Beitbridge Shebeens Taking Over The Vibrant Border Town Night Life As Lockdown Continues.
4 May 2020
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THE rumbling sound of a goods train crossing the border from South Africa distinctly pierces the night across the small shipping town of Beitbridge slightly after 10pm.

In the absence of the usual loud music blurring from drinking holes in the border town, the clattering sound of the train’s iron wheels riding the rail line expansion joints is audible up to some 3 kilometres away in the still night.

As the train driver blows his horn signalling arrival at Beitbridge Station, the hooter sparks discussion the way a fresh song put on the decks by a disc jockey would in a bar.

Without music to talk about, imbibers dwell on the train subject as they sip deep into the night.

Across the road from the men at the street end, some ladies and their partners have been making short errands to buy beer from the source, a house in the row where three other house owners run the illegal beer outlets.

With licenced premises closed under the lockdown, Beitbridge shebeens have helped fill the gap left by beer outlets, nightclubs and bottle stores, though illegally.

It has been 33 days since the government in response against the spread of Covid-19 ordered the closure of beer outlets throughout the country spelling death to Zimbabwe’s night life.

The officer commanding Beitbridge police district Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo said compliance by beer outlets had been impressive and the border town was orderly.

“At the beginning of the lockdown we arrested a number of shebeen operators and confiscated beer from unlicensed dealers. “We discourage crowding associated with beer outlets,” he said.

Supermarkets because they offered take aways, were allowed to operate.

“We have reports that rural outlets maybe opening, but we will go on an outreach for compliance with relevant statutes related to Covid-19,” he said.

He did not have figures of those arrested, but said they were more than five.

A survey by Standard Style, however, showed that shebeens had picked up pace taking advantage of a vacuum created by the closure of licenced outlets.

The shebeen operators are either fed from closed bottle stores or enterprising money changers who saw the gap.

They deal in mostly quarts and locally brewed beverages.

A source at Delta Beverages in Beitbridge said sales had actually picked up.

“We have others who buy for export taking advantage of beer scarcity in South Africa. They know how to export,” said the source.

During the day, Beitbridge residents drive out of town to remote bottle stores in rural areas to drink away from the eyes of the police and military.

Gone are the scantily dressed and usually attractive ladies of the night, who stampeded against each other in the beer outlets where customer bases are high.

Some of these ladies were permanently booked in lodges and hotels of Beitbridge as demand for their services soared.

They have left Beitbridge.

A bottle store owner said she had put her workers on unpaid leave.

Unlike South Africa, which has totally banned liquor sales, some beer outlets in the country have been allowed to trade.

Supermarkets, which by their nature sell to people who do not stay or sit in, have enjoyed business even in Beitbridge.

They are in no competition except with shebeens, which in the past had superior patronage due to their stocks of imported beer that are now a scarce commodity.

“We negotiate with the police. By nature they also want drinks and we sell them at good prices,” said one shebeen owner in Beitbridge.

Police have in many cases raided shebeens in the border town where some beer has been confiscated.

Vice-President Kembo Mohadi on Friday said it was difficult to follow up local coronavirus infections and considering the large numbers, who frequented err outlets any single case would multiply and be difficult to pursue.

“Many people go into bars and if there is any infected person, it will be difficult to trace the people, who will have gone into contact with them,” Mohadi said during a tour to asses the preparedness of Beitbridge, expected to receive thousands of returning residents from neighbouring South Africa.