By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha
Harare, Zimbabwe – Early Saturday morning in the Avenues, a man lies lifelessly on his back on a rickety bed in a dimly lit room with the whites of his eyes showing. One by one his friends troop into the room to check him with looks of shock on their faces. Then one of them says that the man lying on the bed drank Zed, a highly intoxicating cheap spirit with unregulated levels of alcohol.
“He drank Zed since lunch yesterday without even eating anything. He is failing to wake up, and his eyes are rolling in their sockets. It’s as if he is going to die,” says the man.
Zed, which gained popularity during the country’s economic depression, is undoubtedly one of the most lethal drinks available locally. There are many stories of people that have died after consuming the drink but this has done little to stem abuse of the spirit.
The drink, which comes in a variety of flavours is smuggled from Mozambique and judging from its popularity, it undoubtedly makes high profits for enterprising locals involved in the bootlegging.
“This drink cannot be found in bottle stores or bars; it’s only available on the black market. It’s definitely illegal. I don’t think whoever is bringing it into the country pays duty,” said Kingsley Nyambadha, a regular imbiber of the illicit drink.
The abuse of cheap liquor is prevalent in the lower social groups such as touts, otherwise known as mahwindi in local lingo as well as street kids, and low-income earners or unemployed down-and-outs and amongst school children.
Because of its potency, Zed is known by various names such as Zimbabwe Early Death, Zimbabwe Energy Drink, Zimbabwe Emergency Drink, Zimbabwe Emergency Death, take me quick, red beret or kahihi. Kahihi, possibly the most funniest of the names, signifies that the drink is so potent it can even start a motor engine.
In Harare’s CBD, vendors who hawk the drink do it secretively and one has to be known or part of a network of drunks in order to access the brew.
“If the vendors don’t know you, they’ll not sell it to you because it’s illegal. Vendors are always on a catlike suspicion for police, that’s why they don’t sell it out in the open,” said Nyambadha.
The cheap but harmful cane spirit is part of growing list of counterfeit brews that are being smuggled into the country and sold on the black market. The spirits are so potent that some of the drinkers say that you only need to take a swig or two before they do their work.
“I will never drink Zed even if it’s the remaining drink in the world,” said a man who refused to be named.
According to Dr Patrick Mhaka, a medical practitioner, the abuse of Zed is a big problem but no study or evaluation has been conducted to ascertain the extent of the problem. He said that a good number of patients at the Parirenyatwa Hospital Annexe had a history of abusing Zed. He added that substance abuse could lead to psychiatric, physical and social problem.
“Substance induced pychosis causes delusions, paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations as well as memory problems. Physical problems include alcohol cardio myopathy, inflammation of the pancreas, liver damage and ulcers,” he said.
For most of the imbibers, there’s very little knowledge about the negative health impact of illicit cane spirits such as Zed with the main concern being to get as sloshed as possible. According to reports, abusers can die from seizures and organ damage while others succumb to paralysis and brain damage, injuries from drunken accidents while some simply drink themselves into a coma.
“The social cost of alcohol related problems are huge and these include high cost of treatment, prevention, research, law enforcement, lost productivity and what health expert say are some measure of years and quality of life lost by those who are directly affected,” reported a local newspaper.
“The social cost of alcohol related problems are huge and these include high cost of treatment, prevention, research, law enforcement, lost productivity and what health expert say are some measure of years and quality of life lost by those who are directly affected.”
According to experts, heavy drinking rapidly produces two stages of liver disease: cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis. People with these diseases experience appetite and weight loss, enlarged and inflamed liver, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Cirrhosis usually leads to liver failure or liver cancer. Other possible effects of heavy drinking are heart failure, varicose veins in the esophagus, stomach bleeding, and inflammation of the pancreas.