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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK
Zambians eager for legal home-made beer
Kachasu drinkers
Stephen Chitwa (in black) is a strong supporter of kachasu
By our reporter in Kitwe

Zambians who brew a local beer known as kachasu want the industry to be legalised by the government.

Oil drum used to brew kachasu
Some say that kachasu is unhygienic
The beer is the darling of most unemployed shanty township dwellers who brew the liquor because they cannot afford the more expensive bottled beer.

Kachasu is fondly described as "catch us all" or "bomb" because of its potency - one of the beer's selling points.

Consumer Stephen Chitwa says: ''You don't spend much on kachasu. Just a little will go a long way to getting you drunk.''

Mr Chitwa believes the beer is now so popular that foreigners sometimes visit their drinking houses to sample the local brew.

Untaxed

The local beer, though untaxed, is a big industry in Zambia and is expanding very quickly.

Brewers want the enterprise legalised and have formed an association to spearhead their fight.

Crates of beer
Kachasu fans complain of unfair competition from imported beer

They are bitter over what they say is the government's blacklisting of a good beer product which has the potential to be exported, earning the country much needed foreign exchange.

One kachasu brewer in Ndola's Chipulukusu township, Jason Mumbi, says he is sad to see a Malawi-made spirit called "Number One" that is just as strong as kachasu being imported into Zambia.

''The 'Number One' spirit is brewed by local people like us who are being funded by their government in co-operatives, why can't the same happen to us?" he asks.

Battery acid

He called on the Zambia authorities to support the local trade rather than simply condemning them.

Mr Mumbi denies allegations that some kachasu brewers add battery acid or fertiliser to give the drink its bite.

''People would die if we added any of those substance," he protested.

He said the beer is made from maize meal porridge, germinating maize seeds and sugar.

The ingredients are mixed into a paste and left to ferment for seven days. Others may want to add some yeast to help the fermentation process.

Drunkenness

On the seventh day, he says the contents are boiled on an open fire.

Mr Mumbi cautions that the drink can cause drunkenness but added consumers should not over-indulge.

"Even the other legally consumed beers have the same complications if you don't follow the rules.''

A research on the composition and safety of kachasu has been conducted by a group of lecturers at the University of Zambia.

They found it has about 20 to 30% ethanol - pure alcohol.

The researchers say that if flavoured with fruits, it could be made less potent.

Basic hygiene

They discovered that the beer contains no major contaminants but added that basic hygiene must be maintained.

For now though, the government's ban on the drink stays in force, with those caught facing fines.

It insists the product in its current form does not meet basic health standards.

But there have been no reports of people dying as a result of drinking kachasu in Zambia.

Mr Mumbi says the beer has been unfairly stigmatised.

See also:

07 Nov 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
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31 Aug 01 | Africa
Profile: Zambia's Mr 'Integrity'
13 Dec 00 | Africa
Beer lizard millions disappear
21 Jun 01 | Africa
Zambians celebrate eclipse
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