Brewing a Revolution: Meet Reitumetse Kholumo, the Woman Empowering Traditional African Beer Brewers!
Entrepreneur of the Month: Reitumetse Kholumo
By Cebelihle Mthethwa.
In a bid to preserve ancient traditions and create employment while at it, entrepreneur Reitumetse Kholumo founded Kwela Brews, which is a for-profit social enterprise. They support homebrewers of traditional African beer to produce customarily nutritious beverages safely, efficiently, and profitably.
Founded in 2021, Kwela Brews collaborate with home brewers of traditional African beer, also known as Umqombothi. They also act as a distribution channel by taking the traditional beer to events, markets and local restaurants, thus, enabling market access for home brewers.
According to Kholumo, her business benefits women in the Kayamandi township, who have, for centuries, turned to home brewing to make an income for themselves. Growing up in the Free State, with her grandmother, who herself was a home brewer, and with the aid of her studies in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Kholumo wanted to find a way to produce traditional beer better and preserve the tradition.
“Over the years, traditional home brewers have been neglected by the alcohol industry, so our business gives them a platform to improve their product and introduce them to other markets.”
The business had an official launch on April 29, which Kholumo described as a success, as the home brewers had an opportunity to see how their consumers were engaging with their product. However, prior to this, the Kwela team spent the last year conducting market-testing by going to jazz events; this was symbolic of the origin of their name Kwela, which is predominantly known as a popular jazz dance of the South African townships. “Kwela-kwela” was also slang for a police van, so Kwela also reminds us of the history of police harassment towards women who were homebrewers in townships across South Africa.
“Traditional beer is a part of our history that feeds into the storytelling, but people have not tasted traditional beer before. So, market testing allowed us to tap into those unknown territories, such as South Africans who don’t live in townships as well as international people,” said Kholumo.
“Our consumers are people who appreciate indigenous Knowledge systems and appreciate indigenous food. Traditional African beer is high in vitamin B, Amino acids, and probiotics (because it is sold while it is fermenting). It is also a wholesome part of our tradition that we at Kwela Brews are trying to continue,” she added.
The social entrepreneur described her entrepreneurial journey as one that has beautiful and one that taught her quite a lot about her resilience.
“I know that regardless of the hurdles that may come, I will always rise above the hurdles and stay true to my goals. I have also learnt to lean on the village; as they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and it has really taken a village to raise Kwela Brews.”
Kholumo adds that starting a business while you are young is a great idea, because you still have a lot more room to grow and evolve; however, because she is still a student completing her master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Stellenbosch University, and the only team member of Kwela Brews, she found that her studies ended up taking all time. She would not have enough time to focus on the business. Therefore, this led to the business going through a phase of start-stop and eventually starting again.
Although the business is still fairly young, it reached some remarkable milestones, from partnering with the Amazink Live in Kayamandi to winning the Social Innovation Idea prize in 2021, hosted by the SAB Foundation at UCT, and also receiving a feature in Forbes Africa.
Technology has played a major role in the growth of Kwela Brews and has helped tackle unemployment in townships. The business uses lab testing for now to ensure no harmful substances are in the brews, but brewing machinery is in the pipeline.
“Going forward, we want to see Kwela Brews partner with more restaurants, such as the Amazink Live, and offer traditional beer on demand. We also want to collaborate with the Stellenbosch pop-up markets. By doing so, we enable market access to our home brewers, thus creating more employment opportunities,” noted Kholumo.