From Zimbabwean Refugee To ‘Wine Poet’ In South Africa

Published 7 months ago
By Forbes Africa | Jessica Spiro
Joseph Dhafana image supplied
Joseph Dhafana. Image supplied

Barely two years after his first sip of wine, Joseph Dhafana was head sommelier at the iconic La Colombe restaurant in Cape Town and began to explore making his own wine. His Mosi Wines and Spirits is a household name today.

“We can’t all be actors or artists to tell our stories but I chose to tell mine by bottling it.”

With its prolific wine region and world-class restaurants, Cape Town has long been the jewel in South Africa’s tourism crown. Yet the industry isn’t powered by good food and wine alone, but rather, by the dedication of its people. People like Joseph Tongai Dhafana, sommelier, wine judge and founder of Mosi Wines and Spirits. Impressive title aside, it’s Joseph’s story that truly sets him apart.


Dhafana now lives in Cape Town but grew up in Zimbabwe, an entire world away from his current life. He was raised in Chirumhanzu in the Midlands province, by parents who were subsistence farmers.

“I remember waking up as early as 03:00, going to the field to till the land with an ox-drawn plough. Then, when the sun rose I would run back home via the river to take a bath and get ready for a 12km walk to school – sometimes barefoot,” he explains. “These early mornings before school were very tough but they made me who I am today.”

This resilience is what would ultimately change the course of his life forever. In 2008, at the peak of Zimbabwe’s crisis, Dhafana made the difficult decision to leave his home country in search of better opportunities in South Africa. “Leaving was very painful and I had never dreamed of living outside Zimbabwe,” he says.

Initially, he worked as a gardener in Riebeek-Kasteel, a small town 80km outside of Cape Town, which led him to work in the garden for a local bar. Here, he moved to washing dishes and waiting tables and was soon promoted to barman, where life took another fortuitous turn. Here, Dhafana celebrated his 29th birthday and had his first taste of wine – a sparkling wine from nearby Riebeek Valley Wine Co. His first thoughts? “I didn’t like it,” he says simply. “I remember, the wine was quite tart and astringent with cutting acidity and that was very foreign to my palate.” He adds, “Now I can describe it but back then I had no words to explain how I felt. They now call me the ‘wine poet’.”  


Despite a rocky start, this taste of wine awakened something in Dhafana, and before long he had enrolled to do a course at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust; he joined the Cape Wine Academy and eventually, the South African Sommeliers Association, the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy and Court of Master Sommeliers Europe. Barely two years after that first sip, Dhafana was head sommelier at the iconic La Colombe restaurant and began to explore making his own wine.

“I had saved money and bought grapes to make a barrel each of Chenin Blanc and Syrah… in Riebeek-Kasteel, where it all started.”

Today, Joseph’s Mosi Wines and Spirits – named after breath-taking Victoria Falls nestled between Zimbabwe and Zambia – is a household name. Regularly appearing on the wine lists of the country’s top restaurants, there is no denying that his hard work and determination have paid off. “Seeing people swirling and sipping my wine just melts my heart,” he says. “I believe wine is a bottled story and this brand has a lot to say.”

Dhafana’s story is nothing short of remarkable, but as he says, there are a lot of stories like his out there. “I am proud of the person I am today but I am thankful to those who helped me.” He doesn’t take this gratitude lightly and now helps others wanting to enter the industry. “The journey has just started because I am already helping young up-and-coming sommeliers and wine stewards to do better than what I did.” And it doesn’t end there. Along with his work as a sommelier and a wine judge, he also helped establish and captain Team Zimbabwe at the World Blind Tasting Championships in 2017 and 2018, documented in the documentary, Blind Ambition. He is a board member of the Black Cellar Club, a non-profit that aims to promote a responsible wine and beverage industry in South Africa and is a judge for the country’s biggest annual restaurant awards, hosted by Eat Out magazine.


Having triumphed over immense challenges, Dhafana’s continued commitment to wine has enriched the industry. “We can’t all be actors or artists to tell our stories but I chose to tell mine by bottling it,” he adds.