Cape Town - With hundreds of illegal shebeens mushrooming in Khayelitsha, the burden on law enforcement has sparked an in-depth study into the links between heavy drinking and crime.
“It is generally assumed that there is a link between alcohol consumption and crime,” chief executive officer of the Western Cape Liquor Board Thys Giliomee said.
“However, there has never been in-depth, credible, subject specific research conducted to prove this.”
Giliomee said that the liquor board would commission the study this year.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said that police were often called out to attend to crimes that occurred at or near shebeens.
He said shebeens contributed to crime in areas such as Khayelitsha, many parts of the Cape Flats, Nyanga and Delft, as people drank too much and were then involved in fights and violent crimes, including rape, murder and attempted murder.
Last October, five people were shot dead and three were wounded when a man opened fire in a popular shebeen known as Emaplangeni at Ilitha Park in Khayelitsha.
The gunman allegedly had an argument with a fellow patron over spilt alcohol.
“Shebeens in informal settlements are difficult to identify because many of them sell liquor on a small scale and are hidden in the settlement and cannot be viewed from the outside,” Traut said.
Khayelitsha and Nyanga were the most problematic clusters, he added.
According to last year’s national crime statistics, Khayelitsha is second in the Western Cape’s worst 10 precincts with 168 contact crimes (crimes against a person).
Nyanga is in first place with 262.
Giliomee said that records showed there were 134 licensed liquor outlets in the larger geographical area of Khayelitsha.
However, evidence emerged at the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry last month that there were about 1 400 unlicensed shebeens in the township.
The commission was established in August 2012 to investigate alleged police inefficiency in Khayelitsha. Giliomee was one of those who testified.
“Illegal trading in liquor is a very complex problem. There are many factors that contribute to this problem and therefore enforcement alone will not solve this problem,” he said.
“The factors include poverty and unemployment. An alternative to the unlicensed liquor outlets, in the form of licensed liquor outlets, is required if we are to have any success with the enforcement in respect of unlicensed outlets.”
Giliomee said the process that needed to be followed to revoke a liquor licence was “very onerous and similar to that of a criminal matter”.
“Enforcement of unlicensed liquor outlets are done by SAPS and we do assist them when requested to do so,” he said.
There were only seven liquor inspectors serving the entire Western Cape.
“Joint operations are vital in the enforcement of the Western Cape Liquor Act and other applicable acts, and as such these operations can in many instances only be performed with the co-operation of SAPS. SAPS has to perform a much bigger crime- prevention role with limited resources, of which liquor enforcement is only one,” Giliomee said.
Welcome Makele, a Khayelitsha community support officer of the Social Justice Coalition, said shootings and fights that resulted in stabbings were a regular occurrence at the township’s drinking holes, especially over weekends. He estimated that there was a shebeen in almost every fifth house in the area.
“Most people don’t even know how to go about obtaining a liquor licence, the most important thing for them is putting food on the table,” Makele said.
The Cape Argus visited several unlicensed and licensed shebeens in Khayelitsha sites B and C.
Several owners of illegal shebeens, who asked not to be named in fear of prosecution, said they would go hungry if they followed the legal route.
A 31-year-old illegal shebeen owner said she had been forced to drop out of university to run the family’s shebeen when her parents, who are pensioners, became too sickly.
She lives in an informal settlement in Site B. The mother-of-three runs the shebeen from the back of her two-roomed shack.
When the Cape Argus visited, her children were watching a movie in the living room, while the other side of the dimly lit room was used for the sale of alcoholic beverages and as a seating area for patrons.
The woman said she had tried several times to legalise her shebeen and had even spent R6 000 on a lawyer who absconded with her money. She then gave up.
“Police come here all the time… about three times a month. They were here last week. And they take all the alcohol they can find. We lose a lot of money because of that. Each time you start afresh.
“They must make it easier for us to get a licence. It’s not that we are not trying, the process is too long and in the meantime, we have to make a living, just like everyone else,” she said.
“I feel the police are also taking advantage of us. They know we are uneducated and don’t really know our rights, so they come here and do as they please.
“They don’t speak properly to us. Sometimes they take our alcohol and sometimes they take you to the police station.
“Clearly shebeens are not going to go away. They need to come up with a better solution for us to run our businesses.”
Another owner of an illegal shebeen in Khayelitsha’s Site C said getting a liquor licence was “tough business”.
He said he has been trying to get one since the late 1990s.
“One of the requirements is that you have to have a proper structure before you apply. And how exactly is one supposed to fund this structure if you are not working?”
However, builders were hard at work on his shebeen last week.
“The police come here all the time to raid my place and I have paid the R1 500 admission of guilt several times,” he said.
“When police do their raids they come here with trucks and several vans, as if we are criminals. Serious crime is escalating in the area but then they are nowhere to be found.
“We had shebeens during the apartheid days and we will continue to have them in a democratic South Africa. They demolish one shebeen and five more will pop up around it. The demand is there and it’s growing.”
Some illegal shebeen owners admitted that there were regular fights at the shebeens, but claimed they were “usually not extreme”.
“We are not the only problem here,” said one.
“Closing shebeens while retailers selling liquor in the townships are growing is not helping. Retailers are cheaper than us; people come to us already drunk from drinking their (retailers’) booze at home.”
‘Getting my licence was like Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom’
Getrude Quta of Nomnqwamzo Corner, a tavern in Site B, wanted to open a place for people to socialise over a drink in the township in the early 1990s to spare them a trek to the city.
“People had no place to sit and drink, alcohol was in demand and still is… this is why the shebeens are growing,” she said.
She likened getting a business licence to Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
Her tavern is a double storey built over two sites. Downstairs is a bottle store and upstairs is a sitting area.
“I had to follow a long route which included a lot of documents and paying a lawyer to handle the process for me,” she said
Her annual licence costs R6 000.
“Some people start little by little and others are battling as owning a proper shebeen is expensive.
“The police raids are not a solution and are only making people go hungry and result in desperate measures to try to make a living,” she said.
Quta, 54, pictured right, said some people bought a case of beer from her bottle store and sold it at a marked-up price to earn a few rands.
She said that patrons had fought in the tavern and a shooting had occurred two years ago. She now has tighter security.
How to apply for a liquor licence
With the Western Cape Liquor Authority at their offices on the 6th Floor of the NBS Waldorf Building, 80 St George’s Mall, Cape Town and with the Designated SAPS Liquor Officer in whose area of jurisdiction the business is located.
Who may not apply for a liquor licence?
Where and when are applications lodged?
Through a lawyer or liquor consultant, or in your personal capacity. The different application forms are available from the Western Cape Liquor Regulations document. See http://www.westerncape.gov.za/service/liquor-licence-applications