The newly formed liquor traders’ organisation, the National Liquor Forum, has vowed to fight for transformation and battle discrimination in the alcohol sector.
The organisation’s Gauteng head, Linda Madida, in an interview with City Press, said the liquor traders, especially ones based in townships, were unhappy with being sidelined by both government and major liquor retailers.
The forum, which is just over a month old and only set to go to its inaugural conference in July this year in Durban, has nine provincial structures and Madida said the umbrella body was an effort to pool resources and express concerns with one voice as liquor traders.
Among the issues Madida said black liquor traders still had to grapple with was the overregulation of the industry, which is a major hurdle for the growth of black traders in the industry.
“That is why you rarely see a tavern owner growing to be a bigger retailer or supplier,” he said.
“This revenue is important for township businesses, not only for their usual monthly revenue streams, but also for their growth. A direct, transparent and focused dialogue with the liquor companies around these issues will ensure equality across all liquor-trading outlets, no matter where they are or who owns them,” he said.
Madida said government has also sidelined the sector in all its business funding and development initiatives, despite theirs being an integral part of the traditional township economy.
“When Lindiwe Zulu [small business development minister] talks of small business, we don’t know if we belong there or not. It’s like we are a child without identity. We are being overregulated and sidelined in all business-support developments. Government will fund and support every business type except us.
“It is like we are only there to be blamed when bad things happen,” he said.
“We want our traders to feel like businesspeople, to be treated like businesspeople. We don’t want the imbalances.
“We are being used as scapegoats when people beat their wives and cause accidents. Abuse is never good in anything, even Coca-Cola,” he said.
Madida pointed out that, though the industry was overregulated, the rules are structured in such a way that it’s difficult to enter the sector at the bottom as township trader and even more difficult to progress while already a trader.
According to Madida, the overregulation is as a result of the many strict rules imposed on traders and prospective licencees.
“For example, an outlet must be at least 500m away from a school or a church, but in some instances, the school and church are the ones who establish themselves closer to us,” he said.
He pointed out that the organisation would only get a clearer picture of its overall membership size after the national meeting.
There is also the issue of shelf space that major suppliers pay for only in bigger liquor traders outlets, but not in township outlets.
The forum, whose biggest membership is in Gauteng and the Western Cape, has already met provincial government representatives over the issue, but will only chart a way forward after consolidating all their grievances at the upcoming conferences.
Madida believes that uniting township liquor traders across South Africa is a critical need that will allow the sector to address the plight of the disadvantaged black traders in the liquor sector.
“We are taking our future and wellbeing into our own hands by taking responsibility to fight the continuation of the abuse, exploitation and discrimination of our people in the liquor industry,” said Madida.
Comment sought from the department of trade and industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe on this matter was not forthcoming.