Greg Sherwood MW: Government Lockdown Madness
By Greg Sherwood, 22 April 2020
It’s now lockdown day 20-something and counting. You will hopefully excuse my slightly vague use of dates and timings in this editorial piece as I don’t really know what day of the week it is let alone exactly how many days it’s been since lockdown was announced to be honest. All I remember is that South Africa announced its draconian total shut down a few days after the UK was already in full national self-isolation. My mantra then, as it remains now, was ‘keep calm and carry on drinking’.
However it seems that if, unlike me, you do not happen to have over 1,400 bottles of fine wine squirreled away in every nook and cranny of your house plus two cellars under the house, total lockdown might present itself as a rather distressing and daunting time. In the UK, we of course awaited the lockdown with bated breath and when it was eventually announced, the date of which eludes me, we were simultaneously relieved and distraught in equal measure. But like all common-sense democracies, the UK government was wise enough to acknowledge that if they chose to follow the legislated route of social distancing and shut down every bar, pub and restaurant in the country, it was obvious that they would not also be able to prohibit retailers, merchants and supermarkets from selling alcohol and tobacco. That surely would be madness personified! After all, America has its liberty and its right to bear arms and the UK has its right to consume alcohol… both at levels that may or may not prove detrimental to one’s own health or the health of others.
But of course, one needs to separate the tendency to self-harm versus the need to harm the nation as a whole, and that is exactly what the South African government chose to inflict on the population in its nationwide ban of alcohol sales and exports. As the country moved from a “no you can’t” to a “maybe” to a “yes you can” export status, hopes lifted and indeed at the time of writing my last Letter from London for Winemag.co.za, the decision was merely a day away from the South African government changing tact, allowing limited exports of wine and spirits to start proceeding once again. The subsequent time line becomes hazy once again but within one or two days, this decision seemed to be reversed. The reason? Well, the only one I have heard anecdotally being the South African governments inability to safeguard the transportation of wine and alcohol shipments to the Cape Town harbour and other national ports.
In all seriousness, this is something I write about with a very heavy heart. Only just today, I ‘penned’ a letter of support for the Cape Winemakers Guild Chairlady as part of their lobbying of the South African government alongside the broader South African wine industry, in an attempt to reverse this perverse policy of madness and self-flagellation. My missive (which you can read here: CWG Lockdown Letter) acknowledges the sensible desires of the government to try and temper the level and intensity of alcohol consumption during the local national lockdown, but what I just cannot understand, together with the entire South African wine industry, is the willingness of the South African government to commit to a policy of self- and national harm. After all, the South African exchequer is ultimately the net winner or loser in this game. Banning exports of South African wines and spirits is madness!
I’m generally not one to indulge in conspiracy theories, but my mind has been consumed by this issue over the past weeks. Reading the sub-text from government and proponents of the export ban, I have been unable to come to any other conclusion other than this being a blatant overt political move on behalf of the national ANC lead government to utilise this moment of fragility and weakness in the Western Cape’s armour, which is lead by the opposition Democratic Party on a provincial level, to deliver a resounding blow to the heart of its economy and most of its citizen’s livelihoods. After all, the next biggest income generator for the Western Cape, its tourism industry, has already been dealt a crushing blow by the ANC’s newly adopted bedfellow, Covid-19.
Well, there it is… I’ve said it. No doubt I will get a lot of stick for this line of thinking, but with what is at stake, I am more than happy to walk a sensitive line and call out this situation as I really see it. The damage being done in Europe and other international markets for South African wines is incalculable and unfortunately, we will only really see the true results of Covid-19 and the ANC government’s policies months after the crisis has subsided. What is assured is that however transient the Covid-19 illness proves to be in South Africa’s national context, the damage entrenched by the government’s ill conceived and foolish policies will very sadly prove to be long lasting.
- Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years travelling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London and is today Senior Wine Buyer. He became a Master of Wine in 2007.
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