The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WHEN Maria Ncube speaks about what used to happen inside the walls of the Why Not Hotel in Esigodini, she does so in a whisper.
She is reluctant, choosing her words carefully as if she is afraid that the ghosts of long dead patrons might come back to haunt her if she spoke loudly about their secrets.
The Why Not Hotel, she tells Sunday Life, was once a place of notoriety, a joint where a married man could allegedly hide another man’s woman without raising alarm. These were the days before the word “small house” had never been spoken by any tongue, the days before the word “side-chick” had entered the urban dictionary. These were the glory days of the 80s and 90s.
“What made people from places like Bulawayo like Why Not was the fact that it was well hidden. They could get away with a lot when they were here and I guess it was also fascinating for them to be at a place which was as good as their local bars but in a smaller place like Esigodini,” Ncube said.
A person looking at the hotel in its present state would call the elderly woman a stone-cold liar. Why would one believe her when the walls of the Why Not Hotel look thirsty for a coat of paint? In fact, it looks like a bucketful would do little to slack the thirst of walls that look like they have not felt the gentle lick of a paint brush in a long time.
Patches of white now dominate the green that used to be the signature colour of the hotel’s front and even the white that used to be the signature colour of the off-sales section of the bar has lost its sparkle.
Rundown and rusty, the building only seems to provide shelter for the vendors that seem to spend most of their time swatting away flies in the warm spring heat. The Why Not Hotel still attracts the attention of the occasional curious passerby who stops to stretch his or her legs. However, few seem to stop to admire its beauty but instead its rather amusing name.
Why not come in to have a cold beer because the journey to Johannesburg is long and full of terrors, the name seems to suggest to the traveller on their way south of the Limpopo. Why not come in and have a shot of whiskey before you reach Bulawayo because in the City of Kings you will find people already in a party mood, the name seems to suggest for one moving in the opposite direction.
No one knows why the owner of the joint, referred to by locals only as Ricky and rumoured to have been once a teacher at the nearby Mzingwane High School, was thinking when he gave the hotel that name. What is certain however, is that no traveller has been thirsty enough to stop and dare ask for a drink at the Why Not Hotel in a long time.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you when it was established but I remember that the owner of the place was a white man we just knew as Ricky,” said Jabulani Dube, a resident of Habane.
“At that time it was a great place and people would party the nights away but it always reached its peak during the Christmas holidays. People who would go there would be local guys as well as people from far off places. It was a well-advertised place and you would even have people from as far off as Masvingo coming to party there.”
Dube remembers how, in the heydays of the hotel, the Christmas period saw festivities that could rival any town in the world. The Why Not Hotel was the nerve centre, the beating heart of Esigodini.
“I remember at that time they would open up the underground section of the hotel from 24 December all the way up to 26 December and then it would close. It wasn’t just opened on ordinary days. The place that was open 24 hours every day was the garden. That’s when cars with GP plates used to dominate the car park,” said Dube.
Nkosilathi Moyo, now a vendor in front of the hotel, remembers when people used to come from far off to have a nice time at what was then still a fancy joint in the early 90s when it was under the under the stewardship of administration manager Rodney Robert Green in the 90s. Esigodini with its lazy, small town charm in the afternoon, found its pulse suddenly quickening during the night as fun lovers from the nearest metropolitan areas made the trek to the Why Not Hotel.
“Back in the day it was a pretty popular place that was known and that is why it attracted a lot of tourists. It was still run by white people and other white people frequented it a lot. Most people that came to enjoy here were from outside Zimbabwe,” said Moyo.
The Why Not Hotel’s reign as the best kept secret in the country would not continue for long. The turn of the century saw gold panners realise that Esigodini was a potential source of great wealth and whenever they finished digging up the earth, they would make their way to the Why Not Hotel.
“When the gold panners started coming in that’s when the place went into decline. That’s when Why Not started witnessing a lot of death and violence because these were the people who brought with them a culture of violence. We started seeing a lot of gold panners around the year 2000.
“At the time the kind of panning that was being done involved carrying pans full of soil down to the river to look for gold. At the time a local businessman was one of the most renowned panners at the time and we would have people coming from areas like Filabusi to pan in Esigodini. Around 2008 then people discovered gold detectors and we had a sudden influx of panners from all over the place,” he said.
Mercy Moyo, the current caretaker of the establishment, remembers the days that The Why Not tried to reopen its doors after initially closing in 2008. For her, the decline can be traced back to the new owner’s desire to start on a fresh page. When devout Seventh Day Adventist Dr Jimmy Gazi took over the hotel the bloody fights and the killings were things he did not want to be associated with. The Why Not Hotel had to be cleansed.
“When I started staying here in Esigodini it was now reopening. It got popular initially before I came then it closed and then reopened again. I was now working here as well and that was around 2008. People still had memories of the Why Not of old and so they would still come in numbers.
“What caused the place’s decline I would say was the fact that the person who bought this place from its white owner didn’t want it to operate a bar. As you can see now the main hall is now a church, what used to be the off-sales is now a shop and we’re turning the booking house into tuck shops. The owner perhaps didn’t like the history of the place and what it was notorious for.
“Wherever people drink there are problems and he didn’t like the history of the stabbings and the axe murders that the hotel was known for. He didn’t want more blood here when the place was now in his name,” she said.
In its heyday, Why Not Hotel attracted all and sundry. Schoolboys from Mzingwane High School used to sneak into underground section, safe from the eyes of teachers while men used to bring their lovers to escape public scrutiny.
A few floor boards now hide this section of the bar. Its counters, chairs and tables are now coated with dust and the paintings of dancing figures on its walls are now fading. What seems not to fade however, is the memory of place that used to occupy a special place in the hearts of Esigodini residents. Once upon a time, singers like Solomon Skuza, Oliver Mtukudzi and others used to play here, they say.
“Even when you go to Harare and you meet a stranger and you tell them that you’re from Esigodini sometimes they’ll ask you if you know the Why Not Hotel. It is a place that seems to have been also popular with school children particularly those from Mzingwane High School. They tell you that they would sneak out of school and come to Why Not. That was the kind of place it was,” said caretaker Moyo.