The Politics of Tea…

Tea time

Today I served tea to one of the richest men in South Africa: lawyer, trade union leader, activist, politician and businessman  – Cyril Ramaphosa.   It was a humbling and unplanned experience.  I came in early to work as usual, and found my boss busy around the kitchen area, I asked her who’s coming?  Cyril She said. I heard the announcement on the radio while I was getting ready for work in the morning, but I never expected him to come personally into the studio for the interview. So I offered to help her. When he arrived and while in conversation with my boss I decided to be useful and offered to help her prepare the tea and tea things you know milk, sugar and such like.  We all understandably, didn’t know what he preferred to drink. Tea or coffee with milk, and sugar or sweetener, there are many options.  So I was asked to ask him. His companion  was on the phone so I introduced myself to him  and he had been listening to the radio so he told me so. I thanked him for listening. How do you take your tea sir? Rooibos with no milk or sugar he replied.  He asked me if  the Magoa/bosses would allow him to drink his tea in the studio, in Sepedi.  Yes he was allowed I told him later.    When the time arrived I followed him with his tea to the studio. I served his companion a cup of rooibos too she drank it with sugar and finished it.

Afterwards I did something I never do with newsmakers, I asked to take a picture with him, and used that opportunity to find out  why he drank rooibos the way he asked me to prepare it : sans dule et sucre. He said he does it for health reasons, it’s cleansing he said and has healing properties. I asked how long has he been drinking it, he said oh since 1974, how old are you he asked? 31 I said. Where were you in 1974? he continued asking me, and I said my parents hadn’t even thought of me. In the end I didn’t get the picture despite the several poses. He said it must be him. We both laughed shook hands and he left.  And then?

In 1974 South Africa held General Elections  on April 24, then President John Voster  called the election a year earlier. The National Party won the election by 57 percent and the Progressive Party elected Helen Suzman to Houghton and came second to the national party with a very far  of  by 32 percent. and Rooibos?

1974 ~ Dr. Charlene Marais from the University of the Free State in South Africa conducted extensive research on the healing benefits of Rooibos in the wake of scientific proof of Theron’s anti-spasmodic theory in 1974.

The American Botanical Council has also done extensive research on the herb and you can read more about it right here.

I have been making tea since I was a child.  I remember there was a time when I was maybe four or three, one of my granmother asked my older sister to make her tea, and she was so pleased with it she smirked satisfactorily and exlaimed” Laze Lamndi Itiye lakho nhlanhla” (your tea is delicious, lucky) . I was too young to make tea for anyone at that time but I wished then that I had been the one who made her tea and that she had said those words to me. Sibling rivalry is pointless.  I don’t wish that today. Anyway after that and in growing up we were both forced to make tea, and bring it quickly on our knees to my father whenever he entered the house from work. I hated having to kneel, but kneel we did. When ever we addressed him, which we avoided at all costs.   Things were not good when the tea would be left to  side harldly sipped until it turned cold.  Most times it had nothing to do with the tea-maker ( the tea drinkers are busy being pre-occupied with something other than the tea in front of them)  other times is was just not their cup of tea. There’s no way of knowing.  But tea  making and drinking is serious.

You know someone’s wants to talk serious things  when they ask for tea, and if its clean – no additives – then maybe they are very serious about what they have to say, but they are willing to talk and listen. Tea creates a conducive environment for a conversation, whatever kind.  But you will have to look beyond the obvious events i.e Marikana and ask yourself why would a man of  Ramaphosa’s calibre, a widely respected as a skilful and formidable negotiator and strategist,  best known for building up the biggest and most powerful trade union in South Africa — the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) —agree to leave his many business dealings and agree to do an hour long interview with the Public Broadcaster,  where the public is free to call and ask him any question they want.

Anyway I’m sure there’s nothing to it. But the politics of tea and coffee have permeated my office based career and recently I’ve learnt a very different art of making tea in Senegal which requires amongst other things, a steady hand, incredible amount of patience and stamina  and pure alchemy.  Tea making is like a conversation in and of itself without any actual words being exchanged. It’s a kinder language, a way of communicating were both parties continue to live. Isn’t that nice? How do you feel. The way the tea tastes tells the drinker how the teamaker feels (personally, politically). The tea maker knows  how the tea drinker feels  (politically, personally) with what’s left in the cup.

And sometimes all this tea drinking is just that: tea drinking.

His cup was half full.

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