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Money-chasing bottle store operators risk lives

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GENERATORS humming, people’s low inaudible voices and uncharacteristically toned down speakers playing Zimdancehall. These are the three sounds that characterise Kuwadzana 2 shopping centre in Harare at 8pm.
CHIPA GONDITII
The 6.30pm curfew which was announced by the authorities to slow down the spread of Covid-19 has necessitated the volume on the usually loud speakers to be lowered to normal levels.
However, lockdown or no lockdown, Kuwadzana 2 shopping centre, popularly known as K2, as well as at bottle stores around Taita Shopping Centre (Unit O, Seke), Pasi Bottle Store in Unit A, popularly known as Pamaruza, PaNyota Bottle Store in Unit F, Humba Bottle Store also in Unit F, among others in Chitungwiza, still draw huge crowds.
People still flock to these drinking holes as if an unseen force with a serious disregard for Covid-19 regulations is drawing them towards alcohol.
Everyone who arrives at these places is quickly met with eyeballs of suspicion; those who run the show will feign friendliness so that it becomes easier for them to quickly vet all newcomers.
Once they are satisfied, the newcomer is then escorted to the bar through a backdoor by someone who specifically serves this purpose.
Inside the pub, the scene shocks the senses: there are plenty of imbibers, beer bottles in hand, not observing any social distancing.
Minus the music speakers, this just looks like a normal day at these places.
The NewsHawks caught up with one owner of K2 bar, who chose anonymity, who said bottle  store owners were left with no option but to operate clandestinely so as to make ends meet.
“Yes, we know that there is Covid-19 out there and people think that it only affects people who are going to work every day, but the reality is it affects us also as business owners,” he said.
“For us to make a profit, we have no option but to operate in secret as we are doing because for us our customers usually frequent our bars at night so we are compelled to sell to them so as to make ends meet.
“So it is not that we do not care about Covid-19, we know it is killing people out there, but if we do not do what we are doing now we will die of hunger,” he said.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a vicious third wave of Covid-19 infections resulting in high fatalities.
The authorities say the deaths have been spurred on by the Delta variant of the coronavirus first detected in India.
Announcing the new lockdown measures last month, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who also doubles as Health minister, said bottle stores could only open during the day and that social distancing must be maintained.
“They should also ensure that they limit the number of clients in their shops to maintain physical distancing. Beerhalls and nightclubs will remain closed whilst bottle stores will operate from 10am to 4pm,” he said.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) regulations, people are advised to maintain a distance of at least one metre between each other so as to reduce the risk of infection when they cough, sneeze or speak.
Also at Chillaz complex, which is Rugare’s unofficial leisure centre, there is always entertainment galore. However, minus the speakers, bottle store owners here do not even bother creating the “backroom channel” to facilitate secret drinking like their counterparts in Kuwadzana and Chitungwiza.
At the weekend, people could be seen drinking openly with the majority not even wearing face masks.
However, the fun was spoilt by the arrival of a two-man police patrol that left people scurrying for cover, but some hardened imbibers refused to part ways with their beer in the face of the cops.
The officers were quickly shunted aside by one of the store owners; they were never seen again. Less than 10 minutes later, people were seen trickling back into the joint.
A reveller who identified himself as a regular at Chillaz explained what was happening.
“This usually happens here. When the police come, if they are on foot, then we know that ‘something will be done’ to ensure that we carry on drinking, but if they come by car then we know we must run away because when they come by car they will be serious.
“So when the officers are taken aside, as happened, it means that they were bribed and they go away. They usually come back after a couple of days for their ‘patrol’ so that is why here at Chillaz we do not have frequent police raids,” he said.
Chikwanha, a popular Chitungwiza entertainment joint, has also joined the bandwagon of pubs that are selling alcohol during curfew.
However, here the sale of beer is tactfully concealed. During the day, alcohol is sold as usual in line with the regulations, but at night beer is sold discreetly from a dilapidated window.
The bar was selling beer through a broken window patched up using a cardboard box.
To be served, one has to stand by the broken window and call for attention.
A reveller who frequents the spot told The NewsHawks that at Chikwanha it was usually the small bottle stores that were remaininh open until late as the bigger establishments feared retaliation from the police.
“Here at Chikwanha it is usually the small bottle stores that open at night, the bigger establishments will be closed because they are afraid that people will start taking pictures and circulating them on social media,” said the imbiber.
He also revealed that some of the larger establishments were supplying the small bottle stores with beer so that they could sell on their behalf.
“What the big establishments do here is that they supply their beer to smaller establishments who then proceed to sell the beer for them. The smaller bottle stores are then paid for their effort by the bigger establishments,” the reveller said.
July 2021 is already Zimbabwe’s deadliest month since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year, with well over 1 000 people dead this month alone.
There were a cumulative 88 415 confirmed cases and 2 747 deaths as of 21 July 2021 with 58 155 having recovered so far.

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