Let the booze flow

Francinah Baaitse
LET'S TALK ABOUT IT: Minister Kgafela

Kgafela calls for debate over liquor industry operating times

Local drinkers could see the good times flow for even longer if Minister of Trade and Industry, Mmusi Kgafela’s recent comments are anything to go by.

Kgafela has challenged Batswana to an open debate regarding the liquor industry’s regulated operating times.

Speaking during a panel discussion at Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB)’s annual conference in Maun on Friday, the minister admitted he does not see sense why alcohol outlets are restricted by limited operating hours while others are free to operate anytime of the day.

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“We need to have a conversation regarding whether it is necessary to require that alcohol outlets be closed. As Ministry of Trade, we work under industrial development, we have trade act, we have liquor act, under which we license people and I have tried to see if we have times of closures for others, no we don’t. So I tried to find out why Batswana, when it comes to alcohol, decided that there’s got to be a set time for closure!” stated Kgafela, to the amusement of his audience.

Continuing along his unexpected musings, the minister added, “I don’t know, I don’t know, but it could be for moral reasons, or keeping people from the streets because we are a culture of people who at certain hours, streets are empty and we are asleep. In other jurisdictions, it is not the case; people are milling the streets 24/7.”

Currently, in Botswana, bars operate from 12 noon until 10 at night from Monday to Thursdays, but are allowed to stay open for an extra two hours from Friday to Sunday.

Nightclubs operate from 1900hrs until 0400hrs on Fridays and Saturdays, while they have a midnight curfew for the rest of the week.

Liquor stores, meanwhile, can sell between 1030 and 1930hrs every day apart from Sunday and public holidays, when they have to close.

Hotels and lodges are exempted from such time limits.

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FREE FLOW: Worth discussing!

According to Kgafela, the restrictions were likely put in place to instill morality and keep people off the streets to avoid disturbance of normal traffic flow by those coming from drinking holes.

“But that does not add up because hotels and nightclubs remain open when bars close. I don’t know if the concerns of then that got us to control times are still valid now or should we consider liberating it? If we do, are we going to see multitudes of people milling the streets, people in uncontrollable situations, obstructing normal flow of traffic?” Kgafela quizzed the audience.

He further argued such fears about bars do not hold water because people will still be on the streets in the early hours when they retreat home from hotels and clubs.

“Even if I was to be asked, I would not find a justification to this and I think we need to have a frank discussion about it!”

In fact, the minister revealed he has already had talks on the matter.

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“We have been urged by among others Mayor of Gaborone City Council to consider hours of operation because, when we have our tourists here, some come from economies where closing is a foreign concept. When they arrive here and are out enjoying entertainment, they don’t expect to be told that we have to close now!”

However, he noted that when it comes to liquor sales, there is a ‘noise element’ that requires tighter, more effective laws.

“Existing regulations to curb noise nuisance are outdated and less effective,” conceded Kgafela, suggesting increased fines and longer jail time for repeated offenders as a possible solution.

Currently, the penalty for making excessive noise is a P100 fine, with failure to pay putting one at risk of two weeks jail time.

Repeat offenders face a P200 fine or six months imprisonment.

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