Just after the bars closed at 12pm on any normal Friday and Saturday night, there would be sturdy looking bouncers standing outside the door of a nightclub in town.
One could hear gut-vibrating music revving up within the nightclub. The bouncer shouts, ‘biri gae tsene morena’ (You cannot bring a beer inside) as he stamps a clubber’s wrist. Inside the club, the pendant lamps with vibrant blast of colour would emit jets of lights around the dance floor.
This is the energy and experience that can be really unparalleled. For many, these experiences are a distant memory as we are now more than a year into a pandemic that has seen clubs close their doors to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. Batswana have not seen the inside of a dance club for close to 18 months now.
Some went to an extent of hosting illegal outdoor raves or sessions in their homes to remind themselves of the old partying days. This week, government announced that as the State of Emergency (SoE) elapses at the end of September, nightclubs/discotheques will resume operations as they were not allowed to operate during the SoE. “As part of its efforts to support these establishments, government took a decision to exempt nightclub/discotheque licence holders from applying for licence renewal, payment of licence fees and penalties for a period of two years effective April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2022. Therefore, as these establishments open for business, they will not be liable to pay any outstanding fees and penalties.
The ministry, in collaboration with Licensing Authorities across the country, will be ready to facilitate them as may be necessary,” the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Mmusi Kgafela outlined this week. COVID-19 infection rates have dropped sharply in recent weeks, which saw bars and liquor restaurants recently opened. Dance venues, which were among the first places to close when the pandemic began are now amongst the last to reopen. Despite the announcement this week by Kgafela that clubs will open again from October 1, 2021, uncertainty remains. A renowned nightclub manager who has managed various establishments in Gaborone like Bahama Lounge and Notwane Lifestyle club Zaine Aftermath told Arts & Culture in an interview that the reopening means a lot for the business.
“The nightclub scene is going to be revived but the only challenge will be the government obviously because we don't know what conditions comes with the reopening. As it stands right now sit inns are allowed but everyday police comes to harass revellers,” he expressed. The financial support had long run out leaving the club industry under a darkening cloud of economic uncertainty. At least 1,700 direct workers, including servers, bouncers, cleaners and other staff, were employed in the nightclub industry before March 21, 2020.
Rental arrears have ballooned and some of the premises formerly used as nightclubs have been converted into retail shops. Local music promoter, Exotic Sebina revealed in an interview that a dark cloud has finally worn out and as entertainers they are finally seeing the sun again. “It’s a teary moment, of course the tears of joy, we will take time to recover though as we have been accumulating debts for over 16 months of rentals with the hope of bouncing back, we are very happy. We wish government to also meet us half way by giving clubs recovery funding as part of the economic recovery plan,” he further expressed. Sebina, who was among the leading players fighting for the reopening of the creative industry last year, said paying rentals when businesses were closed has been the hardest thing ever. He said they are hopeful to revive the sector especially that people have for two years adopted a lifestyle of day events. “But we also see the hunger in them for night entertainment.
The economy has been down and still down, door fees will be a challenge but they will adapt. I believe things will go back to normal soon but it won’t be a walk in the park,” he said. Local DJ, Kealeboga Sedumedi popularly known as DJ KSB who had been generating income from club gigs, has had no work for more than a year. The Phendula hitmaker told Arts & Culture in an interview that he is excited because this is good news for his hussle. He said he is just hopeful that the government will release detailed information about the regulations.
“We want to know the number of people who will be allowed into the club and whether picnics will start. I am an artist and a promoter who hosts his own events so I need to know the numbers so that I can take advantage of this opportunity,” he said. DJ KSB said he is ready to work because not everyone managed to survive this fallback. He said clubbers will also get a chance to listen to their music. The artist who had to delay the release of his upcoming EP said he will drop the project finally and push his music. “I do dance genre and this is the kind of music that requires to people to go out, have fun in nightclubs and other entertainment venues,” he highlighted.
BEPA has been doing a lot of work in the background to ensure the continued survival of the entertainment industry.
This includes negotiations with politicians and suggestions that live events be opened at a 30% venue capacity or cap attendants at 100 indoor and 250 outdoor. “We are excited about the development as you may be aware that while other sectors will be retrenching, the creatives Industry will be hiring,” BEPA president Gilbert ‘PPWaPimp’ Seagile said in an interview. Seagile said to set their own set of rules and restrictions of safe opening, BEPA members will strictly use Botswana Bouncers Union and registered security.
He also said BEPA members are also to strictly use venues and clubs for associations including government and venues like Debswana and Bobs. “The Botswana Alcohol Industry Association through its members KBL, Distell, Heineken event sponsorship to be accessed only by licensed Promoters. These are key points that as entertainment stakeholders we are in negotiations for in order to develop a safe opening of the entertainment post COVID-19. The document is to be submitted to the government as a proposal,” he highlighted.
Even as clubs are reopened no one yet knows what restrictions will be imposed on clubs when they finally open. But as clubbers return, distancing measures further limit options, therefore making social distancing work on a dance floor is going to be a challenge. Some clubs lack ventilation and this makes the places high risk.
Also there is usually a lot of alcohol involved meaning that social distancing is likely to be severely reduced. How nightclubs will make their places COVID-19 secure remains to be seen as people usually dance shoulder to shoulder in a dance floor. But for those who have never stepped inside a club, it is hard to ignore the importance of this sector to the economy. This is a sector that has in many instances slipped through the economic safety net.