Looking for answers in nqab’shushu

2011-04-30 15:17

An economically depressed settlement in a forgotten corner of the country finds solace in a potent drink – with devastating effects
They call it “nqab’shushu” – the brew that makes you hot in a flash.

Thamsanqa Matshabisa (45) says he drinks nqab’shushu for a number of reasons.

“It’s cheaper than bread! When you drink it you don’t feel hungry and you forget your troubles and fall asleep,” he says.

“Sometimes if you have a little money, you buy bread to level your stomach so that nqab’shushu can settle nicely down there,” he says, struggling to stand on his feet after having finished two buckets of the brew earlier that day.

Nqab’shushu is the drink of choice in Malay Camp, an economically deprived settlement on the outskirts of the Northern Cape town of De Aar.

It is made with bread, yeast and water and sold in various quantities from as little as R1 at various shebeens situated in a notorious corner of Malay Camp.

And drinkers says it packs a mean punch.

“Jeeer ... it hits you fast. Some people can’t take it, they just k*k in their pants!” says Nicolene Nicolene September (23), shaking a bucket of the drink they call “nqabs”.

But some, like mother of three Els Grenswer (31), have chosen not to drown their sorrows in this drink.

“It’s not good. If you drink this thing you end up with intestines so thin you can’t even eat,” she says.

Like most of Malay Camp’s people, Grenswer survives on government social grants due to the high unemployment rate in the area. The settlement is made up of crumbling old brick houses and shacks built from corrugated iron, wood and plastic.

Early on a hot Wednesday afternoon, groups of men and women gather in shebeens, passing around bowls of the brew. They take refuge from the blazing sun in the shade of the old houses and zinc shacks, chattering loudly about all matters under the sky.

September bears the scars of a drunken brawl with a friend from the day before. They had been drinking nqab’shushu all day and her friend apparently made derogatory remarks about September’s boyfriend.

“We were just drunk. So we fought. Jeeer...this nqabs,” says September, grabbing a bucket from Roseline Pienaar (33).

Pienaar says she is aware of foetal alcohol syndrome disorder but says all three of her children are healthy. “When I am pregnant I just drink a little. But sometimes these young ones are a problem. They just drink,” she says.

Life in Malay Camp is not easy. “My shoes are worn out from all the walking around looking for work.

“It’s tough, but this nqab’shushu is just not good. It will not help me even if I drink it. It destroys life, but people here do not have a choice,” says Zwelinzima Tokwana (40) who prefers beer to the potent brew.

“Sometimes I wonder if it’s not better to be in jail because there you are guaranteed meals and a decent place to sleep,” he says.

Tokwana shares an old brick house with extended family and fears that the house might collapse and bury all of them if there is a fierce storm.

Nosipho Jack (37) was lucky to escape with her life when, one rainy night, the walls of her home collapsed on her leg as she slept.

She managed to free her leg and get a neighbour to call an ambulance.

Anderson Tantsi is the odd one out, holding a bottle of beer amongst dozens of nqab’shushu drinkers.

“This drinking here will never stop because people have nothing else to do. They have no jobs. They will do anything to get this drink. Somebody sends them to a tap to get water in a wheelbarrow and pays them R2. They use that to buy the drink because they need to forget their troubles,” he says.

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