The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
IF ever you met a veteran of the nighttime entertainment scene in Bulawayo and asked them for directions to the joint that, in the 1990s and 2000s, kept revelers up, partying away until the wee hours, they would point towards the corner of 13th Avenue and Robert Mugabe Way.
The weary veteran, would speak of Visions Night Club, a joint that somehow manages to weave itself into stories about nightlife in Bulawayo. As he told the story of this club, the veteran might confess that, because of this urban club which is now a part of local urban legend, he now carries permanent bags under his eyes because of sleepless hours spent on the joint’s dancefloor. It may or not be the same club which is the reason why his hand shakes if he does not crack open a bottle or two even before breakfast.
Like other veterans of Visions, he is just glad that he made through those wild nights with his liver intact, and is now able to tell the tale of the club which, once in a while, would even spring a tropical island right in the middle of 13th Avenue when it hosted its beach parties.
It is the club, famous for its glass ceiling which, like the partying tiring revelers it looked over, would start “sweating” as things heated up on the dancefloor. It is the joint with a dark interior, where revelers could only see each other because the one “Dominator” light which, besides being the main source of light, contributed to the joint’s spectacular ambience.
It is the joint where a drunk reveler would stagger out, at 7AM, drunk out of their skull, squinting their eyes as they were surprised by a sun that had long risen while they partied a storm inside the bowels of the nightspot.
“Visions was an upmarket nightclub that lasted longer than any other nightclub in Bulawayo and I think it is because the club put together a team that knew how to execute things and basically follow the vision of the owner,” remembers one-time resident DJ at the joint, Joe Tha OG.
“They knew how to entertain their market and keep them wanting to come back. That’s the reason why they lasted for more than 15 years.”
Joe Tha OG says Visions lasted for so long and created such an indelible mark on the Bulawayo entertainment scene because of the determination of its owner, medical doctor and businessman Tanius Mumbengegwi’s determination to create a unique clubbing experience in Bulawayo.
“When we talk about Visions, first things first we have to big up Dr Tanius Mumbengegwi, the owner of the club because that guy was one of the people who had a serious vision when it comes to nightclubbing and entertainment. I think that was why he called it Visions because he really had a vision that I have not seen anyone else follow or match up. I’m talking in terms of standard, longevity and executions.
“Dr Mumbengegwi was a trendsetter. He was the first guy who brought the South African DJs, I think the first one was Glenn Lewis. It was the first guy to bring an American act. It was Cruise Control and I think he brought them to Khumalo. It was the mid-90s and this guy was bringing Americans,” he said.
One time entertainment manager at the joint, Babongile Sikhonjwa, said that Mumbengegwi’s attention to detail was what set Visions apart even in its early days.
“Doc had studied in Germany so he noticed that doctors loved having a good time and spending money. So, from my talks with him, that’s why the club was initially set up. It was meant to entice the free spending doctors. What stood out for me was Doc’s understanding of marketing. As I have gone in my life, I have also implemented some of the things that I learnt from him at the time.”
According to journalist Lenin Ndebele, Visions was the pioneer of some concepts that would go on to be adopted by other joints. The afternoon sessions for the underage, the beach parties, all started at Visions.
“When Jah Seed was still in Bulawayo, learning at the Polytechnic, he used to have sessions there. It was the first joint to have afternoon sessions. Those started as soon as 1994, the first time they opened their doors. It catered for us back in the days when we were under-18 and couldn’t get into the clubs for older people. That was way before the concept was copied by the likes of Charlie Fresh with Oxygen and other clubs like Hustlers,” Ndebele said.
It was during these afternoon sessions where the likes of Joe would cut their teeth, preparing them for a lifelong career in the entertainment business.
“I started off at Visions during the afternoon session days. Teenagers would come and dance the afternoon away. It was a different era. Back then teenagers would not come at night and mix in with the older guys like they’re doing now. I remember one afternoon when we put in 1000 young people at Visions. It still boggles my mind how we put a thousand young people in such a space,” he said.
For some observers, club life in Bulawayo can be divided into two halves: life before Visions and life after Visions. Before Visions, it was almost unheard of for nightclubs to bring foreign DJs to play at their joints, something which has become a crown pulling norm now. From 2001 when Doc Mumbengegwi and his team brought in Glen Lewis to Visions, life has never been the same.
“When it comes to the entertainment, which was the core of the club, the owner of the club knew exactly what would gel with the club standard,” said veteran city wheel spinner and one-time resident DJ, Emity Smooth.
“The club was first to bring in personalities, DJs, artistes, from top SA DJs Glen Lewis, Christos, DJ Fresh, Euphonic just to mention a few. It brought artistes from SA like Mafikizolo and Malaika, and we worked with best radio DJs. Peter Johns, Otis Fraser, Tich Mataz, you name them, they all got to play there. The club also would promote events outside of the premises, for example, the American R’n’B group Kreuz came to Zimbabwe and so did Soul for Real.
And when there was a big event in the city, the after party would always be at Visions. I was there the whole time as a resident DJ rubbing shoulders with the entertainment gurus,” he said.
According to Emity, the owners of the club knew then that it was the music played on the decks that would provide the right soundtrack for a fun night out. This is in sharp contrast to today’s club scene where some joints do not even employ a DJ, leaving the decks unattended as they prefer to play a lifeless, prerecorded mix.
“Visions set a major standard and trend in terms of the club and entertainment scene in Bulawayo. There was no compromise pertaining to the type and genre of entertainment, it was for the upmarket urban class of people, R’n’B, hip-hop, ragga, house and kwaito heads thronged the club in dozens.
“The management was very particular and very knowledgeable on quality of patrons they wanted to come to visions and therefore the DJs were of the same calibre as well. The crème de la crème of the best DJs would play there. The sound system and equipment quality were top of the range, the way the DJs were required to dish out the music was on point and structured. The night would revolve on exclusive R’n’B music and the up-tempo house and kwaito music would only be played after 2:30AM,” he said.
When Visions started bringing kwaito and house acts to Bulawayo at the birth of the new millennium, it was an eye-opener for South African artistes that had, until that point, never fully gauged their influence and popularity north of the Limpopo. DJ Fresh admitted to this fact in an interview with a local radio station in 2019.
“There was no understanding of how big house music and kwaito was in Zimbabwe and the crowd at Visions opened up our eyes,” he said.
Even for artistes used to performing in Mzansi, the party capital of Southern Africa, performances at Visions were a jolt to the system.
“I remember this one time they brought Euphonik and he was wearing a white shirt and navy-blue jacket,” said videographer, Batsirai Shoko.
“You know he is someone who loves himself and how he looks. I remember he played after Emity Smooth. He played and the mood was perfect so he removed his jacket. Next thing he removed his white shirt and only had a vest remaining. The next thing he was topless. The place had a glass ceiling and when you entered, everything would look normal. Later on, you would only notice that the joint was now at its peak when people’s sweat would start dripping from the ceiling.”
Some of the concepts that were born at Visions have never been replicated elsewhere. There was the famous Big Mombe, where a whole beast would be slaughtered for the pleasure of revelers over the Christmas period. It would be followed by the famous New Year’s Eve parties, which would see the whole area around 13th Avenue and Robert Mugabe Way cordoned off, while the fire department would come to blow bubbles inside the packed joint. Outside, as the clock ticked closer towards a new year, cars would spin around to create a surreal, movie-like atmosphere.
“They also had the Big Mombe, where Dr Mumbengegwi would slaughter a cow on Christmas Eve and feed everyone.
People used to take it as a ritual, a thank you ritual for the support people showed the club,” said journalist, Ndebele.
All good things must come to an end and when the first decade of the millennium was over, it became clear that Visions’ influence was waning. After a succession of clubs failed to walk in its shoes, today only sex workers bring any kind of buzz to the corner of 13th Avenue and Robert Mugabe Way.
“The worst show that I had at Visions was when I was with Dj Tira and there were about 20 people there,” said one-time promoter Marshall Mpofu.
“In its heyday, it was a club and a half but during that gig, I knew Visions’ time was coming to an end. It was now rotting. We just sat and relaxed then Dj Tira started playing set. He played for two hours and when he finished, we left to go to another joint. When we got there, it was packed to the rafters. The joint was called Kudu Bar (Hartsfields ground).”