PUBLIC hearings for the Western Cape Liquor Bill kicked off last week, and while the people have had their say, some feel their concerns will be ignored.
The proposed law will allow for the province's estimated 30 000 shebeen owners to apply for licenses and trade legally.
The Bill, passed by Provincial Legislature in March last year, has been opposed by countless people for fear of the negative effect it may have on communities already plagued by crime and substance abuse.
Yasmina Pandy, who heads a group of several community based organisations, non-governmental organisations and religious institutions, attended the first leg of public hearings at the Provincial Legislature in Wale Street on Wednesday, 4 June.
The organisations are working together on opposing the Bill under the banner of Concerned Residents of the Western Cape.
They handed in a written submission, endorsed by Tony Ehrenreich, provincial secretary for Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Henry, Phillip Bam - head of the Lotus River, Ottery and Grassy Park Ratepayers Association - Gender Advocacy Project, Women on Farms, Mustadafin Foundation, and Rhoda Kadalie of Impumelelo Awards, and several other organisations.
Ehrenreich says Cosatu is not only opposed to the Bill itself, but also wants those trading lawfully in residential areas to have their liquor licenses cancelled.
"We are opposed to all liquor sold in communities where families are trying to raise children," says Ehrenreich.
Pandy says while they are happy that some of their concerns will be considered, "the chair seemed very accommodating towards people representing big businesses" who stood to gain from the envisaged law.
"When the rich and famous want to play, they are listened to. But when the masses speak out, no one listens. What is the point of public hearings if we're not going to be taken seriously?"
Garth Strachen, chairing the hearings, says he will meet with a group of representatives from Concerned Residents of the Western Cape.
Fagmie Abass, secretary of the Hanover Park Civic Association, is also opposed to the enactment of the Bill.
"The Bill is loaded in the applicant's favour. In Hanover Park, entire families suffer because of alcohol abuse, and in turn, whole communities suffer," Abass says.
According to Abass, the only people set to benefit from the new law would be shebeen owners.
Nicro, an organisation that deals with those involved in crime, especially youth, has two major concerns.
"It is well noted that the Western Cape is battling with the social pathology of addiction," says Celia Dawson, Deputy Executive Director of Nicro.
Even though alcohol is seen as a social lubricant, and is enjoyed at meal times, family gatherings and other events, Dawson says alcoholism can creep up on people quite stealthily.
Their second concern is the location of liquor outlets.
"I don't see why there should be any outlets in residential suburbs," Dawson says.
Fish Hoek and Pinelands are the only two areas in the city where no liquor is sold.
"Why bring the temptation to areas where people are socially depressed and materially deprived?" she asks.
But Strachen feels all of these concerns have been dealt with in the Bill.
"Only a very small percentage of shebeens will get licenses, and they will be subject to very strict criteria," says Strachen.
Prospective license applicants would have to get permission from their local police stations, place adverts to inform the community, and also apply for permission to rezone their properties.
Strachen says there is also recourse for the community when shebeens operate illegally in their areas.
"Retailers who supply illegal shebeens with alcohol can face a fine of R500 000, two and a half years in prison, and the forfeiture of their assets," warns Strachen.
The committee will still hold public hearings in Knysna, Hermanus and Vredendal. After the hearings, they will come back to Provincial Legislature and start the lengthy process of examining the submissions.
Strachen estimates that the Bill will be passed by September.