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Meet the 101-year-old Limpopo traditional-snuff entrepreneur

Kgatla Malebati with her traditional grinding pot. Picture by Mankaleme Thema.

By Mankaleme Thema

When you meet Kgatla Melita Malebati, you would never guess that she is over a hundred years old. The 101-year-old woman from Ga-Makanye village, outside Polokwane, spends her days energetically doing what she has been doing for nearly 90 years – making traditional snuff.

Malebati runs her own business where she makes snuff from the scratch.

“I don’t remember the year I started my business, but it’s been doing well. I have built my eight-roomed house with the money I make.”

She starts the day by grinding tobacco leaves that she had out in the sun over a few days to dry. She grinds the tobacco until it is powdery. Then she takes sun-dried tepe and she burns it to ashes. She mixes the ashes with the tobacco powder. For every bundle of grond tobacco she adds two cups of tepe ashes. She then adds a little boiled water, to give it some moisture. Once done, the snuff is then ready for customers.

Her customers range from students at the local university, University of Limpopo, neighbours and traditional healers. “They use this snuff for different reasons, some use when communicating with their ancestors, some to treat constant headaches and others to help them relax.

She insists that store-bought snuff could never compare to her's because hers is made with “patience and passion”. Malebati said making snuff is a skill that was passed on to her from her mother.

“Now I am teaching my daughter-in-law so that when I pass on, they will carry on this legacy.” Malebati stays with her son, daughter-in- law and three grandchildren. She said the house they live in was paid for by profits from the snuff business.

“My children and grandchildren are unemployed, my son and daughter-in-law are too old to start looking for a job, the money I make help put bread on the table,” she said.


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