We visit the old­est home in­dus­try in the coun­try – in Ermelo, of all places

Many home in­dus­tries are clos­ing their doors, but Tuiskoop in Ermelo – South Africa’s old­est and big­gest home in­dus­try co-op­er­a­tive – is still hold­ing its own against the delis with their fancy of­fer­ings and the su­per­mar­kets with their cheap but heart­burn


Don’t bother try­ing to sound out the 56 “mem­bers” – or rather, the of­fi­cial own­ers – of Tuiskoop about their nearly 47 abun­dant years. The “se­cret to their suc­cess” is quite clearly spelled out on an A4 sheet in the shop: “Those who make cakes are not just sell­ing a prod­uct. They are sell­ing their time, at­ten­tion, tal­ent and cre­ativ­ity. Sup­port hand­made.”

There’s never been a short­age of the last two – tal­ent and cre­ativ­ity – in South Africa, but the 24/7 merry-gor­ound on which the mid­dle class finds it­self means that time and at­ten­tion are scarce re­sources. And this is the prob­lem that has been ad­dressed here, on the cor­ner of Jou­bert and Jan van Riebeeck streets in Ermelo, since 1 Oc­to­ber 1970.

On this day a hand­ful of lo­cal farm­ers’ wives opened the doors of Tuiskoop, in the process cre­at­ing a mar­ket for their hand­i­work, cakes, pas­tries and home-grown fruit and veg­eta­bles. There weren’t any laws gov­ern­ing home in­dus­tries in those days, which meant there were end­less deal­ings with the health in­spec­tor and months of ad­min­is­tra­tive red tape to con­tend with. (This is also why, for the first few months, shop­pers could buy any­thing from needle­work to cat lit­ter, but no food­stuffs.)

There’s been a com­plete about-turn since, but the most im­por­tant thing re­mains ex­actly the same as it was on day one: At Tuiskoop you will al­ways be greeted and there will be con­ver­sa­tion and ad­vice, even if they don’t know you from Adam. And no short­cuts are taken here – not when it comes to the qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents or fi­nal prod­uct or pack­ag­ing. In fact, the only short­cut al­lowed is the one that clients take when they de­cide, for what­ever rea­son, that they don’t have the time to bake and cook them­selves.

“In the past peo­ple used to joke that Tuiskoop was a shop for the lazy house­wives of Ermelo, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time. These days ev­ery­one has to work hard to put food on the ta­ble and most peo­ple are re­ally very busy,” says Ma­ri­etha Mentz, who was the chair­per­son from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2004 to 2006. She is cur­rently the deputy chair­per­son.

Keeping up with the times

In days gone by, home in­dus­tries al­ways seemed to have a slightly sin­is­ter, sect-like aura: the peo­ple be­hind the No 18 koek­sis­ters, the No 3 Hert­zog­gies, the No 24 milk tarts, the No 11 chicken pies or the No 7 Kew­piedoll toi­let-roll cov­ers re­mained a state se­cret. Yet, on ev­ery toi­let cis­tern in town there perched a No 7 Kew­pie doll with a roll of toi­let pa­per con­cealed be­neath her cro­cheted dress. And the No 18 koek­sis­ters and No 11 pies put in a reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance at the lo­cal “bring a plate of some­thing savoury or sweet” gather­ings.

Kew­pie dolls for toi­lets haven’t been sold at Tuiskoop for many years now, and if you ask the per­son at the till to tell you who makes the No 25 milk-tart jaf­fles, they’ll an­swer with­out hes­i­ta­tion. >

OP­PO­SITE A home in­dus­try is a lit­tle like a church bazaar, with some­thing for ev­ery­one, but at the for­mer – es­pe­cially a com­mu­nity land­mark like Tuiskoop – the sup­plies are con­stantly re­plen­ished and the tables are never packed away. In Ermelo, Plat­te­land dis­cov­ered a num­ber of orig­i­nals: jaf­fles with a milk tart fill­ing (No 25’s); bags of corn-cob fire­lighters by Cobus de Vos, No 29 (“You Capeto­ni­ans know only Blitz, but here we use corn cobs.”); and 1-litre plas­tic jugs con­tain­ing a home rem­edy for di­a­betes – made by No 36, Madelein Ja­cobsz – that’s made of chopped-up soaked prickly pear leaves with the in­struc­tion to take one tot glass in the morn­ing on an empty stom­ach.

“In the past peo­ple used to joke that Tuiskoop was a shop for the lazy house­wives of Ermelo, but that hasn’t been the ca0s5e1f0or2a0 Kloilon­mge tteimrse.”

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