Come Friday night, and revellers cannot wait to throw away their formal garb to don their party gear to paint the town red until the next dawn. On a normal day, the party-goers will raid the top nightclubs in town seeking to dance and drink the night away.
Little do they know that once they walk into the club, they have put their life at risk.
Because in the event of a stampede, there would be scenes of carnage as most of the clubs in the country lack emergency exits to deal with such scenarios.
According to both Malawi’s city council by-laws and the international requirements, the basic requirement for a venue that hosts people for any form of entertainment is to have safety facilities in case of emergencies.
Nonetheless, Malawians nightclubs are ignoring this.
Chill was on the road over the week to appreciate the standards of most buildings being used for entertainment in Lilongwe and Blantyre, and it was a shame to observe that the majority of buildings hosting entertainment venues are informal and without any security and safety facilities in case of emergencies. Most of them were originally designed for such as offices, shops and warehouses, and later turned into clubs.
One of the venues in Blantyre is a busy, seven-day-a-week entertainment nightclub.
A decade ago, the building accommodated office blocks, but it is now a club.
Nonetheless, despite undergoing renovations to suit the new purpose of serving imbibers and host music shows, nothing was done for patrons’ safety.
It has no emergency exit. There is a small entrance which patrons use for both directions, and on several occasions, the security detail has failed the crowd control test where the officers have struggled to control scores of revellers struggling to get into the hall.
In random interviews, nightclub owners said they cannot tamper with the building because they are tenants.
But what does the architectural provision say on altering the purpose of a building?
Lecturer in the department of Architecture at The Polytechnic, Grace Khumalo said it is a prerequisite to make sure that every building being converted from a previous state to another for a different purpose undergoes intensive therapy to suit the new purpose.
“Buildings are designed for different purposes and at the time a businessperson wants to use it for another purpose, they are supposed to make sure they make some changes. For instance, changing an office block for entertainment activities requires a lot of work to ensure it suits the purpose of hosting many people and heavy sound,” said Khumalo.
She added that the crucial facilities are those that host patrons.
“Any building that accommodates the public for any purpose is supposed to have big doors that open outwards for easy exit and it is recommended that halls for entertainment should have two entry points.
“They should also have emergency exit points and other facilities such as fire extinguishers in case of emergencies,” she said.
While recommending renovation and construction of venues that various entertainment activities, Khumalo said most venues are missing it by not having two entry points at the front and emergency exit points.
Director of town planning and estates services at Blantyre City Council Costly Chanza lamented the increased use of illegal buildings for entertainment in the city.
He said apart from risking the lives of revellers, the practice is a violation of city council by-laws.
“We have no problems with the formal buildings designated to host entertainment events, but the informal buildings turned to clubs like those at Kamba and other townships are not qualified for those purposes and I should report that this is illegal.
“We have been monitoring the centres and we have revoked licences from some. Our concern is that the Police know that some of these are operating illegally, but they are not doing anything. For instance, clubs obtain licenses to close at midnight, but most of them remain open until morning,” he said.
Chanza reminds club operators that cities are zoned and there are specific places for clubs and there are standards each building should achieve before it is used for entertainment.