South Africans in high spirits after government lifts two-month-long ban on purchasing alcohol

Will Brown
Customers queue to buy alcohol for the first time in two months in Johannesburg -  Themba Hadebe/AP

During Monday’s lunch hour, huge queues stretched outside alcohol stores as workers desperately tried to stock up. Videos on social media showed shoppers emerging from liquor stores armed with bottles and beer cans to chants and cheers of joy.

When the pandemic began to take hold in March, the South African authorities were quick to see that their health system would buckle under the strain.

In late March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced one of the most draconian lockdowns worldwide - including a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

The government said its ban on alcohol was also an attempt to prevent a surge of domestic violence cases, which have accompanied national lockdowns around the world.

However, police say the ban may have boosted criminal gangs with a surge of alcohol smuggling from neighbouring countries such as Namibia.

Since the lockdown began, at least fourteen people have died after consuming poisonous homebrew. In the Eastern Cape region, police said three people died after consuming a drink which contained methylated spirits.

Workers help a customer load alcohol in to his van in Pretoria - PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP

Mr Ramaphosa’s lockdown initially enjoyed strong support from across the political spectrum. 

But large parts of the economy have started to collapse under the pressure. According to estimates from South Africa’s central bank and chamber of commerce, the country’s GDP could shrink by seven per cent this year and unemployment could rise to a staggering 50 per cent

The president has been forced to reopen the country even though the number of recorded coronavirus cases continues to rise.

South Africa has now moved to ‘level three’ of its five-level coronavirus alert system, meaning the vast majority of the economy is reopening for business. It was estimated that more than eight million people went back to work yesterday.

Revellers will be able to buy alcohol for home consumption from Monday to Thursday. But bars and pubs will remain closed.

The news comes as South Africa delayed a planned reopening of schools until June 7. Schools were meant to reopen on Monday but unions representing teachers told their members to stay at home until they were fully prepared with protective equipment.

South Africa has tested more for coronavirus than any other country in Africa but it is now struggling with a shortage of testing equipment. 

South Africa has recorded 32,683 cases of coronavirus and 683 deaths. However, predictions from the government’s own scientists are sobering. They say that some 40,000 South Africans could die because of Covid-19 this year.