- The illicit booze traders are back, with bootleg booze for sale via WhatsApp, Telegram, and even full-fledged online stores.
- Jack Daniel's is now selling for R700 a bottle on the black market, and a case of Heineken will set you back upwards of R400.
- High-end liquor like vodka, whiskey, and cognac are also available - at a hefty markup.
- Here's how prices compare across some of the bootleggers we found.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
South Africa’s national Covid-19 alcohol ban has caused much consternation and division - but as some have been debating the merits of the law, others have been merrily circumventing it, at significant profit.
The illegal sale of booze under South Africa’s renewed hard lockdown is now thriving. If you know where to look, you will find traders with access to a huge variety of stock, or private sellers willing to part with their own supply, on WhatsApp, Telegram, and even fully-fledged e-commerce websites, complete with credit card facilities.
There's a good chance that your friendly neighbourhood bootlegger is ripping you off, though. A price comparison by Business Insider South Africa found wild variations between suppliers, and huge markups – except where prices were suspiciously low.
Much of the initial action on the illegal booze sale front took the form of casual “I know a guy” messages dropped into WhatsApp group chats ,and it’s still an important marketing tool for those with surplus stock to move.
In casual offers of WhatsApp booze sales made to Business Insider, a case of entry-level estate white wine with a cellar-door price of R390 per case was selling for R600; and a case of craft beer that typically retails for around R300 was selling for R500.
Another more organised seller revealed an extensive list of available stock, which was recently replenished and subject to a price hike after last week’s extension of the ban on legal alcohol sales.
A six pack of Castle Lite bottles, for example, which usually retails for R75, was selling for R120 last week. The price has since jumped 33% to R160, for a total increase from its normal retail price of 113%.
A six pack of Hunter’s Dry, which retails for R90, was selling for R130 prior to the extension. The same thing will now cost you R180, or 38% more, for a total markup of 100%.
For an additional R70, this WhatsApp supplier will also deliver the booze to your door.
As the liquor ban wears on, some of the trade has moved off the relatively open WhatsApp groups to encrypted, anonymous messaging apps like Telegram. This comes with an even stronger “buyer beware” clause when the already-dubious friend-of-a-friend safety net falls away, and given the apps notorious reputation for harbouring scam artists.
Telegram's “Groups Nearby” feature is a haven for illicit deals between strangers at the best of times. One anonymous trader was openly advertising a variety of alcohol to users of an unrelated group. He later confirmed prices to Business Insider.
Hennessy VS (which typically trades for around R470 a bottle) is selling on Telegram for R700 a bottle, and Hennessy XO (which retails legally for between R2,000 and R2,500) for R2,700.
Jack Daniel's had one of the steepest markups; at R700 a bottle, its Telegram price is R420 more than retail, and represents a 150% premium.
Jägermeister wasn’t far behind; the best offer on Telegram was at R600 for a R270 bottle.
Formalising the illegal trade
Now almost one year into Covid-19 lockdowns, some traders are further formalising their illegal trade by building relatively legitimate-looking websites.
Although hastily put together and far from the type of slick online store you’d normally want to entrust your credit card details to, some surprisingly accept card payments, and come with shopping carts, special offers, and shipping to your door, sometimes included at no extra cost.
The websites discovered by Business Insider varied in their respectability and pricing. One appeared to be an outlet peddling limited stock, and the presumed owner confirmed to Business Insider – via the site’s customer service chat app – that it was still operating entirely on a referral basis with items “luckily” secured prior to lockdown.
Another website, which has a vast selection of stock, has prices that are suspiciously below the regular cost at mainstream liquor stores outside of prohibition times. This, and a poorly worded banner on the home page that proudly offers Level 3 lockdown sales and nationwide shipping, free for orders over R300, suggests a scam.
Although purchasing alcohol from either website - or any other WhatsApp or Telegram user - would constitute an offence under current laws, and in spite of one website offering a “100% money back guarantee”, it’s unclear whether any of these sources of lockdown liquor will actually bother to deliver your illicit booze after you’ve kindly handed over your credit card details.
Of the various sources for illegal alcohol found by Business Insider South Africa, here’s how the prices, and markups, stack up: