Umgombothi: South Africans turn to traditions, make home-brewed beer to beat coronavirus booze ban


Since President Cyril Ramaphosa banned alcohol sales as part of a coronavirus shutdown, booze-deprived South Africans have turned to homebrew fermenting to get around the prohibition. (Unsplash)

All that waitress Thabile Vilakazi requires is some maize meal, sorghum malt and three litres of water to concoct five litres of creamy, thick traditional South African brew, known as umqombothi.

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa banned alcohol sales as part of a coronavirus shutdown, booze-deprived South Africans have turned to homebrew fermenting to get around the prohibition.

“The idea came because there is no alcohol, there is no supply of alcohol anywhere,” said 32-year-old Vilakazi, stuck at home in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Randburg.

Fermented over at least three days, making umqombothi is inexpensive but time-consuming.

Although traditionally served at special ceremonies where ancestral spirits are evoked such as funerals and weddings, the brew with a creamy texture and a pungent smell is gaining popularity.

“It’s a very sacred beverage,” said Vilakazi admitting it’s the first time she has tried to make the beverage, usually the preserve of her eldest sister for family ceremonies.

The pre-mixture of maize and sorghum can also be cooked and served as a breakfast porridge and it is also believed to soothe stomach ulcers.

But the sudden dearth of liquor sales has inspired creativity on how to get tipsy.

A plethora of recipes, tips and hints are being shared on social media by professional chefs and novices alike.

According to data on the Google trends website, there has been a rise in the search on “how to make your own alcohol” — starting especially as the country entered its second week of lockdown.

“This lockdown is taking us back to our roots, especially for the African youth who aren’t aware of traditional life,” traditional healer Luthando Finca told AFP.

He said the regular use and widening popularity of the brew was reminiscent of pre-colonial African society.

“Umqombothi was enjoyed widely in African communities before Western beverages were brought onto the market,” Finca said.

 

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