Uncovering farm workers’ heritage
Probing ancient links with the land was an incentive to improve conditions and cement a cultural bond, writes Anna-Marie Smith
THE impact of social responsibility on farmers in the Cape winelands in relation to labourers and their families living on their farms is in the spotlight, particularly when the labourers’ ancestors were the original inhabitants.
When Prof Mark Solms, coowner of Solms-Delta wine estate, decided to return to his family’s farm in Franschhoek after living abroad the problems of providing homes for workers crystallized as an enormous responsibility.
Solms decided that the way forward was to acquire an understanding and appreciation of the history of local communities, preserve that heritage for future generations, and facilitate financial support on a fairer basis than in the past.
Solms, a neuroscientist, spoke on land ownership in SA at the TEDx Observer festival of ideas in London last month.
He said: “Land comes with people who didn’t choose to be there and are beholden to farm owners who, for better or for worse, are responsible to the people.”
In an effort to address the historic gap between labourers and employers and improve the lifestyle of farm workers, in particular housing conditions, he says a team of archaeologists and historians was appointed to establish the cultural and social history of their farm’s previous residents.
Solms says a site was dug up 20m from his front door that exposed an ancient settlement of the forefathers of his labourers — slaves who not only built the original homestead but who worked and lived off the land for generations.
This saw the origination of the privately funded Delta Trust, a partnership between Mark Solms and British philanthropist Richard Astor, each controlling a third of the modern-day estate.
Established to address the social realities of local agriculture and for the benefit of the estate’s historically disadvantaged residents, employees were given an equal 33% equity stake in SolmsDelta.
CEO Craig MacGillivray says the trust’s main focus is to break the cycle of poverty and dependency among tenants and employees and their children, who often become employees on the same farm as their parents, and this could only be achieved by improving resident’s quality of life.
He says one of the biggest benefits of this wealth-sharing model is that the profits were used to improve living conditions for the employees.
Greater residential comfort was created by eliminating overcrowding, rebuilding and refurbishing old labourers’ cottages and constructing a number of new houses.
All the new homes are fitted with everyday comforts, including hot and cold water in bathrooms and kitchens, electricity, waste services, waste disposal systems, gardens and satellite television that provides these families with a global window into the world.
Overall upliftment has been achieved through a more engaging and a less isolated and more convenient lifestyle.
MacGillivray says broadening the horizons of farm children is essential, and educational and social programmes were introduced to extend to extend the limiting entertainment on a farm.
The social investment of the Delta Trust has many support projects, including education, cultural heritage, social upliftment, sport and recreation. The trust covers the additional costs of model C education, provides vital remedial and other forms of educational assistance, and has established a crèche and an after-school educational centre.
The trust provides qualified learners with financial support for tertiary education, as well as supporting an adult education programme. High-quality medical care is available, and 85% of its beneficiaries’ medical and dental bills are covered by the trust.
A variety of sporting and recreational facilities, including coaching programmes, are overseen by a fulltime social worker.
MacGillivray says the project is gaining momentum by recognising that farm residents and labourers thrive when given a pur- pose in the community.
Special activities include team sport and cultural celebrations, such as music festivities and the Franschhoek Oesfees.
Farm residents also have the benefit of a resident heritage museum, the Museum van de Caab, that houses a treasury of artefacts unearthed during excavations on the estate, reflecting the rich heritage of those who lived and worked at Solms-Delta for centuries.
In addition to becoming a wine producing operation where the names of wines reflect the cultural heritage of the farm such as Solms-Delta Vastrap, Langarm and Gemoedsrus, it also features a restaurant and picnic facilities.
The trust is committed to continued research and experimental projects in all aspects of the farm to preserve its historical heritage for future generations.
For sustainable agricultural development the trust aims to become instrumental in providing land ownership to the farm community through partnering a landreform project in the area.
A farm labourer’s cottages on Solms Delta Farm in Franschhoek.
The Solm-Delta Museum van de Caab provides a historical record for present and future generations.