Liqour traders vow to fight proposed bills

Hordes of tavern owners and sheebeners gathered at Lookout Hill, Khayelitsha to deliberate on the steps to take regarding proposed changes in alcohol laws.

The proposed amendments to the National Liquor Act, which includes raising the country’s drinking age limit to 21, and a Western Cape Alcohol-Related Harms Reduction Policy Green Paper have caused concern among tavern owners.

The respective changes and draft policy by the national and the provincial government had been opened for public comment until yesterday, Wednesday November 30. However, the provincial government has decided to extend its deadline until Wednesday December 14, following a public outcry, especially from tavern owners.

The announcement comes hot on the heals of a meeting held at the Look Out Hill, on Monday November 28.

It was organised by Vuma Liquor Traders’ Association to discuss the tavern owners’ concerns, including a possible march against the proposals which they worry could affect them.

They said decisions to formulate laws on their behalf destroyed their business, and had a negative impact on the country’s economy. They also argued that raising the age limit would not stop people from drinking. The current drinking age limit is 18.

According to the Province, the draft policy is intended to guide the government’s approach to the regulation of alcohol in the province.

The Green Paper is a result of extensive input from a diverse public sector working group, commissioned by the Western Cape Government, they said.

Dr Laurine Platzky, Western Cape Government deputy director-general: Strategic programmes, attended the meeting at the Lookout Hill. She denied claims that the bill was aimed a killing businesses.

Dr Platzky said the alcohol industry needed to be regulated and be controlled.

“The truth is that the industry is a huge problem. They need to understand that this business kills people.

Gender-based violence, car accidents, stabbing and many more are caused because of alcohol. That we all know. We are not saying every bad thing is entirely because of it, but most of the incidents are. We need to bring more shebeens to the regulator space,” she said.

She called on the industry to be more responsible.

She said the government spent huge sums of money on alcohol-related problems. She called on the tavern owners to look at some of the harm caused by those who abused alcohol.

Dr Platzky told the tavern owners that the green paper, among other things, proposes a pathway for illegal traders to legitimise their businesses.

Proposals in the green paper include:

* Reducing easy access to alcohol (especially underage drinkers), by limiting trading hours or ensuring ID verification at purchase points;

* A focus on the entire value chain – including responsible consumption, responsible production, distribution and trade. This would be achieved through clamping down on illegal distribution channels and outlets, among other things; and

* Support for price increases as a means to impact on binge and youth drinking, especially on payday weekends.

Chairperson of the association, Keith Ntoyi said they were not happy. He accused the government of not talking to them or their association while drafting the amendments and policies. He said raising the legal drinking age to 21 would not be an effective deterrent for alcohol consumption among young people, but would create more illegal shebeens.

“Our concern is unemployment and poverty. The government talks of black empowerment, but is doing the opposite. Stats have shown that we contribute a lot to the economy of this country. We also employ more permanent staff, unlike the government that provides three months projects of work. The government should look at the impact of these bills,” said Mr Ntoyi.

He also argued that the 45-day window period for comment was not enough. He said the government should have used other methods than to advertise the amendments in media. He argued that letters could have been delivered to them as law enforcement knew where they stayed, especially when they wanted to arrest them.

“The proposed act is not good. This will lead to chaos and to an increase of illegal shebeens. We will march to parliament to ask to be given more time. We are citizens of this country, and we deserve to be treated with respect,” he said.

Mr Ntoyi said the government should look at other ways to reduce alcohol consumption, rather than creating “unnecessary laws”.

Popza Tavern owner, David Sawla said it was ridiculous for the government to try to kill their businesses. He felt the laws were designed to clampdown mainly on black-owned businesses. “They should stop advertising something that concerns us on radio, newspapers and internet. We do not have time to read papers and go on the internet. All we do is check discounts on papers. They should come straight to us or approach our organisations,” he said.

Mr Sawla said they were prepared to protest against the proposed laws. “This affects our businesses and people who work for us. As creators of employment we are concerned. We do not steal or kill people to have money. Most taverns employ from three to five permanent workers so there is a need to be concerned,” said Mr Sawla.