Khayelitsha’s Finest Wines
Lindile ‘Lindi’ Ndzaba has a plan. It’s an ambitious plan, and there are people who think he’s crazy, but Lindi isn’t listening. He’s bringing wine appreciation to the sprawling community of Khayelitsha outside Cape Town one tasting at a time.
TEXT AND PHOTO RUSSEL WASSERFALL
The man with a plan, Lindile ‘Lindi’ Ndzaba is taking the message of fine wine appreciation to an audience that usually adds Coke to wine to make it palatable.
“Most places, like taverns, where people order wine it’s so bad that they mix it with Coke so they can drink it,” says Ndzaba, whose own palate has been schooled by his ten or more years in the hospitality game. “I heard a saying once that there’s never a good reason to drink bad wine, and I’m totally down with that,” he adds.
When he started working at Brewers & Union around 2010, it was this really cool, hip bar right in the middle of Cape Town. The big craft beer revolution was just getting going in South Africa then. Ndzaba was struck by the difference in the quality of the beer and wines from what was served in the bars and taverns of Khayelitsha.
Brewers & Union got him interested in the food and beverage side of things, especially in wine. He struck up a friendship with the sommelier, Ewan McKenzie and started to develop a love of good wine. McKenzie always had a new vintage or varietal to sample and there was inevitably a half bottle somewhere to polish off after a shift.
This got Ndzaba thinking. He wondered why he had only ever seen cheap, bad wine on offer anywhere ‘elokishini’ (in the township) and why people didn’t demand better quality. Much of the reason had to do with exposure he concluded and so he formed that crazy plan. He decided to bring fine wine to the people and educate the palates of his neighbours. Lindi launched Khayelitsha’s Finest Wines.
Lindile and his friends take small batch wines bottled under the KFW label to local wine festivals and talk to anyone who will listen about the wine from Khayelitsha. He also works with restaurants around his home like Ciki’s Eatery to encourage people to pair wine with traditional African food.
To understand the enormity of the task he set himself, we need to understand some local history. Khayelitsha is a vast ‘township’ located on the urban fringe of the city of Cape Town. These townships, like Soweto, Alexandria or Inanda on the edge of other South African cities are leavings of the Group Areas Act which defined town planning under the Apartheid regime.
Effectively they were dormitory suburbs for the Black working class who were not permitted to live in the middleclass white suburbs where their employers and ‘masters’ flourished. In the years since liberation, townships have continued to define the socio-economic geography of a society that remains deeply divided between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.
As a Black middle class has burgeoned and either built better homes in their communities, or fled to affluent suburbs, so the townships have changed. The rural poor have migrated to the city looking for opportunity and added to the ever-expanding shack-lands in the townships on its fringes.
Khayelitsha is a vibrant and sometimes dangerous reflection of the melee of life in South Africa for the working poor. It has its own rulebook and dances to the beat of a different drum to the safe White spaces. That means it’s a perfect place for the birth of start-ups like Khayelitsha’s Finest Wines (KFW).
The taverns or ‘shebeens’ in the townships tend to cater to the basic requirements of their customers. Cheap booze, cheap food in big portions and loud music tend to be the order of the day. Some taverns have famously ‘gentrified’ becoming chain operations or tourist attractions, but the ‘corner pub’ in Khayelitsha is unlikely to stock a reasonably drinkable bottle of wine.
KFW is Lindile Ndzaba’s plan to change that. He wants to educate the palates of his neighbours introduce fine wines to his friends and be able to enjoy a decent glass of wine over a meal in a neighbourhood restaurant. It starts by getting people to ask for better wine at their local tavern. Good wine should be accessible and available to all South Africans and not just the preserve of the wealthy or privileged.
Little markets and gatherings in the township are the perfect place to spread the word about wine.
Ndzaba’s first challenge is that it is not in the lexicon of the working class or emerging middle class Khayelitsha residents to drive around the winelands tasting wine. Wine has a different connotation for the region’s poor where the ‘dop system’ was used to regulate and dominate wine farm workers for generations. Wine estates are still seen as the playground of wealthy.
His approach has been to simply get people to taste wine. As often as he can, Ndzaba organizes tastings and wine pairing events. One of his favourite places to do this is Ciki’s Kitchen. This little eatery serves traditional African food and has been very open to him presenting tastings or pairing wines with special menus at their venue.
In order to spread the awareness of what he is doing, Ndzaba launched a wine label of his own bearing the KFW name. He selects wines with the dual emphasis on quality and affordability. The wines are also sourced from estates that are focused on sustainable practices and small batch production. So KFW’s manifest has the advantage of being both affordable and comprised of unusual and hard-to-find varietals and vintages.
Distributing wines under his own label also pays out another of the young wine entrepreneur’s convictions. It is part of a broader vision to see the ‘townships’ produce their own products and become self-sufficient – not source constantly from the establishment that maintains their economic segregation.
There’s always plenty of enthusiastic local support for the maverick brand and it’s handsome creator.
Little local corner shops or convenience stores in the townships are known as ‘spaza’ shops. They are basic and simple affair, often run out of a converted shipping container or a heavily barred wooden shack. Its where necessities like bread and milk, flour, sugar and eggs are kept. Often these places sell airtime for mobile phones, soft drinks, sweets and snacks.
They’re hold-alls for anything the community might occasionally need without having to catch a taxi to the nearest supermarket which might be miles away. There’s one on every street corner and they illustrate a point Ndzaba makes often. “We rely too much on other people, on big companies from the city,” he says. “We are so many people here, but we produce nothing. We get everything from outside and sell it here.”
Pairing wine with popular township street-food is getting KFW noticed and enjoyed around the community.
So, labour leaves the township to bring money. But then the money leaves again to go to big producers and corporations. To take the example of spaza shops, owners will typically drive a pick-up to some big wholesaler in the city. They’ll load up on stock and go back to the township to pack it all on shelves and mark it up for sale.
The stock on every shelf in every spaza shop comes from the same few manufacturers. There is no flour or sugar brand from Khayelitsha, no cigarettes, beer, cooldrink. It all comes from somewhere else.
Ndzaba believes people should be proactive despite the lack of resources and access to funding. KFW is a side-hustle funded from his day-job salary, and he also works constantly to create job opportunities and fight unemployment in his community.
In this way, he promotes and lives by his own ideal of conscious consumption. He thinks about what he sources and why, always considering how it benefits his community of his friends. He’s an interesting fellow, Lindile Ndzaba, and someone with whom sharing a glass of wine is a truly fascinating experience.