Reitumetse Kholumo, the founder of Kwela Brews, is aiming to guarantee that indigenous knowledge systems and traditional alcohol (Umqombothi) brewers earn their rightful place in South Africa’s official economy and achieve a presence in international markets.
She intends to address some of the formal alcohol market’s issues and monopolies, such as pay discrepancies.
During her second year of chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town, Reitumetse saw a lack of representation in the business while on a field trip to one of the biggest South African breweries.
The young student was studying bio-processing when she grew interested in local African beverages, which led her 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 a lack of purchasers, there was a prevalence of low-cost beers competing at a disadvantage with traditional-brewed brands.
Reitumetse is actively aiming to create an enabling environment and market access for indigenous women who brew traditional beer. She became their distributor, finding regular consumers in low-income communities, as one of the methods she used to overcome their main challenge, distribution.
She works with the women to streamline procedures and implement new practices on a regular basis to increase productivity.
“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.”
Her company, Kwela Brews, began testing her products in the market in 2022, including moving to Jazz in the Native Yards, a South African music performance featuring native musicians in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township.
Kwela Brews also collaborated with a Stellenbosch-based restaurant that serves a large number of international consumers, including students and tourists.
Reitumetse is now pursuing a master’s degree in chemical engineering at Stellenbosch University in Western Capetown, and she is particularly interested in the utilization of indigenous bio-products for nutraceuticals and treatments.
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.”