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Restaurants, tourism on knees

On Wednesday (22 July) many in the restaurant and tourism industry took to the streets to draw attention to this struggling crucial sector, which is seriously affected by the strict protocols and bans relating to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Restaurants and eateries around the country took part in the “Million seats on the streets” peaceful protest last Wednesday, from 12:00 to 14:00.

Dubbed the biggest protest to date by the South African restaurant industry, it saw many restaurants in the Langeberg and elsewhere in South Africa put chairs outside their empty and dwindling premises.

The Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa), which organised the campaign, reportedly notified the South African Police Service of the planned protest in a letter dated 15 July.

A social media announcement of the protest read: “Dear Mr President, we cordially invite you to take a seat at any of our empty tables and talk to us about the hardships we are facing.”

Many businesses in Robertson and surrounding areas participated. Even the local tourism offices showed their support for struggling businesses.

Posters held aloft read, “I lost my job. Four mouths to feed” and “110 jobs will be lost, 550 people affected” and more, expressing their hardship and frustration with the situation driven by government.

They are feeling the effects of the initial 21-day closure of these businesses, the limits imposed by partial relaxations associated with shifting lockdown levels, curfews as well as prohibitions on the sale of alcohol, which has especially affected the wine industry adversely.

Manager of Montagu-Ashton Tourism Mareletta Mundey says the current reality of the lockdown is devastating, resulting as it has in many job losses. She said these entities, which are members of her organisation, are “bleeding”, and consequently the greater community is also suffering.

“For a small rural region such as the Langeberg, which is heavily dependent on tourism for economic growth, one can imagine how businesses are affected,” Mundey said, “and how our humanitarian crisis is getting bigger by the day, so many people are not able to feed themselves and their families. The reality and the painful personal impacts of this crisis hit me again on Wednesday when reading each poster with their desperate calls for help -- ‘Feeding 3 families’, ‘Feeding 8 mouths’, ‘Single mother, no job, no income…’

“These are painful, but real, and we can no longer just sit still and allow our industry and local economy to die.

“A day like Wednesday is a good place to start – to stand up and bring to attention the real impact. We need tourism to operate as soon as possible. We need the jobs that tourism creates. We need the restaurants and businesses to be able to open and earn a living for all the terribly affected employees. As my poster said – I represented all our members and the numbers is devastating.

In all, we’re speaking of 165 members, 900 jobs and 3 500 mouths to feed, which are conservative estimates.”

Robertson Tourism also participated in the protest, representing its members.

“Our members include those in the tourism sector – wine farms, restaurants, accommodation services, and so on,” manager of Robertson Tourism, Renate le Roux, told Gazette. “It was an emotional day and reality really hit hard. Some people, breadwinners, not receiving an income for the last three or four months with more than four mouths to feed daily.

“We support these businesses and we are all ready to be fully operational, we need governments approval. Besides agriculture, tourism is the second biggest industry in our area.

Chef and owner of Christina’s Bistro @ Van Loveren Delia Clarke told Gazette her restaurant’s turnover was down by around 75%.

“The government needs to allow restaurants to sell wine to accompany their meals,” she said. “The curfew also has a negative impact on dinner restaurants, and is only hurting the industry more and more. We have staff from South Africa and registered workers from Zimbabwe. They have been registered with UIF since starting their jobs with us. Until now not one of them has received any payment from the [Department of Labour’s UIF-Covid-19 TERS National Disaster Application System].”

Owner of the popular restaurant Bourbon Street Leon Ward said a bigger and much greater pandemic is making its way to our doors.

“More than one million people in the industry will be affected and can lose their jobs. Hungry people, and hunger in general, is an irreversible effect. Currently unemployment stands at more or less 3 million people, give it a month or three, and people will be shocked. Total chaos is brewing with no winners in sight!”

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