In Soweto Gold beer, a taste of economic freedom

HARI SREENIVASAN: It's been 20 years since apartheid ended in South Africa. And despite many social and political advances, more than a quarter of the country's black African population remains in poverty; 40 percent is unemployed.

What is less reported in the U.S., however, is that community's and that country's rising middle class.

Tonight, "NewsHour" special correspondent Martin Seemungal introduces us to one man who is emblematic of that ascension, an entrepreneur hoping to make his fortune in gold.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Ndumiso Madlala is doing something that has never been done before. He's brewing high-quality craft beer in Soweto. He calls it Soweto Gold.

NDUMISO MADLALA, Brew Master, Soweto Gold: So, whenever I drive to work, I just think how wonderful it is that we are starting the first microbrewery in the township. And we're putting that in Soweto. I mean, the first microbrewery in the country was in 1983. And since then, all microbreweries have been in white suburbs. And it's the first time that we have set up a brewery in a black township.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Soweto, the sprawling township near Johannesburg, an enduring symbol of the struggle against apartheid, parts of Soweto still home to thousands of impoverished black South Africans.

But Soweto has also changed in the 20 years since the first multiracial election. Streetlights are everywhere. The roads are paved. And there is a huge shopping mall. Madlala is emblematic of a different, a new South Africa.

NDUMISO MADLALA: My family is always very proud of what I have achieved. Of course, they are the guys who really bore the brunt of apartheid. For them, it was really — very, very difficult for black people to start their own businesses.

BARNEY MTHOMBOTHI, Political Commentator: We are coming to realize that political freedom on its own is meaningless without economic freedom.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Barney Mthombothi is a columnist who has been charting change in the country over the past two decades. Mthombothi says there are more black entrepreneurs than ever before, but still not enough, he says. And the official statistics support that. Five percent of black South African adults own a business. The figure for white South Africans is nearly three times that.

BARNEY MTHOMBOTHI: Now, if you have people actually doing things for themselves, that is actually very good, actually because they also create jobs, rather than actually expecting things to fall in their lap simply because they are actually free. And I think people need to understand that freedom actually is the freedom to really do things on your own.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: So is Madlala's Soweto Gold any good?

Lucy Corne writes about South African beers in her blog called The Brew Mistress.

LUCY CORNE, Blogger, "The Brew Mistress": It's got a different flavor to the mass-produced beers in South Africa, but it is very much designed, I think, for the South African palate and for the South African climate. It is a crisp, refreshing beer. It is very full-flavored, very drinkable.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Madlala worked many years for South African-based SAB, one of the biggest beer companies in the world some, so he has brewed beer before, just never like this.

NDUMISO MADLALA: Here, it is just you. I mean, you control basically about every process, step. So it requires focus. It requires a lot of attention to detail. And you have to know what you are doing.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Madlala is very focused on brewing a consistently high-quality beer. He's also very focused on marketing.

And his target market is the large and still growing black middle class. It is estimated that the black middle class in South Africa now equals the entire white population. They have spending power, and many return to Soweto on weekends.

Tamang Mohetla runs a restaurant on the popular Vilakazi Street. He says nearly half the black South Africans who come here live in rich suburbs in Johannesburg that used to be all white.

TAMANG MOHETLA: They grew up in Soweto, but they still have relatives, they still have very strong roots in Soweto. Often, then, their idea of relaxing, unwinding is coming back to Soweto, where they grew up. So, Soweto — that Soweto Gold beer, I think, would be appeal to them, definitely.

Themba Vundla takes a more discerning view, saying, he won't drink it just because Madlala is black.

THEMBA VUNDLA: I'm not going to drink because it's been brewed by a black person. If it is good, I will drink it.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Soweto Gold isn't available yet on Vilakazi Street. Madlala is working on contracts that will clear the way for distribution.

Ironically, you can buy Soweto Gold outside Soweto.

This public is in a wealthy area of northern Johannesburg. Most of the people that come here are white. And one of the most popular beers sold here is Soweto Gold.

WARWICK KITTEL, South Africa: I would say there is a lot more intrigue. I would say there is a lot more intrigue about it. People would like to see what is going on, how this whole change in South Africa has brought upon different things. Oh, let's give it a try. It's local. It's right around the corner. Let's see what it is. Let's see what — what the Soweto brewery can produce.

LUCY CORNE: Soweto has this kind of larger-than-life reputation. And then people see the name and they think, wow, that's really awesome that this has come out of Soweto. I want to try this beer. I want to drink this beer.

ALBERT FAYARD: This is a great beer.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Albert Fayard is drinking Soweto Gold for the first time.

ALBERT FAYARD: We have come a long way in South Africa. And for a black guy to go and have a brewery in Soweto and brew a quality beer like this, it just shows where we have come from. We have come a long, long way. And this is the new member nation. We are all proud. We love it. This country has got such a great future.

MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Soweto Gold is the first beer of its kind, but it is not expected to be the last. It is a sign of South Africa's changing times, moving forward, away from the memories of its racialized past, creating new ones every day.

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