Obituary: Annekie Theron, founder of global rooibos company who built R80m business

06 March 2016 - 02:00 By The Daily Telegraph, London


Anna Theron, who has died in Pretoria at the age of 86, was a housewife and mother who built a multimillion-rand business after accidentally discovering one sleepless night in 1968 that rooibos tea had a soothing effect on her colicky baby. Theron, who had always dreamt of being a medical doctor but could not afford the university fees, decided she was onto something.She roped in other mothers with infants troubled by various ailments and found that in addition to curing colic, rooibos helped to alleviate a range of allergic symptoms such as dry and itchy skin, insomnia and hyperactivity.Her research led to a book, Babies, Allergies and Rooibos Tea, which sparked worldwide interest in the plant, grown mainly in the Cederberg in the Western Cape, and its healing properties. A revised version, The Rooibos Baby, was translated into Japanese.In 1970, Theron started a company called Annekie (her husband's nickname for her) Theron Entrepreneurs, followed by Annique Health and Beauty in 1976, (after which she was called Annique) a direct-marketing company that eventually had 90 employees and more than 10000 consultants manufacturing and selling around 140 rooibos-infused beauty, skincare, slimming and anti-allergy products in 25 countries including the US, UK, Japan and the Netherlands.In 1997, she received the gold medal for female inventor of the year at the international inventions exhibit in Geneva. She won several local awards, including the prestigious MS Louw Award from the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut for her contribution to entrepreneurship in South Africa. She was the first woman to receive the award, whose previous recipients included Anton Rupert, Christo Wiese, Koos Bekker, Patrice Motsepe, Herman Mashaba and Mathews Phosa.In 1994, Theron, who credited herself with "elevating" rooibos into a popular product around the world, registered the name as a trademark in the US. This was challenged by Rooibos Ltd, which had been producing and exporting rooibos for years. After a battle over intellectual property rights lasting 10 years and involving the government and US authorities, it was agreed that nobody had an exclusive right to the word "rooibos".Theron (née Heystek) was born in Potgietersrus (now Mokopane) in Limpopo on April 18 1929 and grew up on her parents' cattle farm. When she was at school she asked her teacher what subjects she needed to study medicine."He looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet," she said. She realised that girls were not expected to become doctors.In the event her father could not afford to send her to university so she did a one-year secretarial course at a technical college instead and got a job at the Nursing Council.Here she met her husband Meiring Theron, an accountant. In 1960, she obtained a BA teaching degree from Unisa and taught English for four years until her first child was born.At the age of 70, she completed an MBA at Commonwealth Open University, and at the age of 72 was awarded a PhD by the same university for a thesis on "conventional medicine vs alternative treatments".In 2010, the business was sold for R80-million. Her youngest daughter, Lorinda, the "rooibos baby", took her mother to court for allegedly cheating her out of the benefits of a family trust. She accused Theron of building her company on fraudulent claims of having discovered the healing properties of rooibos when in fact these had been discovered by the Khoisan centuries earlier.The case was dropped.Theron, who wrote her autobiography, Manna - my story of rooibos tea and miracles, in 2009 (translated into English in 2014), is survived by four children.1929-2016

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