Gavin Lewis, DA MPL

DA Gauteng Economic Development spokesman

Gauteng’s black-owned liquor industry is under grave threat from the provincial government’s pending Liquor Bill, potentially affecting over 1900 small enterprises and the jobs they support. This is why the Gauteng Liquor Forum, representing shebeens and taverns in the province, has submitted a petition against the draft Gauteng Liquor Bill.

Addressed to Economic Development MEC Qedani Mahlangu, the petition warns that the bill will destroy many small scale liquor operators in Gauteng. Cleaning up the shebeen sector is one thing, the petitioners argue, but requiring shebeen owners to register within a month (by the end of June 2012), despite lengthy rezoning and other legal requirements which, thanks to local government inefficiencies, take many months to come through, is simply not realistic, the tavern owners argue.

And zoning brings with it heavy financial penalties for shebeens in that, for instance, they need to find up to R80 000 upfront for advance payments on electricity and water. The outcome will be the closure of many shebeens. Whatever their problems, the shebeen sector is an especially sensitive one in townships because historically it has been one of the few ways for entrepreneurs to start their own small businesses. They have no alternative occupations to go to.

But the shebeen owners’ difficulties are just the tip of the iceberg. The whole Bill reflects an anti -business bias that pervades it. This includes the requirement that “every license must be renewed annually”. This presupposes that there will be no prolonged backlogs and that the Liquor Board’s new computer system works without any of the glitches that accompany, for instance, the City of Johannesburg’s billing system. It also means that no holder of a liquor license may be sure of retaining that license for more than a year.

The implications of this are that the liquor industry will think twice about making any substantial investments in their businesses. And few restaurants are financially viable without a liquor license – in turn impacting on Gauteng’s tourism and leisure sectors.

And yet MEC Qedani is in charge of the province’s economic development, at the centre of whose programmes are the creation of job creating SMEs. Go figure, as the Americans say.

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