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Are Shebeens Legal?

We have all heard of shebeens, yet somehow it is the best kept secret because it is seen as an illegal business venture. We will discuss a shebeen and what it entails below:


Shebeens were township bars and taverns which started during Apartheid when the 1927 Liquor Act prohibited Africans and Indians from selling alcohol or entering licensed premises. To earn an income, many African women turned to their former skills as beer brewers. The women, who came to be called 'shebeen queens', made and sold beer to migrant workers who could not afford to buy the western beer, or who still preferred the traditional African beer.

In 2015 shebeens still exist; however, the sensation has somewhat decreased as the Apartheid era came to an end in 1994 and everyone was allowed to enter licensed premises. It is further less sensationalised due to the fact that it is no longer illegal to own or work at a shebeen, as long as the owner applies for a licence and sells only liquor that may be lawfully manufactured and supplied to the public.

The 1989 Liquor Act stipulates that no person may manufacture, possess, consume, sell, supply or give to any person any concoction manufactured by the fermentation of treacle, sugar or other substances known as isityimiyana, hopana, qediviki, skokiaan, uhali or barberton, any concoction similar to it or any drink distilled from one of these concoctions.

It is illegal to sell liquor unless you have a liquor licence granted by the Liquor Board. There are two types of licences: 

l An 'on-consumption' licence which permits the sale and consumption of liquor on licensed premises. This type of licence is generally granted to hotels, clubs, theatres and restaurants. Temporary licences may also be issued to permit the sale and consumption of liquor at sports meetings or fairs, for instance. An occasional licence allows a licensee to sell liquor after trading hours. 

l An 'off-consumption licence' permits the sale of liquor that is going to be consumed off the premises. Examples of these premises include shops, liquor producers and liquor stores.

In general, a licence will not be issued to any person who, in the 10 years prior to applying for the licence, was sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine. Offences under the Liquor Act may also disqualify a person from obtaining a licence. However, in both cases, a licence may be granted if the relevant authority considers that the offences do not make the applicant unfit to hold a licence.

The Liquor Act 59 of 2003 repeals the 1989 Act only in those provinces that have promulgated provincial liquor legislation (Currently Eastern Cape and Gauteng).

[1]Hove, Chenjerai. Shebeen Tales: Messages from Harare. 1st Edition. Serif Publishing. 1993. 1997.

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