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‘Million seats on the streets’ protest seeks to show plight of SA eateries

The restaurant industry has been thrashed by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, with a number of eateries closing their doors as a result.

FILE: Many cafes, eateries, and restaurants have carted their tables and chairs outside their establishments to show the hardships the industry is facing. Picture: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG/ CAPE TOWN – On Wednesday, restaurants across the country took part in the 'million seats on the street' protest to appeal to government to relax COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

The industry has been hit hard by the pandemic; with many owners saying it's been almost impossible to break even.

Although restaurants have re-opened for sit-down services under strict regulations, no alcohol may be consumed on the premises.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of the Restaurants Association of South Africa, Wendy Alberts, said they had received great support from the Parkhurst community.

“We can see that they are out and about. [There are] lots of people holding up placards and the media is here. We are waiting on the arrival of the minister so we can hand over the memorandum for the President to address the needs of the industry, to save the restaurant industry.”

On the warning from police that the protest was illegal, Alberts said: “Gathering is illegal. Every person has their constitutional right to protest so long as they are wearing their masks and social distancing and there is no crowd-pulling or crowd gathering.”

At the same time, in the Western Cape, restaurant staff and owners also participated in the ‘million seats on the streets’ protest.

Staff held placards reading ‘how many jobs and livelihoods are at stake?’

The owner of Cassia Restaurant in Durbanville, Warren Swaffield, said government needed to realise the sector was in dire straits.

“We are really struggling at the moment. We have gone through a retrenchment process of probably 40% of staff. We are running at about 20% of normal turnover. Finances are running low. We have had to knock on doors to beg and borrow.”

Workers from Hemel en Aarde restaurant in Hermanus take part in the million seats on the streets” protest on Wednesday, 22 July 2020. Picture: Supplied.

People protest outside the Hemel en Aarde restaurant in Hermanus on 22 July 2020. Picture: Supplied.

In Hermanus, head chef at the Brewery Hemel en Aarde, Bell McLeod, said the current lockdown regulations made it impossible to survive.

“With this curfew, you have got an hour before staff needs to clean down and make sure they get home safely before curfew, so they don't get smacked with a massive fine. So, when are we actually supposed to operate?"

She said as was the case with many restaurants, they had been serving meals to hungry communities in the area during the lockdown, but now they needed help to keep their doors open.

Workers from Hemel en Aarde restaurant in Hermanus took part in the million seats on the streets protest on Wednesday, 22 July 2020. Picture: Supplied.

Protest posters on the ground outside the Hemel en Aarde restaurant in Hermanus. Picture: Supplied.

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