One Township, One Teabag, One Economy (Savanah Gilbert)

During our first couple of days in Cape Town, we were able to go on a bus tour of the ‘Mother City.’ Our day began with a tour of Cape Town and the City Center. On our tour, we learned about the facts and the history of Cape Town. While making a couple stops jumping on and off the bus, one stop in particular stood out to me- the tea bag factory, Original T-Bag Designs, in Imizamo Yethu. 

There are many places in South Africa that are stricken with terrible poverty, the township of Imizamo Yetho being one of them. A woman named Jill Heyes moved with her family to South Africa in 1996. Heyes was eager to help out the town in any way she could and wanted to spread hand craftsmanship. After several failed attempts, one idea stuck- tea bags. The idea of creating items with recycled tea bags started in 2000 and has only grown since then. People of the community have since been trained and skilled in the art of tea bag crafting ( Original T-Bag Designs). 

“A woman is like a tea bag. You only know how strong she is when she is put in hot water” – Eleanor Roosevelt

What started many years ago as a simple idea has since blossomed into a thriving business. Original T-Bag Designs now employs many people of the community. Those involved in the business have gained more than just a job, they have gained “an environment that has thrived on determination, co-operation, give and take, support and friendship, has created reality confidence, pride, responsibility and perseverance where it previously did not exist” (Original T-Bag Designs). 

“As each tea-leaf is crucial to a perfect brew, so each individual at Original T-Bag Designs is indispensable to a business that has become a family.”

Hearing about the stories at the tea bag factory were truly inspiring. How one company can change so many lives and affect a community so greatly is an amazing thing to see. This company proves that with hard work and determination, a community that is seen as poverty-stricken can have a great thing come out of it.


Our studies leading up to South Africa and during our time here have revealed that South Africa has been struggling economically and has a long way to go financially for its citizens. According to the World Bank, most countries are made up of distinct rural and urban areas. However, South Africa’s landscape is also made up of townships and informal settlements, adding “large underdeveloped communities with working-age people desperate for economic opportunity”(World Bank). During the apartheid era many non-white South Africans were forced to move into these cramped living conditions. In this post-apartheid era, the government funded the construction of more housing in these townships with little opportunity for those living in them. 

As an article in the Daily Maverick points out, South Africa’s future is “becoming increasingly cloudy and unsettled.” For the average person this is not a good sign, for the millions of people that live in these townships with extreme poverty, this is even more of a misfortune. About half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements, where nearly 40% of working-age citizens live, but home to 60% of its unemployed (World Bank).

To get to a better place economically, the main goal is to achieve 5% growth for socioeconomic change (What Economic Future, South Africa?). To achieve more job growth, South Africa is going to have to look into services sectors. Although the unemployment rate is 27%, Jesmane Boggenpoel says that South Africa is a globally competitive nation, however, it needs to do more in terms of building skills for the citizens.

With this high unemployment rate and poverty, South Africa needs to make an effort to improve the lives of these citizens living in poverty, which is easier said than done. These people need to have the opportunity to be given an education or some skill asset to contribute to the working class. Lives of those living in townships could also be improved by strengthening urban management, improving national economics, and improving investments towards townships (World Bank). 

“There is no shortage of ideas about what needs to be done to improve the economy of townships, the challenge is to incentivize and mobilize local communities to urgently implement appropriate solutions”-Asad Alam

Original T-Bag Designs has proved that by giving people the skills and an opportunity, they are able to succeed. This company that started off as a small idea has brought change to so many people living within the township of Imizamo Yethu. Hopefully in the future the South African government will be able to provide its citizens with more skills and jobs that will help them out of extreme poverty.

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