I can’t breathe.

A cry from the SA craft brewing industry

by Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela

As I sit and think back on the past 18 months and the four episodes of alcohol ban that came after the state of National Disaster was declared, I cannot help but think of George Floyd and his famous last words “I can’t breathe”.

For those who may not remember George Floyd, he is the guy that made news after passing away last year due to a police officer pressing on his neck for over 9 minutes while two other officers restrained him. Floyd repeatedly pleaded that he could not breathe, this for more than 20 times, while being completely ignored by these officers.

Floyd’s story resonates with me and what I have personally been going through with my craft brewery Brewsters Craft since the start of the covid pandemic in the country. To me the government is like the first officer who through the alcohol restrictions and bans had pressed a knee onto my business. From the first ban in April 2020 to the current one, it has been months and months me pleading “I can’t breathe”, each time the cry falling on deaf ears. Even when the restrictions and ban were lifted, the knee was still pressing. The ripple effect of the bans was felt throughout the alcohol value chain to an extend that even when alcohol sales were allowed, everyone was still having same difficulties to “breathe.”

The two officers who had restrained Floyd may not have physically pressed the knee themselves, which led to his death, but could have taken some actions that could have possibly saved Floyd’s life. To me the two officers represent my financing institution and landlord. The landlord is what I choose to call the good cop, the one who had the intentions of helping, this through giving us some rental payment relief during the first two bans. However, the financing institution, was as good as having pressed the knee themselves. They were the worst of bad cops, the ones who probably thought “you can still talk Floyd, therefore you can definitely breathe”. As a state-owned entity, one would have expected them to be the ones who would understand and give more support, but unfortunately they also chose to ignore the cry “I can’t breathe”.

Sadly, after over 9 minutes and 20 times of pleading for dear life, Floyd passed away. Similarly, after months upon months of pleading for dear life for the brewery, I got to a point where we had to close down. Like Floyd’s death could and should have been avoided, the closure of Brewsters Craft and the many other craft breweries could and should have been avoided. The thousands of people who have lost their livelihoods could and should have been avoided. I still believe the total ban of alcohol was not the best way to have manoeuvred through the last 18 months, as a country we should have explored other options of saving lives from covid19 pandemic while also saving livelihoods and the economy. For example, had we opted to allowing off-consumption retail from the time of the first ban, South African would have mostly likely learnt by now that its perfectly ok for one to purchase their alcohol of choice and drink responsibly in the comfort of their own home without having to gather.

How many more people should loose their livelihoods due to the continued alcohol bans?