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  • Brewsters Craft founder Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela decided to produce non-alcoholic beers and sanitisers as a way of staying afloat during the hard lockdown.
  • She is South Africa's first black female brewery owner. 
  • Once alcohol restrictions were lifted Nxusani-Mawela had plans to get her house craft beer brand into various outlets across Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, but the renewed ban has thwarted some of those plans.

The ban on the sale of alcohol during the nationwide lockdown handed breweries a bitter financial pill to swallow. 

With dwindling funds and workers to pay, owners had to think of creative ways to stay afloat. 

As the first black woman to own a brewery, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela was determined not to fail. 

The owner of Brewsters Craft decided to pivot and expand her offering to non-alcoholic craft beer, as well as sanitisers.

"It was a crazy time where survival was key to staying afloat. I had to keep my team motivated by showing them that I was trying all I could to make sure we all make it through," Nxusani-Mawela told News24. 

A challenging start

Brewsters Craft was founded in 2015 after Nxusani-Mawela left her high-level position as master craft brewer at South African Breweries.

"The journey of starting the brewery was not easy. Like a lot of people, I struggled to raise capital. I ended up applying for a loan at the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC). The process took over a year before they approved the application," the brew master said. 

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Brewsters Craft finally opened its doors in 2018 in Johannesburg. The company began manufacturing beverages for smaller craft beer brands. 

In a few months, business was picking up and future prospects were exciting. 

However, the ban on the sale of liquor dealt a big blow to the company – almost bringing it to its knees. 

"We are still surviving lockdown and trying to make ends meet...For us in the alcohol and tobacco industry, we're hit the most. It was a rollercoaster - emotionally, mentally, financially and physically."

Payment breaks

Nxusani-Mawela was almost in the red with her loan repayments and general company expenses. 

"I had loans that need to be serviced as well as rent and staff that needed to pay. The worst was not knowing for how long we would be banned for or what's going to happen. Beer brewing is a three-week process that you can't turn on and off," she said. 

Thanks to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), Nxusani-Mawela was able to pay her staff for a few months. 

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She also received payment breaks on the rent payments for her warehouse space and on the repayment of the IDC loan. 

"What worked is that I approached them early. Immediately as we went into lockdown. I told them about my situation and that I would pay what I could pay. I kept in constant communication," she said.

Her company had plans to push the brand during the festive season in Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town.

"By the sea is the best, with the hope that when those guys come back home to Joburg, they're aware of the brand and we can push it locally," she said.

Positive perspective

But President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday evening announced that the ban on the sale, distribution and transportation of alcohol would be reinstated - thwarting many of the brewery's plans.

Her loved ones and the next generation of female brewers, keeps Nxusani-Mawela motivated. 

"I am doing this for my children, my family. I am creating a platform for other small businesses. I can't fail. It has to work."

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