Durban: It will be one for the Book of Records, says Mozambik Restaurant co-founder Brett Michielin. Annihilation of an entire economic sector in record time. This week the restaurant industry will protest many of the lockdown regulations and so-called ‘aid’ that has decimated an industry that used to employ more than a hundred thousand South Africans. The 1 Million Empty Seats on the Streets campaign kicks off this week with a protest on Wednesday organized by the Restaurant Association of South Africa.
“The President can watch the protest from the comfort of his armchair,” says Michielin. “But what I want to see is some real action.” Michielin has invited President Cyril Ramaphosa for lunch at any restaurant in South Africa, with Mozambik picking up the tab. “Come and see what the lockdown regulations have done to the industry, to entrepreneurs, and to jobs. Do not take a view from an Ivory Tower, Mr. President, Uzibonele! Come and see for yourself!” He adds that what many people have worked for, now lies in tatters.
Michielin argues that many of the regulations and guidelines governing financial assistance during this period, from government, are more damaging than beneficial. “We all understand the challenges that Covid-19 has placed on society, business and government. We are all quite situationally aware and always have the wellness of our staff, customers, and fellow South Africans as a priority. The entire industry has gone to significant lengths to ensure this. But we also need to provide for our staff and families. The opportunity cost of a string of stop-start decisions and endless rhetoric is jobs, Mr. President. Many, many jobs.”
The ridiculous regulations that allowed restaurants to sell take-away alcohol but not serve it in a controlled environment and then, the subsequent reprise of the ban. A new curfew, tobacco causes Corona; Whatever. “Social distancing, extreme sanitization, responsible citizenry. Protecting the economy. Should this not be the focus of a government that cares? Should the police service not zoom in on true crime, as opposed to raiding restaurants – this while someone’s car is probably being stolen next door?” We are more than annoyed, muses Michielin.
He adds: When it comes to funding assistance, some businesses are more equal than others. “Mr. President, should thousands of employees feel the scorn of your playbook because the business owner that needs help does not match the profiling criteria employed in the allocation of relief? All jobs matter, all families matter and, I thought, South Africa matters.” What was the South African Dream in 1994 has now become a nightmare. “One I hope we all wake up from, soon.”
“I don’t pay taxes to listen to Sunday night speeches that point fingers and continue to erode our livelihoods as South Africans. I pay taxes to fund a government that should be serving the people and ensuring the wellness of everyone, especially the destitute.” But, Michielin adds, “The tax base dries up, Mr. President, businesses continue to fail because they were not equal enough for assistance, entire value-chains collapse and millions are left hungry. This is not what I had hoped for the Rainbow Nation. Uzibonele, Mr. President!.”