relevant Covid-19 protocols, as well as how the tavern industry can possibly be supported.

“We wanted to hear from them how would they would want to be helped best. Liquor traders know and understand their businesses better than us,” says Cleo Bodibe-Lushaba, Gauteng Liquor Board, director.

South Africa’s 34 500 licenced tavern owners support more than 200 000 dependents. There are currently 10 000 shebeen permit holders, 2 700 independent liquor store owners employing 25 000 staff with about 70 000 more dependents, and around 7 000 restaurant owners with about 250 000 employees.

During COVID-19, Diageo SA has contributed close to R1.5 million to the industry in the form of care packs which consisted of sanitiser, face masks, educational material and food vouchers. These care packs were distributed to taverners and communities in partnership with well-known personality Minnie Dlamini, Red Cross and Jaguar Land Rover.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za