Tea Stories: Cultivating Value on the Margin in South Africa’s Western Cape


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




The story of South African rooibos tea is, in one sense, a story about a plant, an indigenous crop with specific qualities that make it valuable and intensely political. Yet, it is also a story of cultural and geographic margins—of globalization and isolation, ‘whiteness’ and ‘colouredness,’ migrants and indigeneity. Finally, it is a story of economic marginality and the ways these tensions are experienced in rural South Africa through a meaning-laden, niche commodity. By exploring how residents reject a temporally incarcerating cultural indigeneity and instead claim a heritage based on an indigenous plant, this research examines how rooibos is entangled with political, economic, and environmental struggles over land, labor, and social belonging in South Africa and in a globalizing world.