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Restaurateurs protest

Hundreds of workers and owners in the restaurant and hospitality industry took to the main road in Franschhoek on Wednesday (22 July) as part of the countrywide #Jobssavelives protests.

The aim of the protest was to highlight the plight of the industry that had been adversely affected by certain national lockdown regulations, including a 21:00 curfew and a ban on the sale of alcohol.

Chef and head of the Isabelo Charity, Margot Janse, says a response from government was hoped for following the countrywide protests. “Some of the regulations need to change,” she said. “We rely on tourism countrywide. The ban on the sale of alcohol and the curfew really prohibit restaurants from making money. One can’t do justice to a dinner if one has to be home by 21:00. We understand where the regulations come from, but we need concessions and need to be heard.

“There has not been a single reaction to what has been going on, not just in Franschhoek, but countrywide. There has not even been an acknowledgement that this is an important industry. We just need a reaction, acknowledgement and concessions. Some of these regulations need to change.”

According to Janse the need for food aid in Franschhoek is increasing, even with restaurants allowed to reopen for sit-down meals from 29 June. A lot of residents in Franschhoek are employed in the hospitality industry, but a lot of restaurants have chosen to remain closed due to the current regulations. The Isabelo Charity is one of the NGOs that provide ingredients to 12 soup kitchens in Franschhoek under the umbrella of Together Franschhoek. “It’s naive to think that restaurants can just reopen,” Janse said. “People need to understand what it takes to make money in a restaurant. It’s worrying. If we can’t reopen businesses the charm of Franschhoek that we’ve worked so hard on will be lost.”

Matthew Gordon, owner of The French Connection Bistro, says the restaurant will remain closed until current regulations are lifted. He says about 40-45 percent of his revenue comes from alcohol sales, and most of his trade takes place at night. “The problem is it will cost you more to open than to remain closed,” he said. “The restaurant is already heavily in overdraft. It would be irresponsible to reopen and throw more money down a big black hole.”

Gordon’s staff members have received payments from the Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters), and he took a loan out to pay half the salaries of his 30 employees.

“When the ban on the sale of alcohol and the curfew is lifted I will open my restaurant immediately. The regulations have really brought the industry to its knees. It will be very difficult to find a way back with the way things are at the moment. There will be massive closures if we continue in this way. The situation is just dire. There have already been a lot of job losses and we are heading for a humanitarian disaster.”

According to Gordon, those in the industry were hoping for some good news during the latest national address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday night (23 July). However, the industry was not mentioned at all during his address to the nation. “We were all waiting for just some kind of acknowledgement,” Gordon said.

David Schneider of Chefs Warehouse at Maison Estate says it reopened for takeaways and wholesale wines at the beginning of June. The venue has adjusted its business model as the lockdown restrictions have evolved. Due to current regulations it is open for lunch only on Saturdays and Sundays, with a heavy focus on its deli shop, which operates from Thursdays to Sundays. “We changed our offerings and lowered prices,” Schneider said. “We put a lot more effort into selling our own home-made goodies and try to appeal to people to take goods home with them.” He said if current regulations continued, even for just a few more weeks, he would have to make some very difficult decisions. “Without the sale of alcohol the business model just does not work.”

Schneider says he is currently trying to give his 40 employees all a chance to work some shifts. “We can’t afford to pay people their full wages. However, we need to be able to pay them enough so that they can live with dignity. Government is not providing us with enough support. There is just a complete disregard. They have no idea what a dignified living for a human being is and don’t know the kind of conditions people live in.

“Businesses ran out of money two months ago, and government is just watching them shut their doors. We can’t sit back and rely on government to make a move. It is going to keep ignoring us. There was not a single mention in the president’s address of something that affected every town in this country. What else are we going to have to do?”

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