Heavy drinking on the increase

beer2CHITUNGWIZA - Its the return of the golden oldies in the country's high density suburbs where the poor live and struggle to earn a dime. Shebeens, which used to rule in the days of yore, are back and both old and young frequent such houses far from the spotlight of city pubs and bars.

With radios full blast, its another day for Amai Mazvita from Chitungwiza who runs a shebeen to make money that enables her to pay the rents and send her children to school.

She does not have a liquor license and just hopes that the long arm of the law will not get her.

In his recent budget statement, the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti made reference to the illegal highly intoxicating beer that is smuggled from Mozambique and sold for a song on the streets and at countless shebeens that are now ticking. Some pubs are already enforcing the proposed ban on liquor sales after 7 pm that the government intends to impose on bottle stores and supermarkets.

Biti indicted that the government of Zimbabwe would move to ban the cheap beers from Mozambique that actually pose a health hazard to drinkers.

That however, is easier said than done as the cheap beers are the heartbeat of the sheebeens and a source of livelihood for women like Mai Mazvita, who in the 80s were called shebeen queens.

“I sell all types of beer and to different people who have different tastes. Some are rich and some are poor. Those who do have the money opt for bottled beer, the old men go for opaque and the younger ones, who are for the most part unemployed, go for the cheap spirits which I get from Mutare,” said Mai Mazvita.

“If I go to the bars there is so much commotion and the police often arrest people who are found loitering in the streets with beer. So here at homes its better as long we have to keep the places a secret,” said patron Denford Mangwande. Anyone caught drinking publicly is fined $20.

Demand for beer is on the increase and beverages manufacturer Delta Corporation recorded unprecedented profits this year. Lager volumes reached levels last seen in 1999. The company reported a 16% increase in total beverages volumes to 2.8 million.

Heavy drinking is now widespread in Zimbabwe, with an increasing number of guzzlers going for non-commercial alcohol – traditional beverages produced for home consumption or limited local trade and counterfeit or unregistered brews smuggled into the country.

Consumption of alcohol in Zimbabwe could be higher because a significant portion of alcohol produced, sold and consumed around the country is not reflected in official statistics.

Among other factors, patrons cite the distance to the nearest bars as the reason why they frequent shebeens. They also value their privacy.

However, people who live close to shebeens complain about the noise from music and loud, foul-mouthed revellers.

“The police should arrest people who run shebeens because they promote vice. We are afraid of the behaviour that drinkers show to our young kids,” said Terresa Chari from the same neighbourhood as Mai Mazvita.

Mai Mazvita is conscious of the label she has from her neighbours, but cares less as they cannot help her with her basic needs if she decides to close shop.

“Many people think that I am a prostitute and I have lost friends because they cannot stand my source of living. However, I have to think about my children first and ignore what people say. They might be some prostitutes who come to my shebeens but then who am I to judge?” she said.

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