A tale of the novel coronavirus and imbibers

Popular Area L bars in Francistown PIC. KEOAGILE BONANG
Popular Area L bars in Francistown PIC. KEOAGILE BONANG

While the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is continuing to inflict more damage around the world, alcohol drinkers in Botswana have found novel ways of drinking it despite measures put in place by the government to curb alcohol drinking and the spread of the virus in the country. A research by Mmegi Staffer LEBOGANG MOSIKARE reveals more

FRANCISTOWN: In 2008, during the presidency of Ian Khama, government introduced new liquor regulations that amongst others regulated the sale of alcohol from bars, bottle stores, liquor depots, discotheque/night clubs and homes. 

The regulations also recognised Sekhokho, Khadi, Setopoti, Mokuru, Nkubi, and Ila as legal, while the rest were declared as illicit brews. 

Subsequent to the introduction of 2008 liquor regulations, the government through the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MHW) and its development partners – the United Nations Development Programme Botswana and the World Health Organisation – to carry out a desk review research of the Botswana National Alcohol Policy, which was submitted to the MHW in September 2014. 

The study was carried out to find vital linkages between the alcohol abuse and HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and non-communicable diseases. 

In Botswana, harmful alcohol consumption has been associated with several non-communicable diseases, high rates of HIV infections, high incidences of gender- based violence, especially intimate partner violence, increased road traffic fatalities as well as other severe socio-economic consequences for drinkers, their households and wider communities, according to the research. 

A few weeks back, the government adopted a draft of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus in the country, amongst them being the ban of alcohol sale at all licensed liquor outlets and homes. 

The government also effected the lockdown, which curtailed the movement of people much to the dissatisfaction of some sectors of society. 

The lockdown would be followed by the six months of the State of Emergency (SoE) that was recently passed in Parliament. 

While the government seems to be winning the battle to control the movement of people and the consumption of liquor since all the wells – wholesalers and Kgalagadi Breweries Limited – are literally dry since they are not allowed to sell to the public during the lockdown and SoE, some alcohol lovers have found novel ways of imbibing during this period. 

Despite the fact that the visibility of law enforcement officers –police and soldiers – has increased during this period and has acted as deterrent to prohibit people from drinking alcohol, there are pockets of people who are still selling liquor illegally. 

The police have caught and fined some of these illegal traders. 

However, it seems that the actions of law enforcement officers have not deterred some from selling alcohol (including alcohol, which was legally permissible to be sold before the lockdown and some illegal brews that were banned following the enactment of the 2008 liquor regulations) underground. 

According to the findings of MHW and its partners, the consumption of these traditional brews are a health risk to the public and may lead to deaths. 

However, investigations by MmegiOnline reporters has found out that some members of the public have thrown caution to the wind and continue to drink these illegal traditional brews. 

After discovering that the main sources of alcohol are literally dry, some imbibers found novel ways of making it at their residences. 

They resorted to buying powdered alcohol of different types from some wholesalers in order to make alcohol at their homesteads in order to satisfy their insatiable thirst for booze. 

Some of the intoxicating beverage is made for drinking while the rest is sold for profit mostly at exorbitant prices since the supply of alcohol is low while its demand is high. 

In the end, this defeats government’s public message to ‘stay at home’, which strives to control movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus since their homes are frequented by a lot of people, who add to the risk. 

After discovering these Machiavellian practices, government issued an order banning the sale of powdered brews from all wholesalers throughout the country. 

The wholesalers responded urgently and swiftly to the government’s order by removing all powdered brews from their shelves to their storerooms for future sale. 

While the measure has to some degree play a very important role in reducing the illegal sale of alcohol and push adherence to the practice of social distancing, alcohol drinkers still found a way to defy the regulations. 

MmegiOnline discovered that some people have now resorted to making illegal brews such as ‘Mokoko o nchebile’ in the vernacular at their homes.

By just mixing brown sugar and yeast one has made their brew, which was banned following the enactment of the 2008 liquor regulations. 

Brown sugar and yeast are items that are always available in many shops across the country even in the remotest parts of Botswana. 

In the past, some people died after consuming Mokoko o nchebile because in some instances the liquor is mixed with other ingredients that are dangerous for human consumption. 

When responding to MmegiOnline enqiuiries, Dipheko Motube, spokesperson of Botswana Police Service, borrowed a phrase from the Speaker of the National Assembly Phandu Skelemani when he told Parliament recently “always keep your eyes on the ball” to instill order. 

Said a concerned Motube: “We are very much aware that some alcohol drinkers have found some novel ways of making, selling and drinking alcohol in homes despite a ban on the sale of such during this period. We have already arrested and fined some of these people across the country because they are not only selling alcohol that has been banned in 2008 but are also putting the lives of the public in danger.” 

Those caught on the wrong side of the law selling alcohol illegally at their homes, Motube warned, will be fined between P500 and P2,000 or face imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both. 

The police spokesperson also painfully added that they have discovered that some members of the public have found other unorthodox ways of brewing illegal brews to quench their thirst for alcohol such as using expired (rotten) bread. 

Motube warned members of the public to desist from selling alcohol at their homes however tempting, as the long arm of the law would soon catch up with them.

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