For many urban beer drinkers, the spacious beer halls and beer gardens dotted around all cities and towns in the country were the places to be after a day’s work.
By Moses Mugugunyeki
These beer outlets, sometimes referred to as “big bars” were owned and run by local authorities. They were undoubtedly the councils’ cash cows.
This sadly changed at the turn of the millennium with the dearth of these popular joints and the arrival of aggressive players on the liquor market.
Overnight, almost all these hundreds of traditional beer outlets were pushed into oblivion.
The new players came up with attractive packages in a market where local authorities had once stood unrivaled.
“I really enjoyed spending my weekends at this bar. I would come around 10am during weekends, buy my chikari [opaque beer] and sip while I played a game of tsoro with friends,” said 68-year-old Sekuru Dzvamuse who used to frequent Chikomo Bar in Unit A, Chitungwiza.
The old man recollected with nostalgia the era when beer halls were the most popular hang out spots.
“Sometimes we formed drinking clubs which we called “Cabinets” where we would buy opaque beer in 4-litre containers known as mazangata and we would share as a group. The experience was just good.”
Sekuru Dzvamuse, who has since stopped drinking beer, attributed the demise of these “Cabinets” to the innovative new packaging of opaque beer in plastic containers that assumed name Scud.
“The packaged opaque beer have destroyed the beerhalls. People no longer interact as was the case when we were sharing beer from the same mug,” Sekuru Dzvamuse said.
Chitungwiza Municipality owns 19 beer outlets which include 11 bars, four mini-bars and four bottle stores, and although they are either closed or are being overly underutilised, none of them is being leased out.
Most council beer gardens visited by The Standard last week are derelict and in dire need of facelift. Their present state of decay cannot bring them into competition with the new players who offer excellent service and a wide range of the beer and beverage products. Where councils’ metal benches are falling apart, the new players have comfortable personalised chairs and “cool” tables. Where the big bars’ mini-soccer tables are a pale shadow of their former selves, new shiny snooker tables have taken over and have become common place in today’s beer outlets, every- one of which also boasts of the latest flat screen television for the growing crop of soccer lovers.
“There is no entertainment here anymore. Only a few people visit this bar to buy opaque beer which is not available in the next bar,” said Peter Muchena, one of the few patrons who still visit Kushinga Bar in Zengeza 4.
A stone’s throw away from the bar, patrons were watching a live soccer match and being treated to the latest music at a sports bar.
“Look at [Bax] Sports Bar, there are many patrons because there is a lot of entertainment. Council should improve its infrastructure if it is to compete with these new beer outlets,” said Muchena.
Food stalls which operated at some council beer garden premises have been deserted due to viability challenges.
At Hunyani Bar in St Mary’s, several patrons — largely the elderly — were enjoying their opaque beer in the garden where a foul odour emanated from a nearby burst sewer pipe.
“We are used to these sewer pipe bursts. If you go to the toilets, it’s terrible. There is human waste flowing everywhere. Council is not concerned about our health at these beer outlets. All they care about is revenue,” said Trust Kapunha, a regular imbiber.
Part of the sprawling beer garden has since been turned into a maize field. The remaining section of the beer garden is in a depressing state of neglect with overgrown grass and rusty metal benches scattered all over the place.
Meanwhile, it is a hive of activity at beer outlets at Chikwanha Business Centre — a clear indication that the modern beer outlets are moving with the times. The large clientele is clear evidence of the need by local authorities to make the decision to shape up or ship out of the money making urban beer business.
“This beer business is a dog-eat-dog venture. You have to offer the best in order to survive. The business is not just about selling beer. There are a lot of other considerations to look at, including providing for the non-alcohol drinkers,” said a manager at one of the beer outlets at Chikwanha Business Centre.
Chitungwiza Municipality used to hire local music bands to perform at its bars and beer gardens. Musician Hosiah Chipanga at one time used to perform at Chikomo Bar every week, while Rusununguko Beer Garden in Unit L was popular with top music groups including the late John Chibadura, Leonard Dembo, System Tazvida and David Chiyangwa aka Mr Bulk.
Chitungwiza Residents Trust (Chitrest) expressed sadness at the state of council-run beer outlets.
“Residents are not happy with the state of these bars and bottle stores. The liquor section must be run professionally and as an autonomous business entity without interference from the council,” said Japhet Moyo, Chitrest chairperson.
Chitrest said council should lease out all its loss-making ventures and transform losses into profits through collection of rentals and other commercially viable ventures.
Chitungwiza mayor Phillip Mutoti confirmed that the council’s liquor business was struggling. He said the liquor section’s woes were a result of stiff competition from bottle stores and sports bars.
“Most of our beer outlets are not performing very well because of the competition in the sector. They are making big losses and we are going to lease all of them out by June 30,” said Mutoti.
“Council will first consider workers in the liquor section when it comes to leases. We are encouraging workers to form groups of 10, so that we lease out these beer outlets to them. We have 150 workers in the liquor department and we don’t want to leave them in redundancy.”
Chitungwiza has gone for 17 months without paying workers’ salaries.