Can a permanently stoned nation be productive?

THE ZIMBABWEAN independence celebration of April 1983 at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare was remarkable for one incident. The city council brought a bowser filled with Kariba Mhamba (a traditional sorghum brew almost similar to Chibuku). Young men raced to the bowser as it was parked in the middle of the field. There was pandemonium. People were asked to queue in order to get their fill. Most acted likewise and waited patiently for their mugs of the potent stuff.

However, some smart alecs thought they could short-circuit the process. They climbed onto the bowser and opened the lid at the top. They started shoving each other. Someone fell inside. He tried to come out but was pushed in and he drowned in the masese. The municipal police fished his body out. Then the incredible happened. The people would not let the municipal workers take the bowser away. 

Their argument was simple: You have taken out the dead man, so why can’t you let us drink our alcohol? It was a bizarre incident but maybe it should not amaze you, dear reader, given the fact that alcohol has played a major part in our rites of passage. 

The culture we were inducted into at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in the 80s was an amazing one. These were the heady days when a real good lunch cost you a dollar, hamburger and chips went for ZW$1,70 and a beer was 70c. You wiped your hands with slices of bread (a really curious culture I witnessed at Manfred Hodson Hall). The government was generous with what we called “payout” (that all-important stipend that seemed to drop on us like manna from heaven). The moment in a given term that you got the “payout” was like crossing the Red Sea. We left Egypt and entered Canaan, the land of milk and honey. Having gotten your dear lovely cash, the priorities were clear, a new pair of trousers, shoes and a shirt or T-shirt. 

And having made that wise investment the balance went to your bank account (I was with POSB, can you imagine?) where now you could withdraw your money at leisure (read that as every Friday afternoon, until the windfall ran out).

It did not help that our university days coincided with the big concerts in either the National Sports Stadium or Rufaro Stadium, the Human Rights Concert featuring Tracy Chapman, Culture (Joseph Hill and company), I Jahman Levi, Kanda Bongoman, Kass Kass and many more artistes. A big concert deserves a big celebration and, hey, could we prepare for it! Because of the restrictions on bringing alcohol into the stadium you had three options. You could consume as much as you could take prior to entry, you could try to smuggle your bottle of Gilbey’s Gin or you could settle for the expensive fare being sold inside the stadium. As wise people we settled for the options of tanking up and smuggling. It was a dangerous cocktail. You could wake up the next morning minus your shoes and wallet, the “socialists” from the ghetto would have visited you and empowered themselves (was this an early form of indigenisation?) 

If you were not in some gig you were to be found in one of three places, The Embassy (that is what we called the Ambassador Hotel), the Wine Barrel (a popular classy pub at the EmbassyMonos) or Archies (Archipelago Nite Club). For some running on the Chidzero budget it would be the Liz (Hotel Elizabeth). Your empty bottles were called “assets” and true to the term, when you were down and out you “liquidated” the assets at the TM Supermarket in Groombridge, Mount Pleasant. The cash was immediately reinvested into Bols Brandy or Château or Booth’s. In all we did, we sought to outdo each other with what we called “performance”, any outrageous act that could range from jumping out of a taxi without paying to singing at midnight outside Swinton (the women’s hostel at UZ). 

Years later with many comrades scattered all over the globe and some meeting premature deaths, I reflect on the meaning of that period. A friend, Kumbirai Mafunda, has an e-mail signature which reads “we need a generational change”. I wonder if we have managed to assist in that generational change. 

Standing the other day with some comrades at some watering-hole somewhere in Zimbabwe I wondered as to what had changed. Five pm is a call to arms for the Zimbabwean male – it is time to “socialise”. For us media professionals, the excuse is very convenient: we need to catch up and get some juicy scoop.But then it is rather convenient for me to moralise and this is dangerous territory. 

I should explain that as we grow older my generation is becoming more and more conservative. Nearly everyone I meet from my youth has found their way back to one faith or other. There is, of course, the odd one who still thinks the holy grail is to be found at the bottom of one of the green bottles from Delta Beverages. He intends to go through a couple of hectolitres of the intoxicating liquid whilst searching. 

For a country that has been plunged into further uncertainty I hope we can have a good time and also channel our energies into the fundamental transformation of our society. And, yes, I plead guilty as charged to being part of a generation that has left an awful legacy. 

It is certainly not kenge!

ChrisKabwato

Publisher: Chris Kabwato (chris@digitalartsafrica.org)