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

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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.

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