Having a shebeen as a neighbour

2011-01-14 00:00

THE status of the capital city has taken a knock in the past year with the Msunduzi Municipality being put under provincial administration for irregular and corrupt activity. It cannot go unnoticed that the city has also become burdened with another scourge, that of the illegal distribution of liquor.

Pietermaritzburg has had a steady increase in the number of shebeens within the municipal jurisdiction. Many of these premises are not registered with the municipality nor are they licensed to sell alcohol by the KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Board.

The KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Board regulates distributors who are registered and who are permitted to dispense alcohol.

The board deals with these legal distributors. So who deals with the illegal distributors of liquor who play loud music advertising late- night bingeing?

I thought the liquor board would be interested considering that they are in the sector. But it they are not.

Then I thought that the Department of Trade and Industry or the South African Revenue Services (Sars) would be interested as these illegal outlets are increasing competition for the liquor industry, are not registered and thus do not contribute to the tax base. Guess again.

The onus is on the already overstrained police force to crack down on these illegal distributors of alcohol. The reality is that the police are powerless. The police can ask to see the operator's licence and registration and, in the case of non-compliance, they can open a docket and the legal process can proceed.

However, the cases drag on and these distributors continue to operate until they shut down and move, only to open up a shebeen somewhere else (this is incentive not to set up a legal commercial enterprise).

Sometimes these illegal operators become fugitives of justice, having committed crimes of various descriptions even against police officers.

From a social perspective, these shebeens are often open all night, thereby eating away at precious social grants and encouraging risky sexual behaviour and crime in residential areas. The loud music and knife fights in these residential areas are common. It is not uncommon for shebeens to operate out of Reconstruction and Development Programme houses, car washes and butcheries.

What is clear is that unregulated shebeens that operate in residential areas are not conducive to raising well-balanced South African families.

At the least, it would be nice if shebeen operators listened to their neighbours when they complain that the late-night music is rattling their windows and shebeen customers are having unprotected sex in their yard.

• The author lives next door to a shebeen in the Msunduzi Municipality.

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