The validity of shebeen permits

What you need to know

This topic was carefully chosen to bring to light the threat faced by shebeen permit holders from law enforcement agencies, in particular the South African Police Service.

It is important to mention that the threat to close down shebeens, including those with valid permits, is spearheaded by municipalities in their drive to enforce by-laws. This includes the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.

A case in point is one of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality Vs Cecilia Dongo, which is currently in court. Essentially, this case has the effect to declare more than 12 000 shebeen permits issued during 2005 and 2015 invalid, thereby rendering illegal the operation of shebeens in the city of Johannesburg and Gauteng Province in general. This is because none of these establishments are zoned in compliance with the town planning scheme of the city.

It is important to mention that the threat to close down shebeens, including those with valid permits, is spearheaded by municipalities in their drive to enforce by-laws.

Brief background on shebeen permits

In 2004, the Gauteng Provincial Government decided to regulate shebeens in an effort to bring informal liquor traders into the formal liquor trading environment.

As a measure of achieving the above objective, on 1 November 2004, the MEC for economic development published regulations under section 141 of the Gauteng Liquor Act 2 of 2003.

These regulations were simply inviting persons running shebeens in Gauteng to apply to the MEC for a shebeen permit to operate. It is interesting to note that at this point, no mention of zoning or any other by-law requirements were required to successfully apply for a permit. All the applicant was required to do at the time, was to complete the application properly and submit a prescribed form.

Initially, a shebeen permit issued under the 2004 regulations were meant to be valid for a period of 18 months only, from the date of promulgation. The period of validity was repeatedly extended by the MEC over a period of time. The validity period was extended by 50 months and 92 months from 2007 and 2010 respectively and all extensions were in effect from the date of the initial promulgation, namely 1 November 2004.

On 1 March 2013, the MEC published the Gauteng liquor regulations on shebeen licences, this is after an exhaustive consultative process with all interested parties and stakeholders on an earlier draft on regulations on shebeen licences. It is important again to note that during such consultative meetings on a draft of shebeen licences, the issue of zoning was never raised by the municipalities or other government stakeholders both at provincial and local level.

The 2013 regulations invited valid shebeen permit holders, the validity of which was effected by the 2010 extension by the MEC, to submit applications for their conversion to licences.

These regulations are currently being challenged in court in a matter between Yeoville Bellevue Ratepayers Association Vs Gauteng Department of Economic Development. In this matter, the applicant has requested the court to declare the 2013 shebeen licence regulations invalid and to be set aside.

The legal challenge here is not the validity of shebeen permits, but shebeen licences issued under the 2013 shebeen licence regulations. Therefore, the validity of shebeen permits and not shebeen licences, remain unchallenged and as such, remain valid.

In the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality Vs Cecilia Dongo, only now does the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality seek to challenge the validity of shebeen permits by bringing up requirements of zoning 13 years later, after the 2004 regulations inviting liquor traders to apply for shebeen permits.

It is important to note the disparities, racial inequities, segregation and unsustainable settlement patterns that are still sadly affecting township liquor traders across the country in answering the question whether by-laws requirements must be applied as strictly as they are currently being applied to township liquor traders.

For all interested and affected parties who wish to join in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality Vs Cecilia Dongo, kindly contact MV Gwala & Associates Attorneys, defending Mrs Dongo, on 011 680 0506.