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Steeped in Heritage:

The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea

By Sarah Fleming Ives

South African rooibos tea is a commodity of contrasts. Renowned for its healing properties, the rooibos plant grows in a region defined by the violence of poverty, dispossession, and racism. And while rooibos is hailed as an ecologically indigenous commodity, it is farmed by people who struggle to express “authentic” belonging to the land: Afrikaners, who espouse a “white” African indigeneity, and “coloureds,” who are characterized either as the mixed-race progeny of “extinct” Bushmen or as possessing a false identity, indigenous to nowhere. In Steeped in Heritage Sarah Ives explores how these groups advance alternate claims of indigeneity based on the cultural ownership of an indigenous plant. This heritage-based struggle over rooibos shows how communities negotiate landscapes marked by racial dispossession within an ecosystem imperiled by climate change and precarious social relations in the postapartheid era.

Series: 
  • New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century
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