Despite the advent of democracy in 1994, in 1999 the coloured members of the Suid Bokkeveld community were still excluded from significant market access, influence in political decision making processes and access to information and knowledge crucial to the long-term sustainability of their enterprises and of their community. Material poverty was wide-spread.
In 1998 the Director of the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture invited the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) to work with the officials of the Department to assist in developing its capacity to work with farmers in a more participatory and ‘bottom-up’ manner. Following a request from the leaders of the two disputing factions, EMG in partnership with Indigo development & change agreed to design a developmental intervention.
The intention of the two NGOs was to support a community-based development process that would sustain both the livelihoods and the natural resources of the community. They worked collaboratively with local people who were eager to engage in planning and taking action towards a positive outcome. A community-wide meeting was held on the farm Melkkraal on 7 March 1999, in the course of which participants defined common principles to guide future interactions. These principles and the values underlying them have shaped the development process since that time. The agreed principles were:
- Involvement in any project activity should include contribution and benefit.
- People’s vision, enthusiasm and contribution should be mobilised before benefits are achieved.
- The least advantaged should benefit the most.
- The project should benefit the local community, and the wider community.
- Everybody undertakes to work together in the spirit of mutual respect.
- There should be transparency regarding all project documentation.
The NGOs working in the Suid Bokkeveld believed that interactive participation was a good approach in this community that lacked broad experience of collective self-organisation, and could best result in self-mobilisation. This process led to the establishment of a vision for development, and eventually to the founding of the Heiveld Co-operative. The 14 founding members of the Heiveld wanted to start a business that they all owned that would be governed democratically and would enable them to have their own tea court and to access markets with their products.
The Heiveld initially rented a tea processing facility from a large-scale farmer in the area and entered into a three-year contract with the European company to supply organic rooibos produced under fair trade conditions. After three years the Heiveld had secured and paid for its own organic certification, and was able to enter the market in its own right as an exporter. Over the years the Heiveld has invested in building up the business and supporting the sustainable production of members (soil erosion control, training in organic production, provision of organic rooibos seed and plants, etc.), as well as providing funds for community development.
The Heiveld Co-operative was established in 2001 to enable the historically disadvantaged rooibos tea farmers of the Suid Bokkeveld area to enhance their incomes and gain direct access to markets. The objects of the Heiveld Co-operative are:
- to organise persons engaged in cultivating rooibos tea in the South Bokkeveld, especially those who have been disadvantaged because of their race, or because they are women, into an association that will be jointly owned and democratically controlled by all its members;
- to promote the interests of its members, by enabling its members to develop a sustainable economic activity, thus promoting the social and economic development of the South Bokkeveld community;
- to market its member’s products;
- to render services to members jointly, in order to reduce production and other costs;
- to obtain professional assistance and/or advice for members;
- to obtain or arrange credit facilities for the production needs of its members;
- to provide training for members and potential members;
- to provide services to contracted clients;
- to propagate the development of a co-operative movement.
In June 2002 the Heiveld Co-operative Limited was registered (registration number 2347). In the same year “Heiveld” was registered as its trademark.
In 2001 the first of the Heiveld’s rooibos was exported successfully to Europe, and in subsequent years the Co-operative developed its trading relationship with a range of “fair trading” partners in the global north.
In 2003 the Heiveld Co-operative obtains its own organic certification and became the first rooibos producer to be registered with the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation (FLO).
Over the years the Heiveld has established a reputation as a consistent producer of the highest quality rooibos.
For historical reasons the members of the Co-operative do not have access to sufficient land to produce the amounts of rooibos required by its markets. Currently, most of the high potential rooibos production areas are owned by large-scale “white” farmers.
The Heiveld Co-operative currently has 74 members, of which 4 are collective businesses owned by members and 30 are women.