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  • The alcohol industry has promised to set up a network of "community patrollers" to check up on outlets selling booze in the Eastern Cape.
  • Parts of the province are seeing a big resurgence in coronavirus infections, and lax application of disaster rules around alcohol sales is being partially blamed.
  • The patrollers will watch bars and shebeens for failure to maintain maximum occupancy and enforce social distancing, and report outlets that fail to both police and the provincial liquor board.
  • The industry has also promised the province R30 million worth of personal protective equipment.
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A network of spotters – funded by the liquor industry – is to be set up in the Eastern Cape, to find and report booze sellers that fail to heed coronavirus rules.

The group of "community patrollers" will hand over details of rule violations to both the police – which can arrest bar and shebeen owners on criminal grounds under disaster-management rules – and the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, which has the power to revoke licences.

Eight police stations in coronavirus hotspots are due to get ten such patrollers each, representatives of the liquor industry and the Eastern Cape provincial government said in a joint statement on Sunday.

In cases where liquor licences are revoked, outlets will find their supplies of booze immediately turned off; the alcohol industry has agreed that "as manufacturers, we will immediately stop servicing and supplying" such establishments, said Sibani Mngadi, chairperson of the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA). 

A massive surge in coronavirus infections and cases of Covid-19 in the Nelson Mandela Bay area in particular has raised the spectre of rules being tightened either for hotspots, or for the Eastern Cape as a whole. That could conceivably mean a reinstatement of the total ban on alcohol sales previously imposed on a national level – during a festive season that traditionally accounts for a healthy proportion of annual sales.

The National Coronavirus Command Council may hear a proposal from the province on banning the sale of liquor for consumption on the premises, across bars, shebeens, and restaurants, as early as this week.

It is not clear to what extent liquor outlets may be contributing to the second wave of infections, but there is consensus that drinking establishments are not universally following rules such as maintaining occupancy at 50% of their maximum capacity, making sure patrons stay socially distant, and ensuring the use of hand sanitiser. That is in part being blame for the spread of the virus.

Alcohol industry bosses also promised to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies worth R30 million to the Eastern Cape's health system.

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