By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Hundreds of shebeen owners angered by the recent decision to close down all unlicensed informal pubs last Saturday braved the cold weather and marched to State House to express their grievances. The protesters footed from Katutura to State House, where they handed over a petition listing their grievances to a senior minister who received it on behalf of President Hifikepunye Pohamba. The march that started from the Namibia Shebeen Association (NASA) offices in Katutura saw hundreds of irate men and women brandishing placards with messages demanding the re-opening of their sheebens. They also want law enforcement agents to leave them alone. Some placards read: “Return our property” in reference to the liquor and other goods seized during the police raids, and another read: “Who will pay school fees?” as most of them depend on this income to pay for school fees and other expenses. More placards read: “Give us the reasons for closing our businesses”; while other placards were scribbled with the questions: “Who will pay for my house?” “How can I support my child?” “How will we pay our utility bills?” The petition was received by the Minister of Presidential Affairs Dr Albert Kawana. The demonstrators seemed annoyed by the fact that the president had not come in person to receive their petition. Kept about a 100 meters away from the State house gates, it was agreed that only five representatives from the group could enter State house. Just about 50 meters on their way to State House and away from the agitated crowd, the five-member delegation was met by Kawana and other representatives from State House. In the petition handed over by NASA President Veripi Kandenge, the association demanded for the placement of a moratorium on the implementation of the Liquor Act and the Liquor Regulations until factors that impede effective and efficient compliance are sorted out. With the moratorium, NASA called for broad negotiation with various stakeholders including micro-finance institutions to source financial assistance for the shebeen sector so as to speed up effective compliance. Some shebeen owners cried over lack of enough profit, adding that this was a stumbling block against their compliance with the Act. The Liquor Act emphasizes that shebeen structures be built with concrete blocks and there must be two toilets for the different sexes. The petition urges the police to stop acting against unlicensed liquor vendors and the immediate release of those arrested during the “No Shebeen Operation” two weeks since the campaigns intensified. The association appealed to Pohamba to assist the people in the formalization of the shebeen industry and help build a robust SME sector in the country. Kawana upon receiving the petition on behalf of Pohamba indicated that he would hand it to the president and was positive that the Head of State would consult widely with relevant stakeholders before responding to their demands. “We will see how we can amicably solve this problem,” he told Kandenge and his four companions. As Kandenge delivered the news that the President still needed time to study the petition before he could attend to their grievances, emotions ran high and the demonstrators threatened they would not leave until they were given an immediate answer to their concerns. Kandenge told New Era that circumstances forced people to operate illegally given the delays in approving licences. It takes two to three years for a licence to be approved, he said. Some members who became tired of standing in the sun sat on the tarred State House road and continued singing songs. For almost half an hour, they were adamant that they would not move an inch. The Shebeen Association of Namibia has about 6 000 members.
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