From gin to hymns…The story of Esigodini’s Why Not Hotel

The Chronicle

Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent

MARTHA Ndlovu’s feelings on the closure of the iconic Esigodini ‘Why Not Hotel’ are caught between a rock and hard place.

 She is caught between celebration and a feeling of despair.

 To Ndlovu, Why Not Hotel is a jewel of Esigodini – a place cemented in the minds and hearts of regular travellers that pass through the small but vibrant town from Bulawayo, Gwanda or as far as Johannesburg. 

 She has called Esigodini home for the last 38 years, since birth in 1984, and these days, not a day goes by when she doesn’t set foot at the iconic hotel.

 “I’m a fruit and vegetable vendor here at Why Not Hotel. I work seven days a week and meet different people who all have a story to tell about this hotel.

 “It’s sad that it is now closed and has been turned into a church. For people like myself who have lived our entire lives in Esigodini we would have loved to see the hotel operating.

 “I don’t know whether to feel sad or happy that Why Not Hotel has been turned into a church. When it was still operating as a hotel, business was good for me but now that it’s a church, I also feel it’s a good thing because the new tenants have turned it into a place of worship,” Ndlovu tells Saturday Leisure.

 Interesting accounts of the shenanigans that used to take place at Why Not Hotel, in its heydays, are plentiful.

 Maria Ncube describes the old hotel as a place of notoriety; a joint where a married man could allegedly hide another man’s woman without raising an alarm.

 This was in the 1990s when the terms ‘side chick’ and ‘small house’ were talked about in hushed tones.

 “What made people from places like Bulawayo like Why Not Hotel was the fact that it was well hidden. They could get away with a lot when they were here and I guess it was also fascinating for them to be at a place which was as good as their local bars but in a smaller place like Esigodini,” Ncube said.

 Fast forward to 2022 and anyone listening to Ncube’s accounts of what happened at Why Not Hotel back in the day would think the elderly woman has lost her marbles.

 Why would one believe her?

 After all, the walls of Why Not Hotel are in dire need of a lick of paint.

 The building is a sure candidate for a complete demolition, if qualified engineers are to give an honest assessment of the building.

 Rundown and rusty, the building only seems to provide shelter for the vendors that eke a living selling various wares from fruits, vegetables, amaphuti, amazambane, bottled water to an assortment of cold drinks.

 Why the name Why Not Hotel?

 Legend has it that it was established by a man only known to the locals as Ricky, rumoured to have been once a teacher at the nearby Mzingwane High School.

 Perhaps Ricky named the hotel as a question that begged a traveller from Johannesburg, after a long journey, why they would not take a detour in Esigodini and have a cold beer.

Why not come in and have a glass of gin or whiskey before getting to Bulawayo, the City of Kings?

 Ndlovu, the fruit and vegetable vendor, has no idea why the owner decided to name the joint Why Not Hotel but she has vivid childhood memories when the establishment was the heart and soul of Esigodini, a now sprawling mining and farming small town.

 “My father worked at a citrus farm here in Esigodini and I remember how vibrant the Why Not Hotel was around the Easter and Christmas Holidays. My father says it was established by a white man known as Ricky.

 “On Christmas Day, people both young and old would come to Why Not Hotel to drink, eat and play,” said Ndlovu.

 She has witnessed Why Not Hotel transform from being a vibrant to a sleepy joint that only reminds the inhabitants of Esigodini of a jewel turned into a white elephant.

 In 2019, Why Not Hotel turned into a church.

 Parts of the building have been turned into vending bays and a small corner shop run by a gentleman who answers to the name of Emmanuel.

 “This door (pointing to an entrance written ‘reception’) leads into the church called Faith in God Ministries. The pastor’s name is Murombwe but he stays in Bulawayo and only comes here to Esigodini on weekends for church sermons,” Ndlovu tells the Saturday Leisure.

 She gave us his number but efforts to get in touch with the pastor were fruitless. His mobile number kept going into voicemail.

 Nkosilathi Moyo, another vendor narrates how the hotel was a fancy joint in the early 90s under the stewardship of administration manager Rod­ney Robert Green.

 “Back in the day it was a pretty popular place that attracted a lot of tourists. It was still run by white people and other white people from different parts of the country visited here. Some of the people were even from outside the country,” said Moyo.

 The turn of the millennium would see Why Not Hotel’s reign as one of the best kept secrets in the country take a nosedive.

 The early 2 000s was the time when gold panners realised that Esigodini was a potential source of great wealth – the precious yellow metal.

 After long days of hard work and sweat, the artisanal miners would make their way to Why Not Hotel. 

 “The arrival of gold panners was the beginning of the steady decline of Why Not Hotel standards. Esigodini started witnessing a lot of deaths and violence because gold panners are the people who were bringing a culture of violence,” he added.

 The gold panners who now patronise parts of the hotel were probably young boys or even infants when their fathers’ peers sipped one or two cold beers at Why Not Hotel in the 1990s.

 Today melodious voices singing hymns on Sunday afternoons fill the air inside the four walls that were once the famous Why Not Hotel.–@RaymondJaravaza

Article Source: The Chronicle

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