The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
MANU Mahaso’s face lights up when he talks about Paparazzi Night Club.
When the topic of the club he helped make popular comes up, a smile settles on his face, refusing to vacate it until this particular subject has been exhausted. His laugh, which explodes from his enormous chest at regular intervals at the best of times, becomes a little more frequent and his body movements become animated.
His excitement is as palpable as it is understandable. Paparazzi occupies a special place in the gentle giant’s heart and in the night club history of the City of Kings. Back in its heyday, the joint used to make night lovers giddy with excitement while terrifying any parent whose child had gone for a night out. Such was its reputation. Years after it folded, it is still spoken about fondly by those that walked through its doors and only came back out when the sun had began its daily journey from east to west.
The bar, the dance floor and the bouncers are all gone now. Where people once broke sweat on dance floors now stand gym machines on which people attack body fat with perhaps less enthusiasm than that shown by those that danced the nights away at Paparazzi. For Mahaso, it is still a place that will live forever in his memory and heart.
“It was a hive of entertainment. Ladies used to flock there. The guys would also spend money because they were making it and the economy was okay. Everybody was spending big there,” Mahaso told Sunday Life in an interview.
“When we would bring artistes like Decibel and Studio One International, the whole club would be full. There was no budgeting. You would have one show on Friday and another on Saturday and it would be the same. It was a legendary club. It was a place that ran for years without dropping standards or its clientele and staying at the top is such a difficult thing but we did it.”
Paparazzi’s dominance began at the turn of the century and Mahaso remembers that the city’s night life was a lot different back then. Nowadays, bars seem to sprout on every corner and most nights pass without violent incident. Mahaso remembers the days when nightclub bouncers had to keep on their toes, as enforcers in the city would be on the prowl in bars, looking for, and in most cases finding, trouble.
“There were not many bars back then. There was Paparazzi, Hustlers, which we kicked out of business and Savannah. Now there’s a bar in every corner mainly because people think there’s lots of money in this business but if you don’t manage it properly you won’t make it.
“The fights at that time used to be very bad. Back then bouncers were real bouncers because you’d have notorious bouncers in town that would come and cause trouble so you needed people that are properly trained. I’m not talking about ordinary police officers but people who’re properly trained. I think people have normalised now. You rarely see a messy bar fight,” he said.
But how did Mahaso, only a year or so fresh from the Bulawayo Polytechnic, find himself at the helm of Bulawayo’s most popular club?
“It basically began when I was in my last year at the Bulawayo Polytechnic doing marketing and I was struggling for money for fees. So my career in this business started at Hustlers. Then the manager at Hustlers gave me a part time job and he said, my guy you can make an extra dollar here. Come and be a bouncer.
“I actually walked into Hustlers, I wasn’t looking for a job but I had a big body and this guy was looking for bouncers. So he saw me walking around at Hustlers and said I’m looking for bouncers and I thought you were here for an interview. I immediately went in and I passed the interview. He gave me a job on the night and I remember it was a weekday, Wednesday to be exact. So I started working,” he said.
From his humble beginnings as a bouncer, Mahaso would soon found himself loaded with more responsibility. His rise would be meteoric.
“I always say my story is a fairytale. When God is in it things just happen. When I was working as a bouncer there was a vacancy for a store man so because I had the qualifications I applied and got the job. The then director Mr Kwangware appointed me the Stores Manager and I did that job efficiently until I was appointed the Bar Manager. This all happened within a very short space of time.
“Bars started popping up. There was Paparazzi opening up at the Parkade Centre and then there was Savannah soon after it. So I applied for the General Manager position at Paparazzi and with my experience at Hustlers, the white man at Paparazzi had no choice but to hire me. That’s when I started working full time as the General Manager,” he said.
Years after Paparazzi’s demise, Mahaso would find himself at the helm of another club that seems to have cemented its place in Bulawayo nightlife legend. In an environment where clubs suffer stillbirths at worst or die in their infancy at best, Mahaso oversaw the dominance of Club Eden for several years. It was a dominance that took a heavy toll on those that orchestrated it.
“There was a lot of aggression at Eden. There was no one who rested at that joint and we all had to work like donkeys. We would have meetings morning, afternoon and evening. For our footprint to be recognised we had to work in a harsh environment and for that place to be a success no individual can claim credit. It was the whole team from the bouncers to the waitresses. We came up with innovate ways to attract people,” he said.
Managing a bar, according to Mahaso, is no mean feat. It is a job that can make one forget the texture and feel of their own blankets as they cannot afford even a wink of sleep.
“You have to reach out to your clients not just when you’re at work. That’s the hardest thing about being a manager. You’ve got to be sociable. Your outreach must be very special. Never make anyone regret meeting you or coming to your place. That’s how you harvest these people. So I play soccer and snooker when I’m off with clients. It’s a 24 hour-job and you’re lucky to get any sleep,” he said.
It is for this very reason why patrons of clubs that he has managed over the years might soon need to find themselves having to get used to a new boss in town as Mahaso calls an early retirement on a career that has sparkled for two decades.
“I was lucky I got married when I was young and my wife understands. I’m still with her and she understands that’s where the money comes from. I can turn to a daytime job and become a sales rep or something but that’s not where my passion is. This is what I do best. Of course now I’m above 40 and you explore other things. You get tired.
“I’ve been around. I’ve done FC Platinum, I’ve done Book Café Harare, and I’ve done Fanside Management when they were doing Sports Diner, KFC and others. I’ve worked with Tapiwa Matangaidze and most people who run bars come to me for advice. I’ve even crossed borders. But it all hasn’t been easy,” he said.