Beerhalls have always been at the centre of the waves of political turmoil in Johannesburg's African townships. The Johannesburg City Council JCC) opened a beerhall in Western Native Township (WNT) in 1939. Sensing that their illicit beer trade would be undermined, Basotho women in the Western Areas staged demonstrations and called upon residents to boycott beerhalls. In the beginning residents supported the boycott. But as the women were harassed and prosecuted for illicit beer brewing, along with their clients, the boycott petered out.
It was not only the illicit dealers who were opposed to the JCCs monopoly on the sale of Kaffir beer. Within the JCC there was considerable opposition to municipal monopoly on the sale of beer. A JCC fact-finding mission to Pietermaritzburg to observe how the practice was carried out reported that it would be fatal to introduce the system in Johannesburg. Lastly, "the local Native Advisory Boards have been urging the JCC to introduce the home-brewing system into the urban locations of Johannesburg". The board was opposed to municipal monopoly on the sale of beer, demanding instead that residents be allowed to brew for domestic consumption and not for commercial purposes.
After much prevarication, the JCC did adopt the system for African locations in Johannesburg. Several beerhalls were established in Johannesburg's African townships in the 1940s and 1950s. Profits from the sale of Kaffir beer during this period increased considerably. It was the widespread illicit liquor trade that persuaded the JCC to adopt the system of the municipal brewing of beer. During 1950 and 1951, profits from the sale of beer had reaches 175, 131 pounds all of which was used for recreation and welfare, rising to 201, 576 in the following year.
The Non-European Affairs Department (NEAD) of the JCC reported in 1957 that twenty years after they were established, beerhalls have generated a profit of 1, 009,905 pounds. The beerhall at "Dube hostel has been completed and is very popular. Profits of 525,000 pounds enabled the department to undertake considerable welfare and recreation projects and subsidise losses on sub-economic housing". At the beginning the brewery was run by 2 white and 24 black staff members working 12-hour shifts. In 1957 the demand increased to such an extent that the brewery operated on a 24-hour system where "4 white brewers, 1 recorder and 80 black staff members brew more than one million gallons of beer per month".
Beerhalls in African locations as well as those situated in the city were flourishing. Then in 1959, following the murder of a white man near the Mai-Mai beerhall, the Minister of Bantu Administration gave a directive that by the 16th of June 1959, all beerhalls in the centre of the city must be shut down. In a rush to offset the losses expected from the closure of beerhalls in the city centre, the JCC built eight additional beerhalls in the townships between the 6th and the 30th June 1959.
The proliferation of beerhalls early in the 1960s, followed by the lifting of prohibitions relating to selling certain classes of liquor to Africans in August 1962 further boosted sales and profits generated by the beerhalls. According to police reports, crime also decreased as policemen no longer had to prosecute people for being in possession of beer. The destruction of Sophiatown in 1955 and parts of Alexandra township in 1961-2, and the resettlement of residents in municipal locations gave the JCC the opportunity to bring illicit beer brewing under control though not to eradicate it completely. In this regard the JCC targeted Basotho women. A wide range of location regulations intended to make Basotho women persona non-grata in Johannesburg were passed. These restricted their movements as well as their right to housing in locations under the jurisdiction of the Native Resettlement Board (NRB).
For the remainder of the 1960s, beerhalls experienced mixed fortunes. First the price war started by private shebeens undermined the JCCs beerhalls. In 1964 the JCC joined the price war and in so doing captured its market from private shebeen operators. To meet the increased demand, the JCC opened the Langlaagte brewery, considered "one of the largest in the world with a capacity of producing 200,00 gallons per day". In the process of under cutting the private shebeen operators, the JCC simultaneously wrenched the market from bottle stores in town. The volume of their deliveries decreased considerably.
The profit margin of the JCC fro the beer monopoly continued to decline in 1970 and 1971. In 1972 all townships, including beerhalls fell under the West Rand Administration Board (WRAB). The new administration was a continuation of the NRB for Meadowlands, Dube, Diepkloof and parts of Rockville. For the rest of Soweto, previously administered by the JCC, WRAB introduced more stringent location regulations, which were strictly applied. These included regular police raids for illicitly brewed beer. The clampdown forced patrons to look to the beerhalls administered by WRAB for recreation. This may explain the slight increase in sales and profits following the WRAB takeover of location administration in 1972.
WRAB figures are not available to ascertain whether the sales and profits of the JCC from the monopoly of the sale of liquor had increased between 1973 and 1976. Judging from the ferocity with which location regulations were implemented under WRAB, it is possible that areas traditionally associated with illicit beer brewing were under constant surveillance. These included Meadowlands, Zone 2, Diepkloof, Naledi, Molapo, Pimville and Phiri. Concentrations of Basotho families were found in these parts of Soweto.
When the Soweto riots broke out in 1976, beerhalls were targeted for arson. Mobs of students attacked beerhalls on the morning of the 16th June 1976. In Diepkloof the beerhall was looted, and was only saved by police intervention from total ruin. As protesters scurried out of the beerhall, police opened fire, killing several people. Beerhalls were attacked and looted elsewhere in Soweto with similar consequences. By the end of the third day, Friday June 18th, most beerhalls had been looted but not burnt down.
The march of the 4t of August was a turning point in the Soweto revolt. Tsietsi Mashinini fled the country and Khotso Seathlolo took over the leadership of the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC). Apart from organising a successful march into town on the 22nd September 1976, security police believed that with Paul Langa, Khotso Seatholo was involved in various acts of arson in and around Soweto, including a series of attacks on beerhalls. These acts of arson were particularly evident between ctober 1976 and early in 1977. By March 1977, only the Jabulane Beerhall had survived the attacks. It may have to do with the fact that it is situated in IFP territory, just behind the Jabulane Amphitheater.
Beerhalls that were destroyed in 1976 were never rebuilt. All structures either gutted by fire in arson attacks or bombed as part of sabotage were rebuilt and restored. Only beerhalls still stand as ruins that are testimony to the level of anger unleashed in 1976. The beerhall in Diepkloof has been turned into an industrial area as well as ne of the biggest informal settlements in Soweto. Orlando beerhall is all ruins that have been neglected by successive councils that administered the township since 1976.