By Musa Makina
COVID-19 induced closure of bars and nightclubs has given rise to secret house parties where all preventive measures to combat the disease are ignored, exposing attendees to infections including the deadly coronavirus.
With local transmissions on the increase since the beginning of the winter season, house parties have been cited by health experts as one of the sources of the spread of the pandemic in Bulawayo.
While most parties have largely gone unreported, the recent and now famous Burnside lavish party which went viral after it emerged that several people were allegedly infected leaving two dead and some hospitalised.
A survey by CITE this week revealed that ever since the government imposed lockdown measures on March 30, to contain the spread of the pandemic, house parties have been on a sharp rise.
They have been coming in various forms and shapes in both high-density suburbs and low-density suburbs as people find ways to survive as well as to entertain themselves during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Such areas like Mzilikazi, Mpopoma, Pumula, Nketha, Northend, Burnside, Ilanda, Malindela and Hillside have been cited as hot spots for these illegal get-togethers in the second-largest city.
However, surprisingly despite constant raids by the law enforcers these illegal parties have continued to thrive.
An investigation by this publication this week revealed that some well-known night club owners in the city are the ones who are now running new shebeens or minibars at their houses or rented places.
Further investigations revealed that some local music promoters who have fallen on hard times due to the lockdown have resorted to hosting parties, particularly in low and middle-density suburbs during weekends. These parties are held from one house to another as a strategy to evade being tracked down by the law enforcers.
Sadly, at a time when mass social gatherings are strictly prohibited, most of these parties are usually graced by more than 100 people.
To make matters worse, CITE established that at most of these parties regular Covid-19 preventive measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing and hand sanitizing are not being adhered to at all.
Interestingly, well-known club djs are also hired to entertain guests, in a similar nightclub set up. In some instances, members are invited secretly via Whatsapp groups, to these parties with some coming in the form of Vuzu parties where sex and drugs are also part of the setup.
Those who spoke to this reporter revealed that house parties were the in thing under Covid-19 restrictions.
“Covid-19 is holding many things, so life cannot stop, it has to go on one way or the other, hence these parties. Some of these parties are being hosted by top guns in town like the Burnside party, where the who is who of Bulawayo attend, the socialites and the slay queens.
“Then talk of shebeens and other drinking and braii parties. People should just find ways to protect themselves against Covid-19 but what I know is no amount of threats will stop these parties,” said one house party organiser who refused to be named.
Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said the house parties were a danger to the society.
“The 6-6 curfew remains in place till announced otherwise by the President, and as the police, we discourage the holding of house parties as they are not only illegal but a danger in so far as fighting Covid19 is concerned,” Ncube said.
Bulawayo Mayor Solomon Mguni said the latest trend of house parties was a sad development in the fight against the pandemic.
“This is a cause of concern to us as authorities. If the videos that we watched are a true reflection of what’s happening at these house parties, then we are not going anywhere as a city. Its very sad.
“It’s sad to see indiscipline amongst the productive age group of this city. Covid-19 is real and we have to stay away from these parties,” Mguni said.
He further noted that as authorities it was worrying to see people still taking a lackadaisical approach to the pandemic “as if we are out of the woods.”
“If we are not disciplined, we will lose this war against Covid-19. This is not the time to resurrect shebeens. We are all aware of the social ills that were associated with this practice. We are at crossroads now and we may lose the entire generation to this pandemic.”
The mayor added that it was time people in the city take away some of their freedoms to save lives.
“The choices we make today will determine the future of this city and its people. The only choice that we have now is to be disciplined, or else we die. It’s sad to see elderly people not wearing masks, not practising physical and social distancing,” he said.
Bulawayo City Council (BCC) Health Director Dr Edwin Sibanda said house parties were a sign of great irresponsibility.
“It would be irresponsible for anyone to hold a social gathering of that nature when they are aware that the risk of Covid-19 increases exponentially when people gather in numbers in confined spaces,” he said.
National AIDS Council (NAC) Bulawayo Provincial Manager, Sinatra Nyathi said her organisation has received numerous reports of house parties and revival of shebeens in the city.
“These are risky places for risky sexual behaviours and alcohol and substance abuse hence we are working with volunteers on the ground to identify these places and putting in place strategies to reach them with information and condoms, this is work in progress we have not yet experienced a breakthrough,” Nyathi said.
She said NAC was, however, employing several strategies to reach out to its targeted audience.
“We are using mentors in the peer-led programs where mentors have been trained to reach out their peers (10-24 years) with sexual reproductive health programs and referring them for different services at health facilities with referral slips, this program is called the sister to sister and the brother to brother programme,” she said.
Nyathi further noted that NAC has a 30-minute weekly programme with Skyz Metro FM every Wednesday from 730 to 8pm where they disseminate information to clients and the public in general.