Law enforcement and business sources in the liquor industry said at least seven police officers and security personnel had responded to the scene of the crime during the unrest at the depot in Otto Volek Road last Tuesday morning.
However, sources said that police officers quickly ran out of rubber bullets and became helpless “spectators’ while looters pillaged and wrecked the premises.
One industry source said that just hours before looters finally torched the building, a plea for help had been escalated to police management and senior government officials. However, the cry for help apparently fell on deaf ears as the first responders had not been assisted with reinforcement at the scene and by around noon on Tuesday looters set the building alight, sending plumes of smoke into nearby residential areas.
SAPS spokesperson Brenda Muridili said the police did not comment on individual incidents during the unrest.
Distell spokesperson Dennis Matsane said the depot had been “looted nd damaged” during the recent unrest in Durban over the last week.
“We can confirm that our depot in New Germany was looted and damaged. We have arranged additional security for all other sites in South Africa until the situation calms down,” he said.
“The safety of our staff is always our first priority, and, as a precaution, we have temporarily closed a number of operations in the affected areas.”
Matsane added that the firm had “repeatedly wanted that bans on alcohol fuel illegal activity, which has now worsened right across the areas affected by unrest.”
“This impacts both tax revenues and future livelihoods as the economy suffers. We will continue to work with government to find pragmatic and effective solutions to promote responsible consumption and support South Africa’s economic recovery,” he said.
National Liquor Traders Council spokesperson Lucky Ntimane said that liquor traders were concerned that the alcohol ban would make small businesses the next target of looters.
“From the perspective of liquor traders the concern is that the targeting of primary liquor manufacturing plant and distribution, places us liquor traders in greater danger of being targeted next. We are basically sitting ducks in our own homes guarding stock so we can restart our lives after the ban,” he said.
Ntimane has repeatedly called on the government to lift the alcohol ban to save jobs and small businesses.