Cooking a Storm: Restaurant staff protest across South Africa

Chef Liam Tomlin (center), owner of Chefs Warehouse, stood with protesters in Bree Street, Cape Town. He said around 300 employees could lose their jobs at his restaurants. Photo: Achraf Hendricks

Demonstrations by restaurant workers opposing some of the Covid-19 restrictions took place in various centers across South Africa on Wednesday. Restaurants want the government to lift the curfew and end the smoking and alcohol ban. The call was made this week for a million chairs to be put on the streets of the country in protest.

Tourism Minister Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane accepted a memorandum from the South African Restaurant Association on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Zoé Postman

Restaurants in Parkhurst, Parktown North, Melville and Rosebank in Johannesburg participated in the protest. Some restaurants put tables and chairs on the sidewalk with signs that say “#Save Our Restaurants” and “#JobsSaveLives”.

A group of about 25 staff from Rockets in Parkhurst and people supporting the protest held signs as cars howled in support.

Patience Sibanda has been a pizza maker for six years. She said: “Our teams have been downsized because people don’t come to restaurants, which means less money for us. We are supposed to operate until late at night, but with the curfew we cannot. “

Wendy Alberts of the South African Restaurant Association said the 20-week lockdown has been tough on restaurants. “Our staff have no jobs and the doors to our restaurants are closing. The ban on alcoholic beverages as well as the curfew have been a major factor in this regard, ”she said.

She said restaurant staff had been severely affected as payments from the Unemployment Insurance Fund had still not been made.

Alberts handed a memorandum to Tourism Minister Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane, who said she would pass it on to Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The minister said the ministry did not have the capacity to authorize alcohol sales but would continue to raise issues affecting the industry. “The balance between lives and livelihoods will remain important,” she said.

Kubayi-Ngubane said she was working with industry and government to get some of the restaurant safety protocols published.

Students from the Silwood School of Cookery joined the protest in Cape Town. Photo: Achraf Hendricks

In Cape Town, around 100 restaurant workers gathered on Bree Street. Some put chairs and tables on the street, forcing traffic to be diverted. Protesters also marched through the city center accompanied by a truck with musicians and a loudspeaker system chanting: “Jobs save lives”.

“We are doing this to show how many jobs are threatened in our industry and how many jobs have been lost,” said Liam Tomlin, owner of Chefs Warehouse and four other restaurants. With the alcohol ban and curfew, Tomlin said his restaurants may only be able to stay open “six weeks,” which could affect up to 300 people.

He said it was costing “a small fortune” to keep staff on board while still paying fares, rent and overhead.

Tomlin said most of the benefit comes from alcohol. With the curfew, they have to close at 7 p.m. so staff can finish and be home by 9 p.m. “Table service no longer exists,” he said.

“The culinary culture in South Africa is an important thing and it will be a shame to lose everything because of a lockdown,” said Ludeke Niehaus, a freshman at the Silwood School of Cookery. With the restrictions, Niehaus said, wine farms and the country’s best restaurants will close.

“The hospitality industry is obviously collapsing and the government is doing nothing to help it,” he said.

On the Muizenberg seafront, a group of protesters from Tigers Milk, Knead Bakery and Lucky Fish & Chips held signs by the side of the road at Surfers’ Corner. Photo: Lucas Nowicki

During a protest in Muizenberg, Tigers Milk branch manager Nicholas Goodman said the alcohol ban and limited seating had been hit the hardest. The restaurant was operating with only 20 people out of a staff of 80 due to the downturn. “Now imagine that nationwide,” he said.

He said many people in the industry struggled to access UIF and ended up without any income.

Staff at the Next Chapter restaurant on Florida Road in Durban set up a project by placing tables and chairs outside the restaurant. Photo: Nokulunga Majola

Various restaurants in Durban responded to the Restaurant Association of South Africa’s call, but metro police told them to disperse.

Mike Holland of the Next Chapter restaurant in Florida Road said 48 employees would lose their jobs at his company. “We are not listened to. With this demonstration, we hope that the government will listen to us and save thousands of jobs, ”he said.

Bradley Hollis of Butcher Boys said 40 jobs were at stake. “We have had to close because of the lockdown and if the situation continues we will be forced to close permanently,” Hollis said.

Durban Metro Police spokesperson Parboo Sewpersad said the protest was against the law. “We were given a directive that there should be no gatherings of any kind. Any protest that takes place violates the Disaster Management Act, ”Sewpersard said. Putting chairs and tables on the sidewalk was also illegal, he said.

Empty chairs were placed along Marine Drive in Port Elizabeth and restaurant workers held up signs. Photo: Joseph Chirume

On the Port Elizabeth waterfront, only Barney’s restaurant in Hobie Beach answered the call to protest. Staff lined up empty chairs along Marine Drive while holding up signs. Passing motorists hooted in support.

Restaurant manager Jacques van Aswegen said: “We have a staff of 44, but we are now forced to work with ten employees… The government should find ways to give meaning to the industry before other jobs are not lost ”.

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