Wednesday 21 April 2021
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MP pushes for legislation controlling traditional brews

United Democratic Front(UDF) lawmaker Dudu Murorua wants parliament to discuss the adverse and hygiene hazards presented by homemade traditional brews.
Murorua raised concern on the manner in which traditional brews are done, citing unhygienic environments and toxic mixtures that feature in the making of the brew.
Murorua focused his concern on the new methods used to make ‘ombike’. His concerns are that brewers use old and dirty clothes, rotten foods to make the water ( soup ), which becomes a health hazard and that should be investigated.
“The new tendency, if it is true, is something we need to investigate. I hear people are now simply boiling waste. We need to find out if this is healthy for the people and if it is not, stop it,” he said.
In 2014 a group of 25 people, among them a one-year-old toddler, had to be rushed to Andara Hospital after drinking traditional beer known as ‘mundevere’. They were all vomiting, experiencing nausea and dizziness but were discharged the next day although remaining under medical observation. ‘Mundevere’ is fermented beer made with mahangu, yeast, water and sugar.
Civil society has in the past proposed a ban on the sale of illicit alcohol, being supported by government and other stakeholders.Since 2009, the Self Regulation Alcohol Industry Forum (SAIF) of Namibia has formed a task force to confiscate all illicit alcohol sold and distributed in Namibia.
They classify illicit alcohol as products that do not comply with Namibian legislation with regard to packaging, labelling, tax evasion, contents and composition.
SAIF said illicit alcohol has become popular in Namibia because it was cheap to purchase, but cautioned in regard to the alcohol’s harmful effects.
While the abuse of alcohol is a major problem, tombo and ombike has been placed under the spotlight recently when Murorua gave notice that he would like the matter to be discussed in parliament. Law makers and medical experts have come out strong advising citizens to stay miles away from the tombo jugs and ombike.
As unbelievable as it may seem, a mixture of sugar, water and sorghum has destroyed the lives of many people across the country.
This publication visited one of the most infamous tombo spots in Windhoek. They are countless in number offering a variety of choice, but this particular one operates like a pit stop. As early as 06h00, workers walk from as far as Babylon and other informal settlements on the outskirts of Windhoek stop by Shandumbala’s Tuin Street drinking hole for a drink on their way to work. The thought of someone going to work under the influence of alcohol is disturbing, but they see it as an energy boost for the day ahead. The place then closes its doors to open again at 10h00.
The Patriot arrived exactly after 10h00 and from the outside, the number of elderly citizens hogging the drinking den can easily be confused for an elders’ council meeting. On one side are the children playing and watching at bay as their parents or grandparents take on the brew from sunrise to sunset.
Seated in a queue, patrons sit idle as a jar filled to the brim with tombo makes its way around the group. The unity is astounding as everyone gets the chance to take a sip regardless whether or not they bought. You need not to ask about the health aspect of sharing a jug with ‘someone’ whose health status not known but such is the nature of the setting.
Amongst the seated are domestic workers who go to work in the morning and return to the drinking spot for a ‘tea break’. They bring their grandchildren as the mothers have gone to work and the family cannot afford day care.
“I’m just here for an hour before I go back to iron the clothes that I washed this morning. I need to work but I also need to drink, which is why I work after all. I cannot be sweating for money that I cannot drink. So I drink and the rest, if there is any left, I will buy food at home. That is how most of us here survive,” said an elderly woman, a domestic worker, who only identified herself as Beauty.
As we wait for Helena, the lady who prepares and sells the brew, one gentleman joins us in the wait, but he wants to buy beer. We ask him why he is not buying the custom brew and he answers with contend.
“Tombo put me in hospital for three weeks so I’m no longer drinking that ‘thing’. I drank a lot and it made me sick so I’m no longer taking a sip of tombo.
The thing is, when you drink tombo, you lose your appetite for food and this is where the problem starts. So I would rather stick to beer,” said a young man, who only identified himself as Rodger.
The fermented brew is said to be highly addictive. Since it is cheaper than the conventional alcoholic drinks such as beer, thousands of poor people resort to drinking tombo.
A glass of tombo (750 ml) costs N$6.00; this is the same volume as beer but cheaper five times, which explains why the brew has many hooked.Tombo is a mixture of water, brown sugar, sorghum and sometimes yeast. No one can tell the alcohol percentage as it depends on sugar added and the mixer of the day. The brew is normally prepared at night for consumption in the morning.
“As easy as counting from one to ten, you pour both the sorghum and sugar in the container and fill it with water. If you do it today around noon, it will be ready by tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow, I will just check if the fermented brew has enough sugar then start serving my customers,” says Helena.
As you enter the house, you are greeted by a smell that has become accepted by the patrons.
Helena denied these allegations saying people are dying due to other causes and not the tombo she makes. “My tombo is very healthy and none of my customers complain. I cannot speak of how other people prepare it but mine is done the right way. I also just don’t understand why those parliamentarians don’t complain about other alcohol types such as whiskey, wine, beer or brandy? Is it because they get shares from these white companies or why is it that our own people don’t respect our hustle? If they don’t want us to sell our drinks, then we must shut down all alcohol providers in this country. We take our kids to school with money we make from this business so please tell them to leave us,” said Helena.
Tombo has many psychological and physical after effects. One does not have to go far to see the effects of this dangerous beverage. A drive past this spot around 17h00 will expose the effects of the brew.
It has become common to see people talking to themselves in broad day light while others will be seen in deep slumber in the middle of road. Many frequent drinkers seem to fizz off into a fantasy world of their own.
As we head outside, we engage a drinker who says he has been drinking tombo for many years.
“Here, we call it Vuil Fanta, Panakulata, T-Lager or Mampoer,” says Tate Saxa Belangrik a father of two girls. “T-Lager has a taste that I cannot explain. You can only get this taste in the morning when it is still young,” he said.
Just like tombo, ombike has also been on the receiving end of scrutiny. Again, questions are centered on how the liquor is made. Traditionally, ombike is made from eembe, raisins or either palm fruits (eendunga). Talks are rife that the bitter and alcoholic waters are made from dumps of dirty material which adds toxic substances that are a hazard.
A brewer of ombike who is based in the north said brewing ombike varies from brewer to brewer. She explained that ombike is traditionally made from the aforementioned fruits.
The fruits (anyone of the mentioned fruits) are collected in a container that is filled with water and sugar. The fruits are left in the water for days to ferment. The mixture is not ready until foam starts circulating on the mixture and the fruits sink in the water. How fast it takes for the mixture to be ready depends on the season. During summer, the heat fasten the process while in winter the process comes off with time.
This mixture is then emptied in a traditional clay pot where it is boiled. The captured steam in collected and the product is called ombike.
Mee Lahja, an ombike brewer confirmed the allegations saying things have indeed gotten out of hand, but not everyone is guilty.
“You will not really know what people put in the making of the drink these days. This is why many people now only buy ombike from people they know, but it should be difficult especially in the towns where you don’t know who made it. People now are motivated by money and that is why they will use anything, add sugar and a spoon of a fruit for flavour, just to make the penny,” she said.

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