BARS and Nightclub Owners’ Association secretary general Edmond Lifwekelo says President Edgar Lungu’s statement calling on them to be patient was a betrayal as Local Government Minister Dr Charles Banda assured the Association that they would be allowed to start operating this week.

In an interview, Lifwekelo said the association also felt betrayed by government’s failure to compensate the industry with a stimulus package to operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We feel betrayed because the consultative meeting, which we held on the 27th of May, it was conclusive and well represented. We were given assurances that the President is eager to open the industry; he is concerned about the plight of the bars and nightclub owners. In this regard, he has ordered that this consultative meeting should happen at a shortest period of time so that we open. The President addressed the nation on Friday and the meeting took place the following Wednesday and the Minister actually emphasized that, because of the urgency of the matter that the President left directives that when he comes back from Luangwa on Sunday, he needs to have these resolutions so that we should see the way forward. We were assured that within that week upon the President returning back, we are going to be opened, we were given those directives,” Lifwekelo said.

“In that meeting there were people from Ministry of Health; they were people from the Ministry of Commerce; they were health experts from Lusaka City Council; it was a well-presented meeting. The issue that the cold season is coming that we need to wait never even arose in that meeting because we gave guidelines and we agreed that we are going to open within stipulated hours. We agreed that was from 12.00 to 18.00 hours because we all thought that we don’t want people to drink in the night and generally winter evenings become colder than during the day time.”

He said President Lungu’s statement contradicted what was agreed between Dr Banda and the Association.

“So, now, when you look at the President’s statement, it contradicts everything the honourable Minister assured us because in that the statement, he didn’t give a direction or a road map to when we shall open; he is just saying that this season is when the pandemic evolves. The cold season in Zambia ends in August, September we are not going to stay that long! In that meeting, we proposed for a takeaway basis, which the government refused…’no, we want you to open normally.’ The government came up with a position that, ‘we want you to open from 18.00 to 21.00,’ as an Association, we resisted that, we proposed 12.00 hours to 18.00 hours all stakeholders in the meeting agreed,” he said.

“So, we have been waiting from 27th May, you can imagine? It has been over three weeks, only to receive such kind of statement on Monday, the Ministry of Local Government gave a statement on record that, ‘the President this week is going to address the nation and one of the things he is going to touch on is the issue of the re-opening of bars and nightclubs.’ Then, we are patiently waiting for Friday then the Special Assistant to the President pre-empts. So, we don’t know if that address will be there. That is why we are saying we have been betrayed! We are being treated like foreigners in our own country in preference to foreigners, they are being given special treatment. The Council and the police have continued harassing our members, who are open, which is quite unfair.”

But Lifwekelo vowed that bars would start operating on a full-time basis if government did not address the matter.

“Our line Minister is the Minister of Local Government that is why I am repeating that we have been betrayed and we have been neglected in this situation. When people have been mistreated, they look for other means in order to survive. We expected to send our children to school, which have been opened. These same children, their parents run bars, how are we going to survive? That is why we ordered our members last week to open their businesses and we have maintained our stance. Our appeal is that if we are not going to hear anything from government by Friday; we are going to tell our members to actually open full-time from 10.00 hours to 22.00 hours. That is what our licences are entitling us. When the order came out that our businesses should be closed, our liquor licences were never suspended. So, those of our members, who are opening our bars are not doing that illegally,” Lifwekelo said.

He cautioned that bar owners were ready to meet police head-on if they continued to exert force to stop bars from operating.

“We are ready right now to hold the bull by the horns! A hungry person is an angry person! Right now, there is too much tension around and our advice to our law enforcement agency is that, let them handle this matter with level-headedness. If they come with brutality, force and arrogance, I think our members are ready for that because we have suffered enough! Last week, when we opened, we had our members, mostly around Lusaka; they were ready for a confrontation,” he said.

Lifwekelo, however, reminded government that the Association was demanding cash bailouts for bar and club owners if government insisted that they remained shut.

“We made it quite clear to the Minister of Local Government that we are willing to wait as long as we are supposed to have a cash bailout, not the K10 billion (Bank of Zambia stimulus package) because that money was meant for foreigners, big business, who have the capacity to even borrow from where they are coming from. We have no other countries to run to. We are demanding for cash bailouts and we are willing to exercise our patience, but that was denied. What came out is that government has no money, it has a bloated civil service that needs to be paid. How can you close a private business for three months without any source of compensation? Even in countries like Rwanda, those closed businesses, the government has come to their aid; what is the difference between us and Rwanda? What is wrong with Zambia? Rwanda is also a landlocked country like Zambia, but why is their country helping their citizens, we are failing?” wondered Lifwekelo.