Avenues, an area with many faces (24-09-07)

HARARE - The middle class Avenues area on the northern peripheries of
Harare’s city centre is a residential and commercial office zone with stark contradictions.
One minute the sound of gun shots fills the morning air as police exchange
fire with robbers. The next minute chur

ch bells are tolling and harmonic
voices are heard as women sing hymns in church, while out on the streets
middle aged men and women, dressed in executive suits, can be seen walking
down to the office to start a new day.
As night falls, the area assumes another character as scantly dressed young
hookers stand by street corners flashing their bodies at passing motorists.
With black middle class professionals and “dealers” – Zimbabwe’s new breed
of worker who does everything and anything for a quick buck – now the
predominant residents in the formerly white Avenues, numerous leisure and
entertainment hangouts have sprouted over the years.
Exclusive restaurants and top cafeterias, highlife nightclubs and pubs,
dingy shebeens, brothels and crime have given the Avenues its contradicting
Paguta was established in recent years as a pub offering overnight lodgings.
The pub quickly transformed into a popular after-hours joint where office
workers would relax drinking and barbecuing, taxis lining up outside for
Gutaz, (short for Paguta) as the pub came to be known by its growing
clientele, enjoyed brisk business outdoing its contemporaries in the
Avenues, as the home for binges, its doors opening until morning hours,
beers flowing with abundant food to be served.
As shortages of basic commodities worsened, Gutaz and the rest of the pubs,
restaurants, would intermittently run out of beer, beef, the staple
maize-meal, rice and cooking oil. However, pub owners would go to the
black-market to source the commodities and the following night everything
would look normal with replenished stocks.
But in recent months, the situation has gone critical and Gutaz could no
longer sustain business as black-market prices shot sharply beyond the reach
of the pub. Gutaz has closed without notice.
The Gutaz binges are gone so has the aroma from the ovens and barbecue. The
spring winds now sweep the dirt in the pub’s courtyard. Even the prostitutes
who loitered in the vicinity have disappeared with lost business.
The taxi-men who waited outside for customers have, too, driven off.
A lone security guard now sits on an empty beer crate gazing at passersby as
he keeps guard at the lifeless structure, a spacious old house that had been
refurbished and converted into a leisure joint, and now a mere shadow of its
former self.
“We are closed,” the guard told ZimOnline. “In fact, the pub closed during
the Heroes Day holidays (13-14 August). The owners said there wasn’t
business anymore, no drinks no food, so they have gone back to the farm.”
Gutaz is not alone in dire straits. Crunch beer and beef shortages are
squeezing business in the leisure and entertainment industry where
nightclubs, cinemas, restaurants and casinos are in limbo as they count
The Book Café and a jazz club The Mannenberg are two of Harare’s leading and
most cosmopolitan leisure and entertainment spots offering food, drink and
live music. Shortages are threatening the viability of both places.
“The shortages are bad to be honest and we have lost customers already,”
said Steve Khoza, managing director of both The Book Café and The
Mannenberg. He added: “We buy beer at inflated prices from a few
bottle-stores who occasionally have beer and we resell it here. If we don’t
buy from the black-market we will close down tomorrow.”
Once one of Africa’s most prosperous economies, Zimbabwe is in the grip of
an unprecedented recession marked by the world’s highest inflation rate of
over 6 000 percent, rising poverty and chronic shortages of every basic
survival commodity.
For example, an acute shortage of foreign currency to import water treatment
chemicals means Harare city council regularly fails to provide enough water
to residents and on many occasions Khoza and his staff have to drive around
the city in search of water to prepare meals and for clients to use flush
Josh Hozheri, managing director of Jazz 105, one of the city’s premier
restaurants and music spots told ZimOnline: “We are doomed. We are in this
business to sell beer and food and to provide entertainment. (But) I have
run out of food as we speak.”
With persistent fuel shortages, intermittent electricity and water cuts
contributing to the dramatic reduction in business, the once bustling city
nightlife that Harare was once famed for is now almost history.
Harare by night and daytime is glaring testimony of the severity of
economic meltdown and its devastating impact on the, hitherto, buoyant
leisure and hospitality sector.
Hundreds of other downstream industries such as the music and arts, private security firms and taxi companies have also suffered as hotels, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs downsize operations or shutdown completely.
Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe (HAZ) president Fungai Mutseyekwa said:
“The shortages are for real . . . we (HAZ) are having to fire-fight daily
because the situation is putting severe strain on operators.”
Mutseyekwa said HAZ was engaging the government’s Zimbabwe Tourism Authority
to try to rescue the hospitality and leisure sector. HAZ was also meeting
suppliers, such as the moribund state-run Cold Storage Commission that
supplies beef, to agree on a framework for the continued availability of
In the meanwhile, the ordinary worker is the biggest victim with scores of
nightclubs and restaurants said to have already put staff on short working
days while others now open only for limited hours depending on available
quantities of drink and food.
Some joints have closed shop hoping to reopen when the economic situation
improves. When this will be, no one knows, with the International Crisis
Group (ICG) warning in a report released last week that Zimbabwe was “closer
than ever to complete collapse.”
The Brussels-based political think-tank said four out of every five
Zimbabweans live below the poverty datum line while a military-led campaign
to slash prices had produced acute food and fuel shortages, and it had
become almost impossible to conduct any business in the country.
However, President Robert Mugabe – in power since the country’s 1980
independence from Britain – denies Zimbabwe will collapse, telling
supporters last month: “Zimbabwe has not collapsed and will not collapse.” – ZimOnline

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