In a u-turn this morning, it was announced that one aspect of the controversial liquor law – no selling for off-consumption on Sundays in Cape Town – would be put on hold. Officially, it is still in place, but according to the Cape Times ‘enforcement of the law will be suspended.’
This will allow retailers in business areas such as Harleys in Wale Street, Vaughan Johnson in the Waterfront and Ultra Liquors in Green Point to continue trading on Sundays – it is too late for Caroline’s in the Waterfront who is continuing with plans to close her shop, a decision made in part by the expected forced closure of her business on Sundays.
According to the Cape Times, the DA feels that there has been insufficient consideration taken for the jobs of people who work in the retail and hospitality industries. They are therefore going to look at the decision and put it out for public comment again.
Over the past two weeks, there has been plenty of public comment on many aspects of the liquor act on these pages – hundreds of them to be precise. There has also been plenty of comment on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, both from South Africans and from overseas parties surprised and unimpressed by the draconian implications of the Act.
The Act did go out for public consultation a few years ago, but the response at the time was apathetic – “it’ll never happen” and it seems that the apathetic were justified in their attitude because look – it hasn’t.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t and if there is room for public comment on this one issue, then maybe there is room for comment on other issues. Such as:
• Off-licences being able to sell after 6pm. This issue is likely to cause a lot of inconvenience both to customers and retailers as most supermarkets for example were intending to close sales at 5pm in order not to have riots at the cash-outs. According to Mike Bampfield-Duggan of Wine Concepts, trade naturally falls off after 7pm anyway but that last hour can provide a reasonable amount of welcome additional income for hard-pressed retailers.
• Keeping more than 150 Litres of liquor in your home. It has become very clear that the Liquor Board had no clue as to who was being caught in this net. This clause, almost certainly included to prevent illegal shebeens, has caught many respectable citizens who have wine maturation cellars at home. The Western Cape government was unprepared for people to actually apply for the requisite permission as the experiences of wine writer and collector Angela Lloyd can testify. If this regulation is to remain in place, there needs to be a simple and clear procedure for people to follow which is not currently the case.
• Trading on the same erf as a petrol station. Whilst there may be good reasons behind this part of the law, surely it was intended to apply for convenience stores in petrol stations selling liquor and not a restaurant in the V&A Waterfront? Damaging to trade, damaging to our reputation – this law has caught the government with its pants down and needs to be amended.
• Consistency within the Province as to trading hours and zoning. This needs amending as much for the authorities as the public. According to Danie Cronje of Cluver Markotter Inc, there is already confusion amongst the authorities as to how to apply the current law. This can only get worse as the whole issue of zoning comes into effect (Zoning is also one of the main reasons why it will be difficult for shebeens to comply with the law which was one of the stated aims when the new Liquor Act was proposed in 2003) and the police have to work out where one zone starts and finishes, where one municipality starts and finishes, who has applied for extensions and who hasn’t.
• Taking individual’s concerns into account. Before the new Liquor Act, members of the public could get special conditions attached to licences, according to the needs of the local community. The new act is a ‘one size fits all’ act – if a licence is granted, it is granted in totality so if you live next to a building zoned for business, you have no rights to object to any standard trading hours. Is this in the public interest?
If the Act is going to be looked at again, let it be with the people it is meant to serve in mind. Reading the comments and talking to people over the past two weeks, it is clear that these are the aspects of any Liquor Act which the public want to see:
• Crackdown on illegal shebeens – the cause of many of the evils in our society.
• Make it easier for shebeens to become legal and regulated – this was one of the stated aims of the original Act, and there are shebeens which are run sensibly and responsibly, but the new Act does not encourage them to become legal. It should.
• Concentrate police efforts on catching drunk drivers and preventing or dealing with domestic violence.
• Retain the Liquor Board's right to add special conditions onto individual licences. “One size fits all” actually fits no-one.
• Standardise trading hours across the province. The Eastern Cape has done this, why can’t the Western Cape?
• Stop making laws according to outdated religious beliefs. For many people Sunday is just another day of the week. In many cases it is more – a time for families to gather and relax together – and imposing regulations simply seems petty and mean.
That’s my suggestions for a People’s Liquor Act – what’s yours?