As the Covid-19 lockdown bites hard into the informal sector, numerous people are struggling to put food on the table and several homes have been turned into illegal breweries and shebeens.
In Chimanimani, areas like Bumba, Cashel Valley, Chiramba, Makuhunga, Gonzoni, Maunzani and Matendudze in Mutambara Village are now known for producing illicit alcoholic drinks, with their markets spread across the whole province and beyond.
While beer halls have a minimum age restriction of 18 years for patrons, shebeen owners are not concerned with the age of patrons, and young teenagers have been frequenting these places.
“Their business does not care about age. They just need money,” said a disgruntled villager.
In addition, punters are also gambling at the shebeens. A resident of Mutambara Village said unemployment is forcing people to do dodgy activities.
“Many people are brewing beer and selling to earn a living. This is the new game,” he said.
Home-made beer known as “seven days”/ “chikeke” and “one day”/ “chikokiyana”, nipper, vinyu and dagga smuggled from Mozambique are the new lifeblood for Matendeudze villagers.
Seven days and one day are made from millet sorghum, maize and yeast. Nipper is another homemade alcoholic spirit made from fermented and distilled bananas, malura fruits (mapfura) and sugar cane.
While imbibers are opting for these cheaper brews, health experts are concerned about their effects. No standards are followed in brewing them and quantities of ingredients are estimated.
Dr Godwin Choga, a medical expert, said the consumption of illicit brews is harmful to health.
“The alcohol content in the home made beer is not measured and therefore is not known. This may result in people consuming beer with an alcohol percentage which is above the recommended limit,” he said.
Dr Choga said there are short term and long term effects of consuming such brews.
“The short term effects are alcohol intoxication, which may lead to death if not managed promptly. The other effects are loss of balance, which may increase risk of injuries.
“Long term effects are brain damage, liver damage, heart problems and an increased risk for developing some cancers,” added Dr Choga.
South African Hope Distillery’s resident Gin & Spirit maker Lucy Beard spoke against the consumption of beer that is made at home breweries.
“It can be dangerous. As many know, any starch or sugar source can be fermented and then distilled to produce liquor. However, it can be both dangerous to make and dangerous to drink.
“Home stills are usually quite unsophisticated, and so it is very difficult to distil to a high proof, this results in alcohol that is under distilled and full of impurities,” Beard said.
Nyeverai Mureha (not real name), a neighbour to one of the shebeen owners in Matendeudze, says illicit activities are on the increase.
“Many people are in this business,” she revealed. People come from various place to buy beer despite the lockdown regulations that prohibit unnecessary traveling,” she said.
Alcohol is sold either through cash or barter in the form of maize or other grains. In some instances, fencing wire and blankets are also an accepted currency, a practice that has led to a spike in theft cases.
“This barter trade has increased cases of theft in our community.
A brewer in Matendeudze who agreed to speak to The Manica Post on condition of anonymity said the illegal business is her only source of income.
“I have been in this business for a long time. I use money from this business to feed my children and send them to school. Bottle stores are closed and beer in the supermarkets is very expensive. That is why people are flocking to us,” she said.
While a litre of opaque beer is now selling at $45, a lager is going for $65 while home brewed beer is selling at $10 per litre.
A teacher at a local high school said his salary is not enough to buy alcohol from bottle stores.
“We are buying beer from the village, it is cheaper there, “he said.
Tinashe Tome (33), said he has no other option as he needs to feed his family.
“Poverty is driving us to engage in these illegal activities,” he said.
However, Matendeudze area headman Wallace Pondai is concerned about the illegal activities that are rampant in his area.
“I have tried to restrain them but they insist that it is their only source of income,” he said.
Headman Pondai said a lot of social ills are now occurring as a result of the practice.
“In these shebeens, there is a lot of theft. People are stealing blankets and fencing wire to buy beer,” he said, adding that some World Vision solar panels were stolen last month in Chiramba and Chayamiti and it is suspected that they were traded for beer.
“They should be arrested. They are putting the lives of others at risk,” Headman Pondai said.
Apostolic Faith Mission in Zimbabwe Pastor Richman Majoni said the business is risky.
“Sex work is often rife in these shebeens. Dagga is also sold while gamblers frequent the places. Gambling is very dangerous, most people who gamble are usually armed with machetes, pocket knives or catapults. Lives can be lost due to such activities,” Pastor Majoni said.
Traditionally, the church has been one of the institutions that teach good morals in society. However, due to the lockdown, the church’s role is a bit stifled as services are only being conducted online, with the majority unable to follow services due to high data costs.
A social worker, Mr Felix Musere, urged young people to resist the temptation to engage in illegal activities.
“People need to find some legitimate adoptive measures to respond to the prevailing situation. Crime is not an option,” he said.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said the ZRP is seized with the issue.
He urged the public to report such cases to the police, adding that those who are found on the wrong side of the law will be brought to book.