Meet the entrepreneur putting South African traditional beer brewers on the global market

Ben Ebuka June 20, 2023
Reitumetse is currently working on creating an enabling environment and access to the market for indigenous women brewing traditional beer. Photo credit: Eat Play Drink Capetown

Founder of Kwela Brews, Reitumetse Kholumo, is working to ensure indigenous knowledge systems and brewers of traditional alcohol (Umqombothi) earn their rightful place in South Africa’s formal economy and gain a presence in international markets.

She hopes to tackle some of the challenges and monopolies in the formal alcohol market, such as pay disparities.

While visiting one of the top South African brewers on a field trip during her second year in chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town, Reitumetse observed the lack of representation in the industry.

The young student was studying bio-processing and became curious about local African beverages, which influenced her decision to seek brewing lessons from her grandmother.

She later studied humanities as an elective to understand how engineering impacts the broader public, specifically on the role of the profession in the apartheid.

“I then looked at things a bit differently, being conscious of the fact that if I become a brewer, I’m just one brewer, but there are so many African women who are brewing on the ground, and the engineering solutions that exist do not address their problems,” she told Forbes Africa.

She entered the informal industry with the mindset that the challenges bordered on efficiency and safety, however, she soon learned from fellow women brewers that the issues are multi-faceted.

“When I met more women, their issues were more related to the market itself – they don’t have consistent buyers.”

Aside from limited buyers, there was the prevalence of low-cost beers competing at an advantage with the traditionally-brewed brands.

Reitumetse is currently working on creating an enabling environment and access to the market for indigenous women brewing traditional beer. One of the ways she employed to solve their main problem – distribution, is to become their distributor; finding regular buyers in low-income communities.

She is collaborating with the women to optimize the processes and adopt new practices regularly for increased efficiency.

“The women that brew authentic traditional African beer, they know how to brew safely. Efficiency is something that we are building on in a way that will complement their indigenous knowledge and how they usually brew,” she said.

“So, what we do is we pay the women for the brews, and we also supply them with the ingredients that they like. They’re my bosses, if anything.”

In 2022, her company – Kwela Brews, began testing her products in the market, including moving to Jazz in the Native Yards – a South African music concert hosting local musicians in the Gugulethu township of Cape Town.

Kwela Brews also partnered with a local restaurant in Stellenbosch that has a huge number of international customers, including students and tourists.

Reitumetse is currently studying for her master’s degree in chemical engineering at Stellenbosch in Western Capetown and is most concerned about the beneficiation of local bio-products as it pertains to nutraceuticals and therapeutics.

She is happy that the different tastes derived from each batch of her brew indicate a lot of potential in the brewing industry in Africa.

“What I want more than anything is to create a space where indigenous brews are appreciated, as they come from the indigenous knowledge-holders,” she explained.

“Different women from different tribes will have different ways of brewing, and this is all over sub-Saharan Africa. So I feel like there’s a lot of potential there.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: June 20, 2023

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