Thursday, 15 July 2010

Harriet Lamb visits South Africa's first Fairtrade cafe

South Africa is slowly waking up from its long football party. There are fewer fans prancing the streets in bright colours, vast television screens are being taken down and the vuvuzela sellers are trying to shift their remaining stock. Mind you, one shopkeeper tells me that he sold 700 yesterday as departing fans snapped up the year’s most popular present!

Apparently Vuvuzela has been voted the word of the 2010 World Cup by global linguists who said that the tournament will be best remembered for the naem of South Africa's trumpet. Meanwhile, in a post-party reflective mood, the papers are full of articles such as in today's (13.7.10) Times: 'The World Cup has accustomed us to achieving grand dreams'. The success, writes journalist Raenette Taljaard, means that there is a new found intolerance for mediocrity, calling on the government to apply the same success to all Government projects.

I’m troubled by how unfair it all is.  No, I’m not talking about the daylight robbery of Ghana – or even about international trade. But rather the fact that I have left London glorying in a heat wave while in South Africa I am shivering in my cotton dresses that so rarely get an outing. As a self-confessed sun-junkie, it’s not very funny. In fact, things so are so bad I decided I’ll have to buy some tights so trek off to Woolworths, which is the South African reincarnation of  Marks and Spencers – but minus the Fairtrade commitment. I’m getting a warm glow from covering my legs in nylon but it is disappointing to see that there is not a Fairtrade product in sight. Not one. A far cry from M&S in England with all its tea and coffee, sugar and jams being Fairtrade. But maybe that is all set to change.

To warm up we go to visit Bean There which has to be one of the nicest cafes in the world. It is also the first company to offer Fairtrade coffee in South Africa, and one of the few Fairtrade coffee roasters in Africa. The cafe is in a trendy revamped old building, with the coffee beans piled up in sacks in the corner. Stamped on one is Coopac, one of the cooperatives that they buy from. And the coffee is roasted right there, with steam and creamy smells pouring out all around you. The brother and sister dynamic duo behind the company join us over a really very delicious cappuncino and tell the story of their love affair with coffee and  Fairtrade.  It all with the departure from a corporate job in favour of back-packing around the world. In Canada someone was running a Fairtrade coffee shop and combining work and fun seemed the way to go.

Now they are leading the way for Fairtrade in South Africa, they are trying to get their coffee on to the supermarket shelves too.

Freeman, one of their baristas, brings over our coffee. When Bean There hosted a day for Fairtrade campaigners and volunteers, the cafe was very quiet. So Freeman sneaked in and sat listening to the training programme.  That was it.  He was hooked.  He stayed the whole day and is now a signed up campaigner, proudly wearing his Fairtade badge and off to a wine promotion this week.

In fact, wine is the main Fairtrade labelled product available in South Africa. The labelling organisation only got going a year ago and already has 13 companies signed up with more on their way soon. There’s enormous interest in getting Fairtrade going in South Africa – among companies, Government, NGOs and trade unions alike. No-one is doubting the scale of the challenge as Fairtrade is pretty much unknown here.  But the public seem up for it – Bean There has 6,500 people on their mailing list and 2,500 active Facebook debates on all things coffee and fair.

Boudewijn Goossens is keen that Fairtrade should be an African Affair – with products sources on the continent as much as possible. He points to the excitement that united the whole of Africa around the World Cup: everyone was cheering Ghana. And in the same way he’s convinced everyone will get behind Fairtrade goods from within Africa.

You certainly feel that, as the world cup slogan has it, Ke Nako – meaning Celebrate Africa's Humanity.

Meanwhile, an email comes through from the UK: The race horse Fair Trade came second in his race last week! Go, Fair trade, go... I'll just have to celebrate with a glass of Fairtrade South African wine....

Keep up with the latest news from Bean There Coffee at

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