New laws or not- traditional sorghum beer remains our identity

The 36-year-old from Zondi in Soweto, who is owner of All Rounder Theme events that organises themed parties and provides catering, said the new law regulating the making of umqombothi would not affect her business. 

Ndlovu said she introduced umqombothi in her business about two months ago when her clients kept asking her to make it for their events. 

Ndlovu’s house was a hive of activity on Wednesday as she prepared umqombothi for traditional events over the long weekend. She said she got hired to make umqombothi for funerals, weddings and other ceremonies

“I was not even aware about this new law but for me it is fair as that is a natural way of brewing umqombothi. I am still a bit confused as to what are government’s plans to ensure that the law is followed. I mean, they will not be there when people are making umqombothi at their houses and adding acid and everything else to give their umqombothi a kick,” she said.

Ndlovu said her clients placed orders five days before their events.

“This is because I still make umqombothi the natural way. I only use maize, maize malt and a beer carton. I am also behind mogodu Mondays, where I sell umqombothi with ice-cream. However, we do not cater for cultural events because you cannot have a person from a different clan name preparing umqombothi for another clan. We sell umqombothi for R150 per 5 litres, R250 for 10 litres and R350 for 20 litres,” she said.

“I am a traditional person and I have never thought that Jozi people will love my umqombothi. However, I get two to four orders for the weekend and people cannot stop talking about it.”

Apiwe Nxusana-Mawela, a brewmaster who is also the first person in the country to receive a national diploma in clear fermented beverages, said the law was going to limit the innovation of the making of umqombothi.

“The liquor products act is applicable to alcoholic products that are for sale and not those produced for own consumption. The umqombothi brewed for traditional ceremonies would thus not fall under this. This will limit innovation, especially from craft brewers who may want to explore different ways of brewing and use of traditional ingredients in their brews,” she said. I cant make my beer as traditional African beer with sorghum and add hops as they do in Uganda and Tanzania.”

Nxusana-Mawela said even though the law would not affect her directly, it might affect how she does things in the future.

“I currently brew a sorghum Pilsner under my brand Tolokazi beer, which is currently classified as beer because it has more than 30% malted barley and only 10% sorghum and is hopped.

According to the bill [new law] this means that I can’t make my beer as traditional African beer with sorghum and add hops.”

Nkosi Jongisilo Pokwana ka Menziwa, director at Vusizwe Foundation for historical research, said the government had tried to find middle ground in how umqombothi is made.

Image (Traditional beer – it’s a norm in SA).

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