South Africa: Plant Matter - How Rooibos Brought Justice to SA's Indigenous

A cup of rooibos tea, with rooibos tea leaves (file photo).

An industry-wide agreement under the UN's Nagoya Protocol has just recognised the claim of five Khoisan groups to their heritage. This is more than any South African government has ever done. The agreement poses a set of tough questions not just to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the legislation that's languishing on his desk, but to the government and its strategy for climate adaptation. And it's all because of rooibos.


"By recognising our knowledge, they are actually recognising our identity."

For Oom Cecil Le Fleur, chairperson of the National Khoi & San Council, this was the crux of the matter. The smile on his face was half wry and half astonished, an expression of the irony that a medicinal plant -- a tea -- was about to do for his people what no government of South Africa ever had. That is, deliver on the Khoisan's rightful claim to their heritage and to their land.

It was not a statement that Oom Cecil made lightly. As the great-grandson of Adam Kok III, the indigenous chief who had trekked across the Drakensberg to establish the independent state of Griqualand East in the early 1860s, the struggle for recognition was hardwired into his...

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