Lethu Tshabangu co-founder of Ukhamba Beerworx chats to our features writer Fundiswa Nkwanyana about turning his fascination with beer brewing into a thriving business venture.
I was born and bred in Tsholotsho, a village in Zimbabwe. As a child, I enjoyed watching my grandparents brewing traditional beer – umqombothi. The process was fascinating. But because my parents were staunch Christians who frowned upon alcohol, I was not allowed to learn about it. I respected their wishes, so beer brewing was soon forgotten – until 2013 when I met my wife Noluyanda Roxwana.
Noluyanda reignited my love for brewing beer. I met her while working as a bartender in a craft beer establishment in Cape Town. During our first chat, she mentioned that she knew how to brew it because her grandparents had taught her. I told her about my childhood dream, and she offered to teach me. We were both interested in beer brewing, so we made plans to get started, albeit just for fun. We would often get our friends to taste the different flavours that we were experimenting with. I then started reading up on brewing, and asked customers about craft beer as part of my market research. With my wife’s sharp business acumen and my passion for brewing beer, we put our resources together. In 2017, we started Ukhamba Beerworx.
We are the proud founders of the first black–owned microbrewery in Cape Town. In honour of our grandparents who used to drink traditional beer out of a clay pot called ukhamba, we named our business Ukhamba Beerworx. As black entrepreneurs in a white-dominated sector, it was important that we stay true to our roots and remind the new generation that our ancestors brewed their own beer.
My job entails producing original and flavoursome craft beers. Some of my daily duties include creating new recipes, sourcing ingredients, maintaining safety and hygiene standards, managing the bottling and distribution process and overseeing the overall brewing process. I also ensure that our equipment is well-maintained, and help with the marketing of our beers. We proudly brew three beers – Utywala Sorghum Saison, State Capture IPA and Pursuit of Hoppiness.
Working capital remains a huge challenge for the business. Operating a brewery is capital-intensive and we often struggle. We are in the process of finding ways to overcome this challenge, and hope to get funding in order to produce and sell in large volumes. The industry is also competitive, but the market has received our beers well; sales are growing regularly, and that is exciting.
My wife and I believe in our business and beers. We are grateful and humbled by the support that we continue to receive. We have plans to expand and eventually increase our distribution across the country and worldwide because we believe everyone needs to enjoy our beers.