Zimbabweans drinking more beer amid ongoing woes

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP)—Sales of beer have surged by 50 percent in Zimbabwe over the past year amid the misery of daily power and water outages and ongoing economic woes.

Zimbabwe
BEER SALES SURGE—A man drinks a beer in Harare, Sept, 9. Beer sales have surged by 50 percent in Zimbabwe over the past year amid the misery of daily power and water outages and ongoing economic woes.

Health authorities also are reporting increases in illnesses linked to the consumption of illegal, homemade drinks with a high alcohol content made from potatoes, rags, chemicals, rotting vegetables and sugar.

One illegal liquor distilled over wood fires in the bush around Harare is known as “Take Me Quick.”

“You can’t plan ahead, not much further than a few days at a time, so why not have a beer?” said Stanley Chida, the owner of two discotheque clubs in downtown Harare.

The international Chronic Poverty Research Center said the temptation to escape into alcohol has only deepened the plight of impoverished communities across Africa.

Zimbabwe’s market was liberalized after the country’s coalition government abandoned the local currency in early 2009 and adopted the U.S. dollar, improving the world-record inflation that had decimated Zimbabwe’s economy. Before that, store shelves were bare of basic goods, and acute beer and liquor shortages even shut down some bars.

Economist John Robertson said the reappearance of ample alcohol supplies meant the country’s biggest formal brewer and soft drinks maker, Zimbabwe’s Delta Corp., was recapturing its market. The company reported a beer sale increase of 50 percent in its latest annual report.

This new abundance of beer and other drinks is giving cash-strapped consumers the dilemma of buying alcohol “or shoes for their children,” Robertson said.

President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence 30 years ago, signed a coalition deal with longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now prime minister. But Zimbabwe’s unity government has been split by disputes over power-sharing since it was sworn in in February 2009.

While Zimbabwe no longer suffers from world-record inflation, the economic misery continues for many and the Red Cross estimated earlier this year that as many as one-fourth of the country’s population is in need of food aid. Financial consultants Imara Asset Management Zimbabwe note that Zimbabweans are spending more on drinks than their northern neighbors in Zambia, a far more stable and economically strong country.

Despite Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown, residents there spent $324 million on drinks in the same yearlong period that Zambians spent $230 million. The two countries have roughly the same size population—around 12 million.

Bar owners say many appear to be taking their alcohol home to consume. Francis Zengeni, a patron at Harare’s Balcony Bar, said he didn’t have the money more than “one or two beers after work.” He earns $190 a month as an accounts clerk.

“There isn’t a lot of money around,” said Chida, the discotheque club owner. “It is cheaper to buy a six-pack from a store and take it home to retreat from your troubles. That’s what’s happening.”

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