South Africa--About a year and a half ago, I spent a night at Topson Zama-Zama also called Jefffry’s Shebeen. It is the largest of four shebeens, or unlicensed bars, in Tintswalo Village, South Africa. Jeffery Silabi opened Topson Zama-Zama in the middle of the village in November 2006. The newly opened, vibrant place attracts boys and girls as young as ten years old to hang out, though their families worry that they might not return home. I had seen many teenagers coming out drunk, and I was anxious to write a story about it. I felt strange and scared walking in that place, and yet so curious. I’ve never been to a crowded and noisy joint like this before. I only drink once in a while with my friends at home. But the presence of my aunt by my side gave me courage to enter the gate.
I had been at Topson Zama-Zama once before on one hot afternoon to buy a soft drink. There were two policemen turning the whole place upside down searching for beer, but they didn’t find any. Jeffery, the owner, probably had a feeling the police were going to pay his shebeen a visit. He sells alcohol to anyone who has money, even kids and teenagers under the age of eighteen. Many suspect that the police raid shebeens to take beer and drink it themselves. Then a day after the raids, the shebeens open.
Drinking is a popular trend in rural areas, and the shebeens provide a place for people to hang out. As we walked in at about 7:30 pm, the room was filled with men and women. A red minibus full of people entered the broken, rusted gate followed by a white Toyota van. Boys stood outside while others played pool. Some danced when a Mandoza, “Nkalakata” (“The boss”) boomed from the jukebox. It smelled of chicken feet, being braaied, or barbecued, by young boys out front.
I waited outside with my aunt as people passed to go get more beer inside the yellow painted house fitted with bugler proof bars. Winnie, a 56-year-old toothless owner of another shebeen five doors down, came to Topson Zama-Zama asking if anyone had seen her 34-year-old boyfriend, Freddy Mkhari. Soon she spotted him standing at the shebeen entrance, holding a bucket of homemade. She wasn’t impressed with him, and immediately instructed him to stop drinking the smelly stuff and go home with her. Freddy refused. People’s eyes started to wonder in their direction as they quarreled.
Winnie even tried to take his beer away from him and this angered him. “Touch that bucket,” he threatened her, “and I will teach you a lesson you will never forget.”
Both of them argued loudly at the entrance until their next-door neighbour, Judas Mathebula, a short, muscular guy with a beard and dyed relaxed hair came and asked them what was wrong. Freddy, speaking slowly because he’d been drinking for so long, called Mathebula’s mother names and used phrases that would cause mothers to cover their children’s ears. Judas slapped him on the face and said, “don’t you ever talk to me like that you stupid fool!”
As a woman, I was disgusted by the words that were coming out of Freddy mouth and actually thought he deserved more than what Judas had given him. “Give him another hot clap for me,” I whispered in my aunt’s direction as we both mumbled and giggled.
Freddy was so shocked that he dropped the bucket of beer, which went spilling all over his shirt and trousers. His hat fell on the ground. Freddy left without saying a word. He went to the nearest shebeen over the fence, owned by an old woman who brews her own beer. It was also a couple of steps from where we were standing trying to blend in the crowds.
There Freddy found a 75-year-old woman who was sitting quietly on the grass, enjoying her beer. Freddy grabbed the bucket and sucked the thick and creamy beer without even asking for permission. A fake white mustache was left on his mouth. When the old lady tried to complain, Freddy spoke badly to her, too.
The old lady wearing a pinafore and head-scarf wrapped around her wasn’t having none of that. She stood up and punched Freddy on the neck with her fist. He fell down, and she went to fetch a big stick from the pile in the corner of the two-roomed house. When he saw her return, Freddy got up and ran as fast as a drunken man could. As she chased him, she yelled, “Come back here, you fool! You think I am like that woman you are sleeping with. So you want me, too?”
As Freddy ran, he promised to come back with his panga, a tool for cleaning bushes and cutting. I laughed so hard that my stomach began to hurt and tears fell from my eyes. The grandmother still had it in her to teach Freddy the lesson he had promised to teach his girlfriend, Winnie, earlier. Laughter echoed in the air as people who witnessed it.
Several hours later, Winnie’s 24-year-old son Ali joined the crowd at Jeffery’s Shebeen as people talked, laughed and creamed for more booze. He bought a Black Label beer and sat outside, where he saw a friend. He offered to buy her whatever she wanted. They went back inside where he pulled out his wallet and gave her a R10 note.
Ali decided to head home at 10 p.m. He had walked three houses away when a group of four men wearing black jackets appeared out of nowhere. They stopped him, pulled out a knife, then a gun, and shoot it once in the air. The man took off Ali’s Addidas sneakers and searched for his wallet. They also punched, kicked, and stabbed him in the chest and neck and left him in a pool of his own blood.
A neighbour saw the whole scene but just watched from her window. She did not alert anyone, and didn’t cry for help. She, too, feared for her life. After the men left, she went to the scene of crime and screamed for help. People, came running out of Jeffery’s Shebeen, including Ali’s mother. My aunt and I also rushed out the crowds. Tears streamed from her eyes as she saw her son unconscious on the grass.
The sight of blood made my whole body weak. Never in my life had I seen so much blood. I honestly felt the guy wasn’t going to make it, and I was afraid to even look at him. People helped to lift him into the back of the white Toyota van that rushed to the Tintswalo Hospital, about two and half kilometers away. The fun was now gone and people left and went their separate ways with broken hearts.
After being at the shebeen for just a couple of hours, I realized that shebeens can be interesting places to hang out, but they can also be dangerous. People feel a need to socialize by drinking because there isn’t much to do besides that. A s long as people have a need to quench their thirst of boredom, shebeens will remain a part of the community.