Up to 30 000 shebeens in the Western Cape – the majority of them in Cape Town – face closure following Premier Lynne Brown’s signing of the Western Cape Liquor Bill on Tuesday this week. While many have hailed the new law as a blow against crime as shebeens are seen to foster acts of drunken violence, rape, and even shack fires – as inebriated shack dwellers fall asleep with their candles or paraffin stoves on – there are others who mourn the imminent closure of their favourite local watering hole.
Some even go so far as to say shebeen closures will herald the end of a culture era that spawned musicians and singers like Dolly Rathebe and the late great Miriam Makeba.
Shebeen owners, of course, are worried about how they are to make a living.
All shebeens owners who do not obtain a license according to the new Act face a fine of up to R500,000 or two-and-a-half years in prison.
Key among the requirements for obtaining a license is that the premises are not in a residential area (prejudice residents), or close to a school, church or old-age home.
The premises must also be ‘suitable’ for the purposes.
Also, anyone who has received a prison sentence within the last five years may not qualify for a license. With most shebeens operating in the middle of residential areas, nights are set to be a lot quieter in the Cape townships.
“We sympathise with our people but we can’t allow them to operate illegally because illegal shebeens result in the use of drugs, crime and road accidents,” said Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Garth Strachan.
Strachan said there were about 30 000 shebeens now operating illegally in the province but, “we can’t really close all of them down”.
Instead, he said, the flow of alcohol to the shebeens would be cut off by provisions in the new law which prevent the sale of liquor to unlicensed premises.
Community Safety MEC Patrick Mackenzie said illegal shebeens could face closure in as soon as two weeks.
Mackenzie said there was essentially a two week grace period as “some regulations” needed to be looked at first but shebeen owners should close of their own volition rather than waiting for police to crackdown.
“There is a lot to be done and we would like the shebeen owners to help us out by closing on their own,” he said, “even the public can help where they can.”
Premier Lynne Brown was quoted in the regional press this week as saying the police’s instruction was to “go and close them down, every single one of them”.
Interestingly, the new Act also outlaws the ‘dop’ system which the province is renowned for, wherein farm labourers would receive part of their wages in wine.
Anyone caught guilty of supplying liquor to an employee instead of wages is liable for fine of up to R1million or five years in prison.
* Reporting by Siyabonga Kalipa. Published in City Press, 30 November 2008.
Tavern owners wonder how they’ll support their families
For the last ten years he has supported four children, his wife and his parents who live in the Eastern Cape.
But 42-year-old Philippi resident Lwazi Mthandeki no longer knows how he is going to make a living.
And there are about 30 000 other bread winners in the Western Cape who are wondering the same thing. Like Mthandeki, they run their own shebeens.
But when Premier Lynne Brown put her signature to the Western Cape Liquor Bill on Tuesday their businesses were outlawed.
The new law prevents Mthandeki from selling alcohol from his house, and he faces a fine of up to R500,000 or two-and-a-half years in jail if he fails to comply.
“The new law should have just restricted shebeens from operating at night or selling to underage children, not force us to close down. The money we are making from our businesses is spent on food for our families. Where are we going to get money to buy food now?” Mthandeki asked.
He said he opened his shebeen after he quit his job as a gardener in Kirstenbosch in 1997.
He earns much more from his shebeen than he could have ever earned as a gardener.
While he is worried about the new law, he said he would carry on selling liquor.
“Even before the new law came into being, police had been behind us confiscating our profits. Nothing will change here, it is business as usual,” he said.
At a corner table in his shebeen sits 18-year-old Akhona Mpofu, sipping on a Zamalek and talking to friends.
Mpofu is quick to voice an opinion when asked what he thinks about the new liquor law.
Surprisingly, he supports the new law, saying it will help combat crime as most criminal actions were committed either inside, outside or near a shebeen and many rape victims were young girls who had been drinking in a shebeen.
Mpofu said the new law will force drinkers to buy takeaways and drink at their homes.
“I don’t have a problem with the new law. They are trying to help us and we should be grateful that they are getting rid of the shebeens,” he said.
When asked what would he do if it was him who had a shebeen and it was the only source of income, Mpofu said “then I would sell takeaways and think of another business idea”.
But Mpofu may be in for a surprise, the new law applies strict licensing conditions for off-sales and he may find that in future he has to take a 20-minute drive to the nearest business district in Nyanga to buy his takeaways to enjoy at home.
Another, often overlooked, aspect of the new law is the imminent closure of places where musicians and singers living in the townships have plied their trade, many eventually being boosted to stardom.
Cape Town born jazz singer Titi Tsura from Gugulethu said: “When we were growing up we went to the shebeens to enjoy local performances.” They were introduced to music ranging from ‘Mam’ Makeba to Kwela.
“But now that they are closing them (shebeens) down townships are going to be very dull.”
Tsura said people would have to spend money to travel into town to hear their local musicians and future talent would rise to stardom without their local community ever having heard them singing at their local drinking spot.
She admitted that shebeens were often crime hotspots but said restrictions should have been put in place rather than simply closing them down.
“How are our people going to live now? At least there should have been projects put in place to give them skills so they can survive.”
* Reporting by Sandiso Phaliso. Published in City Press, 30 November 2008.