Two years after petitioning former Minister of Trade and Industry, Neo Moroka, night club employees, taxi operators, disc jockeys, musicians, performing artists and informal vendors are still waiting for a response from the ministry.
On the 15th of May 2009, the aforementioned enterprises handed a petition to the former minister outlining their grievances after the implementation of the revised Liquor Regulations of 2008.
In a petition laced with courteous and humble words, the parties asked the minister to intervene and find a solution to the hardships they encounter as a result of the reduced hours of operation at night clubs.
“Your Honour, the Honourable Minister of Trade and Industry, we are most grateful for your taking time from your busy schedule, to give us your audience, and gracious all-hearing ear. This truly reflects your great concern, and further shows that you have truly embraced the very principles this great country has been founded on; DEMOCRACY”, the petition starts.
They protest that before the new regulations, night clubs operated 8 hours per day which meant club employees’ hours of work were naturally covered and recognized under the Botswana labour laws.
In the petition, night club employees bring to the minister’s attention this observation, “Your Honour, previously night club owners employed us in large numbers,…..Your Honour some of these lay-offs actually border on the point of unlawful dismissals, but as employees, we are actually aware of the fact that their businesses have plummeted to a point of non-existence, as very few patrons appear at the night clubs, and in any event, for very short periods of time.”
Disc Jockeys (DJ’s), musicians and performing artists also highlighted their displeasure at the new regulations.
“Your Honour, needless to point out, night clubs are principally places meant for musical entertainment. We are business persons in the music industry, and in collaboration with night club owners, we are business partners. The situation has always been that night clubs charge an entrance fee into their premises, and during performances or shows where there are musicians or performing artists, the cover charge is hiked, and then the proceeds of the gate takings is shared between the club owner and the artist. Due to the current liquor regulations, we are ruined in that club owners do not hire us any more as the time to perform is limited. This then virtually cripples our ability to develop our talent and, very importantly, make money”.
Taxi operators also said they constitute a somewhat informal part of the Night Club business in that though they are not directly linked, they are direct beneficiaries of such business.
The vendors also appealed to the minister, “Your Honour, as informal as we may be, we are mostly single mothers struggling to make ends meet. We have in our personal capacities chosen to infiltrate the night club business to take advantage of the people at night to sell an occasional cigarette, boiled egg, peanuts, sweets, etc, which are all very little things and perfectly legal commodities”.
In an interview with the Sunday Standard, the manager of Satchmos Jazz Caf├®, Grand West and Zoom night clubs, Mr Joseph Masisi, painted a gloomy picture of the night club industry in Botswana.
With the current regulations, running a night club is only out of passion and not profit. Masisi said their clubs have been adversely affected by the new liquor regulations. Their clubs, which include the Ozone club in Lobatse, used to have a staff compliment of 200 but they have downsized to only 50 employees.
Their stable used to sponsor chess and boxing sport codes but with the dwindling business they have had to shelve the sponsorships.
Staff salaries have been cut to be commensurate with the amount of time worked.
While the workers used to work 8 hours per day, the new regulations have slashed the hours to 5.
Masisi reminisced about the old regulations when clubs operated until 4am.
He said they used to be overwhelmed to a point where they hired temporary staff, mostly tertiary students during public holidays.
Even though the new regulations allow clubs to open as early as 7pm, Masisi argues that in reality, people start to show up at clubs after 10pm when bars close. This therefore means they only have two hours of business during the week and only four hours during weekends.
Ironically, even though night clubs have been the ones given little time of operation, their licence fees are more than those of other enterprises like bars, bottle stores, liquor depot and wholesalers, all of which still enjoy eight hours of operation as compared to five hours given to clubs.
Masisi emphasized that night clubs are primarily for entertainment and as such there is no need to view them as places where alcohol is abused.
“Many people used to come here to watch artists and performers while sipping on their soft drinks,” he said.
Masisi said the reduced hours of operation have resulted in illegal shebeens being run in many homes. He said when clubs are forced to close as early as 2am during weekends and holidays, when people do not want to sleep early, they end up driving around looking for unlicensed and unregulated places where they can buy alcohol.
Masisi is of the view that when clubs close as late as 4am, all that could come to the patrons’ minds is their beds.
Masisi said they intend to deliver the same petition to the current Minister of Trade and Industry since the former minister left his office without giving them any response.