Emmency Nuukala and Strauss Lunyangwe
WINDHOEK - When one first meets 60-year-old Roland Graf zu Bentheim, fully clad in his hooded suit, they are reminded of some sorts of a mad scientist in a science fiction movie.
But as soon as the conversation starts – about keeping bees - one clearly notices his dedication and passion for the little critters.
The veteran beekeeper on Friday last week removed about 20 000 bees in a drain at a house in Windhoek’s Bismarck Street. Bentheim has been in this trade for 20 years, he says, after he took over the business from his father which had over 100 beehives.
A Namibian of German descent, Bentheim is one of the country’s 500 beekeepers and despite facing many setbacks in his beekeeping life, which include having his hives stolen or destroyed by baboons, his career never collapsed on his feet.
Drought and current economic circumstances have left him with only two hives from the 100 he started with many years ago. He set his apiary up on a friend’s plot and the other at the Pioneers Park cemetery, the second location having ran him into trouble with the city’s authorities.
“The City of Windhoek did ask me to leave [the cemetery], I am not sure why because I initially had permission from them to keep my bees there,” said Bentheim.
“There is war there between two parties, one that says I can keep it [the apiary] at the cemetery and the other that is against it. I will leave and find a new place because for the future I don’t want to work like that,” he continued.
Affectionately known as the “Bee King”, Bentheim removes bees’ nests from properties at a call out fee of N$250 per hour and that is what he was doing at the property on Friday.
The trusted beekeeper informed us the beehive looked like it was formed for over five years, as the drain looked fully blocked by the honey combs they built. Namibian bees are especially aggressive and have to be removed by a professional, as their sting can be deadly, he explained.
When a bee stings a person, especially those that are allergic to it, they can land into serious trouble. They can even be life-threatening, the beekeeper explained.
Mild allergic reactions may cause extreme redness and increased swelling at the sting site. Severe allergic reactions may cause pale skin severe itching swelling of the tongue and throat difficulty breathing rapid pulse nausea and vomiting diarrhea dizziness loss of consciousness.
“This could be one of the biggest hives I have removed thus far,” he said in excitement. It will take Bentheim about two days to remove the entire hive, as a lot of preparation and safety measures need to be conducted before extracting them.
This includes finding the queen bee because as soon as she is removed and put in a special box which now becomes the new hive, the rest of the bees will follow.
He also warned that people should not rush in killing bees as globally there are more honey bees than other types of bees and pollinating insects, so it is the world’s most important pollinator of food crops.
It is estimated that one third of the food consumed each day relies on pollination, mainly by bees.
“Maintaining an apiary costs roughly N$1000 monthly with most of the expense going to fuel,” said Bentheim, who has to feed the bees and make sure the hives are maintained.
When asked who will take over his business one day, one could see a bit of sadness in his eyes as he does not have children of his own, but believes if his niece or nephew are unable to carry the project onwards, he would love to open a honeybee research institute, which has a committee that will be able to continue his legacy.
“Achieving that dream will be difficult because not having money is not easy, but I will try,” he vowed.
Bentheim sells the honey he collects to close friends and family and sometimes at the green market for N$160 per 250g bottle.
“The way the bees work together and live together in harmony fascinates me and that’s why I work with them,” the sexagenarian said in conclusion.