Public drinkers have turned the former Ximex Mall area and bus termini scattered across Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) into chaotic drinking holes, much to the chagrin of concerned residents.
The practice of drinking beer in the CBD has created problems for those about their business.
It has become scary and unsafe in some instances to use certain roads where drinking has become rampant.
After getting drunk, the brazen-faced drinkers become a public nuisance. They harass whoever they come across in their drunken stupor.
Although the major culprits are illegal money changers, touts and commuter omnibus crews, vendors and some residents are joining in to turn the capital city into a big mess.
From as early as 9am daily, alcohol is consumed in public at the Charge Office, Copacabana, Market Square and Simon Muzenda (formerly Fourth Street) bus termini.
The former Ximex Mall area, situated in the heart of the CBD, is in a sorry state because of public drinking.
As they drink, the dealers park their cars in the middle of the road along Angwa Street and part of Nelson Mandela Avenue making the road one of the most difficult to navigate.
In the course of last week, The Sunday Mail Society visited some of the places where some public drinkers boldly take alcohol in broad daylight.
The illegal money changers and dealers who operate from the Ximex area could be seen drinking alcohol stashed in the trunks of their cars.
Some make use of a nearby supermarket for cold supplies of their favourite alcoholic beverages.
The majority of drinkers were taking whisky.
To avoid being detected easily by the police, some of the drinkers put the alcoholic beverages into various types of soft drink containers.
Martin, an illegal money changer, finds nothing wrong with their actions.
“I can drink and work at the same time. I’m used to it. I drink every day and still act in a normal and dignified way. There is nothing wrong with cooling off with a pint of beer while working,” he said.
“Don’t compare us with other dumb drinkers who abuse alcohol. We drink to socialise and seal deals.
“As you can see, we all have cars, and after drinking, we safely drive home,” boasted another illegal money changer only identified as Godfrey.
However, there are no public toilets at Ximex. Martin, Godfrey and their colleagues, thus, occasionally dash into a nearby fast-food outlet to relieve themselves.
While there, some of Martin’s colleagues harass customers.
In some instances, they hurl obscenities at the security team when they are denied access to the toilets at the food outlet.
In most cases, they end up relieving themselves in alleys.
People who pass by the Zimpost building, which is adjacent to the Ximex area, are often greeted by a foul smell from the human excreta the drinkers leave on the pavement.
On Friday afternoons and early evenings, the Ximex dealers will be out in full force as they drink their alcohol without even attempting to hide it.
Loud music will be blaring from the dealers’ cars.
As is the case with all public drinking places, the drinkers at the spot occasionally engage in fist fights.
Some of them are said to be in the habit of occasionally pointing guns at each other after disagreements.
Public drinking is also rife at the Copacabana bus terminus, where street urchins rule the roost.
Over the years, a violent gang of more than 20 people has literally turned the bus terminus into their home.
Apart from the noise and occasional fights they engage in, the street urchins are also notorious for their foul mouths.
The urchins usually target women, whom they shout at and ridicule for no apparent reason. Some are involved in pickpocketing to support their drinking habits.
Some few months ago, one of the urchins died after taking an illicit brew. Such cases have become common.
Vendors who operate near Cleveland House, which is adjacent to the bus terminus, also take alcohol in public. It is the same case with the touts and commuter omnibus crews.
In the evenings, opaque beer and some illicit brews will be sold on the pavements.
The Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ), which represents the interests of the travelling public, is concerned about public drinking at bus termini.
“We are worried about incidents in which passengers are harassed by drunk kombi crews and street kids.
“Alcohol is being taken at all the ranks and to us, this is not right,” said Tafadzwa Goliati, the PAZ president.
Ngoni Katsvairo, the chairman of the Greater Harare Association of Commuter Omnibus Operators, blamed touts and unregistered commuter omnibus operators for promoting public drinking at commuter omnibus ranks.
“Order must be brought to the commuter omnibus ranks.
“Touts drink in public and harass commuters. Touts must be replaced by professional and well-groomed rank marshals,” Katsvairo said.
Chaos is also the order of the day at the Simon Muzenda Street bus terminus.
Here, vendors constitute the majority of those who publicly consume alcohol but some touts, bus crews and commuters can also be seen engaged in the illegal activity.
Opaque beer and illicit brews will be displayed on the pavements. The majority of the drinkers seem to go for the cheap illicit brews.
There is a public toilet at the rank but the guzzlers prefer using alleys, with some turning stationary wagons at the nearby railway station into ablution facilities.
Naison Chikwaka, the secretary-general of the Central Harare Vendors Association, said public drinking has become a menace in the capital.
“As vendors, we only sell alcohol. Our customers are being irresponsible by drinking in public,” he said.
The situation is the same at both the Charge Office and Market Square commuter omnibus ranks.
The illegal activities go on at the Charge Office bus terminus yet it is a stone’s throw away from the Harare Central Police Station.
Harare Province police spokesperson Inspector Luckmore Chakanza warned those who drink in public to desist from doing so.
“The long arm of the law will eventually catch up with anyone who breaks the law. Serial offenders who are arrested for public drinking on separate occasions will end up going to court,” warned Inspector Chakanza.
Residents are accusing the Harare Municipal Police of failing to bring order to the capital city’s CBD. It is rare to see their officials on duty throughout the week.
However, Harare City Council spokesperson, Mr Innocent Ruwende, said efforts are being made to bring sanity to the former “Sunshine City”.
“As we are speaking, our officers are undertaking a joint operation with the Zimbabwe Republic Police. The operation is targeting those residents who are violating council by-laws,” Mr Ruwende said.
— Sunday Mail