News analysis

Wine
(Getty)
  • As of Thursday, South African wine exports are banned again.
  • Mostly, that is. Any wine already in a port can be shipped, under rules meant to de-clutter ports.
  • For nine days the wine industry had a unique exemption from strict lockdown rules. That, it seems, ended in part for fears that wine transports could be subject to piracy from booze-starved South Africans.
  • For mores stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.


As of Thursday, South Africa will no longer allow the export of wine while in Covid-19 lockdown, at least in part for fear of wine piracy, it seems.

A clear and unequivocal new ban on the transport of liquor was the first change to lockdown rules announced by cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at a press conference on phase 2 of the lockdown

"In the amendments we are stressing the issue of the prohibition of transportation of liquor," Dlamini-Zuma said. "The only alcohol that is allowed to be transported is the one that is used for commercial purposes, for our sanitiser and related issues, but liquor that we drink is not allowed to be exported in the same way it is not allowed to be sold."

That detail does not appear in Dlamini-Zuma's official speaking notes subsequently published by the government. But an explanation on why wine may no longer be exported does appear in the similarly published speaking notes for transport minister Fikile Mbalula, which he never delivered.

Allowing wine exports raised concerns, Mbalula's written speech says. 

"These include the criminality that has reared its ugly head in the form of burglaries and theft of alcohol from closed outlets."

Many liquor stores have been looted during the lockdown and somewhere, it seems, a discussion was had about having trucks full of wine moving about in that context.

"The movement of wines destined for export markets is one area we will review," Mbalula was due to have said. "In a nutshell, we are no longer allowing movement of wines."

Mbalula himself was responsible for allowing the movement of wine, for export purposes, for a total of nine days. 

On 7 April the transport minister published a peculiarly worded directive, under the power delegated to him by Dlamini-Zuma to rule by decree during the coronavirus disaster.

"During the lockdown period, the transportation of the wines and any other fresh produce products at the sea ports and international airports designated as port of entry for export is allowed," the rule update read.

"Agricultural cargo is allowed to be transported to sea ports and international airports designated as ports of entry and exported to the relevant destination."

That effectively put already bottled wine in the same category as agricultural perishables – including grapes – that could be harvested and processed to prevent wastage. So, while only essential business and those that can be run from home were allowed to keep their doors open, South African wine could flow to the rest of the world.

But while Mbalula can make rules on transport, he does not have the power to classify wine meant for export as an essential food item in itself, as the wine industry had hoped.

On Thursday winemakers expressed their shock that, after "extensive lobbying with various government agencies to relax the lockdown measures pertaining to the export and sale of alcohol", they had been banned from export instead.


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