The Sunday News
Sibongile Ndiweni, Sunday Life Reporter
RELOCATING to cities and towns before independence and not being allowed to drink in the Central Business District, elderly men made use of community beer gardens in western areas to drink and socialise.
Bringing in the culture from their different rural areas, they would sit in different groups, chat as one traditional beer pot would be passed around the circle. Drinking from the same beer pot resembled unity, “singumuntu munye” they would say.
As only men were allowed to work in the industries, and only had the freedom to drink from beer halls in their communities, beer gardens became popular as they were a social sphere where men would feel in-charge of their lives. It was from such gatherings that they would come up with fruitful decisions for their families. Thus, the industries played a huge role in facilitating the popularity of beer gardens.
These community beer gardens were not just given names at random, but most of them would hold names of women. Traditionally, the cooking of food was a female job, the traditional beer was considered to be food in form of a drink. And at inception, it was women who brewed the beer in rural communities and in urban set ups, though illegally. Such beer gardens are Makhalanga Beer Garden in Mabutweni, Mathonisa Beer Garden in Mpopoma, MaKhumalo Beer Garden in Makokoba, MaMkhwananzi Beer Garden in Old Lobengula.
Ingwebu Breweries got involved and began brewing traditional beer as a commercial arm of the Bulawayo City Council. Talking to Sunday Life, culturalist Dr Luyanduhlobo Makwati said the history of community beer gardens dates back to the times of King Mzilikazi and the Ndebele State. Back then, men would sit under a big tree and consume the beer during special occasions.
Since only men could go to the beer gardens before independence, through their socialising they would help each other with solutions to their social problems. Burial Societal groups were also formed from such gatherings. The meetings were held at beer gardens and at the end of the year, members would hold Christmas parties where women and children would also be invited. However, with the slow decline of industries post-independence and the freedom to drink clear beer for blacks, beer gardens began to fade to a point that only a few people would think of drinking at a beer garden.
Shebeens were introduced and night clubs later took over the city such that the tradition of drinking traditional beer could not be carried on by the youths.
“We cannot say that people are not drinking traditional beer totally, but because of the changing times and the issue of packaging people now just buy their traditional beer and go and drink from their different places. Although there are few places with proper functioning beer gardens, some men still go there in numbers to socialise and drink. Packaging now comes in smaller quantities which cannot really be shared among a social group of men unlike back then when it was packaged in bigger containers. Also looking at diseases which are there nowadays, people don’t find it safe anymore to continue with the culture of drinking from the same beer pot. Covid-19 also contributed to the culture being taken down because when the bars closed during lockdown, people would just buy the traditional beer in smaller packages and go and drink from their homes,” he said.
As the popularity of beer gardens faded away, the city council decided to lease out most of the community beer halls since they were no longer bringing in much profits compared to the times when they were popular social places for elderly men.