Excellent education for kids of wine-farm workers
Wifi in every classroom? Yes.
Data projector in every classroom? Yes.
Massive computer lab with internet access and educational software? Yes.
Free, nutritious meals every day? Yes.
Excellent bathrooms? Yes.
On-site medical facility? Yes.
Library? Yes. Two of them.
Low teacher-pupil ratio? Yes.
Stunning mountain views in between the rural vineyards? Yes.
Keen to send your child? No, you cannot really. This school is run by farmworkers for the benefit of their children, as are the three crèches feeding it.
An accidental meeting
I was in Rawsonville as part of an outreach programme by LAPA Publishers and the ATKV when I saw these schoolkids receiving food.
I am nosey.
Curiosity got the better of me and I asked permission to photograph the eating children. Once inside, I was intrigued by the quality of the school. After being shown around by Tienie Smith and Bernard Kotze, I was given complete freedom of the facilities and I was allowed to speak to any staff member, and the children, without management being present. Being a photographer, I snapped away.
I did visit the cellar once before when their mobile library was officially opened by the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille and I did report on the mobile library at the time, but I had not seen the school nor the crèches then.
Fair play due to Fairtrade
Du Toitskloof Wines is Fairtrade accredited, which means that for every bottle of wine sold into the export market, a premium gets paid to a collective that benefits the workers. In 2016 alone more than R4 million was paid to this collective. These funds are managed by the workers themselves. A large proportion of it goes towards education, which means that these working-class children now have opportunities that rival those from upper-middle class homes in the suburbs.
These farmworkers also send their children on to secondary-school education in town and they provide scholarships to the kids who qualify for tertiary education. Transport to and from school is provided and there is money for sports and educational tours as well.
In 2005, Du Toitskloof Wines was one of the first wineries in South Africa to get accreditation from Fairtrade; today it is punted as the largest Fairtrade social responsibility project in the wine industry in the world.
Not only does the exclusive Fairtrade badge mean that workers are getting fair salaries and have decent working conditions, it also means that the workers and their families are direct beneficiaries of their own produce. Running and maintaining the school and crèches are expensive, but since the workers get a few million rand per annum, they have been empowered to provide excellence to their children.
The workers themselves benefit too. The collective, managed by the workers of Du Toitskloof Wines, also provides a mobile clinic, literacy projects for adults and decent housing.
Initial accreditation is tough, and expensive. Each one of the 22 producing farms and the cellar has had to open their farms to inspectors and their accounts to auditors, and they had commit to ongoing inspections in order keep their accreditation. No more than eighteen months go by between audits and if one of the 22 farms or the cellar fails, the entire collective loses its Fairtrade certification.
The workers go for regular medical check-ups and as part of the accreditation process. A professional nurse is on duty during the week; any farmworker or a family member has access to her. Visits to the clinic are free and no one visiting is penalised for not being at work.
Tienie Smith with the little ones
Tienie Smith is the compliance officer for Du Toitskloof Wines. He used to own a farm, but he has recently sold it and today he is in the full-time employ of the collective – he now works for the workers who have once worked for him.
“Oom Tienie” gets a baby five
Tienie’s enthusiasm for the collective was contagious. He he took me on a tour of the school and one of the crèches, before giving me the freedom to investigate and speak to anyone I found.
We were mobbed by the kids. There is no doubt that Tienie is much loved. Even the older kids go out of their way to high-five him, the young ones simply run up for a conversation, a hug, or to ask “Oom Tienie” to play with them. Some of the smaller kids insisted on a “baby five”.
A close-knit community
The cellar is situated at the bottom end of the Breedekloof Valley. All the producers live within a radius of 10 km from the cellar and, importantly, so do most of the farmworkers whose kids are benefiting from the Fairtrade initiative.
The production of Du Toitskloof Wines dates back to 1962 when six wine farmers formed a cooperative. In those days everything, including the production of wine, was heavily regulated by the apartheid regime. By 1990 the cellar producing Du Toitskloof Wines has grown to 22 producing farms and South Africa was a very different country; Nelson Mandela was a free man and the draconian restrictions on agriculture were gone.
Du Toitskloof Wines took a hard look at their new future and began bottling their own wines. New cultivars were planted and the cellar experimented with wines for export. The team created its own sales-and-distribution infrastructure and began wooing markets in North and South America, mainland Europe, Scandinavia, the Far East and the rest of Africa.
Fairtrade accreditation followed in order to guarantee a fair deal for the labourers; that means the more successful Du Toitskloof Wines became, the bigger the ring-fenced benefits the workers and their dependents received. Since the workers themselves decide on the best way to spend the money, their children now attend a primary school and three crèches which today boast facilities that are better than 99% of government-run schools, even those in the wealthy suburbs.
Even the little ones are looked after. I was taken to one of three crèches run by the collective and I had to chuckle: The little ones had been playing outside and they were dirty. My son would have looked the same at that age.
The personnel had clearly received training and a programme provides structure to the little one’s day – a practice that one sees in crèches run by the ATKV’s Abbasorg facilities as well.
Hygiene forms an important part of the programme and the kid’s toothbrushes are on proud display.
Apart from that, there is ample free space, which is carefully fenced in, for the little ones to run around, sand to play in, a jungle gym and swings to play on.
Upgrading the primary school
I started my own education in a small farm school consisting of three prefab classrooms where three teachers, which included the headmaster, taught seven grades.
Ditto, once, for the little school near Du Toitskloof Wines. For many years the facility consisted of an old church, which is still in use, and two prefab classrooms.
A considerable amount of money was spent on the school. Every grade now has an own classroom, plus an extra classroom was built for Grade R, the formal preschool year. In every classroom there is a qualified teacher.
Today the school’s facilities rival those of the private school my son attends.
“I want to swim in the sea”
The workers’ children also get the opportunity to go on sports tours, paid for by the collective.
One young man had recently been on a rugby tour to the Eastern Cape. Upon his return, his marks skyrocketed.
When he was asked why, his answer was metaphorical. “I no longer want to swim in the farm dam or river,” he said, “I want to swim in the sea.”
Education beyond the community
After completing their primary education, the children go to a secondary school in town. The collective pays for that too. Depending on the children’s needs, they get go to Goudini High, Breëriver Secondary or Worcester Secondary. The collective, being proud parents, recently donated money to help with upgrades at these schools.
Tertiary studies in South Africa are expensive, but no less than six students are presently studying at a number of institutions, their studies are all paid for the collective.
Yet, there is more.
Paying for the less privileged
The workers benefiting from the Du Toitskloof Wines’ Fairtrade status spend a large part of their annual income on running and maintaining a mobile library that benefits eight less-privileged schools in the valley.
Archive photo: Taken when the library was opened
The mobile library, fitted with computers and internet access, has been built into a trailer hooked on to a Mercedes Benz truck. The farm workers pay for a part of its maintenance, and yet their own kids only see this truck once every two weeks. On the other days the truck visits communities outside the Du Toitskloof Fairtrade Initiative which have fewer resources.
This initiative began when Marius Louw, CEO of Du Toitskloof Wines, who is a keen cyclist, one particular morning stopped next to a number of kids walking to school. It was a long distance away from the farm school run by Du Toitskloof’s workers, and it struck him that these children did not have books with them. He stopped and asked them whether they had done their homework already? Was that why they did not have any books with them? One kid shrugged and said that they did not get homework as there were no books at his school. This bugged Louw.
He rode home with a burning desire to help the others schools in the area, but all his calculations showed that erecting and maintaining libraries at every school in the valley would be prohibitively expensive. In discussions with the farm workers the idea of a mobile library was born.
The initial cost of creating this facility, was tremendous. Du Toitskloof Wines received a large sponsorship from one Douglas Green’s principals. Douglas Green is a distributer which owns wineries with Fair Trade accreditation.
The sponsorship paid for creating the library, but the continued cost of running this facility is shared by Du Toitskloof Wines and the workers themselves – with the funds that come from the Fairtrade Innitiave.
Archive photo: Premier Zille and the librarian Annelie Syferts
On the 14th of May 2015 the library was formerly opened by premier Helen Zille.
In this video Abraham Oerson, the Du Toitskloof CSR project Chairman, explains how the money for running the library is allocated by the workers themselves. He speaks Afrikaans, the language of the region.
The librarian on the itinerant library, Annelie Syferts, once attended the little farm school which is now managed by the workers of Du Toitskloof Wines. Her salary is now paid for by the farm workers whose kids attend the same, upgraded school.
Here is another video about the mobile library, which was shot when premier Helen Zille opened it. You will hear Annelie Syferts speaking about her role. Most of it is in Afrikaans.
For those who do not speak Afrikaans, here is a video in English about Du Toitskloof Wines. It is a lot more corporate, but is does also provide clear visuals of the library and the schools.
Fairtrade or an unfair industry?
Few people think of farm workers as “privileged” and it has has become a hobby of foreign journalists looking for a scope to write stories of the horrifying conditions of farm workers in South Africa. Such negative publicity then gets lauded and distributed by others without bothering to visit our country.
While I was on site, I asked Tienie Smith about this. Tienie took a while to answer, before he said: “You know, I think most people want to do good things, but they do not all have the means.”
A view from management
After writing the first draft of this article, I decided to asked the management of Du Toitskloof Wines to comment, in writing, on the bad press the industry continues to receive. They answered in Afrikaans, here are their words, which I translated.
Bernard Kotze, brand manager of Du Toitskloof Wines, wrote: “Du Toitskloof is proud to be one of the leaders in terms of the services and opportunities that it creates for its employees. Although our brand builds a high profile because of these social projects, and it is definitely beneficial for business, it is important to emphasise that goodwill comes from the heart. We do not do so because we have to, but because we want to. Everyone’s future is inextricably linked to the the relationships between groups of people. Those who do not want to realise it will be reduced to become peripheral figures in the wine industry.”
The CEO of Du Toitskloof Wines, Marius Louw, wrote: “I cannot speak for the industry, but in my experience there is no doubt that the relations between workers, farmers and wine producers have improved remarkably over the past 30 years. The tangible evidence of this is visible everywhere: compliance with labour regulations, proactive creation of social and educational assistance, as well as the development of career opportunities. More important than that, however, is the change in attitude and understanding among employers and employees that everyone’s future in the wine industry depends on mutual respect and fairness.”
Declaration of interest
I have written a number of articles about the wine industry before, mostly for overseas publications. This, however, is not a paid-for article.
I also received no money nor any gifts from Du Toitskloof Wines at the time of my visit, nor as a result of this article.
Keen to read more of my stories?
Here is a recent English-language stories about work done by the ATKV: Add a little bit of Palesa to it.
I have written a number of articles on education for LitNet, here is a selection, all in Afrikaans: