On 22 June 2021, I was following a programme on Facebook on the page of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. However, I was overwhelmed and perplexed by several callers blaming bars and shebeens as seemingly the integral places or sources that transmit Covid-19.
I believe most of these complainants are those who don’t take alcohol or don’t own bars. Hence, they perceive bars as part of profanity. So, do they mean if there were no shebeens and bars in Namibia, Covid-19 wouldn’t exist in our country?
We should not necessarily blame them because Albert Einstein once argued “we may put on the same specs, but view the same thing differently.”
Remember! There are impoverished families in our communities which holistically depend on the income that is generated from informal businesses such as shebeens to sustain themselves, their families and most importantly sent their children to school. I know of a grandparent who raises two orphan grandchildren in destitute. Unfortunately, she doesn’t qualify for old-age grand income, because she doesn’t have the relevant documents to be registered. She always makes sure that these two orphans have something to eat, instead of sleeping on an empty stomach. Shockingly, she often buys a bottle of tombo as a relish to go feed these two orphans. This recipe may appear odd, but it is a norm and was common at the North where parents mix tombo with porridge to feed children, especially those who hail from impoverished homesteads. Imagine in her case if bars and shebeens close completely, how would she feed these orphans?
Furthermore, I have a strong feeling that some of these individuals who are complaining about bars were once raised, in one way or another, with money generated from shebeens.
Most bars and shebeens do not solely sell alcohol, but also sell groceries, cosmetics and toiletries. Now, if we are to consider those who dwell deep inland - far from requisite retailers such as Shoprite, OK Foods and Pep Stores - how are they going to survive as humans? Moreover, think of security guards and security companies that make a living via safeguarding bars and shebeens. Let us not forget the bar attendants as well whose lives depend on these outlets. So, if bars close, that means all these stakeholders are likely to lose their jobs or face salary cuts. For your own information, poverty is also a pandemic on its own. Therefore, for as much as we are fighting this pandemic, in the same vein we are fighting poverty via the little income generated from bars and shebeens.
Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) is considered one of the chief suppliers of alcohol and other products to various retailers and bars, both locally and internationally. Statistics have it that the NBL contributes a considerable chunk to the GDP of our country. Should it close now, it will have devastating effects on that revenue. Last year, the NBL’s revenue stood at N$2.6 billion, operating profit was N$453 million, down by 31%, while profit after tax stood at N$261 million, down by 72% – and earnings per share for the year ending 30 June 2020 stood at 126.5 cents, down by 72%. NBL chairperson Sven Thieme indicated that the NBL’s revenues and volumes declined by 14.6% and 16.6%, respectively, due to lockdown conditions and curtailed trading early in 2020.
To sum up, I understand that people lose their minds and become irresponsible at bars and shebeens, especially when they get intoxicated. As a result, they fail to comply with Covid-19 regulations. Last year, many businesses felt the punch of the lockdown. Therefore, I will never second the idea of closing down bars and shebeens. One may think that closing down bars and shebeens could help to flatten the spread of Covid-19, but the same persons may contract it from the shopping malls, taxis, ATMs, etc. The measures passed by the president to limit the operating hours of bars and shebeens as well as the curfew that is in place is rational enough. Failure to comply from such customers and bar owners must be strictly dealt with by the law enforcers. All in all, let us get vaccinated and adhere to Covid-19 precautionary measures. Every man for himself, and God for all of us.
*A concerned bar owner