Civil society stakeholders hailed the agreement as a milestone both for benefit sharing and community wellbeing.
Lesle Jansen from Natural Justice, an NGO that specialises in environmental and human rights law, noted the many hurdles involved in formalising the agreement.
“Getting community consensus was a massive undertaking,” he said. Another difficulty was facilitating talks between government, industry and traditional leadership.
Pooven Moodley, executive director of Natural Justice, said: “This journey isn’t just about benefit-sharing, but also about healing and justice.”
Negotiations over rooibos benefit-sharing began nine years ago when the SA San Council approached the government with concerns about a lack of recognition of their traditional knowledge of both rooibos and honeybush species.
A subsequent study, commissioned by the department of environmental affairs and launched in 2014, confirmed the San and Khoi claims to indigenous tea knowledge, noting that the species are endemic to the region in which the San and Khoi people have historically lived.
Friday’s ceremony was not all about formal paperwork. Some traditional leaders celebrated the agreement with impromptu traditional dance steps inside a large marquee tent adjoining the !Kwa Ttu San Culture and Education Centre in Yzerfontein.
Among the guests was !’Aru Ikhuisi Piet Berendse, who said it remained to be seen whether the tea agreement would be as tasty as the leaf itself.
“Sometimes there is lots of talk, but let’s wait to see if it turns out as promised,” he said.
Claudia Stagoff-Belfort and Margaret Connolly are student journalists on a School for International Training (SIT) study abroad programme