A little over 10 years ago, neuroscientist Mark Solms bought a fruit farm in picturesque Franschhoek with the idea of turning it back into a wine farm.
However, there were already about 10 families living on the farm, and they had been working there for generations.
General manager and winemaker at Solms-Delta Hagen Viljoen says Solms decided to look for a way to empower the workers so that it could become a fruitful relationship for everyone.
Sussanna Malgas, one of the workers on the farm, says: “He called us all to a meeting and said: ‘Look, I can’t make you rich, but I can help to give you a better future.’”
He started by establishing the Wijn de Caab Trust in 2005 with Richard Astor, who bought a neighbouring farm. They then bought a third neighbouring farm, which was handed over to the trust – and the workers were the beneficiaries of the trust.
This in effect gave the trust and the workers a one-third (33%) share in the combined farms, which take up 76 hectares.
While all three farms produced fruit when the partnership was formed, Solms had done his research and set about planting vines to recreate the original wine farm.
Late last year, the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), with support from the department of rural development and land reform, came on board as a partner, increasing the trust’s shareholding in the farm to 45%.
“A further 5% shareholding is held by the NEF, which plays an oversight role with a seat on the board. This will continue for five years until the NEF is satisfied that the business is sustainable, and the 5% stake will then be transferred to the trust, giving it an effective 50% shareholding,” says Viljoen.
The Wijn de Caab Trust has about 250 beneficiaries, and 95 employees live on the farm.
Other initiatives run by the trust include improved education for all farm workers’ children who attend either Franschhoek primary or high school, which are former Model C schools, as well as subsidised access to private medical care.
Malgas says her life has changed dramatically since Solms bought the farm.
“When Mark came, there were 10 to 14 people in one house and all our bathing facilities were outside. Once you finished school, if you were lucky enough to get that far, you had no future to speak of.
“The trust has made a big difference, especially when it comes to education for our kids. My son Clint finished matric at Franschhoek High School two years ago. He has done a hospitality course and now works at wedding functions,” Malgas says.
“He has a lung and heart condition, and the trust paid for all his medical care up to the age of 18. I would never have been able to pay for that myself.”
Malgas began working on the fruit farms at the age of 12 and also worked for Solms as a domestic worker for many years.
“I started singing with the choir here on the farm, and grabbed opportunities as soon as they came up. So, from there, I learnt about the history of the farm. This reminded me very much of my grandmother and the stories we heard from her. At the time, I did not understand the significance of her stories, but now I do. So when Mark opened the history museum at Solms-Delta, I started giving history tours. Now I am a wine ambassador and host wine tastings, and I have learnt so much about wines,” she says.
Solms has also established the Dik Delta Trust, which is designed to empower the broader Franschhoek community through musical training. It spearheaded the Franschhoek Literary Festival before it was handed over to the Franschhoek Tourism Bureau.
In what other ways can farm workers become more empowered?
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