The Corporate Affairs Manager of Botswana Breweries Limited, Larona Makgoeng, has said he fears for the future of over 5000 families who will inevitably be at the receiving end of the traditional liquor regulations that Government intends to implement in six months.
Initially slated to be introduced on January 1, Government changed on the last minute saying they wanted to give traders a grace period of six months to establish infrastructure that would allow them to move businesses out of their residences into commercially designated areas.
But Makgoeng is of the view that while they appreciated Government decision, the six months grace period will amount to nothing if there is no land on which to move the liquor trade as demanded by the new regulations.
“Our traders have never really wanted to trade in-house. If they had the money to do it, they would have long moved out because the threat of closing them down has hovered over their heads for a long time now.”
Makgoeng says for almost all of the people involved in it, traditional beer trade is the only source of trade and, as such, there is no way they would be able to cope with the additional financial requirements put on them by the new regulations.
He says it is a given that they will either slide into destitution or get absorbed by the government security nets.
“If the regulations are implemented full throttle, one of the big concerns is that the impact will be passed to people at the tail end. Some of them have been in it for 40 years, some 20, some 15. It is their only source of income, so there is no way they can cope,” said Makgoeng.
He says that although BBL has long set aside some funds to use as an empowerment scheme to loan to traders who have land and would want to build infrastructure, not much headway has been made because there is simply no land available.
Some progress has been made in Tlokweng and Ramotswa, but not a single structure has been set up in Gaborone, simply because there is not a single plot of land available.
“In Gaborone, there is not a single plot of land we can call a depot. By extension, if implementation of the regulations goes ahead in absolute terms, there will be no Chibuku sales in Gaborone.”
For traditional beer, the regulations set up by government are all the more painful because of the drink patterns of traditional beer.
Unlike clear liquor drinkers who are mobile, traditional beer drinkers are largely based in their neighbourhoods.
“In so far as we see the ideals behind regulating, we think it should not be at the expense of trade, of retailers and the industry. We are of the view that consequences that can be avoided should be avoided.”
Botswana Breweries Limited, an arm of Kgalagadi Breweries Limited, says the regulations should not be applied in a blanket fashion, rather, it should be village by village, taking into account the developmental stages of each village and also the availability of land as a way of reducing and mitigating disruption.
“We are grateful for the six months, but we fear that the six months may not amount to much if the issue of land is not resolved,” said Makgoeng. Consideration, he says, must also be given to the fact that other than issues of licensing, it takes time for any building project to start.
“Six months can’t be enough. It’s too short.”
Makgoeng is of the view that should Chibuku be scarce as a result of the regulations, the end result might be people resorting to alternatives, which will be illicit concoctions that are both unhygienic and unhealthy.
He says Chibuku is a bottom end product which is clean but alternatives to it would not only be illegal but would be difficult to trace because they are unbranded.
“And when those products flood the market it is at the expense of other benefits accrued to government, like tax.”