News analysis

Flip-flops no, balaclavas maybe
  • South Africans are trying to puzzle out government's bizarre list of clothing and bedding permitted to be sold under Alert Level 4 – and running into a bit of trouble.
  • Flip-flops and sandals are definitely out – even if you live in Upington and can expect 26 degree highs this week.
  • You can buy as many warm blankets as you like, and electric blankets, and heaters too – but no curtains to keep in the heat.
  • Can you buy a balaclava? If it is knitted, maybe. If it can be considered headwear, definitely. If it is for skiing, well, that's not clear.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


As of Tuesday night, South Africa has an extensive list of clothing and bedding that may be sold under Alert Level 4.

Under disaster regulations only those items explicitly listed, or covered by one of a handful of broad categories, may be sold. Any retailer caught going beyond the list could face severe penalties.

But as of Wednesday South Africans were still struggling to figure out just what is covered, and what is not – as the official opposition called for trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel to be fired for the "Alice in Wonderland" list.

See also: Here is the entire list of clothing and bedding you can now buy again under new Level 4 rules

The list appears geared to keeping South Africans warm as winter sets in; all long-sleeved t-shirts are allowed, while short-sleeved t-shirts are limited to those intended "as under garments for warmth".

But not everything needed for intense cold is covered. Beanies are legal, and so are all kinds of headwear and knitwear. Does that cover balaclavas, intended mostly to protect the face? Perhaps, if they are knitted. Almost certainly, if they are marketed only as being for skiing – and if skiing is exercise rather than a sport, under an active wear and "other exercise apparel" entry on the list. (Though some sporting clothes, as opposed to just exercise clothes, are covered if you consider a "golf shirt" to be an item of golf clothing; those are allowed by name, regardless of whether short-sleeved or long-sleeved.)

Meanwhile you can buy blankets, duvets, and associated bedding that will aid in keeping warm – but no curtains, even if they are explicitly intended to keep in the heat and keep down the power bill for the electrical heater you may also buy under current rules.

See also: Car sales are now legal again under new Level 4 rules, and servicing too – but nothing cosmetic

The special status of denim has also caused some concern. The permitted clothing list includes "jackets and coats", which appears comprehensive enough, and likewise "pants". But it also includes "denim jeans and denim jackets", the only material that gets any mention. If denim needed a special dispensation, does that cast doubt on the legality of, say, leather jackets? Patel's department was not immediately available to say.

At least one thing is certain: no flip-flops and no sandals are allowed to be sold, not even in Upington, which is forecast to hit 26 degrees Celsius this week.

If you can find a pair of wooden clogs, though, you are in business – any "closed-toe" shoe, flat or with heel, is okay.

Business Insider South Africa has reached out to Patel's office for clarity on some of the items causing confusion. This article will be updated once a response is received.

* This article has been corrected to remove a reference to Crocs alongside flip-flops. Crocs says it is selling a wide range of children's shoes (all of which are allowed) as well as closed-toe adult shoes.

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