Time to Cool Down the Shebeen Row

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Government’s appeal to shebeen owners to wait for three more weeks while it is searching for a ‘work able’ and ‘practical’ solution to the issue of shebeens is not asking too much. The government will definitely require time to sort out this divisive issue in a more rational and acceptable way. It has to walk a thin line and try to find a balancing act. Not only that, our legislators need to acquaint themselves with the history and culture of shebeens and their proliferation. Armed with such understanding and the need to regulate the conduct of the business of shebeens will enable them to come up with a progressive law that can stand the test of time and balance the scales of morality and societal peace on the one hand and economics on the other. Parliament cannot therefore simply issue a moratorium on the Liquor Act without carefully applying itself to the search for a lasting solution to this rather vexing problem. The alternative would be another over-sight and more demonstrations. The Liquor Act was passed by parliament and it is this institution that has to fix the problems that are hurting Shebeen owners. To his credit though, Prime Minister Nahas Angula has conceded that certain factors may have been over-looked by the legislators when they passed the law in 1998. “Don’t incite people to defy a law that we all made. It’s a weakness of all of us. We do regret if serious inconvenience has been caused. The law was made by all of us”, Angula was quoted as telling Katuutire Kaura in parliament. The opposition leader had asked that parliament declares a moratorium on the law and return all goods confiscated by the police. In light of the prime minister’s assertion that government remain seized with the issue of shebeens and that a solution would be forthcoming soon, we hope shebeen owners will find the patience to wait for three more weeks. Shebeen owners should, as an act of good faith, retreat to their homes and leave the grounds of Parliament which they have occupied for almost a week. Government has in some ways extended an olive branch and in the spirit of give and take, shebeen owners have to reciprocate and allow their grievances to be addressed in the promised time. They should allow for a breathing space. No one person or institution, let alone governments, want to act under duress or pressure. Shebeen owners, never mind the legitimacy of some of their grievances, should not be looking for total capitulation but rather a win-win situation. We have said before that shebeens are not a matter of deja vu. They are a necessity under the current economic conditions. Many of our people did not venture into the business of shebeens out of choice. They were driven into it by poverty and joblessness. Shebeens are not capital intensive and in a country where ordinary people cannot access capital to set up other businesses, it is only logical that they will opt for what is easy, simple and cheaper – in this case shebeens. By the way, the Liquor Act is not the only legislation that needs implementation. There are a number of laws passed by our parliament that are not being implemented, or, if they are, they not being applied with the same zeal and enthusiasm as the Liquor Act. One such law that immediately comes to mind is the Communal Land Act in so far as it applies to fencing in communal areas. Fencing in communal areas is illegal in terms of this piece of legislation. Yet, little if not nothing, has been done to practically apply this law. That said, we do not want to think that this is a matter of selectively applying the law by those responsible for its implementation. A lot of poor people continue to be denied land rights in communal areas by the rich and powerful in our society. In some instances, fencing off huge chunks of land continues under the noses of those who are supposed to implement the law. Sometimes, these very people are the biggest culprits. So when are we going to see poor people in communal areas being protected from the few greedy rich and powerful? Will these illegal fences ever be pulled down in the same way illegal shebeens are being closed down?