The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
VUZU parties were born in a kombi.
Like a child with many fathers, no one is sure about when exactly they were born. Those who attended those first parties, however, are clear about where Vuzu parties, a social phenomenon that has turned Bulawayo upside down, were conceived.
When Vuzu parties started around 2011, attended mostly by students from private schools in the city, those young party animals had no idea that they started a movement that would sweep through the city and leave parents and authorities gnashing teeth and scratching their heads. In a kombi owned by a man now recalled only as Max, Vuzu parties were born.
Below the radar of the police and parents, most of who were probably happy that their children were not at seedy bars and nightspots, the parties that at their inception were called Vuzooms were born.
Saturday afternoons in Bulawayo would never be the same again.
“The first Vuzu parties started at Hillside Dams,” said Leroy Mufudzi, one of the attendees of those early parties. “They were held there and most people would just come to party close to the gate at Dams. The masterminds of the whole Vuzu thing, or I can call them the founders, were this guy called Max and others. He was a dreadlocked guy and he had a kombi with a booming sound system. He used to take girls from Girls College using that kombi.”
Mufudzi told Sunday Life that in those early days, the parties were just the preserve of students from the city’s private schools.
“We would go there and the guy’s car would be the life of the party. It would be the only sound system and people would gather around it. There you would find students from CBC, Girls College, Convent, Eveline, Townsend, Milton and Plumtree. The boys who had the most shine were from CBC and Plumtree. It was a thing for private school kids so you didn’t have a lot of people from the western areas. But as time went on, one person that goes to CBC that was from the western areas would bring another from the western areas and that one would bring another and on and on it went,” he said.
The Vuzu parties would soon attract a crew of party organisers, VO2, who would transform them their humble beginnings to a citywide phenomenon.
“As time went on, boys from VO2 took the idea and they moved the parties from Hillside Dams to Hillside houses. When VO2 took over that’s when the Vuzooms became Vuzus. The Trade Fair weekend was always the peak weekend and that’s when there were the best parties. There was a double storey house in Famona and that’s where the parties were hosted. It would be held outdoors. The top guys, the coolest guys, were the only ones allowed inside the house,” Mufudzi said.
Mufudzi would go on to become a founder of the All Star Party, a gig that started as an annual Vuzu party but blossomed into one of the major events on the city’s arts calendar, attracting top talent like XQ to its stages. But before All Star party could take off, VO2 would change the way teenagers and young adults partied in the City of Kings.
“The masterminds of those parties were Tapiwa Olonga and his boy Brian Stifler. He was named that after the American Pie character of the same name because he could organise great parties,” said Thandolwenkosi Khanye, another early attendee of the first Vuzus.
“I think it started as a series of small parties around 2012. They would organise girls and link up for the parties. They then realised that a lot more people wanted to come then they would hire one kombi and everyone would meet at Haddon and Sly. Olonga seem to have everyone’s phone number so that helped a lot. So on Friday you knew everyone knew they were waiting for a text from him telling them where it would be going down.”
Soon, however, the Vuzu parties started attracting the attention of even those that did not attend them. Curious neighbours were suddenly alarmed at the frequency of these parties and the police also started sniffing around. More than a few sex tapes were recorded at these parties and girls, some under-age, would allege to have been raped after some of the parties.
Fists also flew and blows were exchanged as boys with grudges used those parties as ideal places to settle new or long standing feuds. It would be only a matter of time before the parties started making front page news.
“So it was more like a wave because the police had got wind of the parties and would come and shut them down. So it was more like a secret that you waited for and kept even though the police always eventually came. That added to the sense of adventure. All these parties were happening in houses in the eastern suburbs because if you went to the lodges they wouldn’t agree.
They would say young kids like us always mess up and a lot of fights happen that ruin their places. So they started going to houses and they would say we give the owner $300 for a party from 2pm to 6pm but the parties wouldn’t even make it to 6 because the police would be there. Despite that we did it every week.”
While having an outdoor party was looked at as fun and innovative at first, in the end it would turn out to be Vuzu’s Achilles Heel, opening the eyes of the public to what was happening.
“What drew attention to the parties was the fact that they happened outdoors. Everyone would gather outside the houses because that was the only way to gauge if a party was successful or not. That drew attention of angry neighbours and when so many people started getting interested in the parties the organisers started making people pay. They would sell tickets and people snapped them up,” he said.
For Olonga, the founder of VO2 who is often hailed as a mastermind of those early get-togethers, Vuzu parties started as a noble cause that has since become corrupted.
“For us as VO2, the movement we started was for a good cause. They were called Vuzooms, which basically means party, before they eventually got called Vuzus. When we started them we wanted to take people away from bars and clubs. That was our whole intention and if you look at the people who attended those first parties, most of them have grown up to be exemplary people.
“Back then the parties never went beyond 6pm. By that time everyone would be home after having enjoyed at the party. It’s different with these kids now because these ones go beyond those curfews and you find them at clubs at night,” he said.
Last week, when 131 youths were arrested, many were shocked at what was uncovered. Alcohol, condoms, drugs and vuka vuka drugs were part of the haul when police finished work on the last weekend before schools open, traditionally a peak day for Vuzu parties.
For Olonga, the increasing popularity of opioids and other drugs has led to the current situation.
“Now they don’t just drink alcohol, they’re also taking all kinds of drugs which wasn’t the case when we were having our parties back then.
“As much as the police might arrest people, that won’t really solve much because young people will always look for a place where they can come together and have fun away from adults. One thing that can be done is the revival of youth centres but the big problem now is that club owners now know they can make easy money from youngsters by not strictly enforcing age restrictions,” he said.