No power to the people

In 2012, at a hearing in Alexandra for the proposed Gauteng Regulations on Shebeen Licenses, a shebeen owner made it clear that he was not happy that there were community members in the meeting. ‘If community members have a say over this issue, 80% of shebeens would have to close down’, he said

This is an extraordinary and illuminating admission by a shebeen owner that the vast majority of community members are not happy with the presence of shebeens in their neighbourhoods.

On 1 March, the Gauteng Department of Economic Development published, in Gauteng Government Gazette 56, the Regulations which will govern the long-awaited process of converting shebeen permits to shebeen licenses.

For those who do not know the background to this, here is a quick summary.

In the mid-2000s, the Gauteng government decided to take control of the ever-increasing problem of illegal liquor outlets in the province. They invited all unregistered liquor outlets to apply for a Shebeen Permit which would regularise their legal position and allow them to sell alcohol without fear of action being taken against them. The Shebeen Permits were supposed to last for one year, after which the registered shebeens would in some way be licensed in terms of the Gauteng Liquor Act of 2003.

This did not happen. The validity of the permits was extended a number of times as the Department sought solutions. Our concern is that the Regulations that have now finally been published have not taken into account some of the key issues raised in the hearings and in written submissions.

Foremost amongst these was a request that the Shebeen Regulations give communities, the SAPS and municipalities the opportunity to object to applications for Shebeen Licenses. The published Regulations provide no such opportunity. The comment by the shebeen owner at the 2012 hearing in Alexandra has great significance in this regard – if he is right that an empowered community voice would mean that up to 80% of shebeens would have to close because community members would not approve their applications, the Regulations have effectively prevented this from happening.

Is this deliberate? We know that one of the objectives of government policy on liquor is that those people who were previously excluded from the liquor industry because of apartheid should now be given access to the economic opportunities offered by the industry. We know also that the department wants to minimise the financial burden on those who want to apply for a Shebeen License.

We do not disagree with these objectives – in fact, we support them. But it should not happen at the expense of the general quality of life and rights and safety of community members.

The Gauteng Liquor Act of 2003 allows community members the right to comment on applications for liquor licenses. Applicants must publish their applications in the Government Gazette and in two local newspapers. This means that it is possible – difficult but possible – for community members and the SAPS to get information about applications and to make a decision on whether to oppose such applications. Municipalities are consulted directly because there are issues related to zoning rights and land use and planning that have to be taken into account.

However, the new Shebeen Regulations do not seem to allow the possibility of objections being lodged by anyone, not even municipalities. There is a section which says that the process is subject to clauses in the Gauteng Liquor Act, but only insofar as ‘prohibitions, exemptions, enforcement and judicial proceedings, offences and penalties, compliance and renewals are concerned’. The Regulations state that inspectors will inspect the premises of applicants and submit a report and that the Board must take into cognisance ‘whether the premises are suitable for the purposes for which they will be used as per the inspectorate report’, and ‘ in the case of a shebeen license, on consumption, whether there are sufficient toilet facilities and whether meals will be served’.

There are no guidelines as to what makes a premises ‘suitable’, so it is difficult to see on what grounds the Board would properly assess an application.

Also of concern are the following:

  • There can now be ‘off-consumption shebeens’ ie bottle stores. Because most shebeens are in residential areas, this means that someone can operate a bottle store from their house. And nothing in the Regulations seems to prevent an on-consumption shebeen from becoming an off-consumption shebeen.
  • There are no restrictions on ‘entertainment’, which means that a shebeen owner is free to play music or even have a live band to entertain his or her guests – once again, in a residential area.

Here is one example of how these Regulations will disadvantage others just so that one shebeen owner can have approval to operate. One of the many shebeens in Yeoville Bellevue has been operating with a Shebeen Permit since the mid-2000s. It was run fairly well until recently. The music was quiet and the neighbours were not unduly disturbed. If a complaint was made, the shebeen owner apologised and corrected the situation.

Now things have changed. Younger family members have taken over. Disturbance levels are very high. People gather on the pavement in large numbers. The noise is affecting a number of residents in the properties opposite the shebeen. The guest house next door has seen a decline in business because of the noise and the congestion on the pavement. Properties behind the shebeen now hear the noise until the early hours of the morning.

The problem is that, under the new Regulations, this shebeen can apply for a license and no-one will have the opportunity to object, even though their rights are already being violated by the current operations. 

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4 Responses to No power to the people

  1. Bexie says:

    Thank you for this blog. It’s so interesting and well worth reading. I have pictures of Hunter Street and, quite honestly, I don’t even think I should show them to anyone.

  2. Wendy Landau says:

    Hi Maurice thanks for these posts. Could you add a share widget so I could share posts to Facebook etc?
    Cheers Wendy

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