Two employees of The Hangar and The Iron Crown in Haenertsburg with their signs in protest of the lockdown regulations. Image: Joe Dreyer

As the entire country participated in silent protests the harsh regulations of the lockdown, local restaurateurs were prohibited from doing so. But they went ahead and did so anyway. Restaurants across the country took two hours in solidarity on Wednesday afternoon against the new laws announced by President Ramaphosa banning the sale of alcohol. This after a call by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa).

Organizer of the Haenertsburg protestors, Louis Claassen, told Bulletin that the group’s application to embark on a peaceful, silent protest was immediately dismissed by the office of the Speaker in the Greater Tzaneen Municipality. According to her, a representative of the Speaker said that the application was not even looked at or considered and when she asked why, was met with the response “what do you want in a time of disaster?”

The Iron Crown. One of the iconic restaurants and pubs in the Haenertsburg area, faces closure due to the draconian lockdown regulations. Image: Joe Dreyer

The police hierarchy in the province also denied the application to protest and a crime intelligence unit from Tzaneen was dispatched to the tiny village to investigate the imminent uprising. This despite the silent protest being labelled and defined as a peaceful action. At the same time, ironically, the police in Gauteng had their hands full with violent strike action in Khayelitsha.

Claassen who owns The Hangar restaurant and lodge just outside Haenertsburg expressed her anger and frustration at the situation which has caused more than 800 000 job losses around the country since the start of lockdown. “Two years ago, this very same president spent an afternoon here at my lodge where he met with farmers and residents of this area. In that meeting this same man promised all of us that employment will be a priority to his government. This man lied to us!”

The famous Magoebaskloof Hotel has recorded losses amounting to R4 million since the start of the lockdown in South Africa. Image: Joe Dreyer

Two other ladies who joined in the fight were Audrey Earle, who owns the Iron Crown pub in Haenertsburg and her close friend and neighbour, Jenny Glodek who owns the only liquor store in that area. These two businesswomen have both had to lay off staff and are fast approaching the end of their financial tether with no foreseeable end to the lockdown. “We are having to find ways to pay our staff, not because they can actually come in and work, but so that they have some money to at least feed their own families,” explained Earle. “My barmen and waitering staff literally don’t have work despite the restaurant being open. Without being allowed to sell alcohol, it is virtually impossible to make any sort of profit.”

It is not only the smaller eateries and pubs or lodges in the area that have suffered massive financial blows either. Magoebaskloof Hotel reportedly lost out on roughly R4 million income since the start of the lockdown with them only permitted to accommodate business travellers. The hotel’s staff and management carried all of their chairs and tables into the entrance to their establishment next to the main road in protest against the seemingly nonsensical regulations.

The government has in the meantime defended it’s decision stating that the ban on the sale of alcohol is aimed at freeing up the hospitals and emergency wards for the expected wave of Covid-19 patients predicted for the end of the month. According to the government the hospitals cannot be clogged up by other casualties when they need to focus on having beds for the Covid-19 patients.

Another legendary pub, The Pot and Plow, is up for sale and has seen no business since the start of the lockdown. Image: Joe Dreyer