Calls to open industry

Home Restaurant and Bar in Harfield Village having a protest outside their restaurant from left, waiter Ntsikelela Pasi, owner Charlie Bowler and assistant chef Patience Mabala.

Restaurant owners say lockdown’s 9pm curfew and liquor ban are squeezing them out of businesses.

From Wednesday to Friday last week restaurant owners and hospitality workers protested under the slogan #JobsSaveLives and #ServeUsPlease.

Among them was Charlier Bowler, owner of the Home Restaurant and Bar in Harfield Village, a feature in Second Avenue for 20 years.

He said the curfew was killing his business, which employs nine people, because many of his patrons only came out for dinner from 7pm.

“It is a rush and we must make sure we get done and clean up all before the curfew time.”

And not being able to sell alcohol had cut 70% of his revenue, he said.

“Most of the staff have families; they need to buy food and pay rent.”

They had started selling takeaways but the restaurant was never meant to work that way, he said.

Scarpetta, an Italian restaurant in Woodstock, also joined the protest by moving a table onto the pavement.

Owner Ricky Turilla said Covid-19 was having a domino effect on the industry.

“The curfew doesn’t even make sense, what difference would closing at 10pm or 11pm make to the lockdown?” He said their landlord had been “very accommodating” and the restaurant was buying its meat and vegetables at local stores to support them.

They alcohol ban hasn’t been a problem because the restaurant doesn’t serve liquor.

Retha Tait, co-owner of the Alma Cafe in Rosebank, said they used to host small live performances for about 50 diners but lockdown had changed that.

To adapt, they started a food delivery service at the beginning of June and sold cakes and other sweet treats.

“In the past we would promote our venue to artists, now we must find ways to save our venue,” she said.

This Saturday they are holding a small market for local traders.

When hospitality industry protesters demonstrated outside Parliament on Friday, police told them to disperse, saying they didn’t have a right to protest, then used a water cannon and stun grenades on them.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz, Finance and Economic Opportunities MEC David Maynier and mayor Dan Plato said 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.”

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 the 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.”

The protest on Friday was supported by the #i’mstaying movement.

Founder Jarette Petzer said they wanted to get a million people to stand up for their rights by September.

“We want to shut South Africa down. We need to open the economy because jobs save lives,” he said.