With the sale of alcohol banned for over a month, the illegal booze trade has mushroomed with sky-rocketing prices. People who used to frequent shebeens in Maseru and Leribe say syndicates have stepped in and are charging excessive prices for conventional brands of alcohol. The alcohol ban was to allow police and the health sector to better focus on tackling the coronavirus, according to the National COVID-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) and security authorities.
Alcohol-fuelled violence and road accidents are a huge problem in Lesotho. Doctors and police say the ban has had a substantial impact, contributing to a sharp drop in casualty admissions in local hospitals and health centres. But the country's booze retailers argue that they are being driven out of business. Hence many decided to proceed with their business through a network operated from backdoors.
“Honestly, I have made more money than ever. Beer is sold everywhere in the country from backdoors and consumers don’t mind the increased prices, as long as they have access to the alcohol. This brings in more profits than ever before,” explained a retailer who owns a tavern in Motimposo, Maseru. Asked why she had doubled her liquor prices, the woman who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal she remarked, “I’m taking a huge risk. I will have to pay a M10 000 fine should I get arrested and failing which, I will go to jail. Let’s just say the extra charge is meant to cover for security purposes that could include paying a bribe to the police.” Another illegal liquor trader Mohapi of Hleoheng in Leribe also echoed the sentiments of the Motimposo tavern owners.
“We are risk-takers who only strive to survive after restrictions were imposed on our alcohol selling businesses as part of measures to fight the COIVID-19 pandemic. Since these regulations were introduced, the rate of binge drinking has increased enormously throughout the country. People have money because they no longer buy clothes and other things that they don’t consider important now; hence they drink alcohol a lot. We have also managed to retain our employees via the backdoor business,” he said.