The Sunday Mail
FOR some people, drinking alcohol at work has become a tradition.
Sadly, this new norm is giving rise to public drinking and the nuisance that is associated with it.
Investigations revealed that some work environments, especially those associated with the informal sector, now have a culture of heavy drinking and alcoholism.
This happens during and after working hours.
Touts, vendors and cobblers are some of the major culprits.
A cobbler who only identified himself as Pedzisai, operating from the intersection of Jason Moyo and First Street in Harare’s central business district (CBD), confessed to be in the habit of drinking while working.
Every day, the father of two visits a nearby supermarket, where he buys alcohol and returns to his workstation. He mixes his cheap brand with non-alcoholic beverages to avoid easy detection by the police as he mends the shoes.
“Mending shoes on the CBD pavement was never a gentleman’s job. Alcohol gives me the courage to approach passers-by and convince them to give me jobs so that I can feed my family,” said the ever-cheerful Pedzisai.
He added that alcohol helps him to “effectively deal” with the Harare Municipal Police, who occasionally swoop on people like him.
“Council does not allow us to work from these pavements and, as a result, their officers raid us.
“When I am a little bit tipsy, I can negotiate with the officers, who sometimes just leave me alone.”
Pedzisai and his drinking partner, a vendor who sells electrical gadgets, said they relieve themselves in a nearby alley. There are no public toilets in the area the two illegally operate from.
Touts and commuter omnibus crews are also notorious for working under the influence of alcohol.
The touts also argue that their work environment demands that they take alcohol at work.
“We work under very difficult conditions, which force us to drink alcohol during working hours.
“Our work consumes a lot of energy as we run around soliciting for
customers. Alcohol provides both the courage and energy to do our work,” said Fanuel.
When drunk, some of the touts become aggressive, making commuter omnibus ranks unpleasant places to be.
Some Harare residents who are formally employed have also developed a tendency to drink in public.
Apart from drinking alcohol when they are at work, the residents are also drinking in public places such as commuter omnibus ranks during peak hours. At the Simon Muzenda Bus Terminus (formerly Fourth Street), scores of commuters bound for the eastern suburbs of Mabvuku, Tafara and Epworth often congregate on pavements and consume alcohol. The commuters drink in public as they wait to board open trucks, which are cheaper than commuter omnibuses.
From 3 pm up to around 8 pm, beer drinkers converge at the market stalls at the bus terminus and gulp their favourite brews.
A commuter who preferred to remain anonymous said he often drinks in public as he whiles away time.
“The fares to Epworth are very high during peak hours. I have resorted to buying cheap alcohol and drink as I wait to board open trucks, which are cheaper alternatives,” the commuter said.
In most cases, the public drinkers become a nuisance both to passers-by and other people with whom they will board the cheap open trucks.
Some even end up refusing to pay their fares, resulting in squabbles.
Why have Harare residents suddenly developed a love for public drinking?
Several reasons have been put forward for the bad habit. Farai Mhuru said the price of alcohol in bars and nightclubs in central Harare is far beyond the reach of many drinkers.
“People are buying cheap alcoholic beverages from supermarkets and pavements, then consume them on the streets, as prices charged by bars and nightclubs are often exorbitant,” explained Mhuru.
A pint of beer costs as low as $550 in most supermarkets while the same product is sold for US$1 or more in bars or nightclubs.
Street guzzlers who take lagers do not worry about refrigeration as supermarkets are keeping their favourite drinks well-chilled. Cheap brandy is also sold in supermarkets and on pavements, a factor that further discourages drinkers from patronising bars and nightclubs.
Car trunks and workstations have seemingly become the best alcohol consumption places for many.
Others blame the closure of bars during the lockdown for the rise in public drinking cases.
“During the lockdown, most people would just buy beer in supermarkets and then congregate in open spaces. It proved to be fun and many people are failing to let go of the new culture,” said Godfrey Murape.
Calls have been made for stiffer penalties for those caught on the wrong side of the law.
The Harare Municipal Police, working in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Republic Police, is currently engaged in an operation that seeks to remove public drinkers from the capital city’s pavements. Drinking alcohol at work is not only confined to Zimbabwe.
Online sources indicate that the practice is rampant in the United States.
This practice, it is said, dates back to a time when some of the workers in the US were paid in brandy.