Chiredzi – Sitting in the heart of Tshovani high density suburb in Chiredzi south east of Zimbabwe, Chigarapasi beer garden is a proud part of the identity carried by the small sugarcane town.
Its closure in late 2016, sent many who had arched their livelihoods around the giant beer garden into a fix, as they had to look for other means to survive.
The contingent including those who earn their living through selling different wares and ‘services’, was relieved when the imbibers’ shrine was reopened under private management in 2017.
Although still far from the hive of activity it had become before its short-lived closure, the place is reverberating, finding traces of its former days.
Boasting of 16 bars with in its yard, Chigarapasi contends to be one of the largest beer gardens in the region.
One of the regular patrons at the beer garden who utilises the popular place as her workplace in the trade of the wee hours says Chigarapasi`s lustre is slowly showing face again.
After identifying herself as Alice, the sex worker in who looked like she is basking in her early 20s, plunged into a reminiscence of the profitable aura that once engulfed the beer gardens.
“There was a point I would go home with no less than $40, day then out of nowhere we were told that the bar is being closed. To tell the truth my brother those were tough times. Even now, the money is not yet where it used to be but we know this place, if you come back in a few months I will shower you with beers,” she said.
News that the monumental watering hole had folded according to Alice still haunts the place, she believes some people who used to frequent Chigarapasi are yet to hear about its reopening.
According to her, some of the senior employees at popular companies in Chiredzi and Triangle wear disguise so they can get a feel of the beer gardens without facing judgement.
“People don`t understand this beer hall at all, they think that it is a dingy place. But the funny thing is that men from the estates come in their big cars. Some even drive for long distances to come and experience Chigarapasi, I am sure they are yet to hear that the place is running again, otherwise you would have seen them here” Alice said, before escaping into the dance floor signalling that the conversation had deprived her of soliciting time.
Besides the sticking tag which identifies Chigarapasi as a haven of nightly pursuits and temporary comforts, there are other facets of the place.
It serves as a market place where other enterprising youths have made money off selling interesting merchandise from pocket knives, to second hand shoes.
“This has been my workplace for years now, since I finished my O-levels in 2010 I have not known any job. It is not a place anyone can wish to ply their trade but my life has been fairly comfortable through Chigarapasi, it would be unfair not to acknowledge,” he said.
Chingure`s daily mandate is to provide merrymakers with different delicacies to punctuate their revels.
“Madora (mopane worms) are my staple, on a busy day I sell up to $12 of madora, there are times I have to call my family to prepare them at night after the supplies would have run out.
The fast moving nature of snacks are testament of the numbers that throng the place on a nightly basis.
With a chuckle, Chingure explained how he also supplies even outrageous wares at the instigation of drunk patrons.
“Whenever there is a trend, the easiest place to track it is in Chigarapasi. When zvihuta (quail birds) were trending they were a hit among drinkers. If something is viral nationally, Chigarapasi is where people get hold of the latest trends,” he said.
Its presence in Tshovani has made it one of the economic epicentres, lodges surrounding the place receive brisk business uncharacteristic of a high density suburbs.
With numerous bars, it is easy to understand why the place attracts a lot of alcohol lovers but the magnetism also brings with it, unpleasable guests.
There is a strong presence of those who take advantage of drunk patrons who would have surrendered their wits to intoxicating beverages.
At Chigarapasi, the helplessly drunk are a fixture.
“We hope you did not bring valuables here, there are more thieves than people here,” said one bartender, giving a description of the place in the most succinct of ways.
Tales of muggings within the yard were narrated, with some going to the extent of recounting instances where people were stripped naked by the unforgiving legion of thieves stationed at the bar.
The mere mention of some names is enough to get Tshovani residents to recount their valuables, testament of the reputation the pilfering characters built around Chigarapasi.
“Some of the people you see unleashing expeditious dances are not really entrenched in the rhythm of the songs but on what is hidden within other patrons` pockets,” said an onlooker who passed friendly advice as the crew was getting mesmerised with moves on the dance floor.
With poorly lit corners making part of the beerhall`s aesthetic, stray walking is considered to be a dangerous engagement within Chiragapasi.
Besides providing leisure the beer garden also serves as a den of well-known thieves who have made names for themselves within its environs.
At any given time, there is a bar operating within the yard, this led to many asking how the Chiredzi Town Council failed to maintain it in profitable shape.
The new private management at the bar is trying to bring back the place to its former glory, a home for the free spirited fun lovers.
With musical performances, slowly returning to the fortress many wait with baited breath on its full vibrancy.
Locals insist that it would be an injustice to mention Chigarapasi without mentioning the legend of Molly`s ghost.
The tale is emphatically defended by Tshovani people who explain the history in an enthused manner.
“Molly was a sex worker who lived near Chigarapasi beerhall and frequented it a long time ago. She was burnt by to death by her lover,” Paida Mukono of Tshovani said.
It is said that the lady ghost used to appear in Chigarapasi regularly with unlucky revellers soliciting the services of an airy being.
“Although we have not heard a case of Molly appearing in recent years, everyone here knows that the stories are true. Many fell prey to the ghost in this beer garden (Chigarapasi),” said Mukono.
In tribute to her popularity, the road which leads into Chigarapasi was named Molly Road a sign that to the people of Tshovani the beer garden makes up part of their communal identity.
Many hope the place will get a thumping pulse soon, but the lingering question is, can Chigarapasi roar again and reclaim its stripes in the colourful Tshovani.