South African chefs unite for industry: “Allow our staff to put food on the table”

Chefs in South Africa are united under the slogan #JobsSaveLives to show the effects of strict restrictions imposed after the pandemic on the restaurant industry.

Restaurants in South Africa, which were closed for months due to the pandemic, thought they would make a good start in the summer season with the easing of the measures in June. However, with the government’s recent re-introduction of a nationwide ban on alcohol sales and the curfew that was stretched from 9 pm to 10 pm, restaurants united to make the voice of the industry heard. The campaign, started by chef Liam Tomlin of Cape Town’s Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, began with restaurant teams, their producers and even winemakers posting poignant images to social media, holding placards detailing the number of jobs at risk should their businesses fail.

JobsSavesLives has since ballooned, with thousands of restaurant workers taking to the streets in peaceful protest, and many restaurateurs symbolically moving empty restaurant furniture out into the roads. It’s reported that some protestors have been met with force by the police. “It was originally meant to show how many jobs [President Cyril Ramaphosa] was putting at risk within our group of five restaurants,” says Tomlin “Within 10 days it had turned into a peaceful protest on the streets throughout South Africa and further afield. Now it has a global following.”

Matt Manning of Cape Town’s Grub & Vine agrees the measures have been devastating. “It’s like saying to a hairdresser, ‘You can reopen, but you can’t use your scissors or hairdryer,” he says. Manning, who’s recently launched his own initiative, the Restaurant Rescue Project together with Radford Dale winery, believes many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of dining out, something the government should address. “I don’t believe the virus is going anywhere soon, so we need to learn to live with it,” he says.

Despite the rise of #JobsSaveLives, many in the industry feel they are still not being heard. “I honestly don’t think this government or anybody working within this government has a clue about hospitality or the hospitality industry,” says Tomlin. “Lift the bans, allow us to trade, open the borders. Allow us to save jobs, allow our staff to put food on the table.”