The ongoing prohibition on alcohol and tobacco is hurting Pick n Pay's bottom line, its chairperson told shareholders on Tuesday, but they are also important when it comes to recovery.
The booze and cigarette bans "more than any other decision taken by the government during this pandemic" are the ones that "risk creating cynicism and division that we cannot afford"," said Gareth Ackerman at Pick n Pay's annual general meeting.
"South Africa is virtually the only country in the world that has prohibited the sale of these products during the pandemic. There has been no explanation as to why South Africa is right and so many other countries are wrong. What explanations we have been given have been confusing and contradictory.
"And, sadly, everyone knows that tobacco and liquor remain readily available through the black market."
The result, Ackerman suggests, bodes ill for the enormous recovery effort South Africa must now focus on.
"The government will have to be far more deft in getting the economy back on its feet," he said. "It will have to recognise its limitations and withdraw from controls it has put in place, play to its strengths and allow citizens and the private sector to play to theirs, unleashing the creative energy of the whole society."
He called on the government to rely "more on persuasion and co-operation, and less on control", and for a focus on "critical reinvigoration, not over-regulation".
But Ackerman provided no reason to believe that will happen, based on government's coronavirus response to date.
"The government has on several occasions reassured that they are listening and consulting," he said. "But we see little evidence of this."