No let up in shebeen standoff

Namibian prime minister Nahas Angula this week asked about 300 shebeen owners who have been camped outside Parliament for the past week to go back to their homes and give government at least three weeks in which to deliberate the Liquor Act and come up with “workable and practical” solutions for its implementation.

However, Namibian Shebeen Association (NASA) president Veripi Kandenge, said they would not move from Parliament and more protesters from all the regions in Namibia were coming to camp outside Parliament.

“All the people are coming now, from all the regions. They (shebeen owners) have decided to wait outside Parliament for the government decision,” he said in an interview this week.

The bone of contention is the provisions in the Act that require shebeen owners to get fitness certificates from local municipalities before operating a shebeen. These fitness certificates have not been issued by the municipalities for the past three years.

The shebeen owners are further aggrieved by provisions that require them to rezone their operating places from residential to business premises. This requires that the shebeen owner hires a legal practitioner who will demand between N$3000 and N$4000.

“On top of the lawyers’ fees for this rezoning, changing the lease into a business instead of residential costs about N$18,000. This is too expensive for us,” Kandenge said.

The shebeen owners, who came from various towns all over Namibia, started their protest, which included a march to State House, in May and have been in the capital since. Their latest mode of protest has involved an all night vigil outside the Parliament buildings waiting for the parliamentarians to debate the Liquor Act and give them solutions.

The impasse started when government decided to implement provisions in Liquor Act by closing down and confiscating property belonging to shebeen owners that did not have licenses and fitness certificates to operate their businesses. Those that were found wanting were arrested, their businesses closed and their property confiscated. This resulted in the shebeen owners descending on the capital wanting government to do halt the process.

The shebeen owners have put certain demands to government that they would like met:

l That government puts a moratorium on the law (Liquor Act) or suspends the law until an amicable solution is found to the problem.

l Stop police action of closing down shebeens and confiscating property.

l Return all the products seized and withdraw the court cases started against those shebeen owners who were found wanting.

l Look into the law, simplify it and translate it in various languages so that those shebeen owners who can not read or understand English can be able to read the law in their own languages.

l Government to put up a monitoring mechanism for fitness certificates, that is, government should monitor how people get the fitness certificates, how many are given per year and why.

l Set up standardized municipal by-laws which can be used all over the country instead of the way it is now where in the north it is not the municipalities that give out liquor licenses but traditional leaders and these are not recognized by the government.

l Government to create opportunities for shebeen owners to be able to get loans from the government itself or banks.

In response to all these demands, government set up an inter-ministerial committee comprising six ministries-Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Safety and Security, Ministry of Local Government and Housing, Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Environment and Tourism. Into this committee were incorporated the City of Windhoek municipality and the Inspector General of Police. Several meetings have been held between the two parties and eventually, their proposals on the need to change certain provisions in the Liquor Act were presented to Parliament and deliberations started on Tuesday and are on-going.

Angula said the issue was not a lack of political will but time.

“Government is very much aware of the high level of unemployment. Government is also aware and appreciates that small and medium enterprises do provide employment to our people. Government is also aware that among Small and medium enterprises there are those who trade in alcoholic beverages and they employ people,” he said.

This struggle between the government and shebeen owners started as far back as 1999 when the law (The Liquor Act) was being debated and consequently implemented in 2002.

Kandenge said government asked them as far back as 2002 to submit submissions on their needs which they did but nothing was done. It has now culminated in the stand off between the shebeen owners and government.

Angula said government had no reason to punish small traders but it had a tight balancing act to perform ‘ that of maintaining social peace, the welfare and well-being of all Namibians.

Kandenge said the shebeens were the only means of survival for the shebeen owners and their families. He said the shebeens generated money for their food, electricity, children’s education and health requirements.

June 2006
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