Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
THOKOZANI Mlandu (not her real name) does not look forward to the weekend — the only time she can get to let her hair loose and get a well-deserved rest — because of late, there is constant brawling and noise coming from her neighbour’s house in New Magwegwe suburb.
Not only is she disturbed by the noise and fighting, but intoxicated patrons of a shebeen, a stone throw from her house, urinate near neighbour’s’ gates and they shout obscenities at each other.
Mlandu can only seethe in anger at the nuisance, which she says gets worse during weekends, as she cannot confront the owner of the illegal joint or its patrons.
The last two months have been torture for the mother of two.
Saturday Leisure has deliberately changed her name to protect her from possible victimisation as she narrates the ordeal that residents of a section of New Magwegwe suburb have to endure every day.
The situation has gotten worse since the national lockdown, to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, was imposed by the Government on March 30. The lockdown remains in place indefinitely as announced by the President Mnangagwa last week.
“The lockdown has brought a shebeen right at our doorsteps. The man who operates it used to run a vending stall at the terminus and stopped selling his stuff there after the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Now he has moved the business into his backyard and sells anything from basic commodities, cigarettes to beer, but it is the alcohol that draws young men to his place because he allows them to drink there. They can’t go to the bottle store for fear of arrest and hide behind his durawall (perimeter wall) where the police cannot see them,” said Mlandu.
For someone who works as a dentist’s assistant in the city centre, Mlandu treasures her off days, but the peace and quiet that she used to enjoy on weekends is a thing of the past since the shebeen started operating.
The man behind the illegal joint was identified as Talkmore Mushove. Known in New Magwegwe suburb as “Choppies” it is said he used to run a vending stall selling various wares at a terminus in the area.
“People call him Choppies because he used to sell anything that he could lay his hands on like bread, flour, sugar, cooking oil and even artificial hair and braids. Now he sells beer and his customers are a nuisance.
“We have not known peace since he opened his shebeen. The customers fight constantly, they hurl insults at each other and urinate in front of our gates,” she added.
Yesterday afternoon, the Saturday Leisure witnessed first-hand, the goings on at the illegal joint.
One young man, who was drinking opaque beer with two friends, unwittingly disclosed that shebeen owner, Mushove, had made a quick trip into the city centre to buy more supplies.
“You better hurry up and buy before his wife locks the door because she wants to run some errands. Mushove just left for town to buy more alcohol,” he said.
Sure enough, a middle-aged woman emerged from the house with a two-litre container of opaque beer, handed it over to another customer, locked the door and walked to the gate, leaving about eight customers to their own devices in the backyard.
Strangely, a police officer in uniform was also in the backyard and seemed to be engrossed in a serious discussion with one of the patrons that was drinking a lager.
Mushove blamed the work of his enemies for tipping off Saturday Leisure on his illegal activities.
“I’m just like any other Zimbabwean trying to make a living running a small business, but now I’m being accused of operating a shebeen, which is a complete lie,” said Mushove.
Asked to explain the presence of eight people drinking alcohol in his backyard and a woman who was seen by the news crew receiving money in exchange for opaque beer, he became evasive.
“I know it’s my enemies who told you to come to my house. I’m in town right now so can I call you back and explain everything in person?” he asked before disconnecting the call.
His phone was unreachable after that.
The history of shebeens in Bulawayo is an interesting one. Backdating to the 1970s, a very difficult time for urban dwellers, iron-fisted colonial rule chased black pleasure seekers from leisure spots nearer the centre of town towards the townships.
It was an illustration of the senseless nature of colonialism, a system in which the colour of one’s skin could prevent them from enjoying the wise waters from wherever they fancied.
From such painful, prejudiced rejection, shebeens were born. These illegal social gatherings became a hit, providing a platform for black expression, fashion and music.
Fast forward to 2020 when the world is battling against the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions to curb the novel virus such as lockdowns have been put in place, illegal alcohol-selling joint owners are trying their best to beat the system.
More shebeens are mushrooming across Bulawayo suburbs, keeping law enforcement officers on their toes in trying to halt the operations of the illegal joints.
In Old Luveve suburb, residents have engaged the local leadership to deal with the number of shebeens that are operating since the start of the lockdown nearly two months ago.
“It seems everyone with access to bulk alcohol is now running a shebeen here. I know an area here that has two shebeens in a 100 metre radius and it appears the people that are operating the shebeens are not afraid of being arrested.
“We urge the police to act on the shebeens when they are tipped off by members of the community, otherwise people will end up losing faith in law enforcement authorities,” said Malvin Nleya, a community leader.
The Government banned the opening of bars and nightclubs together with other entertainment spots in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The closure of leisure spots has given rise to the mushrooming of shebeens that operate within the confines of communities, but away from the prying eyes of the police.
Bulawayo police spokesman Inspector Abednico Ncube said law enforcement officers will continue acting on information provided by members of the community on the possible operations of shebeens and any places that sell alcohol in violation of lockdown regulations. — @RaymondJaravaza