The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WITH the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) throwing the rule book at them as it promises to clamp down on council leased sport clubs that are flaunting regulations, insiders at the Babongile Sikhonjwa-run Hlabangana Lounge claim the braai joint has been singled out for harsh treatment by some influential people with ulterior motives.
A report in the Sunday News last week revealed that council was considering taking drastic action on sport clubs that include Hartsfield Rugby Ground, Bulawayo Athletic Cub and Busters Sports Club. The clubs are in danger of having their leases terminated as they “were engaging in unauthorised activities such as live shows and ‘tshisa nyama’ which caused nuisances for residents in the neighbourhoods of the facilities.” The three facilities are home to some of the city’s most popular nightspots, with Hartsfield playing host to Hartsfield Tshisa Nyama and the Bulawayo Athletic Club the designated home of perhaps the city’s most popular nightclub, BAC Lounge. Busters Sports Club plays host to the equally popular Smokehouse.
Speaking to the Press last week, BCC Chamber Secretary Sikhangele Zhou said the closure of Hlabangana Lounge was punishment for Highlanders Football Club’s failure to comply with council regulations.
“I think our main problem with Hlabangana was that they were using a licence from Highlanders Sports Club when in terms of the Liquor Licensing Act they should have a second licence. They did not have a right to sublet. They did not comply with the licensing conditions of running an establishment such as the one that they were running,” she said.
She also said the BCC had the right to determine what happened in the clubs even though they had handed out 99-year leases.
“Council reserves the right to terminate the 99-year lease or any other lease of any duration. There are of course terms and conditions in terms of the buildings that were put up. There are provisions in the lease agreement on how they’re going to be compensated for their buildings if we were to exercise our rights to termination of the lease. In short, these clubs remain under the ownership of the city and the control of what happens there also remains with the city. Particularly in the sports clubs, we manage them in terms of what they’re allowed to do under the lease agreements and also in terms of breaching other regulations of the lease,” she said.
Hlabangana Lounge had become the city’s go-to braai joint, snatching revellers from other joints in droves to its gates. Just as it was primed to take a firmer foothold on the city’s leisure scene however, its doors were shut after council found that it was flaunting its regulations.
A source close to the owners of Hlabangana told Sunday Life that they felt that council had taken a firm stance on the joint because Sikhonjwa had roped in Private Lounge owner and Harare businessman Biggie Chinoperekwei to help him finance the project. According to the source, some influential people in the city felt that roping in an “outsider” was not “ideal” especially using Highlanders premises. Letting Chinoperekwei, rumoured to be Bosso’s arch rivals Dynamos’ benefactor, was reportedly an affront to some as they felt that since this was a Highlanders establishment, Sikhonjwa had let the fox into the chicken coop.
“We know that this is not about the rules. If it was about the rules then the other clubs would have been closed as well. Despite the threats all of them are still running but Hlabangana is closed. The issue was mainly about Biggie but Sikhonjwa went around with a begging bowl to businesspeople in the city and they all turned down the offer. If he can’t get support from Bulawayo businesspeople when he has a brilliant business idea how could he turn down someone from elsewhere who wanted to partner him? He tried to go it alone but when exchange rates shot up last year he was stuck,” said the source.
Things allegedly came to a head last year when Hlabangana was set to host Delta Beverages’ Biggest Braai, which proved to be the last straw for council officials.
“All department heads came to Hlabangana for the meeting with Delta and the braai was cancelled. When have you ever heard all of the council’s department heads coming together for one meeting over a braai? And true or false, if you were in a situation like that you would also feel like people have it in for you,” the source said.
Meanwhile, Zhou said there was nothing amiss in the manner in which Hlabangana Lounge was treated, adding that council had been lenient with both Highlanders Football Club and Hlabangana.
“As a city we want development but we also urge those developers to do so within the confines of our rules and regulations. This is why perhaps we did not terminate the lease with Highlanders and also why we did not totally close down Hlabangana. However, this is not a sign of weakness on our part or lack of enforcement mechanisms. We were hoping that the operators would be able to comply but we still have the right to take the drastic measures that are within our constitution,” she said.
Sikhonjwa refused to comment, referring all questions to Highlanders Football Club.