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GSSC Seminar Series July 26, 2022


A Small Industry with Adverse Impact on Communities: Exclusions in the Introduction of Honeybush into the Capitalist World Economy in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Sthembile Ndwandwe (University of Cape Town)



Honeybush utilization continues to be tainted by the legacy of oppressive histories that contributes to the unequal distribution of costs and benefits amongst those involved in its use. The honeybush plant (Cyclopia Vent) is endemic to the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa and has been used for centuries as a herbal tea beverage by Indigenous communities and locals in the Eastern and Western Cape regions. The emergence of honeybush into the world economy intersected with colonial looting of land and forests where the honeybush resource grew. This was accompanied by racialized social hierarchies and merchant capitalism which privileged universal “scientific” knowledge, export markets, and European settler societies. In this seminar I focus on the 19th and 20th century introduction of honeybush to the world economy to demonstrate early forms of exclusion and how these have disproportionately affected communities residing in regions where honeybush grows. Data is derived from archival material and life history interviews in one of the harvester communities. Results show that epistemic, land, social, and economic exclusions have been maintained in the use of honeybush from the 1800s through to its domestication in 1990s which serves as a blueprint for the contemporary industry. The results also demonstrate the forms of resistance exercised by harvester communities who have been pushed to the margins as a result of this exclusion. The seminar discussion will be accompanied by sips of herbal and caffeinated teas as we revisit some of the 19th century debates in South Africa on what qualified as a tea of commerce.


Short Bio:
Sthembile is visiting us on a 6-month academic exchange program. She is a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape Town. Her candidature is associated with the Bio-Economy Research Chair which responds to the social and environmental dimensions of the bioeconomy. Her research explores the ways in which harvester communities in the biodiversity-rich Garden Route and Langkloof regions of South Africa have been marginalised and excluded from the use of honeybush in repressive regime, continuing through the current democratic regime. Sthembile is a STEPS-Centre summer school alumnus – a prestigious summer school that has taught her methods and skills she uses to tackle her complex topic, she is one of 15 young Africans selected in a Charles R. Wall African Policy Fellowship run by the African Wildlife Foundation and the United Nations Environmental Program. She is also a member of the GEF Small Grants Programme National Steering Committee, which focuses on community projects located in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve in Limpopo as well as Wildlife Economy projects across South Africa. She is part of the team that is developing national guidelines for benefit sharing that leads to conservation and sustainable use (BS4CSU project) and she participates in the honeybush community of practice. Before enrolling for her doctoral research, she worked with indigenous communities in the Western Cape Province in South Africa, where she piloted the National Recordal Systems initiative, a government initiative that documents and seek to preserve indigenous knowledge.