A plate of sadza costs anything between $1 and $7 in Zimbabwean restaurants putting it out of reach for many of the Zimbabweans who live well below the poverty datum line. Depending on where you like to eat you are likely to be set back a whooping $7 for a plate of sadza and relish in upmarket Zimbabwean restaurants or just $1 in the shanty industrial sites of Harare.
The cost of living for an average Zimbabwean is at $512 but the average civil servant earns around $300. The majority of the citizens are unemployed or work in the informal sector where the income is far less. Many have to improvise on their meals. Some carry supper ‘left –overs’ to work while others carry bread and relish ‘left overs’ for a snack during lunch breaks. For bachelors, they have to depend on the company canteens for their lunch.
Most Zimbabweans are unable to afford 3 meals a day as they have very little disposable income. The plight is even worse for students and other groups in the society that do not earn any income. This is why many have now resorted to drinking maheu to supplement their diet. Maheu is a starch drink that is filling. Just a cup of the drink is enough to give one energy for the whole day.
Traditionally maheu was taken to the fields by peasant farmers who would then have a ‘sip’ during breaks. The idea was to replenish energy for the daunting task of tilling the land. It was also preferred for its filling characteristics that made one feel like they had eaten a large meal.
The food value of the drink has transcended the test of time as it has been passed from one generation to another. It was not a drink for the poor of our society but shared among the rich and also poor.
But today, it is seen as a cheap substitute for other drinks. It has also become popular for its filling characteristics and high nutrient content. Many now prefer to have this drink instead of spending more money of breakfast and lunch meals in canteens.
Growing up in the dusty streets of Dangamvura we had a song where we denigrated maheu saying it was equivalent of tea for the poorer folk working in the farms. It was not a drink that one wanted to be associated with in the urban areas as it would diminish one’s status in the township. You could find ‘mumera’ (sorghum) in the supermarkets to make this drink but very few households made maheu at least from where I grew up.
‘Just for R5, I am able to have maheu and spend the whole day without eating anything else’ said Skhangekile Moyo a student in Harare. I cannot afford the $1 charged at the canteen for a plate of sadza’ she added.
The drink is affordable and within the reach of many Zimbabweans who have found the economic situation very rough. The numbers back this up. Maheu sales have been outperforming other beverages and companies have invested huge in maheu plants.
But others insist that maheu is better than the fizzy drinks that some people buy. ‘The drink is healthier and I would go for it anytime ‘ said a contributor on the issue on social network site Facebook. It’s not everyone who drink maheu out of economic hardship. This is a drink that has passed the test of time and passed from one generation to another. Those who think the drink is for the poorer folk show a lack of appreciation for their heritage.
In Zambia, maheu became popular with locals although the sales have slowed down of late. It used to be big when it first came on the market but now people are not as crazy about it anymore ‘said Paul Shalala a journalist in Zambia. Perhaps the commercialisation of maheu in Zimbabwe has created the same excitement connecting people with their roots.
More Zimbabweans have turned to this drink and food processing companies are capitalising on the surge in demand. Whether the surge is being driven by economic hardships or Zimbabweans are simply returning to their roots by drinking a beverage that has been passed from generation to generation is unknown. For now maheu making companies are happy for the situation to remain as it is.