The people are chooketh! But they still can’t have hot lockdown ...

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The people are chooketh! But they still can’t have hot lockdown nosh

The government has swiftly tweaked the regulations banning cooked hot food, despite Saffers’ rising anger

Bekezela Phakathi
Critics insist the ban on hot cooked food was not explicit in the previous regulations.
'The rules don't fly!' Critics insist the ban on hot cooked food was not explicit in the previous regulations.
Image: Valentina Razumova/123RF

The government has moved quickly to amend lockdown regulations, formally banning the sale of cooked hot food in updated regulations published on Monday.

This comes as anger grows at some of the government regulations meant to limit the spread of the contagious and potentially deadly coronavirus, with some seeing the rules as “draconian and unreasonable”.

Last week trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said retailers are not permitted to sell hot foods throughout the lockdown period. This is ostensibly to limit the movement of people as the government battles to curb the spread of the disease.

However, the ban on hot cooked food was not explicit in the previous regulations, prompting business lobby group Sakeliga to threaten legal action, saying “there is no lawful restriction on the production of ‘warm’, ‘cooked’ or ‘prepared’ food as the minister and his department continues to insist”.

Retail chain Woolworths had also obtained a legal opinion from law firm Webber Wentzel, which said there was no provision in the lockdown regulations that prohibits the sale of any category of food.

The reference of any ‘food product’ means any item that can be consumed by a human being.

“The word ‘any’ is intentionally used [in the regulations]. The reference of any ‘food product’ means any item that can be consumed by a human being. It does not matter whether the item is raw, processed, frozen or cooked; nor does it matter whether it is healthy or unhealthy; nor does it matter whether it is luxury or not. Whatever the item is, it can be sold to consumers,” according to the legal opinion.

Woolworths subsequently said it had decided to immediately close all hot-food counters to adhere to the communication by Patel, despite the legal opinion. 

On Monday, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma gazetted amendments to the regulations explicitly banning the sale of cooked food. 

The previous regulations listed the sale of “any food product including non-alcoholic beverages” as an essential service. The updated regulations state that “any food product, including non-alcoholic beverages, but excluding cooked hot food” may be sold during the lockdown period.

DA MP and trade and industry spokesperson Dean Macpherson said Dlamini-Zuma has hurriedly amended the lockdown regulations to explicitly ban the sale of cooked foods “in an attempt to put a lid on the public humiliation minister Patel was subjected to after he stated on the 16th of April that ‘as the law stands’, the sale of cooked food was banned. This was clearly unlawful and Patel had to rely on his cabinet colleague to cure his legal nightmare.”

The DA was set to approach the North Gauteng High Court and lodge urgent papers to have Patel’s comments declared unlawful and to seek a personal costs order against him.

“Today’s amendment now makes what was illegal, legal and is shortsighted and mean spirited, especially for frontline healthcare workers, members of the security services, essential service workers and transport workers like truck drivers who rely on cooked food due to the work they are doing.

“This will also be particularly devastating for the elderly who may be unable to cook food due to their frailty,” Macpherson said.

He said he would write to Patel through the party’s lawyers, requesting the reasons for the ban on cooked and prepared food by midday on Tuesday.

“We will then be able to decide on our next course of action. The DA remains committed to ensuring that the executive does not overreach its mandate as we have seen. It is an important test case in the lockdown to ensure that ministers treat citizens with the respect they deserve and are held to account for their actions.”

On Monday, Sakeliga’s Daniel du Plessis said the measures were “irrational” and far from clear in “that they are contrary to recommendations made by a multitude of international bodies and experts”.

“It is important to note that the new regulations only prohibit the sale of warm foods and, accordingly, this represents a small step in the right direction.

“In contrast to some claims made by state entities in the last week, it seems that it is now permissible to prepare and sell frozen or cold foods. We encourage businesses to look into ways in which they can adapt to these restrictions to still serve their customers and support their employees,” said Du Plessis.

The organisation initially gave Patel until 9am on Monday to explain the ban or it would go to court. Patel asked for an extension until Wednesday.