BARS and Nightclub Owners’ Association secretary general Edmond Lifwekelo says the sector will resist any attempt of closure if no relief packages are granted amid the COVID-19 third wave.

In an interview, Wednesday, Lifwekelo said members felt marginalized and uncared for by the government, arguing that it was unfair that government was giving out relief packages to other sectors, leaving them out.

“There have been very unfair relief packages that the government is offering, and to us, we asked if the government can help us through the packages because our members were willing to close but it didn’t happen. This time around our members have disclosed that if the government does not give us relief packages amidst the third wave, we will not close. Not that it is bad to give to the churches but how much employment have the churches created and how much have they suffered from the pandemic? How much taxes do they pay? Our members feel uncared for by this government, they feel marginalized. Also, the issue of closure like what happened last time, I don’t think it will be taken very kindly this time around,” he said.

“We would like to caution the government that they shouldn’t complicate this issue because we know that the money is there and if we look at the people that have been given COVID packages, right now the churches are getting their relief packages. Our industry should not even be debatable. The reason musicians were given the money at government complex is because the nightclubs they depended on during weekends were closed and they couldn’t survive. So what is the logic where you empower a musician who depends on night clubs unlike empowering a nightclub which will then support those musicians?”

Lifwekelo bragged that the sector had a huge membership which could have an impact on the election outcome.

“Government should take this thing cautiously because much as we are in an election period, they should treat our members as if they are not voters. What the government should know is that we are the biggest association in the country. We have got over 1,500,000 employees, so if you treat us like we are nothing, then we will advise members when voting [that] they should know who is with us and not,” he said.

Lifwekelo said bars and nightclubs had put in place measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“I need to point out that as far as the third wave is concerned, from the first to the second and now the third wave, I need to mention that us, we are not very much shaken because we have never dropped our guard from the time the sector reopened following temporal closure. We have maintained all the preventive measures and even added more measures to ensure that people should feel free in our premises,” he said.

“As bars and nightclub owners in Zambia, how we are going to be affected by the pandemic is not very worrying because we have a team of inspectors not only from the association. We are the heavily inspected sector in the country. Health and council officers are always passing through to inspect and checking if we are doing what needs to be done.”

He, however, called for the closure of illegal shebeens as they were painting a bad image of the sector.

“We also need to note as a nation that we have illegal shebeens out there. We have got makeshifts and these are the people I think [who] have given us a bad image to the government that our industry is not complying. It’s our wish that these makeshifts should be closed permanently because they are not licensed. So if the government is to come to say ‘our members are not complying’ they need to point at specific places and [we] will tell them if those are or not our members. Most of these guys [who are] not complying do not have licenses,” said Lifwekelo.