In Namibia, not less than 10 people die in violence-related incidents fuelled by alcohol abuse every week. The worst time this year was from 1-3 July when 19 people died in three days, mostly due to alcohol-related incidents. Following the incident, police spokesperson Kauna Shikwambi advised people to avoid alcohol abuse. Parliamentarians recently voiced great concerns over alcohol abuse in the country and called for a referendum on the matter. It would, however, be a tough decision for lawmakers, seeing that a number of parliamentarians own liquor outlets – either directly or through proxies – through which they make an extra income. Addressing the National Assembly recently, poverty eradication minister Retired Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta called for stricter measures to control alcohol use. Most worrisome is that those abusing alcohol are the youth and the workforce.
In 2014, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs established that about 80 percent of Namibian youth aged between 14 and 15 were drinking heavily. Another report, the Global Status of Alcohol on Health, compiled by the World Health Organization in 2014 ranked Namibia third with the highest number of alcohol abusers per capita in Africa. The report says Namibian men drink an average 16.7 litres per capita, while women 5.4 litres. In its own study done in 2015, the health ministry concluded that Namibians are also into heavy binge drinking during which they can drink up to 78 beers per week. Parliamentarians said the high rate of alcohol consumption poses a threat to the country’s development objectives, including poverty eradication. Kameeta said alcohol abuse was shameful, pathetic and scary. “I believe now is the hour for this parliament to make a change,” Kameeta said.
Deputy Minister of Land Reform, Bernadus Swartbooi urged the National Assembly to change the law so that alcohol abuse is contained. “I think time has come to take a strong stance and test the reality out there and deal with the matter not in a half-hearted fashion but in a decisive manner,” Swartbooi said. Justice Minister Albert Kawana said the referendum would look at banning the operating of shebeens in residential areas. “Under no circumstances will a licence be issued to a shebeen that operates in a residential area,” Kawana said, adding that the referendum will also seek opinion on abolishing potent homebrews. “The potent homebrews are poisoning our people,” Kawana said.
Some Namibians, who cannot afford distilled beers, brew their own alcohol commonly known in the country as ‘tombo’ that claims lives from time to time. At one time, six farmworkers died on the spot after drinking ‘tombo’ at a farm near Grootfontein town about 460 kilometres from the capital, Windhoek. In May 2015, fourteen villagers from the north of the country were rushed to hospital after drinking ‘tombo’, while cases of children whose parents feed them ‘tombo’ have been reported in the country.
This will not be the first time that Parliament seeks to tighten laws on the selling of alcohol. Previous efforts have been met with resistance from shebeen owners, who demonstrated supported by the Namibian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Union of Namibian Workers and the Namibian Retailing Traders Association (formerly Namibia Shebeens Association – NASA).
Also in 2004, the Karasburg Town Council met stiff resistance from shebeen owners in Westerkim residential area.
NRTA President, Andreas Nuule, was reported in 2014 as saying that, “Thus far 3 580 shebeen owners have been registered in the Khomas Region and more than 400 in the Kunene; Omaheke; Omusati; and Ohangwena regions”.
No date has yet been given for the referendum. Legislators and owners of shebeens have been in constant back and forth confrontations on how alcohol should be sold in Namibia. The recent efforts By parliament to hand the power of this decision into the hands of the Namibian people through a referendum may prove to be the only lasting solution as yet. These recent efforts have been a follow up on existing recommendations made by the Ministry of Education, which is particularly concerned with the proximity of these drinking places to schools and the effect they have on learners and teachers. Submissions to the Ministry of Justice on the matter are said to have been fruitless on previous occasions owing to the National Retailing Traders Association’s position on the matter.
Following the tabling of a proposal by industrialisation minister Immanuel Ngatjizeko to make legal changes to the liquor law, debate in Parliament has ensued with some members’ urging for tougher laws than those that currently exist; especially relating to locations and proximity to other public places such as schools. The National Retailing Traders Association, which is the official representative of all registered shebeen owners, is tasked with protecting the interests of its members, one of which includes their freedom to sale their products without inhibitive prohibitions. It, however, refused to comment on the proposed referendum earlier this week. The structuring of the referendum question before the Namibian people seems to be concerned with what interest to best support; that of government attempting to create conducive environments for social stability and interaction or that of their fellow citizens (shebeen owners) in supporting their families through these informal small and medium enterprises.