Shantytown shebeen

The only thing I miss of the old South Africa is the raucous shebeen life that gave such colour to drab townships. “We all ask for more of the shebeen life of yesterday,” lamented Jacky Heyns in Drum in December 1993.” Today all South Africa’s drinkers are relegated to humdrum legitimate liquor lounges … The only way to save South Africa is to reintroduce prohibition!”

Such an extreme measure is not necessary because redemption can be found to the north of Pretoria, just before the Carousel Hotel and Casino, in the sprawling jigsaw of settlements, tribal communities and locations that make up Mandela Village. For within, near the Death-Row Car Wash and Cool Sexy Lovers Paradise Hairdresser, is the fabulous Khuwana Tavern — the brainchild of Wilson Vuma, a subsistence farmer who fled Mozambique in the 1980s.

He started rebuilding his life by doing odd jobs for Portuguese market gardeners by day, and slaving in a fish and chips outlet by night. Within a few years he had saved money to buy a truck to deliver vegetables to Pretoria and return with beer for the shebeens that flourished in the township. His trucks increased and he opened a tuck shop in a tin shack. He then built a general dealer store with a shebeen at the back.

The fortunes of shebeens, however, began to decline after 1990. “Trendy blacks, freed from restrictions, flocked to upmarket spots in Pretoria and that left shebeens with only the cheapest clientele,” explains Vuma. “I could either close my tavern or reinvent it as a place my original patrons would still want to come to — and that was an establishment that offered good food, great atmosphere, dancing and flushing toilets. It’s about realising that life is a work in progress — that we need to adapt to changing circumstances or get wiped out by tides we can’t stop.”

Vuma pulled down his old shebeen and built the Khuwana Tavern, which was decorated by his cousin Vasco, whose riotous murals include nudes reclining on palm-fringed beaches; others playing the sax before entranced crowds; lap dancers; village carousals; the morning-after; and in each a khuwana — a beer-pot.

The Khuwana cooks on weekends with thumping rhythms that blast from the disco or live acts that perform there. Under a thatch gazebo, next to a naked singer writhing on the wall, a dancer gyrates back and forth. Sizzling on barbecues nearby are the best Mozambican peri-peri prawns and chicken.

There is simply no better place to have fun with your clothes on. Hallelujah!

The lowdown

It is recommended that if you have not been to Khuwana Tavern before that you go with an organised group. The nearby Kwalata Game Ranch, part of Blue IQ’s Dinokeng project, is a charming luxury lodge that arranges visits most nights of the week. The beauty of this is that you do not have to drive after imitating scenes from the murals that adorn the walls of Khuwana.

Call the Khuwana Tavern on tel: (012) 711 1208 or the Kwalata Game Ranch on tel: (012) 711 0245.

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