Confessions of a beer hall worker

2007-12-10 00:00

During my first days while working in the Ebareni beer hall it seemed like a pretty fine job because I needed money and I was young. I will say I was one of those people who could sell you anything. In the beginning I did a lot of travelling, as my job required.

Traditionally, Zulu men were the ones who drank ukhamba [Zulu sorghum beer], and it was so in this place. As time progressed I started to brew and deliver this beer called utshwala be-yeast. Since it was brewed by means of yeast it only took a few hours to be ready. By the time we opened the shop in the morning it was ready for consumption. This happened on a daily basis.

I had to taste it every day before it was sold, even though I was not a drinker at that time. I became an addict afterwards and I began to feel sick around the abdominal section of my body. Many men who drank the beer were swollen and used to pee in their pants. This was not seen as a problem within the beer hall.

Other men would tease the drunken ones as weak.

The trouble started when the man went home after drinking. He would suffer from a continuously running stomach with a bad smell. It was torture to use the toilet after he had used it. This beer killed people.

You see, white man’s beer was not for black people. Utshwala besizulu had more value to the Zulu nation. In this area family men would sit under a tree with a beer calabash, ukhamba lwesiZulu, and have discussions and debates about their area and about life as whole. It was in our culture even to talk to our ancestors using the same Zulu beer, utshwala besiZulu. Why was it criminalised?

Through talks held in the tree’s shade ways for a prosperous community would be paved. I think that caused insecurity among whites who criminalised it. They killed our people and their culture with their slow, poisonous drink.

Because we were brainwashed we took their poison and made it our own. It gives me great discomfort to see that this legacy of poisonous beer lives on among our community.

A few houses away from the old beer hall people are making money with this white poisonous drink. Our young people have turned into old people because of this.

I tell this story because of the courage of the women who fought for the closure of these beer halls in 1979. If it was not for them, including my wife, complaining about the sickness it brought to their husbands, I would not have been fortunate enough to see the first democratic election in our country. I could not bear children because of this beer hall, but I am glad to be alive today. After the day of the women’s boycott of beer halls, everything changed and, I can say, for the better.

• Mr Mavimbela worked in the beer hall from 1978 to 1979. He went to school in Georgetown in Edendale until Form 2 and went to work in Johannesburg on the gold mines, for beverage companies and other firms. He is currently on a state old-age pension.

After leaving the beer hall, Mavimbela sold vegetables and fruit to the community. Later he bought buses to transport people in and around Edendale. Although this business has stopped, Mavimbela is happy that he found something else to do that was helping his community and not destroying it, like the beer hall and utshwala be-yeast.

• Extract taken from “Edendale beerhall and the destruction of the ‘natives’ in the 1970s: the confession of Mr Mavimbela of kwaMachibisa” by Nkosingiphile Malima of Gedi with Reverend Radikobo Ntsimane of Sinomlando, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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