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Pineapple beer draws even 'smartest of gentlemen driving fancy cars'

Township 'speakeasies' selling pineapple beer are doing a roaring trade during the 'prohibition' induced by Covid-19.
Township 'speakeasies' selling pineapple beer are doing a roaring trade during the 'prohibition' induced by Covid-19.
Image: Kimberly Mutandiro/GroundUp

The road to Lungile’s* shack in the informal settlement of Tsakane in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, is bumpy and flooded with mud from recent rains.

Away from police scrutiny, she is doing a roaring trade in pineapple beer (mbamba) during the lockdown.

When GroundUp visited the shack in the late afternoon, there were four regular customers in one room. In another room, the 15 20-litre containers she uses to store her beer were empty. She had one half-full container left.

Customers come to buy from as early as 5am, she said.

The lockdown and ban on alcohol sales has sent pineapple sales soaring as the demand for pineapple beer rises.

“l sell at a wholesale price of R43 per five-litre container to those who want to resell, and R10 per one litre to my usual customers,” said Lungile.

When she heard authorised beer outlets would be closed and the sale of liquor prohibited, she saw a way to maximise the profits she made from sales of beer.

She said she stocked up on oatmeal and yeast to ferment the beer. She buys the other two ingredients – bread and pineapples – daily.

“Before lockdown l used to work cleaning a house in Brakpan. I sold beer at night and during the weekend. Now that l do not go to work, selling beer has become my full-time job. Otherwise my children would starve.”

Lungile, who is a beer drinker herself, said she is receiving visits from her family more often now that they cannot find beer in the shops.

She offers her relatives free beer and they drink together and chat.

“What else can l do?” 

In another section in the settlement, Anna* has three customers.

She also reported that her place has been busier than usual. She said recently she has sold to strangers who arrive in cars to buy her pineapple beer and drive away.

“Even the smartest of gentlemen driving fancy cars, who normally drink expensive beer, are coming to me because they can’t find liquor anywhere,” Anna said.

She has lost count of how many 20-litre containers she is selling daily. 

She said it is becoming difficult to find some ingredients because of high demand from beer brewers in the area.

“Pineapples have gone up to R30 a piece because the people we buy from are also trying to maximise the opportunity.”

Anna will qualify for a pension in November when she turns 60. Meanwhile, selling beer is her only source of income.

In the street, the sound of soft jazz music can be heard. The front entrance of the house, where pineapple beer customers used to gather, is closed.

However, this famous home-brewed beer joint is not shut for the lockdown. At the back of the house a brick wall has been built, behind which several customers chat and listen to music while they drink beer. In another room more customers are talking and drinking. On the floor, ashtrays are filled with cigarette stubs.

“As you can see, I’m busier than ever. Young men who normally drink bottled beer are coming to my place,” says beer brewer Sipho*.

Sipho is looking after seven family members and said he has no option but to continue selling beer. In addition to ensuring his dependents have food, he must raise money to send his daughter back to college when the lockdown finishes.

One customer said: “In other places the police come and spill the beer or take away the containers. I've never faced such a problem here. I always carry a mask with me, but I must take it off to drink my beer.” 

Another Tsakane brewer said her beer containers were recently emptied by police and she is now getting stock from a relative.

“Right now there is nothing else l can do. I’m unemployed and this is the only way I know how to survive - lockdown or no lockdown.”

* Not their real names


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