Covid-19 silences Harare night life
BY now popular contemporary musician Jah Prayzah would have launched his 10th album Hokoyo.
It goes without saying that thousands would have attended the launch, but night life in Zimbabwe has been silenced by the coronavirus.
Clubs are closed and ladies of the night who frequent Harare’s red light zones are obviously feeling the pinch of a lockdown whose effects are reverberating in all spheres of the economy.
Alcohol soaked nights have vanished as Harare, “the city that does not sleep”, adjusts to the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed four people in the country and whose threat remains ominous.
Apart from the Jah Prayzah album launch, a number of international acts such Burna, who were supposed to perform in Harare, were silenced by the coronavirus that has infected more than three million people and killed 300 000 globally.
And Zimbabwe’s 40th Independence anniversary on April 18 was muffled by the deadly pandemic, forcing President Emmerson Mnangagwa to address the nation on television.
There were no crowds at the national stadium as is often the case and indeed they was no pomp and fanfare as is usually the norm.
When he announced a relaxation of the national lockdown on May 1, Mnangagwa made it clear that night life, with its intoxicating and alluring trappings, will remain shut.
“Churches, gyms, bottle stores, bars, beer-halls and other leisure and recreational facilities remain closed,” decreed Mnangagwa.
Thus Harare after 6pm is deathly quiet, a different world from the teeming city that it was barely two months ago before the lethal contagion hit the world, forcing governments to suspend most activities.
The sidewalks in Harare, that are usually packed with vendors, are clean, there is no blaring music from drivers celebrating a Friday after a long week, there is no sitting in restaurants, with the few that have been allowed to open only selling takeaways.
Life has been turned on its head, as if thrown through a black hole, making existence bleak for those who make a living through music, art, vending and other not so savoury activities of the night.
Of course that was not lost to Mnangagwa who promised in his speech to throw a lifeline to the arts and music sector even as the country struggles to stimulate an already moribund economy.
“On another note, you will recall that I held an indaba in Bulawayo last year with players in our creative cultural industry. Generally, this is an industry which thrives on crowds by way of shows, performances and exhibitions.
“Expectedly, the lockdown has denied this vital sector the crowds which are its vital lifeline.
“I have, therefore, instructed Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry to make a proposal to government on how best this sector can be helped to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mnangagwa said in his speech.
Perhaps to stay in the game, innovative artists such as the popular Winky D, and other top musicians have turned to online performances, but it goes without saying that in a country where mobile data prices have shot through the roof, it’s only a fraction of the population that gets to watch the performances.
“The fact that musicians rely more on live performances has made it impossible for them to earn money during the lockdown period.
“We had been scheduled to feature in South Africa on March 30, but it’s been shelved.
“Locally we had intended to do some musicals interwoven with Easter programmes and like everyone else we have put everything aside.
“My wife and I are not limited to Facebook only in our quest to reach out to the congregants, we also use SMS platforms, WhatsApp and YouTube,” popular gospel musician Charles Charamba said.
But there is more that takes place at night than art, culture and music.
The city, stripped of drunkards and other night-walkers, is like a graveyard with huge mortar and glass graves.
At popular watering holes where finding a parking spot is usually a nightmare, there are no cars because inside there is no music, nor beer and no ladies of the night.
At most spots night life is as dead as a dodo, but in Harare’s red light zones daring prostitutes have lately been popping up, braving the chilly wintry weather to coax a dollar from a clientele that has shrunk over the past weeks.
They would rather risk arrest from the police, who patrol the streets more than the usual patrons, than stay at home and starve — an unfathomable option.
Sources say some ladies of the night have transformed their trade and gone a step further to offer home service to regular clients, particularly those who stay in and near town.
“We cannot stay at home, we have to come here and try to make some money my brother, we know there is coronavirus but we have no option,” said a commercial sex worker in Harare’s famed Avenues area who was wearing a mask, which is now mandatory.