/ 27 February 2012

Gauteng’s moratorium on liquor licences to be lifted

Gauteng's Moratorium On Liquor Licences To Be Lifted

The moratorium on liquor licences introduced in Gauteng in August last year will soon come to an end.

Speaking to the press on Monday, Gauteng’s economic development minister Qedani Mahlangu said she would announce the date when new liquor applications would be accepted again on Sunday.

“We have made strong progress in addressing the challenges [to the liquor industry]. We appointed an interim board and to date they have adjudicated close to 90% of the applications that were in backlog,” she said.

“We’re looking at applications one by one and we’re confident we will get to all of them,” she said.

This had slowed down the process because the department could not simply take a blanket approach when considering applications as it needed to be sensitive to families whose economic survival depends on the businesses they run from their homes, she said.

Reducing the cost of doing business
Mahlangu said the department was focused on reducing the cost of doing business in the sector.

“For me its unacceptable when the cost of a liquor licence is R5 000, someone is forced to pay R30 000 to R40 000 because a middle-man is going to run around to the municipality getting zoning and tax clearance [certificates],” she said.

She said that, together with national government agencies, her department is developing a “one-stop shop” to help people who run liquor stores to get licences without employing middle-men.

Mahlangu said she was anticipating a legal challenge from companies that specialise in such services but was determined to go ahead with her plan.

Large liquor companies untransformed
Mahlangu had harsh words for the big players in the liquor industry, whom she accused of being untransformed and of undermining smaller players using bullying tactics.

She said that although liquor contributes significantly to revenue, one of the challenges in South Africa is that big companies are able to sell liquor at cost and they often crowd out smaller businesses.

Because of this, there was not transformation in the sector. “There are no black players in the industry,” she said.

She said that one of the “radical” things that her department hoped to do was ensure that large retailers in malls would not be able to open bottle stores next door.

“If Pick ‘n Pay want to have a bottle store, they can’t have it next to them to them if they’re operating in the mall,” she said.

“We will engage with the competition commission on uncompetitive behaviour in the industry,” she said.

Shake-up for shebeens
Mahlangu also revealed that a change in operating hours was very much on the cards for liquor sellers, and implied that in future selling alcohol on Sundays would be prohibited.

“I’m very firm that we’ve got to change the operating hours,” she said, adding that later opening hours during weekdays and early closing times on the weekends was being considered.

This would allow the old woman living next to a township shebeen to entertain guests on the weekend, or prevent children from having to walk over used condoms on the way to school in the morning.

“We’re trying to restore dignity of life to people living next to shebeens,” she said, adding: “The owner of a shebeen has to take responsibility for the behaviour of its patrons.”

She said the aim of the process was “not to eliminate drinking but to try to make sure people drink responsibly and to remove the excessive access to alcohol in communities”.

A review of the Gauteng Liquor Act is currently underway. The province gazetted a draft of the Act on January 24 this year for public comment.