Cape Town - A week after a top policeman said the province’s liquor law made shutting illegal shebeens difficult, the legislature announced amendments to its Liquor Act to “root out non-compliance among legal liquor traders”.
The proposed amendments, included in the Draft Western Cape Liquor Amendment Bill, have been in the works for some time. The draft bill proposes changes to 11 clauses.
Finance MEC Alan Winde said this week the amendments would seek to address “some unintended consequences” of the Liquor Act, which came into effect in early 2012.
According to the current act, only licensed outlets may store more than 150 litres of alcohol. The draft bill will repeal this provision.
The “150 litre limit” amounts to about 500 330ml bottles of beer or 200 750ml bottles of wine.
But police have criticised the limit, saying it made shutting shebeens difficult. There are an estimated 25 000 shebeens in the province, far more than the 7 000 outlets licensed to sell alcohol.
Deputy provincial commissioner Major-General Peter Jacobs, testifying at the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into policing, said the 150-litre limit had contributed to “an escalation of that crime” in the township.
Violent crime, said Jacobs, often occurred in the vicinity of the township’s estimated 1 400 shebeens and shutting them was a priority.
But shebeen owners had learnt to store less than 150 litres of alcohol on their premises.
Jacobs said that, while police still confiscated this alcohol, cases against shebeen owners would be “invariably withdrawn” by prosecutors if police found less than 150 litres of alcohol.
The liquor – mainly beer – then had to be handed back.
Jacobs said that while there were other provisions under which a shebeen could be closed, it had become a “challenge” to secure a conviction when less than 150 litres of alcohol had been found on the premises.
Winde said he hoped the removal of the 150-litre clause would “clear the way for the SAPS to focus on enforcement of those who are indulging in criminal behaviour at the expense of innocent people.
“This applies especially to illegal outlets that do not fall under these laws, ie those establishments who do not have licences,” he said.
Winde said the province had also received complaints from “bona fide” wine collectors who stored more than 150 litres.
A provision in the draft bill states that certain municipal law officers will be able to close shebeens. Under the act, only police officers with the rank of inspector and above, and designated liquor officers, can do this.
Winde asked the public to help clamp down on illegal alcohol sales by alerting the Liquor Authority of places that sell alcohol without displaying a liquor licence.
The public have until May 10 to comment on the proposed changes.
They can fax, e-mail or post their views to the provincial government.