Sunday, 27 June 2021

BARS AND CLUBS FACE BANKRUPTCY


For the better part of her adulthood, Tendai Katerere has been working in bars and sports clubs in Chitungwiza after leaving her rural home in Murewa 15 years ago.

She has been hopping from one bar to another and at some point she had a brief stint working at a top sports bar in Harare.

Working at this sports bar, whose clientele included prominent businesspeople and politicians, was a great experience, Katerere says with nostalgia.

Her one-and-half decade familiarity within the liquor industry led her to earn a supervisory role at a prominent club in Chitungwiza.

Katerere was idolised by young girls who were just joining her line of work, while earning respect from imbibers, thanks to her charisma and warmth she demonstrated when on duty.

However, it’s now all water under the bridge and almost a year since Katerere has been on the sidelines.

She is among thousands of people employed in bars and sports clubs as well as line industries across the country, who have been left in the cold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I came from Murewa searching for a job and I ended up working as a waitress at a bar in Unit J in Chitungwiza,” Katerere told Standard Style.

“Since then I have been working in clubs here in Chitungwiza and Harare. In 2019 I was promoted to be a supervisor, but that was short-lived after the advent of Covid-19 and the subsequent regulations to stem the spread of the disease.

“We were told to go home for a break with the hope that operations will resume if the coronavirus disappears, but alas that was not the case, and the disease is still around.”

Katerere is the breadwinner for her family back home in Murewa and she was also taking care of her younger sister in secondary school and her two daughters at primary school whom she stays with at her two-roomed rented cottage in Chitungwiza.

All along she was hoping that the Covid-19 would go away, but she now has a different viewpoint.

“This disease is not going anywhere. It’s something we have to live with. As of thinking of going back to work, it’s just a pipe dream,” she said.

“The fact that bars and sports clubs have been closed since last year while other sectors re-opened during the course of the lockdowns heralds a gloomy picture on our part.”

Katerere has since broadened her horizon and is now selling second-hand clothes, popularly as “Mabhero”, but still it’s not all that rosy.

“It’s a new venture, but one has to soldier on. You have to deal with the police, who come here on a daily basis enforcing Covid-19 regulations. However, it’s better than just being seated at home,” she said.

Zimbabwe, just like many countries across the world, is under a national lockdown, which among other measures prohibit the operation of nightclubs, bars, beerhalls and casinos, among others. 

Recent measures announced by Health minister Constantino Chiwenga also prohibited people from gathering in the wake of new infections and an imminent third wave of the pandemic.

Among the raft of measures announced by Chiwenga recently, bottle stores are to sell beer from 10am up to 4pm, while hotels and lodges can only sell beer to guests up to 10pm. This is in addition to the 10pm to 4am curfew imposed early this year.

On Wednesday the country recorded 766 new cases of Covid-19 in a single day with three people succumbing to the disease. There were 1 089 active cases. In the wake of rising Covid-19 cases, the future of night clubs and sports bars looks bleak.

While other sectors have been allowed to reopen, night clubs and sports bars remain closed, creating a major turmoil in the sector.

A myriad of workers in the sector including waiters, security personnel, cleaners and drivers, among workers employed in the line industry lost their jobs, while a handful had their wages slashed as there was no revenue coming in.

Musicians, who rely mostly on alcohol establishments, are also wallowing in abject poverty as there were no longer spaces for live performances.

A survey carried out by Standard Style showed that most establishments in major city centres have closed shop while a few were riding on their restaurant licences to sell alcohol, although the new regulations do not allow sit-ins.

However, in high-density suburbs most outlets are conducting business through clandestine means, creating backyard selling points and shabeens in violation of lockdown rules.

A recent visit to rural areas and places outside major cities showed that it was business as usual as most sports bars and beer outlets were doing operating the usual way.

The World Health Organisation [WHO] among its Covid-19 guidelines, encouraged governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption.

The world health body argues that alcohol consumption is done in social settings, which lead to reduced adherence to Covid-19 preventive measures such as mask use and physical distancing.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that among young adults with heavy alcohol use, adherence to public policies like stay-at-home orders is suboptimal, declines over time, and is associated with alcohol use events.

Local public health expert and medical doctor Johannes Marisa regards bars and sports bars as super spreaders of the respiratory disease.

“As you know, it’s not about the sophisticated hospitals or other health infrastructure that determine morbidity or mortality from Covid-19, it’s our behaviour,” Marisa said.

“Usually, when people are enjoying or when in inebriated state, they tend to forget common protective measures like social distancing and masking up, among others.

“How can someone, who is drinking be in a mask? It’s impossible. The risk of transmission is very high.”

Zimbabwe’s liquor market had a significant transformation at the turn of the millennium with aggressive players entering the sector pushing most of traditional beer outlets like beerhalls and beer gardens into oblivion.

The majority of these traditional beer outlets were run by local authorities and generated significant revenue for councils.

For beer drinkers, the new establishments became the best choice for having authentic “beer experience” as they came up with attractive packages in a market once dominated by local authorities.

However, the advent of Covid-19 has left the liquor players in a quandary, painting the future of the industry they have so much invested in it bleak.

Liquor players feel government should make a way for them to operate through sustainable solutions that help them support in combating the pandemic in every possible way.

“We had the whole year on the sidelines and we have rentals, wages and licences to pay. We are requesting for a waiver for us to operate in a sustainable way,” said David Mudzudzu, who operates liquor establishments under the Club Joy Centre banner.

“We request a situation where bars and clubs are allowed to operate as takeaways or given limited hours to meet our operational cost obligations. We also plead for the reopening of outdoor events to be considered.”

Arts promoter-cum businessman Benjamin Nyandoro believes the liquor industry makes a significant contribution to the development of the country and should not be allowed to die.

“Our industry has been put to test and it is a difficult reality that we are facing. We are not an industry in the eyes of government,” said Nyandoro, who operates Padziva, a leisure centre in the capital.

“Delta Beverages is one of the first corporates to come forward in response to the Cyclone Idai, the Covid-19 pandemic and many other disasters, which were a threat to lives.

“Our value chain is broad and is big. I believe we can do more if allowed to operate in a controlled environment in observance of Covid-19 safe practices.”

A bar owner, who runs a number of bars and clubs in Chitungwiza said he had scaled down his workforce and was now operating a few bottle stores in the town.

He was struggling to pay the few workers left and rentals arrears have accumulated, which might compel him to close shop.

Police acknowledge that cases of people violating public alcohol use were widespread across the country.

They said thousands of liquor establishments owners and their workers have been arrested for breaking Covid-19 lockdown regulations across the country while scores of imbibers were caught on the wrong side of the law.

Following government’s recent Covid-19 regulations, police warned that all those caught drinking beer at bottle stores and inside will be arrested.

“Patrols blitz and monitoring will be done by police to ensure that beerhalls, bars and nightclubs remain closed,” said police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.

“Bottle store owners should strictly observe the given operational time of 10am to 4pm. “In this regard, all those found drinking beer at bottle stores, inside vehicles and surrounding areas will be arrested.

“Restaurants and fast food outlets should observe the law and ensure that they only serve take aways as pronounced by the government. Only hotels and lodges are allowed to serve.”For Katerere and many others going back to work remains a mirage. Standard

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