Liquor licensing – a slow process

Don’t be left (high and) dry. Get your liquor licence application in on time.

Despite our struggling economy, there seems to be no shortage of new establishments opening their doors to a thirsty and hungry clientele. Linden, a suburb of Johannesburg, has seen a boom of new bars and restaurants recently, catering for every taste from burgers to tapas. But some of these eateries are opening without a liquor licence. Across the country, restaurants and businesses wishing to sell alcohol are facing long delays in the liquor licensing process. A publican in Mbomelela, Mpumalanga, has been waiting eight months with no delivery date in sight. What’s the hold-up?

Due diligence

Let’s be fair to the authorities. South Africa has a huge social problem with alcohol. Alcohol abuse fuels crime and violence, against women and children in particular. There is an epidemic of illegal sale of alcohol. The provincial Liquor Boards, who issue on- and off-consumption liquor licences, have a duty to scrutinise every application and ensure the suitability of the licence holder and the premises. This is part of their duty to protect the public. 

The National Liquor Authority is part of the DTI and is charged with regulating the macro manufacturing and distribution tiers of the liquor industry. Each province has its own liquor authority and you must apply to your local board for a liquor licence for on-consumption, off-consumption and micro manufacturing.

Applicants must undergo police clearance and submit building plans, photographs of the premises, information about where the alcohol will be stored, written representations in support of the application, and various other documents. Checking the authenticity of these documents and conducting due diligence on the applicant takes time. In a period of expansion in the industry, there  will be an inevitable backlog of applications in the processing pipeline. The Liquor Board is just doing its job.

Liquor licence nominal timelines

There are certain milestones that must be met in the liquor licensing process. Fore example, in the Western Cape, a notice must be publicly displayed on the proposed licensed premises indicating that an application has been lodged for a liquor licence. This must be on display for 28 days from the date of application lodgement.

Furthermore, there is a cut-off date every month by which applications must be lodged. They must be submitted by 14:00 on the Friday preceding the first Friday of any month (or if the preceding Friday is a public holiday, by the last working day before the holiday). When you add these lead times together, and allow for the workload of the Liquor Licensing Tribunal, it’s not hard to see how the time required to grant a licence adds up. If you are opening a new establishment, be sure to allow at least six months for your licence to be granted, but don’t be surprised if it takes much longer. 

Temporary and event licences

It’s the time of year when non-commercial and other organisations want to hold functions selling alcohol. To do that legally, the event organiser or whoever wishes to sell alcohol must apply for either a temporary or event licence, depending on the nature of the function. They are not the same thing and the requirements for each are very different.

Temporary liquor licence

A temporary liquor licence must be held by an existing licence holder. For example, a restaurant or bar may be holding a pop-up at a seasonal market. Temporary liquor licences are granted for 14 consecutive days at a time, so only one licence is needed for a market that runs for a week, for example. A temporary licence may not be held for more than 30 days in a year, and the information and supporting documentation required with the application are similar to a permanent licence. Don’t be fooled by “temporary”. The application process is just as thorough. So if you haven’t yet applied for that temporary licence for the Christmas market you want to participate in, it may be too  late. Temporary licences must be applied for at least 40 days in advance of the first day of the function or event in question.

Event liquor licence

Unlike a temporary licence, anyone can apply for an event licence in the Western Cape, provided they are “a person of 18 years and older that are not disqualified according to Section 35 of the Western Cape Liquor Act 4 of 2008 as amended”. The documentation required is also similar to an application for a permanent liquor license and  requires, amongst others, details regarding the event venue and the credentials of the applicant. It takes time and care to prepare correctly. An application for an event liquor license must also be submitted 40 days before the first day of the event in order to avoid having to apply for condonation and the payment of penalty fees.  

Need help?

Applying for a liquor licence, whether permanent, temporary or event, can be a complicated undertaking, especially if you are new to the process. SD Law & Associates are experts in liquor licensing. If you have any questions about the licensing requirements or need help with your application, contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email will help you secure your on- or off-consumption, temporary or event liquor licence as painlessly as possible.Back to top



The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.