They call New York, Cairo, Barcelona, Las Vegas, Lagos, Mecca, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, S├úo Paulo, Tel Aviv and Zurich ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ for their nonstop 24-hour economies that constantly teem with activity from six-to-six.
Given the government of Botswana’s tough stance on alcohol consumption and limited hours of entertainment that have almost completely strangled the clubbing industry, they can be forgiven for excluding Gaborone City (GC) from the list.
The stipulated operating hours can be misleading to an outsider. But to the insomniac night crawlers here in GC, Gaborone should be up there in that list.
Late nights are defined by a cocktail of alcohol, sex and drugs in a city of over 231,000 where night owls do stuff together they never thought possible.
When the lights go out at licensed alcoholic beverage establishments and the owners count their profits for a night gone by, the insomniacs are counting their change for the night has only just begun.
“Where are we heading from here?” a clearly inebriated young lady friend of mine, Lerato (last name with held), wonders as soon as the doors of Millennium jazz restaurant are shut behind us.
The fact that she looks like she is only a drink or two away from falling into a drunken stupor, coupled with the end of the legal operating hours for alcohol sale, still do not seem to have any bearing on her insatiable appetite for ‘fun’. And with alternatives like ko ga Mmamarete, ko ga Moshebi, Wrong Turn, and Gabane, who can blame her? US R&B sensation R Kelly said “when a woman is fed up, there aint nothing you can do about it”, and the same goes for a sloshed woman who is still up for some late night gallivanting.
The legal operating hours for bars and similar establishments go up to 2300 hours on weekends while night clubs close at 0200 hours. So leaving a bar for a two hour stint at a club seems a complete waste of time. Why not go to a place that doesn’t close at all? After a bit of quarrelling and disagreeing about which place would make better logistical sense, Gabane wins. A less than ten minute drive and we are in the middle of a fleet of cars parked willy-nilly around the main Gabane road. The traffic behind us suggests the night is still very young.
As I hop out all I can hear are the loud voices of people shouting everything and nothing at each other punctuated by the soundtrack of loud car stereos. The place is renowned for operating until the wee hours of the morning; and unlike many other properly licensed establishments in and around Gaborone it seems not to be affected by the liquor regulations.
Legend has it that the owner was once a very renowned magician and as such he employs his magical powers to deceive the law enforcement officers.
Inside the bar/club one has to squeeze and shove their way through the crowd. Not only is it claustrophobic, the ventilation leaves much to be desired. Another clear indication of how desperate people are to party-till-the-sun-comes-out.
After a drink or two and losing track of time, it is way after 0200 hours now and it’s almost time for bed. ‘Almost’ because apparently our little debauchery wouldn’t be complete without making a pit stop at Wrong Turn, just another one of the popular shebeens around the city. “It was named ‘Wrong Turn’ for the simple fact that coming here late at night is a big mistake. It means you will be here until sunrise,” says Ambrosia, clearly a regular.
Ironically she doesn’t seem to mind repeating the same mistake over and over again. She says her job keeps her so busy and stressed that once she decides to unwind there is no stopping her. But to my surprise she doesn’t believe the liquor regulations are a bad idea.
“If only the bars could open earlier,” Ambrosia says. “But drinking nonstop kills productivity.” Like Amber, Warona also believes being out all night is her way of unwinding. “Sometimes I work so hard that when I do get an opportunity to go out, there are no holds barred.” After a few more drinks at Wrong Turn and feeling a little drowsy, it’s time to go home. And our last stop is for a little snack and what better place than the 24 hour service, Bimbo’s. Despite their billboard advertising appeal “E monate le motshegare” it remains a favourite pit stop for Gaborone night crawlers in the wee hours of the morning.
However fun and profitable the night life may be for the revellers and shebeen owners respectively, it is a complete nightmare for the Botswana Police Service. “The government sets these restrictions for a good reason but they will count for nothing unless people start to abide by the rules,” says Deputy Public Relations Officer Senior Superintendent Dipheko Motube. He says people should refrain from only abiding by the law in the presence of the police. He says whenever they raid unlicensed operators after a tip-off they always hit a blank because in most cases the perpetrators would have been forewarned.
“This (festive) is a very crucial time in our policing calendar. People are losing their lives, property and other valuables.” He says their annual ‘Sixty days of action on crime and safety is already underway. “Batswana should learn to be responsible by taking good care of themselves and being law abiding citizens,” Motube advised. Whatever the case, the Leratos, Ambrosias and Waronas of Gaborone will continue, it seems, to keep the city alive at night and make Gaborone ‘The City That Never Sleeps’.