A chef at Rocket, a restaurant in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, holds a banner during a protest organised by Restaurant Association of South Africa to protest against the national lockdown regulations.Picture: Luca Sola / AFP
A chef at Rocket, a restaurant in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, holds a banner during a protest organised by Restaurant Association of South Africa to protest against the national lockdown regulations.Picture: Luca Sola / AFP

The government is shredding its goodwill faster than police minister Bheki Cele can say "booze ban" or transport minister Fikile Mbalula can toady up to taxi bosses.

On Friday, hospitality workers staged a peaceful protest outside parliament to highlight the plight of a sector that’s been brought to its knees by the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it was the temerity of South Africans asking the government to #ServeUsPlease that made the police see red — or, perhaps, it was the flutter of ribbons ensuring social distancing in the human chain — but the response was predictably heavy-handed: police lobbed stun grenades and dispersed protesters with a water cannon.

SA’s restaurant industry would be struggling even without the chokehold of regulation: patrons are struggling financially, and many would simply rather eat at home than put themselves at risk. Factor in the sacrifice of seating space to create social distance, the curfew that curtails the dinner trade, and the ban on even limited alcohol sales on restaurant premises, and it’s an industry on the edge.

Yet in the face of prevarication and absurdity from the government, the sector has shown itself willing to adapt, innovate and compromise to find solutions. In this, it deserves the ear of the powers-that-be — not knee-jerk bullying by a government that’s all out of ideas.

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