Food part and parcel of our culture

Each week I must confront the question of how best to utilise this space. I strive to pay homage to the words of my high school English teacher: “Every word in a passage must ‘earn its keep’.”

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Out of respect for the readership and followers of the column, my fervent hope is that I write something that helps shift the narrative on society, art and culture.
Though it is indeed a terribly stressful engagement, the exercise is gratifying because of the feedback from some of the readers such as Ignatius Mabasa, a notable Zimbabwean writer. Thus, it is not a light thing for me to put the column together.

This week I must add my own take on two main cultural phenomena. One pertains to an iconic drink and the other relates to the rise of technology. This piece is essentially about the intersection of culture and technology. I will do a couple of those in the future.

Our brands

The French have their fries, the Italians have their pizza and the Americans have their burgers and hotdogs. We have Mazoe! Yes, you may add amacimbi as a unique Zimbabwean delicacy, but Mazoe is a very beloved man-made cordial drink.

Mazoe is like Lobel’s to a certain extent. These are brands which are now embedded within the pysche and cultural life of our nation. They have become generic names for the food groups they represent. As such, whereas the name Lobel’s has meant good bread, Mazoe means great cordial drink.

The love affair, especially with Mazoe, is emotional and the drink is an important “member of the family”. It is like the trusty, old and dear grandmother whom everyone loves.

It is indispensable. Small wonder, then, that there was a furore over the company’s decision to change the ingredients of the drink. Schweppes have since reversed their decision to replace the sugar with artificial sweeteners. The message from the people was: keep it as it is.

The Mazoe story

The name “Mazoe” is by some accounts a European distortion of the name “Manzou”, simply meaning place of elephants.

Located some 60km outside Harare, Mazoe Estates was a project of the colonising force of the British South Africa Company. Its origins were around 1899 and by 1923 it was a fully fledged project producing oranges and even exporting orange trees to the then Union of South Africa.

The estate was watered by the Mazoe Dam, whose construction began in 1918 and was completed in 1920. The engineering company was Douglas Fox and partners. Thousands of African labourers gave life and limb in the building of the dam. The following is an excerpt from a site I found when digging up on this famous brand’s origins:

“The fertile Mazoe Valley had from time immemorial been a fever-ridden wilderness, but determination, medical science, hard work and vision transformed it into what it is today — a symbol of white enterprise in Africa and one of the richest agricultural areas of Rhodesia.

“Native labour is employed throughout the estate, under white supervision, and the current rate of wages is from five shillings to 10s for picannins (African kids), and from 10s to £1 or more for adults per month plus food. The cost of food may be taken as 7s 6d per head per month. The food consists of maize meal and salt supplemented by vegetables and meat.

“White labour commands from £10 to £20 per month, according to the ability of the employee and the class of work on which he is employed. On the Mazoe Estates, there are 30 European employees and 500 to 600 native labourers …”

The power of social media

The reaction to Schweppes’ move to replace the natural sugar with sweeteners was robust. Activists raised their “placards” to “demonstrate” against the “unilateral” action of messing up with that famous mainstay of Zimbabwean family life over decades.

But it is important for all concerned to further explore a question raised by a colleague writer when they asked whether Mazoe would have doubled down on their decision were it not for social media and its online community or “family”. Wisely, the company listened instead of digging in. Mazoe Orange Crush will have two versions “clearly marked” as per the different ingredients going forward.

Business in age of access

The recent incident over Mazoe is proof of how our marketplace has forever changed. Governments and corporations cannot afford to ignore the pervasive power of the Internet of Things and this is my current favourite author and business thinker Jeffrey Rifkin’s central motif in the books he has written.
In the book The Age of Access, published in 2000, Rifkin mooted the concept of a society moving inexorably to an environment in which ownership of property in markets and access to services in networks are converging to birth a sharing economy. In this sense, consumers “co-own” brand Mazoe though in actual fact Whaterton Investments owns 51% of brand owner Schweppes Zimbabwe with the remaining stake being owned by top beverage maker Delta Corporation. Whaterton Investments is a local consortium jointly owned by management and employees.

3rd Industrial Revolution

“The Third Industrial Revolution communication/energy paradigm, because of its lateral orientation, flourishes in borderless open spaces.

“Like every other economic revolutions that preceded it, the Third Industrial Revolution is going to recast many of our most basic assumptions about how the world works. The Third Industrial Revolution changes our sense of relationship to and responsibility for our fellow human beings.”

These are quotes from the book Third Industrial Revolution by Jeffrey Rifkin and serious business leaders and presidents of whole countries are consulting him with good reason.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of them. The world is already very different and more converged than we even fully grasp. The global village is here.