SME owners have suffered greatly due to Covid-19

NTHA Quarterly Column

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be difficult for everyone, but particularly small business owners have suffered to a great extent. We have heard of small business owners who have lost their businesses, personal belongings, friends as well as their family members.

During the lockdown period, a ban was placed prohibiting not only the sale of cigarettes but also the sale of alcoholic beverages. Even though it was banned for the entire country, the ban still greatly affected many entertainment outlets as most of us couldn’t reopen our businesses once the ban was lifted. Some of us were forced to close permanently as we could not afford the rent for our business premises and landlords closed their doors on us! What the government failed to understand is that as liquor traders, our business premises are rented to meet the requirements of the liquor board. Many of us have to pay monthly rental fees on these properties!

Many of us couldn’t afford to continue with our rental payments, debts, bonds, school fees or even maintaining the provision of food to the mouths of those that are less privileged within our communities. There were no relief funds to release us from the financial stress created by Covid-19, unlike other businesses, which were assisted with relief funds. The National Tourism and Hospitality Association is part of the tourism industry and yet we were not assisted but we are still expected to pay for the renewal of our licenses! As a result of the lockdown, 20% of the owners of liquor trading companies lost their livelihoods.

Many associations and companies pleaded with the government to lift the ban entirely, as livelihoods were at stake and the economy was being compromised. Many questions were being raised about South Africa being the only country at the time with an alcohol ban. Not long after the president lifted the ban, it was reinstated because the virus was spreading as many people refused to adhere to the Covid-19 regulations and may people lost their lives.

Traders were forced to open and close three times within the space of a year but how is it that we are still required to live and pay for the renewal of our licenses without any assistance? We have no idea what the future holds regarding this pandemic but we, as liquor traders, have pledged to work hand in hand with the SAPS and our communities to stop the spread of Covid-19.

We are doing this by making sure that we report irresponsible trading, ensure our fellow traders adhere to Covid-19 regulations as well as plead with government and law enforcement to tighten up the fines for irresponsible trading. We also plead with them not to punish the entire nation, but rather deal lawfully with particular individuals. Many have witnessed that certain individuals benefited from the ban of alcohol and cigarettes by selling alcohol and cigarettes at inflated prices, irrespective of the president’s wishes, and this added to a further spread of the virus.

As the National Tourism and Hospitality Association, we will help curb the spread of this virus by making small business owners and traders take full responsibility for making sure that their customers adhere to the regulations set out by the government to curb the Covid-19 infection rate.

We understand the importance of adhering to all regulations without putting at risk or jeopardising our rights to make a living. We plead with the government to work hand in hand with us to create and enforce stricter control over irresponsible traders as well as citizens, as we’ve worked together before. We ask kuthi izandla mazihlangane.

By:Phumzile Ratladi, NTHA Secretary