Bruce Ndlovu,Sunday Life Correspondent
OVER the past few weeks, Zimbabweans have been up in arms after what is perceived to be a watered down version of Mazoe Orange Crush hit the shelves.
With clenched fists and much gnashing of teeth, many have risen against the strange taste now assaulting their taste buds, with some going as far as calling for a boycott of a juice regarded as a national treasure.
Coca-Cola confirmed Zimbabweans worst fears this week, putting to bed any rumours that the famous concentrate was being tempered with.
“The Coca-Cola Company has taken a global decision to do more when it comes to the issue of obesity. Around the world, eating and drinking less sugar is an increasingly important issue for many people. Sugar in both foods and beverages can be part of a balanced lifestyle if people don’t have too much,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.
That statement, as carefully worded as it was, is unlikely to appease Zimbabweans whose thirst, it seems, can only be quenched by a concentrate that its makers now claim falls below current world health standards.
But how did an orange concentrate come to become a stand-out product on retail shelves? How did a juice become so loved that a mere change in its formula makes it become front page news?
It is hard to pinpoint when Zimbabwe’s love affair with Mazoe began. The juice means different things to different Zimbabweans from all walks of life. To some Mazoe is an illustration of love. Mazoe on its own stings too much, so it’s always advisable to tame its bite with a healthy helping of water. So how one dilutes the concentrate, can thus be taken as a sign of how they feel about the one that they are mixing it for.
Step mothers, famous in Zimbabwean lore for their ill-treatment of children not born of their own womb, have been used as example of hate, as urban legend has it that they usually put too much water while diluting Mazoe in order to fix their step children.
As Zimbabwe’s national drink, the sweet orange taste of Mazoe has provided the flavour at many a Christmas celebration, bringing together long lost relatives during a period in which many meet for the first and only time in a year. A bottle of Mazoe, strong enough to quench an entire family, can at times be the glue that holds together family ties being torn apart by the continuous migration to urban areas.
On the other hand for Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, Mazoe can often feel like a piece of home. In far-away lands, separated from home by land or sea, the contents from a stout bottle of Mazoe may feel like a slice of home for the homesick.
For others, Mazoe is an example of Zimbabwean excellence, and they never hesitate to put it up against other concentrates from other countries. Duals between South Africa’s Oros and Mazoe are common on social media.
As much as they love it, few, however, know the bitter history of the sweet juice that they love so dearly.
Mazoe has its roots in the City of Kings, where Arthur Sturgess founded a soft drink factory in the 1930s, before he realised that there was a market gap for local fruit juice.
His search led him from Bulawayo to Mazowe Valley, where he struggled to come up with a name for the drink he had developed before his wife suggested naming the drink Mazoe, and thus a national treasure was born.
Like everywhere else in colonial Zimbabwe, conditions were not rosy for black workers at Mazowe Citrus Farm, with the farm held up as an example of often heartless colonial drive and ambition.
Today, Schweppes has abandoned the farm where Mazoe was born, as it rots after years of neglect and mismanagement. With its Blackberry, Raspberry, Cream Soda, Peach and Naartjie cousins not as loved by Zimbabweans, Mazoe’s parent company will be hoping that Zimbabweans love affair with the concentrate does not stop and Mazoe does not go the way of the estate that gave birth to it.