Information and history

ID #1186

Tea Plantations—History in South Africa.

The industry began with the importation of Assam seed from India that Sir Liege Hulett planted on his Kearsney estate near Stanger in 1877. He continued to increase his plantation and encouraged others to follow his example. The result of this pioneering work was seen in 1881 when the first tea was manufactured. By 1886 some 80000 lbs. of black tea was produced in Natal. With deterioration in the quality of tea produced in China, demand increased and by 1907, Natal had 5226 acres under cultivation.

Labour shortages hampered further development in that it had become dependant on imported labour from India. Political and social influences put an end to this indentured labour. Concurrently the price declined on world markets. Consequently, producers in Natal began to opt for less labour intensive crop – sugar – and the industry finally died in 1949.

A number of widely different factors stimulated the rebirth of the industry. Firstly, tea growing results in substantial savings in foreign exchange. Secondly, industries were encouraged to provide employment in rural districts. Thirdly, with irrigation, certain districts became suitable for tea growing. Lastly, with the knowledge brought by Kenyan immigrants in 1962, the industry became economically-viable. The following year a nursery was established in the Eastern Transvaal and, together with rising prices world-wide, the industry was on its way.

Ten estates have been established in five areas:

•    Tzaneen and Sibasa in Limpopo Province,
•    Barberton in Mpumalanga,
•    Vyheid and Richmond in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and
•    Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape.

A total of 63 km2 has been planted. At the peak of the growing season, tea estates provide employment for 22000 people. Wages and benefits are above other growing countries of the world, and the opportunity for promotion exists. At present, the industry produces some 50% of the needs of the subcontinent. Research to improve the quality is done at the Citrus and Subtropical Research Institute in Mpumalanga. The Tea Council of Southern Africa acts as a central organisation whose major functions are to funnel information on growing and production through to tea companies, to liase with producers and to assist in the promotion of the industry and their product both locally as well as overseas.  In Southern Africa some 50000 tpa of leaves is processed to make 10000 tons of tea. This meets about half of local demand. A pack of tea containing 100 tea bags weighs 250 grams and will, on average, produce 200 cups of tea. Since each cup of tea uses 1.25 grams of tea, we drink 16 billion cups of tea each year. To put this into perspective, this corresponds to approximately 1 cup of tea for every person in the country each day.   ABTea

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Last update: 2014-02-28 16:00
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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Comment of Philippa Davis:
Could the author please contact me as I am researching early tea barons (not the Huletts)and particularly Hon George Turner of Highlands and The Hook in the Weenen district. Any and all input is most welcome. Kind thanks, Philippa
Added at: 2012-05-12 14:32

Comment of vinod harie:
Please help me. I am looking for information of the tea estate owner late 1890's early 1900 Sir Narandas Desai from India,He started tea plantations and returned to India around 1920.mahatma Gandhi had requested him to start tea buisness in Natal. His family from India will be ever grateful for further information and details of hius tea estate. Many Thsanks
Added at: 2013-02-02 14:02