African Traditional Beer: Changing Organisation and Spaces of South Africa’s Sorghum Beer Industry

Authors: Christian Rogerson*, University of Johannesburg
Topics: Economic Geography, Africa
Keywords: Geography of beer, Africa, sorghum beer, South Africa
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Over the past decade research on the geographies of beer has expanded both in theoretical richness and empirical scope. One distinctive facet of the beer economy of sub-Saharan Africa is the production of a range of traditional or indigenous beers which are quite unlike the clear beers and varieties of craft beers which are consumed in the global North. Traditional African beers are soured fermented drinks produced from malted sorghum, millet and maize. The period of brewing time is considerably less than that for Northern beers and the final product is opaque and generally pinkish brown in colour because of the large quantity of solid particles and yeasts that are suspended in solution. Indigenous beers formed an important part of the rural African social fabric with mainly women brewers producing for household consumption, ceremonies and exchange in cooperative work. With the monetization of African economies these traditional beers became commercialized and in Southern Africa the focus of factory brewing. The production of sorghum beer came under the control of urban municipal governments and during the apartheid period beer revenues controversially contributed to funding aspects of the segregationist project and emerged as a focus of conflict. During the 1980s there occurred a struggle over privatisation of the industry and since the 1990s the country’s sorghum beer industry has seen competition emerging between leading multinational brewers including SABMiller and Diageo. Overall, this paper analyses the historically shifting organisation and changing spaces of the production of sorghum beer in South Africa.

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