When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and traveling back to his ancestral home, he was followed by a swarm of bees all the way from the airport to the house. But this wasn’t a misfortune, not according to African tradition. It was a blessing, symbolizing good tidings. The ancestors were welcoming him home.
Today, you’ll find a bee—a literal translation of Nelson’s Xhosa name, “Rolihlahla,” meaning one who is brave enough to go fetch the honey from the honeycomb, Nelson family members say—on the bottles of House of Mandela, a South African wine label launched in 2010 by Mandela’s daughter and granddaughter, Makaziwe and Tukwini. You can find their wines, ranging from Thembu Sauvignon Blanc to Deep River Cabernet Merlot to Royal Reserve Shiraz, in select United States markets and globally.
“We started the business as a way to pay homage to our ancestors and as a way to tell our family story without politicizing it,” says Tukwini, 42, who lives in Johannesburg. “Wine was a vehicle that enabled us to do that”—to tell the story of the house of Mandela, its culture, its ideals, its values.
“Lineage and legacy were very important to my grandfather, just as they were to his father and grandfather before him,” Tukwini says. “All the values he espoused, he learned from those who came before him. He always stated very clearly that he was shaped by the values and customs of his ancestors. We are simply carrying in the same vein.”
She says that, on a personal level, her grandfather helped her become a successful businesswoman by teaching her to be determined, to be focused and to trust herself. “We often look to other people for approval and answers when, in most cases, we already have the answers within,” she says. “He also taught me to focus on my strengths as opposed to my weaknesses and to use my mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve myself.”
As a black woman in a South African wine industry dominated by white men, Tukwini leans on those lessons quite often, overcoming challenges, challenging the status quo, with perseverance and diligent self-education. “I learned as much as I could about the industry through research and hard work,” she says. “I work very closely with our agents and importers and seek to understand the entire wine process. I learn something new every day.”
Tukwini and the House of Mandela team are working to inspire future generations of women in Africa to break through gender barriers, too. “We want to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in all African women to play a far more active role in Africa’s economy and, ultimately, to control their own destiny,” she says.
They’re also trying to build a stronger wine culture among South Africans by debunking the notion that wine is for the elite. “Wine is very subjective, and it is ultimately about what you personally like,” Tukwini says. “We encourage people to experiment and taste different types of wines, drink what they enjoy and be confident in their choices.”