Shebeen experiences

Lenin Ndebele
THE first time I set foot in a shebeen was in 1990 having been sent by an uncle, then a closet drinker.

He made sure I went there when my father was out of town because apparently the a�?shalasta�? was his favourite local hangout joint.

When I got there, the shebeen queen (owner)a��s eyes lit up as if she had seen her last born, I swear if she ran a supermarket she would have given me sweets.

She went like: a�?yes mntaka lokhuzeni (my fathera��s first name).a�? Other patrons who recognised me started imitating my father. Among those was a politician, wrestler, an international heavyweight boxing champion (all of them now late).

Imagine for the first time meeting a bulky rude talking woman calling onea��s father like a playmate a�� what a taboo!

And also getting to know that he had a nickname!

I never knew my father as a generous easy going guy, but that day one of his drinking pals jokingly said when I grow up I should be like him. Apparently when the mood was high, he would buy all the alcohol in the fridge and declare that only his friends would drink.

I would later learn that such a stunt was called ukubamba ifridge (holding the fridge). I guess ita��s a version of what we call popping bottles when we hit the nightclub scene these days, much to the envy of slay queens.

Eventually I befriended one of the shebeen queena��s children. It was a strategy to get close to his sister because a�� for some reason shebeen queens had pretty daughters a�� the naughty ones grew up to be a�?fadza customersa�?. One day my father didna��t come home until 8am the following day.A� I later learnt there had been a raid at the shebeen. Police arrived in a Santana rounding up close to 30 people drinking in a four roomed house a�� the classic BB3 structure.

My old timer failed to scale the pre-cast wall as everyone attempted their escape and it took three cops to beg him to enter the Santana. Off he went to spend his night in a cell.

Shebeens were illegal despite some politicians such as Sydney Malunga, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu and Joshua Malinga lobbying for their legalisation since the 1980s. The shebeen of the 90s was third generation. The first generation being during the colonial era particularly in the 1970s, the second in the 1980s. Those beyond the 90s are later day saints.

The 90s generation coincided with the end of a three-year one-party state. Edgar Tekerea��s Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) got 16 percent of the presidential vote against Zanu PFa��s Robert Mugabe at the 1990 plebiscite and Tekere was the butt of jokes at shebeens. If you had a good but wishful agenda that flopped, you were a Tekere!

The generation also coincided with the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) also known as Isigumu.

Many people lost their jobs in some key industries and from what I saw in my neghbourhood, more shebeens came alive and the Shebeen King became something new a�� just like seeing a male nurse for the first time.

At one point on our street, there were five shebeens and I would also hear about shebeens from other townships. The competition was stiff, only the creative would survive but all shebeen owners reached an agreement in the neighbourhood. Each would have a special day but come weekend it was open play- people would go to joints of their choice.

As such, just like dirty tactics employed by nightclub owners, they would call cops on each other. Come to think of it in terms of strategy- nightclubs are just shebeens that went to private school.

A good shebeen had a very powerful radio system with the latest music from the likes of Mercy Phakela, Rebecca Malope during her Nga��zobathola days, Soul Brothers, Chimora,Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Brenda Fassie to mention a few. The song playing in my mind as I write this article is by one Paul Ndlovu Hi ta famba moyeni.

This side of the country shebeens hardly played Oliver Mtukudzi or Bundu Boys, Lovemore Majaivana ruled these streets.

It wasna��t always that smooth, fights broke out. Either a client getting too close to a shebeen queen and getting a beat down by the queen herself, fights over girlfriends and in most cases they spilled onto the streets. As boys we would leave our plastic soccer balls to watch adults behaving worse than us as we screamed a�?izagurua�?.

If shebeens are to be legalised I wonder if they would be as fun as they were but in any case my view is grounded on the mind of a seven-year-old in 1990.