Inside Zimbabwe's "Backyard Breweries ": Illegal Bootlegger Explains How They Make Fake Whiskeys, Vodkas[Image Credit: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo]

“Backyard Brewers” in Zimbabwe: Desperate Measures for Economic Survival

In one of Zimbabwe’s most populous townships, Mbare, a 45-year-old man sits in a poorly lit room, pouring a brownish liquid into small bottles. He is one of Zimbabwe’s “backyard brewers,” who run their own illegal breweries making fake whiskies, brandy, vodka, and other spirits to make ends meet amid fading hopes for economic prosperity.

“My life changed when I got into this business,” said the brewer, a former heavy machinery mechanic who did not want to be identified by name.

He told Reuters, “I left the (mechanics) industry because it was not paying much anymore.”

The homemade brews, made from ethanol concentrate diluted with water and mixed with brown coloring mainly from baking products, have become popular among young people looking for cheap alcohol in bars in the townships. A 250 ml bottle of the brew, which imitates brands like Two Keys, Jack Daniels, King Stallion Brandy, retails at $0.50.

The Danger of Fake Alcohol in Zimbabwe’s Illicit Alcohol Trade

Authorities have warned that the production and distribution of this unregulated fake alcohol are putting people’s lives at risk since the brewers have no mechanism to test the alcohol content accurately.

The homemade alcohol’s production and distribution are entirely unregulated, posing a severe risk to people’s lives. The fake alcohol has contributed to the scourge of alcohol and drug abuse in Zimbabwe, which is on the rise due to economic hardships. Unfortunately, there is no official data as to the number of people suffering from substance addiction in the country, and Zimbabwe does not have publicly run substance abuse rehabilitation centers.

“The evidence on the ground points to a lot of illicit alcohol use,” said Knowledge Mupembe, a program officer at Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network. “We advocate for the establishment of public and affordable rehabilitation centers.”

Inside Zimbabwe's "Backyard Breweries": Illegal Brewers Explain How They Make Fake Whiskeys, Vodkas
[Image Credit: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo] – Inside “Backyard Breweries” in Zimbabwe: Illegal Brewers Explain How They Make Fake Whiskeys, Vodkas

Zimbabwe Authorities Crackdown on “Backyard Breweries” Producing Illicit Alcohol

Police are now frequently conducting raids to clamp down on the brewing businesses, arresting 4,000 suspects countrywide since January. “Wherever we find substances like illicit alcohol, we act,” police spokesperson Paul Nyathi told Reuters, adding those arrested are charged with possession of dangerous drugs.

“We always check to see which label has more demand at any given time and make that,” said the brewer who ventured into business in 2011 in what he said now was a crowded market. “We make the same (alcohol) but put different labels,” he added, chuckling.

“The police raid us every day … business is not the same,” said the brewer. “It is now dangerous to display our products.”

In conclusion, the rise of “backyard breweries” and their fake alcohol production poses a severe risk to people’s lives in Zimbabwe. The authorities must take swift action to address this growing problem.