Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel on Thursday gazetted new regulations permitting the sale all goods on online shopping platforms except tobacco products. Previously, South Africans could only buy essential goods via e-commerce.
This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Wednesday that the government will make changes to level 4 regulations “to expand permitted business activities in the retail space and e-commerce and reduce restrictions on exercise.”
It also follows the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) announcement on Thursday morning that it will take the government to court over restrictions on e-commerce and exercises as well as the 8pm-5am daily curfew.
However, the relaxation comes with strict hygiene and social distancing rules that e-commerce retailers, customers, and courier/delivery services have to adhere to.
For instance, retailers must sanitise all goods, delivery personnel must have their own hand sanitisers and wear cloth face masks, and both customers and courier/delivery personnel must maintain a distance of at least one-and-a-half metres from each other.
Customers must also wear a cloth face mask or item that covers the nose and mouth while receiving goods. They are also encouraged to disinfect goods using Department of Health guidelines or those provided by retailers.
Prior to the notice, the government was facing increasing pressure to further open up e-commerce. Business for South Africa CEO Cas Coovadia and SA Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter had spoken in favour of the move.
DA welcomes decision
In a statement, DA MP Dean MacPherson welcomed the government’s decision, which he termed as “long overdue.”
He said, “The Minister should not be applauded for doing what was clearly the right and logical thing from the very beginning.
“Make no mistake, this is a humiliating about-turn for the Minister after initially banning e-commerce for the irrational reason of it not being ‘fair.’
“This repositioning by the Minister follows unrelenting public pressure and legal action that the DA had initiated today in the high court against the banning of unfettered access to e-commerce by South Africans.”
MacPherson further called on Patel to relax other restrictions such as those on the sale of certain clothing items.
Writing on Twitter, fellow DA MP Leon Schreiber added, “Piece by piece, we will beat back every bit of lunacy until we’ve ended the ANC lockdown crisis.”