The Heiveld Co-operative
On the windswept plateau of the South Bokkeveld in the Northern Cape lies the small village of Nieuwoudtville. Situated on the rim of the western Karoo, the vegetation here is rich in succulents, geophytes and fynbos. Despite the natural beauty of this land, the climate is harsh with little rainfall, and poverty has long dogged the local communities. But thriving in this unforgiving terrain are vast tracts of wild rooibos, and it is from this indigenous plant that many local farmers are making a living.
The Heiveld Co-operative started in 2001 with 14 members. In 2009, funding of R200 000 by the Old Mutual Foundation contributed to the purchase of a tractor and a construction of a second tea court (a flat open area on which the chopped rooibos is left to ‘sweat’ and dry), increasing production and improving efficiency. The co-operative has now grown to 65 members and exports high quality organic rooibos tea to nice fair trade and organic markets in the northern hemisphere.
Rooibos farmer Hermanus Johannes Fortuin is a mountain of a man, brown and warm like the earth. Born and raised in the area, he’s 47 and married with eight children. “I’ve been farming my whole life,” he says, “it’s what I do.” Hermanus is a member of the Heiveld Co-operative, a collective of small-scale rooibos farmers who are successfully exporting their organic, antioxidant-rich tea to international markets.
Life was difficult before the co-op existed. “Ons het baie gesukkel,” says Hermanus. “Die meeste van my kinders het kaalvoet grootgeword.”* To make ends meet he used to work as a farm labourer, doing his own small-scale farming on leased land, when possible. The tea he produced was good, but without direct access to markets he had to sell his crop to larger commercial farmers at a greatly reduced price.
Joining the co-operative has changed that for Hermanus. “Now I can provide for my family,” he says with quiet pride.
“We must look after this land for our children,” says Oom Barry Koopman, official tea maker for the Heiveld Co-operative. He has lively eyes and a face that’s crinkled and lined. His oupa [grandfather] taught him everything that he knows about making rooibos tea. Oom Barry used to work in Cape Town, but came back to Nieuwoudtville about 13 years ago. He wouldn’t go back to city living for anything, he loves living here and working the land.
“Sometimes when we’re chopping the fynbos,” he says, “you can smell that it’s started to sweat. It’s as if it’s so ready, it almost wants to become tea.” Reaching his hands deep in the rich, red rooibos, he sniffs it, pours it through his fingers. “Ek wil die ou sien wat hom beter kan maak,” he boasts. “Hierdie is goudvelde, dis die Suid-Bokkeveld se goud.”*
* “I’d like to see anyone who can make it better. These are fields of gold, this is the gold of the South Bokkeveld.”
Recipe for iced rooibos tea
1/3 jug rooibos tea
1/3 jug red grape juice
1/3 jug Sprite or Lemonade
1. Brew tea nice and strong, remove teabags and add red grape juice.
2. Let mixture cool and sit for a while. Add slices of lemon.
3. Service in a glass with ice-cold Sprite or lemonade to give it a nice bubbly fizz.