Time for a Rethink

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuru Starting off with the principle of the 1998 Liquor Act, few people, if any, can take issue with it. It can only be in the interest of all – from consumers to shebeen owners and liquor wholesalers, brewers and distillers – to bring order to what would otherwise be a chaotic industry as well as doing away with archaic laws aimed against Africans. That, one hopes, has been the motivation behind it. Allowing for this motivation, one has to realistically admit that not all roads to heaven are paved with the best intentions. And therein lies the folly of the Act. Despite its good intentions, it seems the law is heading for some potholes judging by the current unhappiness among shebeen owners. It is bound to turn into a bad law, not only because it was a bad law from its inception. Yes, it may contain problem areas that may not have been foreseen at the time of its formulation as the Namibia Shebeen Association (Nasa) points out. Among these is the requirement for proper infrastructure. Who would be against a law requiring proper infrastructure, which include toilet facilities? Obviously as a patron of any shebeen I would happily and most comfortably down my favourite drink in such surroundings. Equally I am sure my host would draw pride in my comfort and easiness in his business but my popular hideout. However, it is not so much these holes that are threatening the good intentions of the Act, turning an otherwise good law into a bad one. The problem is its implementation. You have local authorities, traditional authorities and the central government and Nasa and its partners all that have a stake in smoothing the implementation of the law. Whether they would want to admit it or not, little seems to have been done to facilitate the implementation of the Act. And this is where the buck squarely stops with Nasa and its members who are the shebeen owners, and the Police, made out to be villains that they are not, at least not wholly. These problematic articles that are threatening the implementation of the law, have all along been in the Act as long as it has existed. Among them has been the incapacity and inability of local authorities to grant the requisite fitness certificates and to bring their local laws in line with the Act. Nasa has been harping on these and other disenabling factors at every opportunity afforded for amends. I recall that as far as the year 2000, members of Nasa signed a petition against Section 10 of the Act, which allows groceries to have liquor licenses, fearing this would further expose children to alcoholic products. But Section 10 of the Act was not the only matter then that shebeen owners took issue with. Most of the matters raised in the recent petition to the supreme leader of the country have been of particular concern to them. Like the confusion in rural areas as to who should properly grant permission. Is it the traditional leaders and village councils or the relevant local government structures? In the same vein, there has been the unanswered issue of sewerage in communal areas without which toilet facilities, as we have come to know them in modern urban times, are not possible. The issues needing to be looked by one or the other stakeholder are too numerous to mention, as those responsible would probably admit. Likewise Nasa’s moratorium plea is as old as it is new. “Kandenge told the meeting despite various submissions to the Windhoek Municipality and the Ministry of Trade and Industry to put the implementation of the Liquor Act on hold, the two institutions seem to have reached a point of no return,” the official letter of Nasa, Shebeen News, wrote in its August/September 2000 edition. Submissions after submissions, and meetings after meetings, have since been held around the issue. Still, a solution has been elusive, perhaps a pointer to the actual motivation for the legislation. The grapevine has it that the Act predates the colonial period intended then to smother “kaffir” nuisance. However, the wind of change that heralded freedom stopped it in its tracks. Thus, our lawmakers, unknowingly, may have inherited the ill motivations of our colonial masters. Perhaps this may partially explain the rough ride it seems to be having. Nasa has always been of the opinion that as much as it welcomes the legislation, it should not be at the expense of shebeens, most of which are important sources of income to our impoverished communities. Certainly one cannot but agree with Nasa that it cannot have been the intention of our lawmakers to legislate about 75 000 of our people out of a livelihood, thereby condemning them to the growing army of unemployed roaming our streets. Only last week the Namibia Labour Force Survey was presented in Parliament testifying to rising unemployment in the country. Therein lies the prudence to implement the law sensitively. Nobody is calling for a scrapping of the law. Equally no one is saying that the Police should not carry out their duty. I am sure what all of us are saying is that there is no way that our lawmakers could have wanted 75 000 of our people to lose their important lifeline. Thus, going ahead with a law that is bound to put society on a collision course as it seems is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Our lawmakers cannot hide behind the term “the law is the law”. After all the predicament of the law in question is something caused by their own foresight or myopia – whichever of the two. Foremost, a law is written for certain intended results, and, of course, some unintended ones. However, if these consequences turn out to be not only contrary to the ones intended but also their very antithesis, surely it is within our will and powers as a society to make amendments. It seems the mechanisms to make the necessary amends are already in place between Nasa and the Government. A Plan of Action, one gathers, is about to come to fruition. It is only wise to let the two partners carry the matter to its logical conclusion. It is also gratifying to know that one of the key players in the liquor industry, Namibia Breweries Limited, is busy with campaigns among communities to help along the implementation of the Act. In this regard, the Police and shebeen owners are best advised to allow this process to take its due course by refraining from any indulgence that may jeopardise the process. The Police must continue with keeping nuisance at shebeens in check as it has been doing all along without much hullabaloo. However, when it comes to licensing, it must for now consider this matter out of its bounds. However, it will only help the process if all parties to the quest for a solution genuinely commit to the process. Commitment seems to have been lacking all along since 2000 when Nasa started calling for a moratorium, a call it is now repeating. If Nasa is serious about the moratorium it pleaded for in 2000 to allow its members to get their waterholes in gear, then I trust a good number of its members have moved an inch towards fitness. Otherwise one cannot see the call for the moratorium anything else but an empty shell to buy time. But for how long is Nasa going to continue to want to buy time? Likewise, the powers that be – and lawmakers in particular – cannot earnestly convince us that they have not been hearing the pleas of the shebeeners. This includes opposition lawmakers who, six years after the moratorium pleas, are acting as though this is the first time the matter is on the agenda, jostling for a shot at State House, presumably more than eager to at last hear the pleas. Shebeen owners and Nasa members can only help their case if they desist from what may be interpreted as political slogans directed at the powers that be and their bedfellows. They should instead keep to what is their main concern at this stage – which is essentially a bread and butter issue. This is not to say that in their campaigns they cannot sloganeer their grievances, concerns and messages. Those at whom the slogans may be directed must not take them at their face value, but the pleas of the genuinely wretched of the earth, at least, most if not all of them.