THE Bulawayo City Council is reopening nearly two-dozen beer gardens and liquor stores it closed at the height of the economic crisis of the last decade.
The facilities, which the council operated through its commercial unit, are set to re-open under a franchise system, officials said on Wednesday.
The beer gardens, dotted around the city’s low-income suburbs, were an important part of Bulawayo’s social structure, allowing residents to drink from legal premises in their neighbourhoods and provided an important sales avenue for its majority owned beer maker, Ingwebu Breweries.
Ingwebu Breweries’ general manager Nkosana Ndlovu said those leasing the premises had undertaken to maintain certain social functions for which the beer gardens have been used in the past.
He said: “Residents stand to benefit a lot from the franchise exercise since retailing outlets will continue to provide them with the usual social responsibility amenities like lending them furniture when they are bereaved.
“They will continue to allow residents to hold their meetings in the facilities, as before, as well as being important venues for various social activities like traditional choir practices, end-of-year burial society parties and Ingwebu-sponsored traditional dance competitions.”
The council has 10 beer gardens and eight liquor stores, but it says two – Figa Beer Garden in Njube and Mathonisa Beer Garden at Mpopoma – will not be leased out “since there is no prospect of profitable liquor business in them.”
Some of the facilities soon to re-open include Nketa 8 Beer Garden, Hlanganani Bar Lounge in Tshabalala, MaHadebe (Emakhandeni), Matshobana, Nkulumane Beer Garden, Phekiwe (Nkulumane 12), Phumulani (Pumula North), MaNdlovu (Pumula East), Khongo (Mpopoma), Totobisa (Magwegwe West), Masilela (Gwabalanda), Sidudla (Njube), Mondela Beer Garden in Tshabalala, Magwegwe, MaKalanga (Mabutweni), Manwele (Mzilikazi), Gibixhegu (Entumbane), Sizinda South, UMhambi (Njube), Insizwa (Old Magwegwe), MaMkhwananzi (Old Lobengula) and Iminyela Beer Garden.
The council was forced to close down the beer gardens due to high utility bills and a decline in production by Ingwebu – brewers of the popular ‘Indlovu’ (Calabash) opaque beer.
The council says the franchises will “operate on more flatter and leaner organisational structures that make them more efficient... offering mutual benefit to both parties by unlocking value from existing infrastructure”.
Several churches petitioned the Bulawayo City Council last year seeking to convert the beer gardens into worshipping halls, but councillors were undecided.
Ingwebu Breweries sees the return of the beer gardens as a major boost for its revival effort under a calmer economic climate.