Do you remember Chicks Disco? How about Bata Bar? Ok, Welcome Bar? You must remember Welcome. It was a popular joint at Serowe Mall. Yes. Welcome Bar has been shut down. As I write this to you there is a fierce war going on in Serowe. Entertainment war. All these popular Serowe happy joints have been closed. Seretse’s son, just like his father’s uncle TK and Great-Grandfather, the one imperialists called “The Good”, has declared an all out war against alcohol in the village. So this is my letter to update you on the soul of the entertainment scene at Botswana’s most influential village. It’s bad.
Serowe Post Office
Let’s go back few years. 80s. Chicks Disco. I preferred to call it Disco Chicks, it rolls nicely on the tongue. The famous nightclub at the corner of Masokola Way and Main Road. That is where I first saw the mirror ball. Disco lights. The magic of blue neon lights that turned your dirty old white T-shirt into a bright blue outfit. I was still underage to really have enjoyed Chicks. But I have watched the beauty contests and movies on Sunday afternoon when there was no football at Tharesetala. I have heard colourful stories about the place. Stories of how my seniors used to wait for “lengngobe” (Free access) wearing big coats in cold nights until 3am in the morning. It was the village best entertainment spot. Chicks hosted big gigs, from Brenda Fassie to Linah Khama, Lucky Dube to Johnnie Mokhali. They all played at Chicks. But that once glorious night joint is now a lousy hardware shop. AKB Hardware.
We went inside the other day with my cousin to buy some screws and I discovered that the new owners have not destroyed the club’s interior. The big stage is still there. The DJ booth still has mirrors on its wall and the top VIP section is still intact. But they sell building materials now. What a waste!
Then there was Bata Bar. Four Letters. It is on the Mazebe Way, the road from the mall that passes next to the library and Serowe Clinic. The late Penyamere Mazile owned it. Father to Tebelelo Seretse, Botswana’s US Ambassador. It has been closed for many years now. Mazile’s children have left it to ruin. I grew up next to that bar. I watched my first FIFA World Cup tournament there, USA 1994. Back then bars opened all night. So I remember the Final between Brazil and Italy, which started around 3am Botswana time, we watched that match until Robert Baggio kicked that fifth penalty over the goalpost. Nowadays you cannot even finish an early Champions League match at the Bar because they all close at 10pm. The Bata building still has old beers posters outside, Lion, Crown and Mainstay. But it’s just home to cobwebs now.
Welcome Bar and Bottle Store. Locals call it ‘Wel-khamo’ or ‘Velkom’. It was closed few months ago. It was a monument of a bar – one of the oldest and grandest bars in the village. The busrank used to be next to Wel-khamo. So travellers bought their first or last drinks at Serowe at that popular joint. Even after the rank was moved to Masilo Ward the bar still remained popular.
Welcome Bar had five sections: Main Bar, Cocktail, Mogobe, Bottle Store and Outdoor area. The Cocktail side used to have trophies of buffalo bull and Impalas. After many cocktail drinks a lion head would materialize, as well as the giraffe and an elephant too. Some even said you could hear a hyena’s laugh if you listened hard. The cosy cocktail was the best spot for the beautiful elegant Serowe ladies. It was for those with money or many cattle. They drank in there. The lighting inside was bright for clear visibility as to allow those that wanted to strut out their Ngwato stuff to flaunt it. The music was never loud in the cocktail.
Mogobe was for the dancers and those who wanted to hide from the bar lights. It was an open plan with thatched structures to provide cover. At night, Mogobe was the place for loud music and crazy dances. This was also an area for the unruly elements. In there bloodshot eyes bullies would search you like they rented your pockets. When packed, like during holidays when the sons and daughters of Serowe are back home, the whole bar resembled a scene from Mogobe. Welcome Bar was the meeting place of revelers from all the wards of Serowe. They travelled long distances, sometimes on foot, passing small bars to come and hang there. Everyone came in, from nurse trainees from IHS, bana ba college, teachers, students, CDC & Govt officers, Mabijo, MissP, Miscellaneous players, even Tanks used to pass by. But it’s closed now.
Welcome Bar and Bottle Store
Then there was recently Club Nasca. Some called it Club Leswe (club dirty). Ko clapeng! Located at the industrial area of the village behind TMC and next to Foods Botswana, this club shot to fame but quickly lost its shine. Many people welcomed its closure because it later turned out to be a lawlessness joint that led to murders and bloodiest stabbings. For few years it was the only place to hang after 11pm in the village. Nowadays there is nothing.
Tshwaragano Hotel, the famous TH on the hilltop that provides majestic views of the village and picturesque sunsets is about to give in too. It has tried to fill in the entertainment void by taking advantage of hotel regulations that allowed it to open until 1am. But this old hotel built on the hill that Bangwato royals were buried is losing the war because the Serowe law enforcement machine is uncompromising. The police nowadays set road blocks at the hotel entrances to stop people from climbing up to go hang in there afterhours. Apparently you are only allowed to drink up there if you have booked a room in the hotel. Never heard of a business that survived that policing.
Serowe Mall at night – view from Tshwaragano Hotel
The police have stepped up their fight against drunken motorists in the village. Locals are losing their drivers’ licenses in big numbers. There are roadblocks everywhere at night. Every popular bar has a police roadblock next to it. The police have adopted a zero tolerance against drinking at ungazetted areas. There are also By-Law Officers who are patrolling and ambushing all the bars that open beyond specified times. Penalties for that are harsh as they revoke trading licenses. Then there is the mean Cluster Police who are fighting shebeens. It’s an all out war.
As the proud Serowe residents seem to be losing this entertainment war this could be very bad for Botswana. Many people have said that if you want to change the country start with Serowe. This is because this village has become a breeding ground for presidents. It has produced three of four Botswana’s presidents. Currently front-runners in the race for VP are Serowe MPs. Since independence all Members of Parliament from Serowe have made it to cabinet. Leading newspaper in Botswana Mmegi once declared, if Serowe sneezes, the nation catches cold. So if the people of Serowe are losing this entertainment war, how will the rest of the population’s entertainment survive? Already Gaborone feels like a Ghost town after midnight.
Spring – Serowe Main Road photographed in September
Previous Bangwato sober rulers have put Serowe through this ‘alcohol free’ crap. First it was staunch Christian Khama III and later by his shrewd son Tshekedi Khama (TK). Both men abhorred alcohol, TK ended being nicknamed “RraGonkgang”. During those ‘alcohol free’ periods I have heard that Serowe people got innovative with distribution of alcohol despite strict bans. They found means and ways to drink their alcohol by taking the alcohol trade underground. But what if this current entertainment war could be waged elsewhere in Botswana? In Serowe authorities in charge of the village hall that is named after Ian Khama’s mother, Lady Khama Hall are said to be considering disallowing events that involve alcohol sales – as if the hall was named after a Catholic nan.
The other day I spoke to one old timer while lazily having cold ones at The First Joint Bar. I asked him whether he agrees that Seretse’s son is killing the village entertainment. He laughed before telling me that the blame is on young unruly drinkers who have lost respect and manners. I did not follow up or argue my point because I knew where the lecture was going. In Serowe when an elder start raising issues of respect and manners in a debate, that is the end of the debate.
But the old man is raising a valid point on the unruly elements. However the problem or unruly drinkers is exacerbated by the lack of entertainment. Many people crowd at one place bringing together all the bad apples into one joint and this cannot be right. Club Nasca had the bloodiest stabbings, Welcome Bar was already a haven for petty crime of cellphones and rude pickpocketers. That was mainly due to that fact that all the village petty thieves, hustlers and chancers converged at this lone entertainment area because there was none other.
If there were many places, people would scatter around these venues and not crowd on one place. So basically we need Disco Chicks back. We need Bata to open and Welcome should come back too. Or else that would be the national victory of Seretse’s Son against our entertainment. #BringBackOurChicks