“We have been here before”, Fita President Sinenhlanhla Mnguni tweeted on Wednesday: He was responding to reports that the Cabinet told Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the alcohol and cigarette bans currently in place, as South Africa considered moving to Level 2 lockdown.
Will South Africa upgrade to level 2 this week? Don’t rule it out …
Mnguni’s grounded approach is certainly the most appropriate. There has been a frenzy of speculation about the lockdown changes that will take effect this week. Initially dismissed as a remote possibility, we’ve since learned that there is a serious chance of upgrading to level 2 by the end of this week.
The summit speech was noticeably different from what we have heard in previous weeks. In particular, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has spread optimism among his words of caution in recent days. A sharp spike in July appears to be abating and the government will likely benefit in one way or another.
Alcohol and smoking bans “could end soon”
But does that mean that the ban on alcohol and smoking is doomed? Well, it wasn’t until last week that the lawyers representing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – the alleged architect of the controversial tobacco ban – admitted that the government did not legislate such large volumes of non-compliance. It’s not the only potential nail in the coffin, either …
Several times this month, South Africa’s new daily rate of cases has fallen to levels last seen in June. As the number of infections drops dramatically, it gives the government hard data to work with: In fact, transmission rates are now improving on a weekly basis, rather than just on the daily metric.
This information is essential to lower the lockout level. With fewer infections, the demand for hospital beds will decrease. With the advent of the second alcohol ban – and when the smoking ban itself was extended in April – hospital capacity was cited as one of the main reasons for removing these items from the shelves.
Hospitals, underground markets and international upheaval – how prohibition has folded into a corner
Some provinces are now registering lower bed capacity levels than the same period last year. Western Cape Prime Minister Alan Winde said this was the case for the southwest, where active cases have seen a collapse in recent weeks. The main pillar used to support the two controversial bans has essentially collapsed.
Both alcohol and cigarette bans were aimed at preventing people from consuming products that would have put more people at risk of death. But what happened during the lockdown? Contraband, and a lot: illicit cigarettes, homemade liquor and daring smuggling operations significantly undermined the restrictions.
In addition, the government seems to finally accept the financial implications of a prolonged lockdown. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Minister Mkhize spoke of the need to rejuvenate the economy – even though he mitigated that by begging citizens to wear masks and wash their hands.
How much did the smoking ban cost South Africa?
The smoking ban would be costing the government more than R 35 million per day in lost revenue, surpassing the 5 billion rand mark earlier this month. Meanwhile, the alcohol ban jeopardizes tens of thousands of jobs in the Western Cape and threatens to collapse our agricultural industry.
In addition, alcohol restrictions now put our trade agreements with the EU at risk, as the loss of tax revenue wipes out billions of rand in excise duties. Bans, for all intents and purposes, are ineffective.
Time is running out for two controversial lockdown restrictions
All of these factors were discussed with Cabinet this week. Alan Winde spoke specifically about the damage caused by the alcohol ban, given that his province is so dependent on the sale of alcohol. NatJoints, FOSAD and a reported Cabinet majority now support ending prohibition – and the introduction of level 2 locking.
Should we take the leap out of the level 3 restrictions, the government coronavirus advisory website says it will start the resale of alcohol and cigarettes. The decision could be made automatically.
Alas, the cat has not yet been taken out of the bag… but we can certainly see a pair of whiskers sticking out from the edge. Many lockdown restrictions will certainly be lifted in the coming days – the only question left is: how far will Cyril Ramaphosa decide to take us forward?