Alcohol drinkers under the age of 18 in Mzuzu have vowed that not even government policy interventions will ever stop them from patronizing drinking joints.
They will, according to them, still booze despite the ban on cheap spirit liquor brands on the market. You might say phew!
Benjamin Ndhlovu* 12, is a common sight in most drinking joints across Mzuzu. His fondness of alcohol has, according to him, graduated from addiction to part of his life. At his age, he has already mastered almost all alcoholic brands.
“My favourite is Jada (local methyl alcohol). Other brands are equally good but, they take time to get me high. In fact Jada, if well consumed, makes me feel like a drunken master,” said Benja.
He is in a gang of six young boozers who, in as far as downloading Jada is concerned, are well known in Zolozolo Township. They are, according to Benjamin, always sozzled up, whatever the case. They are, as he proudly puts it, in love with beer.
Across Mzuzu, Jada and Masese are fast replacing the banned spirit liquor brands. The two locals, are, especially to young drunkens, selling like hot cake due to their availability and affordability.
Said Benjamin: “With only K1000, we can buy a venta (2 litres) of Jada and with the same money, we can afford 10 litres of Masese. So it’s affordable. Apart from that, we are regular customers and we can booze on credit or even free.”
“The two local breweries are without probabilities, the best liquids in this world. Imported brands are not good for our health and above all, we ought to be promoting our local talents. To me and at least to my gang, Jada is the best.”
Looking at Benjamin and his friends, one would concluded a research on effects of methyl alcohol. The once, as their faces can tell, handsome and well faced little boys, are losing their looks to alcohol.
Now donning in swelled faces with cuts and nerve-shaking remains of wounds, Benjamin and his colleagues are fast becoming older than their ages. Nonetheless, they seem less concerned, so long they can afford a bottle of Jada, life goes on.
School? The highest educated in their gang, is a Standard five dropout. The rest cannot read and write. Benjamin justified himself on why he dropped out in Standard three at Zolozolo primary school.
“My parents are poor. Very poor that cannot afford to buy me notebooks and pens. They cannot afford a school uniform and other necessities thus I reasoned that if they were failing in primary, they would not manage to help advance my education.”
“Education requires a lot of things. So I am a man and I have to be making decisions for myself. Some of my gang members dropped out owing to the same problems so don’t misjudge us. It’s hard for a son from a poor family background to make it in Life, we have to work hard,” explained Benjamin.
One thing, of course, interesting about the gang is their entrepreneurship skills. They engaged themselves in an income generating activity. They are, according to Benjamin, sells agents of fresh Usipa (small fish) for some fishermen from Nkhatabay.
Said Benjamin: “Every morning, after eliminating hangovers with a venta of Janda, we go and meet our business partners in town to discuss business of the day. Usually, we get 10% commission after selling their fresh usipa across some locations in Mzuzu.
“I would say, if business is good that day, each of us pocket at least a minimum of K5000. So that’s our business side of life. We are not a criminal gang. We work hard to get money for boozing and take homes.”
If indeed each child can manage to find a minimum of K5000, and a 2 litres bottle of Jada is selling at K1000, then using simple proportion, they can afford to imbibe as long as they wish to.
As Benjamin puts it, each one of them contributes about K2000 for boozing daily, meaning, they make a budget of K12,000 for alcohol every day. But why not investing such money in education?
Answered Benjamin: “Mind you, I told you, we sell fresh usipa to find such money. So if we go to school how do you think we can find that money? Why do you always talk about education as if it’s the only way to survive? As I earlier stated, so long we find money to afford a bottle of Jada, life goes on.”
Enough of Benjamin, his gang and Zolozolo, turn attention to Soweto ghetto, about 20 kilometres, west of Mzuzu city center. Here, it is even worse. Children do not bother to buy liquor. They brew Jada themselves.
Almost three quarters of houses in this locality are breweries of Kachasu and Masese. We meet Mabvuto Luhana* 14, who admits his addiction to alcohol has gone way beyond bearable. He is, according to him, another drunken master.
“I can’t live a day without downing Kachasu and nothing will make me do. I love Kachasu because, it’s tasty. To me, alcohol is the best substitute to deliquesce and promiscuity. Sober people are promiscuous, they love hooking,” said Vuto.
In a nutshell, stories of young imbibers in Mzuzu are told in the same tone, version and conclusion. They admit and challenge that they would rather die instantly, than quitting the sour liquids. Through unity, they say, drinking beer with infinitives is their desire.
Parents, we managed to spoke with, of these ardent boozers, share the same version of stories as well. Stories that they have tried all they could but they have failed to control their children’s habits. They have surrendered, according to them, timely.
Owner of one of the local breweries, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confessed, these children are her biggest customers.
She said: “They come in numbers every day, patronizing my business. They are my big customers.
“I know it’s illegal to be selling alcohol to these children, but mind you this is business, any client is welcome.”
The Liquor Act prohibits the selling of alcoholic beverages to people under the age of 18. Nonetheless, the regulation is not clear on what should happen to children who are found patronizing alcohol rooms.
This according to child protection expert, George Sambo, is encouraging the very thing, the act is discouraging. He thus urged brewery owners to exercise responsibility of restricting children from patronizing their businesses.
Police authorities in the Northern Region were, despite several attempts to seek their views on the matter, not available for comment.
As you read this, Children under the age of 18 are, surely still busy downloading Jada in local drinking joints in some townships Like Zolozolo, Chiputula, Chibavi, Soweto and Mchengautuwa.