For the 17,000 or so people directly employed in the alcohol industry, each COVID-19 bulletin on Btv is a nerve-wrecking affair, where one’s job can be ended live on air, with effect from midnight. Mmegi Correspondent, GOITSEMODIMO KAELO speaks to those affected and finds out how they are coping
The alcohol industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors in the COVID-19 pandemic, with three booze bans imposed since the first case of the virus was reported on March 30.
Industry players have been left bamboozled, their plans for the year thrown asunder by the uncertainty of operating with bans hanging over their heads.
Imbibers also have been struck by the same uncertainty, not knowing when the next ban is coming. Some buy in bulk and no ban comes. They relax and it arrives, finding them stranded.
What is certain is the impact on the livelihoods and lifestyles of all involves. Business in particular, with their extensive value chains which include everyone from distributors to the small village bar owner and the vendors who sell their fried sausages in the parking area, have faced an annus horribilis.
Godfrey Mowaneng, a businessman who has operated a bottle store for four years on the outskirts of Gaborone, says the frequent bans are a serious predicament that has harmed the industry.
Mowaneng says profits are now very slim and the situation has worsened to a point where he struggles to pay salaries, while unlicensed ‘dealers’ have taken advantage.
“The other problem is that individuals purchase liquor directly from wholesalers without licensing which now buries the industry. It is really tough.
“Some of our employees are breadwinners and the risk is that they might lose jobs or face salary cuts.
“We also have families to support and it has been a challenge since the pandemic took its toll.”
In the four years that Mowaneng has been running his operation, things look positive for a period, but now he has had to trim down to the bare minimum.
“It is difficult to cope. There is little we get,” he says.
Mowaneng is urging government to tighten the screws on unlicensed dealers and only allow those licensed to purchase from suppliers.
These unlicensed dealers are largely black market dealers who are fuelling illicit trade during the periods of booze bans. Prices of products balloon during the bans and the quality cannot be guaranteed, putting the lives of consumers at risk.
From the consumer point of view, an interesting development has also occurred as a result of the frequent bans. Some drinkers have opted to brew their own alcohol using common household products.
The term ‘motitielo’ has become popular as people are left
Kagiso Ditsala, a 35-year-old who says his drink of choice is Black Label, is amongst those who know brews his own motitielo. He says the need to quench his thirst drove him to the homebrews during the first lockdown that ran from April and May.
“I thought I could cope with the ban but just a week into the lockdown, my body needed something,” he says.
“There were trending recipes of homemade ‘concoctions’ on social media and I tried something also. “I told myself I would make mine, and would make it even stronger.”
After fermenting his brew for a week, Ditsala says the concoction got him tipsy but also worried about the side effects. The cost benefit was also not as much as he had anticipated as the ingredients for the mixture turned out to be expensive.
“I just wish authorities would look at it in a different way and not blame everything on alcohol.
“Some of us don’t drink because we like alcohol, but because of the problems we have. “It’s really difficult not to stay without alcohol. That why I’ll continue brewing something if the bans continue.”
For Ditsala, the booze bans are becoming a matter of life and death, given the health risks he is taking with his brews.
Mpho Motswakhumo believes many of these problems could be solved by government enforcing the consumption of alcohol from home. For him, the pain of someone hearing their job has ended overnight without any explanation is too much to bear. “This is especially the case because the latest new COVID-19 cases are not in anyway related to irresponsible behaviour by drinkers,” he says.
Motswakhumo says like others, he religiously followed the requirements to consume from home and is therefore disappointed that rather than dealing with delinquents, authorities have chosen the ‘draconian’ option of addressing the situation. “It is high time government treats liquor traders as stakeholders in this fight against Corona especially when it comes to closing their businesses,” he says.
“These frequent bans are bad because they open up opportunities for the black market, which does not pay tax.”