Thursday, October 29, 2020

Closure of nightclubs means very bleak future for DJ Small & Co.

A Zoom Nightclub customer, who also happens to be his homeboy, has suggested that as a collective, DJs should explore the possibility of plying their trade digitally via partnership with the government. 

Think life is tough right now? Then hustle for a COVID-19 local travel permit and walk a mile in DJ Small’s shoes. So long as the beat [wenton (x2), DJ Small has always been absolutely certain about where his next meal was coming from and has always fended for himself. The beat has not gone on since March 20 this year when the government closed down nightclubs and will not be going on for the next six months. That basically means that while he will retain a trade name he has used for the past 13 years, DJ Small (whose real name Selefo Keikepe) will effectively be out of the game for the entire no-groove period.

DJ Small’s situation might have been a lot different had he sought a regular job as a painter-decorator upon obtaining qualifications for that trade from the Construction Industry Training Fund. He was instead drawn to the world of music and nightclub deejaying. The point of entry was via a waiting gig at Zoom Nightclub in Tlokweng. When Zoom was gutted by fire, he relocated to Grand West Nightclub in Gaborone West shopping mall. Grand West (alongside the coterminous Satchmos Nightclub) would also be gutted by fire, whereupon he relocated to Zoom Nightclub in Maruapula shopping mall.The nightclub business went into a coma between 2008 and 2018 as President Ian Khama implemented stringent laws to curb alcohol trade.

DJs get paid by the number of days and hours they play and reduction of trading hours for nightclubs badly affected them financially. Fortunately for DJ Small and fellow disc-spinners, Khama’s successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, restored alcohol and nightclubbing rules to their factory settings. Once more the nightclubbing business boomed, more nightclubs (some taking the hip name of “lounge”) opened and one more, nightclub DJs always knew where their next meal was coming from.There is no way in the world any DJ anywhere in the world would have known what was headed their way that they started spinning discs when the first COVID-19 case was reported in China on December 1, 2019. That was a Sunday and DJ Small would have had earphones clamped around his head at Zoom at the DJ stand, bobbing his head to a beat as he pressed and pushed buttons on his console.

In just 110 days, Zoom would go radio silent for the time since its opening. Twelve days later, DJ Small would, like almost everybody else in Botswana, begin a 28-day civil-imprisonment term handed down by Masisi via a national stay-at-home order.The latter order expires at the end of this month but the recent special session of parliament delivered yet more bad news for DJ Small – no alcohol sale for the next six months. He says that his industry is the worst affected because nightclubs closed down even before the lockdown. Personally, he earned less than he would have had the club operated for a full month. The government has promised that it will give a 50 percent wage subsidy to employees of the worst COVID-19-affected businesses and for this month, DJ Small says that would be all the income he is expecting. DJs across supplemented their income by playing at weddings, corporate events and parties. The social distancing regulations limit gathering to 10 people, which has results in the cancellation of those events and loss of income for DJs.

DJ Small worries even more about what the future holds. One real possibility is of his employer deciding to close down the nightclub. Indeed such possibility is real because it doesn’t make business sense to continue paying rent for commercial property that you are not trading in – especially if you don’t know when the pandemic will end. There is a possibility – remote but probable – that all nightclub owners might go down this route. As it is, there was acute shortage of jobs even before the pandemic hit and it would be extremely difficult for DJ Small to get a painter-decorator job in the post-pandemic recession economy. What might make his job search even more difficult is that he never really practised that trade after completing his course.“This thing really did catch us off guard,” says DJ Small, adding that while it has always been possible to blame someone when things go wrong, that option doesn’t exist this time around.

So how do DJs meet their financial obligations during the pandemic? DJ Small, who is from Molepolole, says that a Zoom customer who also happens to be his homeboy, has suggested that as a collective, DJs should explore the possibility of plying their trade digitally. Step 1 would be to secure a sponsor, Step 2 to secure a spot on Btv and Step 3, to take turns playing to a national audience.“That way we would get paid and be able to pay bills,” DJ Small says. There are many reasons why the government should be receptive to such proposal. One is that Botswana has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose Article 24 provides for the right to rest and leisure, which activities are important for one’s overall health.What DJ Small would really like to see happen is for COVID-19 to blow over and for life to get back to normal. To that end, he pleads with members of the public to comply with coronavirus public health guidelines. For a telephone conversation revolving around a very grim subject, the interview ends on a very positive note: “There is life ahead of this disease.”

Another nightclub worker group also finds itself in dire straits. To get to the dance floor – or the bar counter, you first have to go past bouncers who, in some instances have to strip-search revellers who look like they might be carrying what the police describe as a “sharp instrument” in their crime reports. Like deejays, bouncers will not be working for the next six months. Some of those bouncers also worked as gym instructors during the day. What this means for the latter is that two revenue streams have been closed off and they will not be able to pay bills. 

Nightclubbing is just one of the many industries whose employees will not be able to pick up the pieces even after the lockdown ends. If nightclubs are going to stay closed because a month-end Friday night would imperil efforts by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to contain the spread of this disease and ultimately eliminate it, the same goes for beauty and hair salons. Hundreds, if not thousands, of salon workers who make customers look 20 years younger, may also have to live on government hand-outs for the next six months.  

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