First came the social media posts of restaurateurs and their staff, holding up signs that declare how many jobs each business provides – and how many have already been lost. Then came the nationwide peaceful protest on Wednesday, ‘Million Seats on the Streets’, with the hashtag #Jobssavelives, which saw restaurants placing their tables and chairs in the street adjacent to their premises from 12:00 to 14:00.
Initiated by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA), this collaborative campaign invited President Cyril Ramaphosa to take up a seat at any of the empty tables and engage with the industry on the hardships they are enduring. The strict operating guidelines, including the ban on alcohol sales and the 9pm curfew, continue to cripple one of South Africa’s best-loved trades while restaurateurs are doing everything in their power to survive and save the jobs of their staff.
Disappointingly, the President did not refer to the restaurant industry or the protests once during his address the following evening, but just about everyone else has sat up and taken notice of the restaurants’ plight. Here in Hermanus, the protest was enthusiastically supported by the public and there was a joyful atmosphere throughout the town, with passing motorists blowing their horns in support, and local musicians performing at several venues.
While some restaurants such as Fisherman’s Cottage, The Wine Glass and Café 1904 had opted to put their tables and chairs on the side of the road so that traffic down Main and Harbour Roads was not disrupted, other restaurants, including Char’d, Lemonicious, Fusion and Burgundy had blocked off Market Road and Marine Drive by placing their tables and chairs in the street.
It did not take long for SAPS and Law Enforcement officers to arrive and demand that the streets be reopened. This led to heated arguments as crowds gathered in front of Burgundy while restaurateurs, including Henri Grové of Fusion and Grove’s Café, Petri Hendriksz of Char’d and Pear Tree, Rudolf van der Berg of Burgundy and Anton Verhoogt of Fisherman’s Cottage tried to reason with the traffic officials. Councillors Jean Orban and Kari Brice, as well as Deputy Mayor Elnora Gillion arrived to try and mediate between the parties and, thankfully, the issue was finally resolved and the show could go on.
Cases have been opened against the offending restaurateurs but one of them, Rudolf van der Berg of Burgundy, says it was important to him to take a stand for the restaurant’s 63 staff members, most of whom live in Zwelihle. “I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” he says, “but it’s our unemployed staff who will suffer the most. The reality is that people are frustrated and fed up.”
Further initiatives are being planned by the local hospitality sector, following a meeting on Monday between the owners of various accommodation establishments, restaurants and other tourism stakeholders, including Cape Whale Coast Tourism Manager, Frieda Lloyd and Deputy Mayor of the Overstrand, Elnora Gillion. All agreed that the narrative that needs to be pushed now is that ‘Hermanus is open!’.