Hospitality staff protest lockdown restrictions

Restaurants owners and employees protested against government lockdown regulations last week. Picture: Supplied

Restaurant owners, staff and others working in hospitality say they are struggling to pay rent, to put food on the table and to look after their children, all because of national coronavirus lockdown restrictions that affect the way they operate and earn an income.

At a nationwide protest from Wednesday July 22 to Friday July 24, restaurant owners and staff called on government to relax regulations, particularly the 9pm to 4am curfew and the ban on the sale of alcohol.

Under the banners of #JobsSaveLives and #ServeUsPlease, the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) raised awareness of the desperation in the industry.

Protesters formed a human chain outside parliament on Friday holding placards with pleas such as, “Save our restaurants, keep our country alive, save jobs”.

Tatum Weder, a restaurant owner in Gardens, said their sector is struggling and now employers are left with no choice but to lay off some of their staff.

“We closed for more than two months and when we finally re-open, the government hit us with curfews and other regulations taking away bread from many households,” she said.

Amanda Mengeze, a member of the kitchen staff at an establishment in Sea Point, said she hasn’t had an income since March.

“I’m a single mother and I’m struggling to make ends meet for my children. We’re yet to receive the UIF payout and now because of the curfew, our shifts have been reduced.”

Sharing these sentiments, Richard Ncube, who works as a bartender in Mouille Point, said he was on the brink of being homeless. “I managed to pay rent with my savings between March and April but I couldn’t in May and June and my landlord’s patience is growing thin. I might just find myself on the streets soon,” he said.

Rozanek Reza, from Art of Duplicity in Buitenkant Street, and her colleague, Neil van Bergen, said the alcohol ban had been bad for business. “We’ve lost our jobs, and we need to get them back… I’m hungry,” Ms Reza said.

Mr Van Bergen said the liquor ban had left them without work. “I need to pay rent and I still haven’t received my UIF benefits.”

Peter Cutler, from Cheynes’, a restaurant group that trades in Claremont, Hout Bay and the Cape Quarter, said he was unemployed with two children to feed.

Tania Sabor, from Sea Point, held a poster saying, “Tourists’ paradise with no tourists.”

“What is paradise with no service?” she said. “The government needs to help us; we need to get people back to work, earn a living and help them be sustainable.”

Mpho Tsotetsi, of Gardens, said she hadn’t received a salary since March. The restrictions had caused more gender violence because people were frustrated they couldn’t provide for their families, she said.

Friday’s peaceful protest was disrupted when when police used stun grenades and a water cannons to disperse the crowd, saying they didn’t have a right to protest.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz, Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier and mayor Dan Plato say the police’s response was unwarranted given the reportedly peaceful nature of the protest.

“It is absurd,” Mr Plato said, “that SAPS and the SANDF are not able to fully mobilise enough resources to respond adequately to violent protests in areas which are experiencing looting, public violence, land invasions, destruction of property and barricading of roads, and yet they are able to mobilise water cannons and stun grenades at the drop of a hat to disperse peaceful protests.

“I have raised this matter with the provincial commissioner, Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata. It is essential that SAPS’ Public Order Policing’s (POP) protocol be urgently reviewed.”

Mr Maynier said tourism and hospitality businesses were bleeding jobs and closing because of Covid-19 but instead of getting a “constructive and common-sense” response they had been met with “flip flopping, uncertainty and unnecessary use of violence in response to a peaceful protest. These businesses can open safely and they should be allowed to do so.”

Mr Plato urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to heed what he said were the hospitality and tourism sectors’ legitimate concerns.

“Various sensible proposals have been made by the representative bodies for these industries, and national government can no longer ignore their plight. It is unacceptable that a peaceful protest by business owners and employees fearing for the loss of their livelihoods is met with water cannons and stun grenades.”

By Monday July 27, the Western Cape had 91 180 cases of Covid-19, with 75 595 recoveries and 2 897 deaths.