“I have been drinking this home brewed beer for over two decades now and it has become a part of my life. I drink it everyday. If I go a day without drinking it my body does not feel right, I feel weak and thirsty,” says Nyamukamadi Mundalamo.
Health-e News caught up with Mundalamo on chilly Tuesday just after 11 am. She’s just arrived to buy some traditional beer. About ten people, mostly elderly, have already gathered at the drinking spot.
Sixty-four-year-old Mundalamo from Mashamba village, outside Louis Trichard, is one of several pensioners who spend most of their days indulging in a home brewed traditional alcoholic beverage known locally as mahafhe.
The drink is brewed using sorghum, maize and other ingredients and is known as umqombothi in most parts of the country.
Mundalamo spent most of her adult life working as a domestic worker in Louis Trichard. She was introduced to traditional beer by friends during her early forties and she has been drinking it ever since.
“When I was still working, I used to drink this beer over the weekends only. But since I retired I have been drinking it almost every day. It gives me joy,” says Mundalamo, as she sits on a plastic chair, waiting for her order of beer.
“It also makes my stomach full for many hours. Sometimes I hardly eat any food because this beer makes me feel full. And I often start drinking very early in the morning.”
Sometimes she goes an entire day without a single meal.
Known health risks
Professor Sue Goldstein, deputy director at the University of Witwatersrand Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science (PRICELESS SA) warns against drinking any type of alcohol on an empty stomach. Doing this will make a person get drunk quicker and the body is likely to struggle to process the alcohol.
This, in turn, will exacerbate the harms caused by alcohol. For example, the World Health Organisation estimates that alcohol consumption contributes to three million deaths around the world. Goldstein says that alcohol is a common cause of most cancers and other medical conditions such as liver damage.
She says that one of the biggest health complications which can result from overindulging of any alcohol, including home brewed beer for elderly people, is heart disease.
“Very often elderly people have high blood pressure and diabetes. This means that if they drink any type of alcoholic beverages, even in the form of home brewed beer, they are more prone to suffer from strokes, heart attacks or even diabetic complications,” says Goldstein.
Mundalamo has been taking high blood pressure treatment for about seven years now. “I usually take the pills early in the morning before I leave home to go and drink traditional beer. But sometimes I forget to take my medication then I have to take it the next day,” she says.
The main concern with home-brewed beer, Goldstein warns, is that it is not known how much alcohol content it has.
“It is impossible to know how much alcohol volume is in it and this might be even more dangerous, as some people add additional things such as sugar, yeast and special ingredients, which can also be harmful,” she says.
“There is not much to do at home. All my children are grown-up and have got their own houses. My last born lives with me, but he’s a security guard and works all the time. I get bored just sitting at home doing nothing hence I always go and gather with my friends at the place where they sell traditional beer,” says Mundalamo, taking a long sip from the plastic container her drink came in.
In the past years, various initiatives have been formed in the Vhembe district by local NGOs to try and keep rural grannies like Mundalamo busy. But most of these projects were put on hold when Covid-19 hit.
Joshua Kwapa, spokesperson for Limpopo Department of Social Development, says it’s not clear how widespread the problem is. But, he says, the department is quick to intervene and assign social workers when such cases are brought to their attention.
“We always encourage our older persons to participate in extra-mural activities being offered in their communities as this also helps to promote healthy lifestyles,” says Kwapa.
The business part of it
Sitting with some of her customers, Kubana Lucy Maluleke,71, tells Health-e News that she’s been brewing and selling traditional beer for more than 40 years. Maluleke does receive an old-age grant, but that alone is not enough to support her family.
“Selling this beer is my main source of income. I use the money to support myself and my grandchild who lives with me,” says Maluleke.
Through her beer-selling enterprise, Maluleke has managed to build herself a three-roomed house.
Most of her loyal customers are her peers from her village of Mpheni and other nearby villages. Maluleke, who does not drink herself, says that drinking home-made traditional beer is “perfectly healthy”. She has never received any complaints from her customers.
“People love my beer. I believe that because very early in the morning, you will find people at my gate who have come to buy this beer. I am told that it is very tasty, though I have never tasted it,” says Maluleke.
Maluleke was taught how to brew beer by her mother as a teenager. She says that brewing also helps to keep her busy. And tending to her customers keeps her fit.
Alhough she loves it when her customers splash cash buying her home brewed beer, Maluleke says that she always advises them to drink responsibly and that they must bathe and eat something before they start drinking.-Health-e News.