BY REX MPHISA
THE Beitbridge District Club, once a social assembly point for white commercial farmers prior to independence, and the entire Beitbridge community after independence, relived its past glory last week.
Abandoned and sun-beaten, the club which once hosted the who is who of the Rhodesian citrus fruit and beef farming community, is now lost to neglect.
A large swimming pool, bar, squash court, natural air-ventilated hall and a pool room finished off with a shower and ablution sections for males and females form the club. In its backyard lies a tennis court and an improvised children’s playground.
A full size sandy football pitch, the dry rural type, completes the view of an abandoned recreational centre longing for attention. There is an archaic and dysfunctional swimming pool pump built atop a borehole that has also been neglected.
The patio has cracking floors and the room adjoining the bar has broken window panes. In the room patrons pass time on an old dart board, ignoring the foul smell from the toilets. Otherwise the place is perpetually quiet, save for Sundays and some evenings when noise from the two churches that are slowly invading the club fills the air.
Gutters are falling off the roof while at the corner of the patio, a large jacaranda tree that used to be a landmark feature dried up long ago due to neglect and was chopped for the fireplace.
The bar, despite the ban imposed on smokers, carries a dusty stench emitted from years of lack of thorough cleaning.
Its old furniture has not seen varnish or polish in ages. Mosquitoes taking shelter in poorly lit corners of the bar, feast on the handful of patrons who frequent the place only on days when there are big matches in the Spanish or English premier football leagues.
The empty deep and large swimming pool is now a potential danger to domestic animals that sleep in the open on the football pitch and tipsy patrons on their day.
The squash court was destroyed and turned into a gym, one of the three housed here, including part of the hall. The pool tables were left to rot outside where they were thrown to make way for the gyms.
Unlike in the past when the commercial farmers gathered deep into the night to plot their farming exploits or rest during construction of the Beitbridge-Rutenga lap of the railway line from South Africa, then Rhodesia, as sanctions bit, the club is abandoned early. Only on Fridays does the club stays open late when a circle of friends come to enjoy Thoho yaKolomo (boiled ox-head), a tradition developed by locals during which they discuss developments in the district.
Among those frequenting the joint are Beitbridge East legislator Albert Nguluvhe, businessmen Renato Manavhela, Oscar Chiromo, Exile Mbedzi, town clerk Loud Ramagkapola, journalist Thupeyo Muleya, shipping agent Jabulani Ndou and a few others who make up Beitbridge’s who is who.
The bar’s shelves are poorly stocked, starkly contrasting with the two new television sets, which together with friendly staff, are the only positives at the club. Apart from that, the club is almost nearing its death. But for a few days running up to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s visit last Wednesday, life was breathed into the club. Almost for a week, motorised water bowsers ran up and down to the club where civil works to create a makeshift helipad were on.
Occasionally those doing work would go into the club for drinks or sit on its patio to supervise the work.
Movement increased and the club enjoyed attention it perhaps tasted almost two decades back. Its resurrection was coordinated by district administrator Kilibone Ndou Mbedzi. Mbedzi was assisted by security agents for a clean-up and preparation for Mnangagwa’s helicopter landing. Big-wheeled all-terrain vehicles crisscrossed the dirty road from the club, watered that very morning to avoid dust.
Big fire engines were provided by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, while the Beitbridge Municipality and National Oil Company of Zimbabwe lined up with other vehicles that awaited Mnangagwa’s landing, transforming the football pitch into a mini airport.
At 10am that Wednesday three heavily armed members of the Zimbabwe National Army who were in the centre of the football pitch released a smoke grenade signalling the presidential helicopter landing zone. Songs of praise for their leader by a group of Zanu PF women were drowned by the sounds of the landing helicopters which raised a cloud of dust. In 20 minutes Mnangagwa’s helicopter was on the ground and big-wheeled cars moved to pick him for the venue he would do his business for the day, commissioning a $23,6 million optic fibre link between Zimbabwe and the world through South Africa.
Like a wave, security details in military fashion, surrounded the plane and scarf on his neck, Mnangagwa hopped out to greet a team of government officials led by Vice-President Kembo Mohadi. Overzealous security men blocked photographers and reporters alike as Mnangagwa moved to a waiting car.
The arrival was the icing on the cake for a week of activities that momentarily resurrected Beitbridge Club.
“If it would stay like this Beitbridge would grow quicker than now,” remarked a police officer, part of the many uniformed and plain clothes security details at the club.
“Movement increases business and this is what the club should be for, facilitating interactions,” he said.
At the moment the club operates under a shoestring budget and at times fails to provide certain beverages that attract some sections of the community.
While not confirmed, the club owes the local authority a huge amount of money in rates and fails to attract membership due to an unclear administrative structure. Wedding ceremonies, which were once hosted here, have long departed the club for other improved venues where lawns and a hospitable atmosphere has been created.
Thomas Mbedzi, who was among the crew that welcomed Mnangagwa, said the potential of the club is not being fully exploited. As the presidential aerial and road entourage left, loneliness enveloped the club, once the centre of fun before and soon after independence.
The scorching sun present even before and during the arrival of Mnangagwa takes back its position of being felt more as a dry wind sweeps across the ground trampled by dozens of security men who built a wall around Mnangagwa as he arrived and left. Even the birds, which sing from hard mopani trees, seemingly sound dehydrated from the heat.
But if the swimming pool had water, even the birds would rejoice.
Life has temporarily gone and for now, the club takes its usual nap.