Windhoek, Namibia: “To the east you have a neighbour; to the east you have a friend; to the east you have development partner,” the Namibian media quotes Botswana President Ian Khama as having told the Namibian government while on a State visit here two weeks ago. Perhaps President Khama should have added that to the east Namibia has a partner in crime, looking at the accusations levelled at the two governments for their crack down on shebeens.
Just like Botswana, Namibia has embarked on a rigorous clamp down on illegal shebeens and the people who run shebeens here are not amused. They accuse their government of being inconsiderate to their plight and being cruel by robbing them of their only source of livelihood.
The closure of shebeens in Windhoek has become a hot potato with residents expressing mixed views on the issue. The current debate centres on the question of whether shebeens, as a business, truly benefit the people of Namibia. According to reports, with an estimated population of 322,500, Windhoek is home to 5000 shebeens and out of that number a whopping 1500 of them operate without licences. A shebeen is said to employ, on average, two or three people. With 5000 shebeens in Windhoek alone, that would mean that 10 000 to 15 000 people stand to lose their jobs as a result of shebeen closures.
Winnie Kaombona, an employee at an illegal shebeen in Katutura is of the view the closure of shebeens will only drive more people into poverty. While acknowledging that they trade illegally, Kaombona feels the municipality must come up with alternatives rather than just putting them back on the streets.
A certain Mr Siphosele also feels the government should just leave the shebeens if no solution is on offer.
“The fact is if our government and the police want to close down illegal shebeens then they must provide work to the people. We all want to survive in this country. The majority of the people in Namibia live in the shanty towns and are currently experiencing the cold and now the police want to add hunger on top of that,” Siphosele said.
He warned Members of Parliament that they should be careful with the laws they pass on people as they can easily vote them out. And it seems politicians are heeding Siphosele’s warning if allegations that high ranking politicians from the ruling SWAPO are now exerting pressure on the police to halt the clamp down on illegal shebeens.
Meanwhile Khomas Regional Commander, Commissioner Festus Shilongo, has denied that they are under political pressure to stop the clamp down on illegal shebeens. But the truth is, illegal shebeens are still operating in Windhoek. Operators are complaining about the stiff requirements for getting fitness certificates to operate legally. They cite the requirement for shebeen operators to have two toilets as unreasonable and untenable.
Namibian government has, however, some support from some sections of the society on the closure of shebeens.
Imelda Nerongo, former editor of a weekly newspaper, says, “Shebeens offer easy access to alcohol for the young, old and unemployed. If shebeens are to be considered vital for our economy, I say Namibians lack innovation.”