Illegal liquor trade under siege

Cases of beer that were found at illegal liquor stores during the operation. PHOTO: supplied
Cases of beer that were found at illegal liquor stores during the operation. PHOTO: supplied

With the illegal liquor trade on the Cape Flats constantly under siege by authorities, many mothers still take the risk, knowing well the consequences.

With police constantly reporting on arrests and confiscations, especially from female traders, little has worked to discourage the continued illegal sale of liquor.

Lindsey Pietersen, a single mother of two says she had been involved in the trade her entire life, having taken over the “business” from her father.

“My father owned a licensed outlet in Strand. When we moved (to the northern suburbs) he continued to serve from the premises in Strand. Many people knew he ran a liquor place and would often come to our house to see if they could buy any here or if he could organise anything for them,” she says. “There came a time when he would start taking orders and delivering to their homes or having them pick it up at our house.”

Eventually, the Strand outlet closed down due to the family’s financial situation, she says, however they continued to trade from their home until the stock had been cleared.

Struggling to find another source of income, her father used his connections to obtain more liquor for sale.

“My father said he wouldn’t continue for much longer. He only wanted to get back on his feet but the continued pressure and the constant demand meant people constantly knocking on our door. Sometimes in the middle of the night. It became a cycle that he could not break,” she says.

Years later, she took over the business run from a wendy house on their property.

“I had only one child that time. The father was not in the picture and I needed to make ends meet. I needed to provide. The money was better than any retail job I could find. It was about providing for my family,” she says.

While she has since moved away and left the business behind, she says she understands the circumstances some face.

“It is easy to judge us for turning to crime. I knew the consequences, I would pick up the newspaper and see people being arrested or fined, but at that time, all you can think about is survival. That is what it was for me, survival. It was dangerous, not knowing if you would be next, being robbed and not able to report it or having to lie. But I needed to put my family first,” she says.

Another trader, known only as Benita, says she has a licensed outlet which started as an illegal trade from her home.

“This is a market that is competitive. People want to outsell others and it is dangerous. Where I live, many sell to children and some sell at all hours of the night. They make more money that way so that means you have to compete somehow. And often there is no choice but to do the same,” she says.

Benita has since moved to another location and obtained a liquor license. She says she also joined the trade to provide for her children. “I was in an abusive relationship. My children were going to be taken from me if I left. I needed to do something. I started from my house selling beers. I bought them from the local shop and sold them for more expensive, but people bought because I was the only one who had. There is a culture of drinking that people can’t live without,” she says.

Liquor is a legal substance, hence the stigma attached to the illegal sale thereof is less than that of dealers selling other substances.

However, the lasting effects and consequences of liquor consumption are underrated. Unregulated trade also results in easier access, misuse and this leaves room for further consequences.

Albert Fritz, provincial minister for community safety says: “Illegal outlets are unregulated. This often prejudices communities in these areas. Crimes and offences related to the misuse and contravention of liquor regulations are commonly associated with illegal outlets.”

“Illegal outlets are primarily regulated by the police as these contraventions are investigated for purposes of criminal prosecution. The Liquor Licensing Tribunal is limited to licensed outlets,” says Fritz.

“It must, however, be noted that although the police have regular successes in the closure of illegal outlets, most of these premises operate in a way which makes successful prosecution very difficult. Illegal traders are familiar with the sections in the act which establish ‘prima facie’ evidence of illegal trade and therefore avoid situations in which the police can collect evidence of the act of selling liquor illegally.”

Most criminal cases are based on the volumes of liquor found in possession of the suspect and this evidence on its own has proven to be insufficient for purposes of successful prosecution, says Fritz.

While the illegal trade is prevalent across Cape Town, many arrests take place in poorer communities, these are where council homes and rental stock are more prevalent.

Mayco member for human settlements, Malusi Booi urges residents living in rental stock or council homes to avoid illegal activities. “Beneficiaries of Breaking New Ground (BNG) units are reminded that as property owners, they are responsible for all matters pertaining to their homes, which have become their assets,” says Booi. “Tenants can be evicted from rental units if they are found to be in contravention of the conditions of the agreement of lease; for example rental arrears, unlawful occupation, any form of anti-social behaviour, illegal activities or owning property elsewhere. It is important to note that the police is the lead authority on investigating criminal-related activities and therefore complaints in this regard need to be investigated by them.”

In addition to the designated police units, the City also employs its own liquor unit. The unit has come under much scrutiny from the public for its confiscations of liquor, especially over the festive season.

“The confiscation of alcohol is one of the most crucial elements in the City’s annual festive season operational plan because of the link between alcohol consumption, anti-social behaviour and compromised safety. The festive season road safety report released earlier this week indicates that nearly 60% of road fatalities in South Africa involve alcohol. In Cape Town, alcohol is listed as the second leading cause of fatal drowning incidents,” says Mayco member for safety and security, JP Smith, in a statement.

Fritz says the regulation of outlets could assist in minimising the behaviour associated with illegal sale. “The White Paper Policy aims to bring a greater number of unlicensed outlets into the regulated space which will enable more effective regulation and greater impact in terms of harm associated with illegal outlets. It is common cause that certain communities find it difficult to have access to legal outlets due to strict zoning requirements. Efforts to engage municipalities to relax zoning legislation have been successful to a certain extent, but discussions in this regard are still in progress.”

Police have warned to continue the fight against illegal liquor sales facing arrests for sales, fines and confiscations for those who buy from illegal outlets. To anonymously report illegal sales SMS 35395 or call 0860 10111.

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