On this Monday 1er June, the atmosphere is festive from the early morning, however freezing in the South African township of Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg: dozens of people line up in front of liquor stores ready to reopen after nine weeks of diet dry.
Since the start of the containment due to Covid-19 on March 27, it has been prohibited to buy beer, wine and spirits in South Africa, the continent’s country most affected by the pandemic with more than 34,000 cases including 705 deaths. Officially, the ban was intended to reduce pressure on emergency services and limit domestic violence, a real scourge in South African society.
But after strong pressure from consumers and the industry, the cellars were able to reopen Monday as part of a relaxation of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“Soaked my lips in the foam”
“We’re on a little cloud, so excited”, says a client, Bongani Khumalo, 36 years old. “There is a crowd”, he adds in front of a store in Soweto. “I’m here to buy my beloved beer”says Anele Mapoma, a 31-year-old nurse. “It’s been a long time since I dipped my lips in the foam and made … burps”, he says with a smile.
In the winding queue, customers, masks on their faces, have their arms loaded with empty beer crates ready to be filled. “I woke up very early to be here”, 24-year-old says, admits on condition of anonymity “This day for a month”.
At 9:00 am sharp, the liquor stores finally reopen. At the entrance, security guards take the temperature of customers, who enter in small clusters. At the start of this month, “People have been paid and others are happy to finally return to work. I think people have every reason to party “, says Bongani Khumalo, a self-employed worker.
South Africa moved from health alert level 4 to level 3 on a scale of 5 on Monday with the return of more than 8 million workers to work. Bongani Khumalo is relieved because prohibition has fueled the black market for more than two months. “It was very traumatic when people had to buy alcohol illegally, they pushed up prices so much”, he explains.
At 30e world rank
The same is true for cigarettes, the sale of which is still prohibited, despite the anger of consumers and manufacturers who have taken legal action. The ban on the sale of alcohol has been lifted, but sales remain tightly controlled: store purchases are only possible Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
During the confinement, police minister Bheki Cele championed prohibition, blaming him for the drop in crime seen since the end of March. He made no secret of the fact that he would have been in favor of keeping the ban.
South Africa is at 30e world ranking in alcohol consumption per capita, according to 2010 figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). Asenathi Faleni, 22, who admits to being a bottle junkie, considers the ban on several weeks that put him on a dry diet completely justified. “Otherwise, the virus would have spread much faster because we, the drinkers, do not really listen once we are drunk”, he admits before refueling.