Well, we can now eat and be merry in restaurants again, but with no booze.
The latest anti-alcohol blast from our nanny government came as a bit of a shock.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday night that restaurants could open again for sit-down meals, with safety measures. What he didn’t seem to say in his speech was that no alcohol could be served.
Once again, the booze-hating fraction inside the Cabinet appears to have triumphed over the rest.
Now, I am no great expert on the finances of running a restaurant, although I have some dear friends who are in that profession, but I am pretty sure that it will be far more difficult to make a living if you not only have to restrict numbers to ensure safe distancing of clients – but on top of this, the financial loss of not selling booze will be a crushing blow.
And what about the customers? I have endured no-alcohol meals in some Muslim-owned restaurants, including in some of the top restaurants when I visited Saudi Arabia.
It is not the same. Trust me.
Fine dining, for me anyway, involves fine wine. Or beer… With a cheeky post-consumption shot of something to aid the digestion.
You eat and drink to be merry, and there is not much fun if you go out just to eat and sulk.
In any event, I understand that looming legislation will not allow the tiniest trace of alcohol when you are driving, further drying up the supply of customers for our restaurants.
Yes, there are the Ubers and others. But that further adds to the cost of the experience.
All in all, the lifeline which the government seemed to offer to the restaurant trade….is more like a tightening noose.
Like this article? Subscribe to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters. Twitter: @zaconfidential
There are times of spectacular policy myopia – and promoting a revision to the Meat Safety Act by the South African government is surely one of these moments.
In late February the government proposed adding over 90 local and non-indigenous species to the list of animals regulated under the Meat Safety Act. Prior to this the act allowed for the commercial slaughter of 35 “domesticated animals” and “wild game” species.
The list of 90 included rhinoceros, hippopotamus and giraffe, as well as “all other species of animals not mentioned above, including birds, fish and reptiles that may be slaughtered as food for human and animal consumption”.
The purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products for human and animal consumption. The effect of the proposed amendment is to make the whole act applicable to any animal to be slaughtered.
It appears that at least part of the reason for these amendments is to regulate the slaughter of captive-bred lions, whose bones are exported in growing quantities to Asian markets.
If passed in its present form the act opens up the possibility of massive consumption of wildlife. How? By inadvertently driving up the demand for bushmeat through legitimising the consumption of protected wild animals.
This zoonotic spillover risk is strongest in “wet markets”, where live animals, fish and birds are butchered and sold to consumers on-site (as well as products like skins, scales and horns). A systematic review in 2007 concluded that:
The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.
Our fear is that the change in the law could lead to more wet markets being established in South Africa. While the amendments increase regulatory control, it’s not clear that the government will have the capacity to enforce them. More likely is the risk of realising unintended consequences.
Individuals and small businesses are likely to see this as an opportunity to enter a sector where start-up costs are minimal, sanitary standards difficult to enforce and oversight non-existent.
Trade in small markets already exists in South Africa, which double as markets for traditional medicine in some instances. One study of the Faraday Market in Johannesburg revealed that at least 147 identified vertebrates were being traded for both bushmeat and traditional medicine.
Preserving scarce wildlife
Putting African wildlife on the menu for mass consumption holds implications that are important for our relationship with the wild and environment. It reduces wild animals to mere consumables.
Remember that these amendments come in the wake of 32 wild animal species having recently been included in changes to the Animal Improvement Act, essentially relegating them to mere agricultural products.
What is being put forward by government signals that it is open season on the country’s national heritage and authorises a great expansion of the legal procurement of wild animals for sale.
As has been demonstrated time and time again, the formal legalisation of wildlife trade provides both a cover and an incentive for the illegal trade in wildlife and its products.
For example, the trade in perlemoen, or abalone, has been legal for generations and harvested on a sustainable basis. However, once permits were issued to unscrupulous front companies from Asia, the systematic stripping of the coast commenced with exports packed and sent out of the Cape and Johannesburg all under the legal guise of a legitimate business.
A significant portion of perlemoen has disappeared from coastal shores, depriving South Africans of employment, valued-add production (such as canning, now performed in Asian countries) and enjoyment of a national resource.
Defeating public health and conservation objectives
Promoting the consumption of wildlife in South Africa will only intensify the commodification of the country’s natural heritage. And it will potentially create zoonotic spillover health risks for humans as well as from wild animals like wildebeest to domesticated animals such as cattle.
We cannot continue to treat our delicate ecological systems as free capital. They are the vital life support systems without which nothing and no one can survive.
Happier days are here again, now that the lockdown in SA has eased, and we can once more purchase booze.
This podcast was recorded before the lockdown, and now it is lifted, we must rally to support the formidable wine industry in the Cape, which brings so much pleasure, whatever nonsense some in government may spout about the devil’s brew.
For our latest podcast, Michael Olivier introduced a lovely Cape red: Rickety Bridge; The Printers’ Devil Belphegor 2017.
Guest tasters were old favourites: brander Jeremy Sampson, analyst Chris Gilmour and IT expert Malcolm Macdonald.
There was also a useful discussion on the delights – and perils – of ordering wine by the glass.
Click below to enjoy the podcast:
Like this podcast? Subscribe to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters. Twitter: @zaconfidential
The ban generated such heat because, when the government began relaxing the lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that tobacco sales would be allowed. Then, at the apparent prompting of the minister responsible for lockdown rules, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the decision was reversed; the ban is still in force.
Dlamini-Zuma has an unfortunate tendency to lecture rather than persuade and her role seems to have turned muttered resentment among some into loud anger, directed not only at the tobacco ban but the entire lockdown.
And, since the loudest opposition has come from white suburbanites, it has revived the familiar conservative argument that a “nanny state” is telling citizens that it knows more about what is good for them than they do.
This complaint says more about the prejudices of those who make it than reality.
All governments restrict citizens to protect their health and safety: this is why we have traffic lights. And all democracies allow governments to restrict freedoms to protect citizens in an emergency – by, for example, cordoning off areas hit by fire and flood.
The “nanny state” argument expresses a belief that some of us should not be told what to do by those they consider their inferiors.
But this does not mean health measures will be obeyed. It is here that knowledge of society is important.
Erosion of legitimacy
Addictive substances harm health. But knowledge of how humans act in society tells us that, precisely because they are addictive. They can be regulated but banning them never works since addicts find other ways to feed their addiction.
Dlamini-Zuma’s belief that the ban will prompt “a sizeable number” of people to give up smoking is contradicted by knowledge of society.
This knowledge also tells us that, even among the vast majority who are not addicts, restrictions will fail if they lack legitimacy: people may not like obeying them, but, if they accept they are there for a good reason, they will comply. If they don’t, even thousands of troops will not get them to obey.
South Africa’s lockdown rules started with high legitimacy. But it has been eroded and has now dissolved.
The country locked down early, when cases and deaths were relatively few. This creates a legitimacy problem: people must sacrifice yet they do not see the fatalities and overloaded hospitals which influenced citizens of some European countries. But this problem was largely solved because citizens knew – and feared – what was happening elsewhere.
Legitimacy could have remained high if, like some other countries, South Africa’s had done what early lockdowns are meant to do – cut infections and deaths to a handful.
But this was never an option because the scientists who advise the government insisted that restrictions were not meant to stop the virus transmitting, merely to slow it down so that, when the “inevitable” surge arrived, the health system was ready.
They have not been challenged to defend this view because the debate never asks scientists difficult questions. An illustrative example is the claim (which she later clarified) by Professor Glenda Gray, chair of the country’s Medical Research Council, that Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital had no malnutrition cases before the lockdown. But it has created a legitimacy nightmare.
By Ramaphosa’s own admission, South Africa did not use its lockdown to establish the testing and tracing capacity which allowed some countries to beat back Covid-19. But, outside Western Cape Province, it restricted cases to about 11 000 and under 200 deaths by the end of May, figures similar to South Korea’s successful fight against the virus. Even in the Western Cape, there are a few hundred deaths, not the thousands seen elsewhere in the world.
So, the lockdown has been effective enough to ensure that its opponents can demand an end to restrictions without seeming callous. But it has not been effective enough to ensure the drop in infections and deaths which the World Health Organisation – and, initially, the chair of the government’s own medical advisory council – say are needed to phase out restrictions.
The legitimacy which comes from victory over the virus is not available and the official insistence that the restrictions are not meant to stop transmission has handed opponents a good reason to demand that they end even when infections are rising.
Legitimacy has not been eroded among most citizens, who remain deeply concerned about Covid-19. But it has been weakened sufficiently in the policy debate to create an orgy of interest group lobbying for an end to restrictions.
Business began pressing for freedom to operate and has largely succeeded. This set off a chain reaction in which, once one lobby wins, the others smell blood and demand that they too be free to operate.
This lobbying has replaced the veneer of science shrouding government decisions: concessions seem based purely on who shouts loudest. Domestic business travel is allowed, which may allow the virus to spread; religious services are opened although they have been prime spreaders of the virus everywhere; the government has tried to open schools although nearly 2 000 Covid-19 cases are below age 19. Only the tobacco ban remains.
What’s been missing
But the legitimacy of measures to fight Covid-19 is more important than ever because the only chance of curbing it is strict observance by businesses and other institutions of health measures.
The government is reduced to doing what it always does when it loses control – telling citizens they must look after themselves. Because people are worried by Covid-19, those who have access to trade unions or other forms of influence may do that. But, if the virus’s spread is stopped, it will be because people fear it, not because they believe that government measures are legitimate.
This might have been avoided if the government paid as much attention to a knowledge of society as it says it is paying to science.