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60% Swazis drink Umcombotsi

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MATSAPHA – Hailed by hordes of its drinkers as a brew that does not only intoxicate but is also a source of energy, umcombotsi (home-made fermented brew) is very popular in Swaziland.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the drink is so popular that 60 per cent of the country’s drinking population consumes it, compared to 33 per cent who buy beer.

The traditional brew, which is usually produced through traditional methods, beats brands such as Castle Lager, Carling Black Label, Castle milk stout, Hansa Pilsner, Castle Lager and Castle Lite in Swazi-land’s popularity stakes.
These brands are manufactured and marketed in Swaziland by Swaziland Beverages (SB).
Traditional brew drinkers also beat wine and spirits drinkers who account for four and three per cent of the drinking population respectively.

Globally, WHO classified Swaziland as the third most beer-drinking country in 2012, only behind the Czech Republic and Ireland. The fact that Swaziland was being classified in the top three, means that when considering that there is an even larger population that drinks the traditional brew, then Swaziland could easily take the honour of being the top drinking country in the world.

WHO says in a population of 1 134 000, where 61 per cent (691 740) accounts for the adult population (15 + years old), about 60 per cent (415 044) of these consume alcohol.
Considering the above statistics, there are 249 026 people who imbibe the traditional brew.

Umcombotsi is a brew made from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water.  The brew has a heavy and distinctly sour aroma.
It does not have a very high alcohol content, usually less than three per cent. In appearance, it is opaque and light tan in colour.

The beverage has a thick, creamy and gritty consistency (from the maize). The Times SUNDAY visited a number of hotspots that serve the traditional brew, both in urban and rural areas. Mthunzi Nkambule of Msunduza, a location in the outskirts of the capital city, said he was a huge fan of the drink and there was a huge number of Swazis who drank it because it was affordable.

He said the drink was so cheap that one could drink up to five pints and only spend about E20. A container of about 750 millilitres is sold at E4, against a similar-sized beer bottle which is sold for E12 and sometimes E15 in some places.
Nkambule said the prize of beer was too much for a majority of drinkers.
“Since we are unemployed, we cannot afford a bottle of beer. We prefer the traditional brew because it is affordable and healthy,” he said.

The health aspect of the traditional brew is praised by a number of drinkers who were interviewed by the Times SUNDAY. Bheki Dlamini, another drinker who was found in the same spot said the traditional drink was healthy in that it was made of ingredients which were part of their staple food (maize and sorghum). However, according to health experts, the brew is very rich in vitamin B the other nutrition’s aspects of it are not stated.

Simangele Dlamini (44) who sells the traditional beverage at Nkhanini in Lobamba said the drink was very good, which was why many people were able to drink it and spend the whole day without taking food.  She said some of them came to her place for a drink in the morning from as early as 6am.
“They spend the whole day here drinking and they have no problem because the brew is also nutritious,” he said.

Simangele said a majority of her clients were the adult youth and were unemployed. Vusumuzi Lukhele, found in Simangele’s drinking spot said the traditional brew was cheap and less potent. He said most people drink it the whole day without getting very drunk.

“We normally leave in the evening after drinking the whole day,” he said. According to WHO, umcombotsi’s alcohol content is about three per cent.
Rose Simelane a brewer from Mbhuleni, Matsapha said she used her mouth to test the content of alcohol and she used water and sugar to keep it on the balance.

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