Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
It’s Saturday morning in the high density suburb of Warren Park 1, and a middle-aged man staggers across the road at the local shops right in front of an oncoming car. Alcohol takes its toll and he collapses to the ground.
Several men stop and try to help him to his feet and take him to a safer place but the drunk man starts spewing choking obscenities.
Children and women selling vegetables at the Warren Park 1 shops are not spared the torrent of venomous vulgarities that follow.
The men who are trying to help him endure the torrent of abusive words.
Someone shouts through the window of Nyangani Bar, “He is high from musombodia and marijuana.”
The drunken man repeatedly pulls down his pants till a female vendor flogs him with a wooden stick.
The guy, well-known to Warren Park dwellers — Brian Chengu (32) (not his real name) — is now an addict of musombodia and has caused great pain to his single elderly mother, Grace Muchonjo (not her real name) (68).
“My son has been abusing this illicit beer for more than five years. It’s now a daily routine and he turns violent every time he comes back home drunk. He always fights people. You can see from the scars on his face. I always live in fear on whether he make it home alive after a beer binge at the local shops. My son now refuses to come home to eat even his favourite dish, sadza and chicken stew. He is no longer the lovely son I used to know as a teenager,” says Grace almost sobbing.
She narrated her ordeal as she collected her son after a neighbour alerted her that he was causing trouble at the local shops. She never hid her anger at those peddling the illicit beer to young kids across the country.
“Some women who pose as innocent vendors are the suppliers of some of these dangerous drugs. I wonder what has really gotten into their hearts because they are mothers too. Instead of caring for the future they are busy destroying it by selling the dangerous liquor to our young kids. This has increased the availability of drugs to our children and it is turning them into ‘animals’. I think the illicit beer is affecting my son mentally as he acts weird every time he gets drunk. It is sometimes worse when he needs money to go and buy musombodia. He calls you all sorts of names if you refuse to give him the money to buy the beer.
“I now lock my doors all the time because the boy used to sell my clothes, kitchen utensils and electronic gadgets. At one point he stole his nieces’ laptop. Luckily we recovered it from the person who had bought it. I appeal to well-wishers to assist so that my son can go for rehabilitation as I am sure that something is not well with him mentally,” says Muchonjo.
Musombodia is street language used to refer to an illicit alcohol brew composed of diluted ethanol or methanol.
The ethanol or methanol is mixed with emblements powder to give it a flavour.
It is being manufactured in Zimbabwe and the country is fast turning into a backyard manufacturer and market of dangerous drugs.
It is alleged to contain 95 percent alcohol and is consumed in very small quantities as it gives the consumer hours of drunkenness and often a time they “stick”, meaning the consumer will not be able to move their body parts and resemble a zombie as the alcohol stiffens their body for hours.
The ethanol is reportedly smuggled from ethanol plants and transported in relatively small quantities of up to several drums to Harare and other towns where it is then diluted with water. The illicit brew is very cheap compared to other official beers and is sold at RTGS$1,50 for 200ml and RTGS$7 for the 750ml bottle.
Thomas Sigauke (not his real name) (25), a holder of an Accounting degree from one of the local universities, is seen snoring, dead-drunk from musombodia, his mouth wide open as he takes a slumber on the pavement of Japa Japa Bottlestore.
Sigauke’s friends tell passers-by including this reporter not to worry about him as he has been intoxicated by the illicit beer.
“Don’t worry about him “mudhara”. He will soon wake up and start drinking again, the problem is that he did not take something solid before drinking. We are used to this beer and because of the economic situation in the country we will keep drinking it because we do not have anything to do at the moment,” says one of Sigauke’s friends.
Most of musombodia drinkers openly disclosed their worries about the dangers of the product to their health. Some fell back on the old “a beer is a beer” mantra.
Musombodia is one of the chemical substances that affect both the mind and the body. Health experts say the prolonged use of drugs may lead to physical and/or psychological dependence, while an overdose of any drug may lead to hallucinations, organ failure and death.
During the Mental Health Awareness Campaign in Bulawayo last Friday, Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo, said one million people in Zimbabwe suffer from mental and neurological disorders due to alcohol abuse.
In line with the dire statistics, the ministry is also spearheading the development of a Psycho Active Substance and Alcohol Policy to help reduce mental illnesses.
“One in four people worldwide have been affected by mental health or neurological disorders at some point in their life. About 450 million people suffer from mental and neurological disorders worldwide and one million people in Zimbabwe suffer from mental and neurological disorders.
“Despite the availability of treatment, nearly two thirds of persons with a known mental disorder never seek professional help. In most cases stigma, discrimination, neglect and limited knowledge prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental and neurological disorders, hence the need for awareness campaigns so that communities are empowered to take an active role in reducing morbidity due to mental ill-health,” says Dr Moyo.
According to rehabilitation specialists, Government needs to set up wards in referral hospitals that would be turned into drug rehabilitation wards manned by personnel equipped with knowledge of how to rehabilitate such individuals because at mental hospitals they are not equipped to handle such cases.
Fifty percent of those admitted to mental institutions are admitted for conditions linked to drug abuse, according to the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network, a group that works on strategies to address abuse.
Eighty percent of those admitted are between 16 and 40, and most are male, according to the Health Professionals Empowerment Trust in Zimbabwe.
Communities should also take care of their own. Churches, youth clubs, city fathers, politicians and traditional leaders should take a strong stance against the abuse of musombodia among the youths who end up suffering mental health problems.
More education should be given to society about the dangers of drug abuse and their effect on development and progress of a community.
Members of the public should be encouraged to report people selling drugs to youngsters.
Zimbabwe’s streets are awash with drugs of all kinds: from marijuana or mbanje to Broncleer, Histalix, coccaine, Tegu-tegu, Soldier, Zed, Double punch, heroin, mangemba (a Shona name for water laced with chlorpromazine, diazepam and other drugs meant for the mentally ill) and a variety of sex-enhancing tablets.
Lengthy sentences should be handed to those caught selling illicit beer and drugs to the youths.