19 August 2010
M’hudi, winner of the 2010 Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award, is South Africa’s first wholly black-owned wine tourism farm. Its success is down to the hard work of the Rangaka family, who beat the odds to realise a dream.
When Malmsey Rangaka was a young girl she travelled to the Western Cape, where she saw for the first time the grapes and vines from which wine is cultivated. “I made the connection between the fruit and the end product,” she says. The images of wine farms made a big impact on her, and those images never faded.
She thought about what it would be like to own a wine farm, but there were many obstacles in the way of that dream: the biggest of these was apartheid, which restricted the land that blacks could own and limited their opportunities. So, instead of pursuing her dream, Malmsey’s career took a very different tack, far removed from vineyards and wine.
However, with the fall of apartheid, opportunities gradually began to open up.
Malmsey had become a clinical psychologist, while her husband Diale had forged a successful career for himself in tertiary education. He served as Dean of Humanities at the University of the North West’s Mafikeng campus, later becoming Deputy Dean of Education at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus.
In the early 2000s, Malmsey was eager to retire, but her dream of owning a wine farm, which she shared with Diale, had not died.
At that time, the South African government was offering favourable loans for black farmers. Eventually, in 2003, Malmsey and Diale bought a small property, in need of a lot of work, on which guavas and grapes were growing, near Stellenbosch.
It was a decision that many would have called crazy. Neither of them had any experience in wine-making. Not surprisingly, the learning curve proved to be steep.
Thankfully for the Rangakas, their next-door neighbours, the Griers, from Villiera Wines, welcomed the newcomers to the area with open arms. Prize-winning wine maker Jeff Grier passed on his knowledge as the Rangakas tried to put all the theoretical knowledge they had learnt from books to practical use.
A family business
Malmsey and Diale’s son Tseliso also had an interest in wine. He had written for several wine magazines and even contributed to the prestigious John Platter’s South African Wines. Malmsey told him she wanted him to become part of the family’s wine business. A month after her request, he left a good job in advertising in Johannesburg to join his parents.
Jeff Grier helped by teaching Tseliso about wine making at Villiera Wines. In fact, that’s where M’hudi Wines were first sold from.
Tseliso became the brand manager of M’hudi Wines. Meanwhile, his sister Lebogang was carving a successful career for herself in human resources, but when the family called, she too joined M’hudi. Today she looks after the local marketing of M’hudi Wines.
Strangely enough, M’hudi Wines made a name for itself overseas before it started to make a mark in South Africa. British retail giant Marks & Spencer, with almost 900 stores and nearly 78 000 employees worldwide, approached M’hudi for the exclusive rights to the wines in the United Kingdom. It was an offer too good to turn down.
In an interview with Roux van Zyl of Business Day, Lebogang explained why M’hudi first enjoyed success abroad rather than at home: “There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s easier to get funding to market our wines at international trade shows, and secondly, the competition is much fiercer in SA. There are so many new brands coming in every year.
“We also have to deal with negative perceptions against black-owned wine brands,” Lebogang told Business Day. “People are reluctant to try [them] – but we always find that as long as people are willing to come out of their comfort zones, they find they like our style of wine.”
M’hudi wines can be found in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany. They were available at one of the inaguration parties when Barack Obama was elected president of the USA.
The Rangakas, setting their sights high as usual, have also worked on expanding M’hudi Wines into other wine-related markets. They have added a function and conference facility, wine-tasting, and wine workshops.
Their efforts were rewarded at Indaba 2010 in May, when M’hudi won the 10th annual Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year (ETEYA) Award, honouring black tourism entrepreneurs.
Company MD Malmsey told wine.co.za: “I am honoured to have been named this year’s winner.
“Developing M’hudi Wines into a sustainable business has been incredibly challenging, and for us this award is just recognition of the incredible commitment and hard work that we have put in so far.”
There’s a story behind the name M’hudi, which is derived from the Setswana word “Mohudi”, meaning “harvester”. A novel by Sol Plaatje of the same name, which was the first written by a black South African man to be published in English, was the inspiration behind the name adopted by South Africa’s first wholly-owned black wine tourism business.
Plaatje was a founder member and the first general secretary of the South African Native National Congress, which later became the ANC. He was fluent in seven languages. Apart from his original writing, he also translated William Shakespeare’s works into Tswana.
Barnes & Noble describes the novel M’hudi thus: “A romantic epic set in the first half of the nineteenth century, the main action is unleashed by King Mzilikazi’s extermination campaign against the Barolong in 1832 at Kunana (nowadays Setlagole), and covers the resultant alliance of defeated peoples with Boer frontiersmen in a resistance movement leading to Battlehill (Vegkop, 1836) and the showdown at the Battle of Mosega (17 January 1839). Plaatje’s eponymous heroine [the M’hudi of the title] is an enduring symbol of the belief in a new day.”
That belief in a new day echoes the hard work put into Mhudi Wines by the Rangaka family – except, in this instance, the rewards of that new day are evident today.
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