The Sunday Mail
ARE you a hedonist?
If so, how have you been quenching your pleasure desires in the last two or so years?
It is an open secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought major changes in various aspects of our lives since hitting the country’s shores in 2020.
Zimbabwe has implemented a raft of measures to curb the spread of the global pandemic. At some point the country observed dawn to dusk curfew, while travel to work was limited to only essential workers.
Gatherings were restricted while a phased Covid-19 vaccination programme was introduced.
The raft of measures brought positive results as huge strides were made in the reduction of infections and fatalities.
However, coronavirus and the resulting lockdown affected lifestyles.
Life was no longer the same on the social scene, particularly at night.
Most merrymakers had either resorted to staying home completely while other creatures of habit frequented their local imbibing joints, often breaching curfew times.
But Government scrapped the midnight to dawn curfew on Tuesday and extended operating hours for players in the hospitality sector.
“Ours is one of the major entertainment joints in the downtown area but our numbers had dropped drastically because we were closing the bar around 10pm and that was inconveniencing imbibers. However, there has been a tremendous improvement in business since Wednesday after curfew was scrapped,” notes City Sports Bar manager Harpers Mapimhidze.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the central business district (CBD) would be a hive of activity until the early hours of the morning.
However, the town was often deserted around 9pm during the lockdown.
But the trend created a fair share of problems.
Imbibers that do not want to go home early created new bases, especially in the avenues area.
Naturally, commercial sex workers and drug dealers thrived in the environment. Actually, prostitutes that parade in the avenues are still coming out in full force. Not even the chilly weather is discouraging them. Theirs is probably the busiest area in town throughout the day.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Society revealed that Gail Court, situated on the corner of Samora Machel Avenue and Eighth Street, has become a solid base of all sorts of crime.
Commercial sex workers, criminals, vendors and drug dealers operating from the building have forged an ‘unholy’ alliance.
Visiting the place, for whatever reason, especially at night, is like signing your own death warrant.
Strangely, people are still frequenting the place.
Drugs that include crystal meth (mutoriro, dombo or guka), BronCleer, marijuana (mbanje) and illicit brews are readily available.
Ordinary beer is also sold.
Marijuana is the cheapest of the drugs costing US$1 per sachet. Cocaine, including the price, is only offered to known clients or those that come in fancy cars.
“I had to move from Gail Court as some of the things happening there are against my principles. Criminals have taken over the place. When you bring in your client, they create scuffles or openly rob him of his belongings,” said a sex worker who only identified herself as Sarah.
“Last time I got into trouble as my client was robbed. He assumed that I set him up, which was not the case. Most of the sex workers at the flat prefer to deal with drunkards because they are easy to steal from. They are lured with cheap rates but lose more in the end.”
Sex workers in the area charge varying amounts ranging between US$5 and US$15 for a short session popularly known as short-time.
Working under cover, The Sunday Mail Society visited the flat and interacted with some of the occupants.
“Pa paradise pano baba (This is paradise), we have everything you want. I can see you are a gentleman and certainly need fine stuff. Ndine twunyama, twuma yellow bone twamunogona kungoda (I have beautiful light-skinned ladies that you may like). If you are not for that, we also have some good stuff (drugs) that you will certainly like. We don’t have curfew here,” said a pimp who was standing by the gate and ready to usher me in. I gathered the same pimp also sells drugs from the flat.
Some have in the last two years illegally converted their apartments into ‘booking houses’ or shebeens.
At Lombard Mansions, situated at Five Avenue, apartments on the ground floor are being utilised by ladies of the night and their clients.
Some residents on the flat are not amused.
“Yes, they are doing it at night but its not good for our reputation as residents and for the kids. Imagine what people will think about us when they see us leave this place during the day? We are now being associated with prostitution,” complained one of the disgruntled residents.
There is also the case of vendors that operate during weird hours.
But the products on display will often not be their major business as a good number of them also sell recreational drugs and aphrodisiacs.
“We have both regular and new clients. Most men need these boosters for one reason or another. Business is usually brisk after midnight. It was the same case even when the curfew was still on,” said Diva, as his colleagues were calling him, who operates along Chinhoyi Street near Copacabana Bus Terminus.
Similarly, there are a couple of nightclubs that disregarded curfews and would attract a sizable number of imbibers throughout the week.
“I often get home after midnight every day. I come to this bar after work and leave just before midnight. The problem is we have little or no options when it comes to going out. Its either you are here or home,” said Petros Makoni.
Several nightclubs have since shut down operations, limiting options for many.
Making a killing
But not everyone is up to no good.
Casino operators have been ‘silently’ enjoying healthy business.
Actually, there are reports that legal gambling has become a pastime for many.
“It is good news that the curfew has been scrapped. We hope this will further boost our business through more operating hours. In our case, we don’t usually value numbers but quality clients. You can have 10 punters in a particular night and make more money compared to a bar owner with 300 or more patrons.
“We have maintained most of our punters throughout the lockdown period and even witnessed new faces coming through. In fact, most people that had little or no activity found casinos as a good alternative,” revealed Simbarashe Matute, an employee in one of the leading Casinos’ in town.
Outspoken music promoter Josh Hozheri reckons pleasure seekers are no longer following the traditional routine.
Going out, he said, was now being shaped by the new normal.
“The challenge is we no longer have places dedicated to proper and diverse entertainment. I have tried going out with my colleagues but most of the joints are not suitable and the numbers are too low. Back in the day, we would have about thousands of people. You would know that Sports Dinner has about a thousand people, Jazz 105 is full to capacity, Mannenberg and Tipperary’s also having healthy crowds, even during the week.
“However, at the present, when you find one bar packed, there are high chances that other joints are empty. The numbers of people going out have gone down and it is usually the same faces that you meet in different places,” said Hozheri.
He was, however, quick to point out that people are still having fun.
“We now have some people that do office drinks. They buy and share bottles of whiskey. The fashion of partying has changed. Yes, the issue of disposable income is another factor, but, again, Delta Beverages is saying sales have increased, even during the lockdown. People are still having fun, but not going to the traditional places.”
Socialite, philanthropist and music promoter Wanisai “Mahwindo” Mutandwa added that the lockdown changed a lot of people.
“The lockdown led to a drastic change in lifestyle. You could not leave home at 9pm going to a bar closing at 10pm. Several people simply stopped going out, especially during the week. Everyone is happy that the curfew time has been lifted. Nightlife starts at midnight and most people usually leave home around 10pm,” she said.
“We expect a change now since closing times have been reviewed. Clubbing was affected by lockdown not disposable income. Most artistes go on stage around 9/10pm. The major reason why curfew was lifted is because of Alick Macheso’s album launch dinner.”
The event was attended by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana and the deputy Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Honourable Tino Machakaire.
“Most people had resorted to partying in resort areas where restrictions were not that tight. We are glad the two Government officials listened to our concerns. Nightlife will return to its former glory. Even corporates could no longer host several events like dinners due to curfew restrictions.’
Promoters chairman Partson “Chipaz” Chimbodza is equally delighted.
“On behalf of promoters, we would like to applaud our listening Government for lifting the curfew. As stakeholders we appreciate this development as it benefits not only the arts sector but everyone else. We can now do more events with our artists as we have enough time. Several people had resorted to home parties and online events.”
With the lifting of the curfew, Harare can reclaim its moniker, the city that does not sleep.