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Solms-Delta land reform initiative a first of its kind

DAILY MAVERICK / 29 NOVEMBER 2017 - 00.35 / STAFF REPORTER

When initiatives to redistribute land to communities are not only envisioned by private citizens but established – and successfully – the possibilities of reform and redress are finally brought into sharper focus, paving a way forward for a broader national effort.

For decades, legislators and politicians have been talking around the issue of land reform and redistribution, with little to show for their efforts. Forty-thousand predominantly white-owned farms still account for around 67% of the country’s land, showing negligible change from early 1990s figures. Land reform has been described by experts as an “unresolved historical grievance”, and policies have brought little benefit to previously disadvantaged South Africans, particularly small-scale farmers.

Image - Solms-Delta

So when initiatives to redistribute land to communities are not only envisioned by private citizens but established – and successfully – the possibilities of reform and redress are finally brought into sharper focus, paving a way forward for a broader national effort.

In 2016 the Solms-Delta Wine Estate in Franschhoek in the Western Cape reached a groundbreaking agreement to transfer 45% of the business, including brand and land, to the farm’s workers. The government’s National Empowerment Fund (NEF) invested an additional 5% stake in the Wijn de Caab Trust, creating a 50/50 ownership agreement between the workers and the owners, Prof Mark Solms and Richard Astor.

The deal was the first of its kind in South Africa, but it took 10 years to finalise.

When Solms, a neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst, first approached the seven families living on the Solms-Delta Estate with a proposal for transformation, they weren’t eager to co-operate. As a clinician, Solms decided to investigate the root cause of their hesitation in order to make a diagnosis and heal what was ailing.

He and the workers stopped farming and began excavating parts of the farm, digging deep into the soil to better understand the history of the place and its people. In the process, they uncovered artefacts from different periods that allowed the workers to better understand their heritage. The excavation unearthed rock and stone tools from a Khoi settlement site believed to be thousands of years old – hard evidence, Solms said, they “they were here first”.

In the process of excavating it emerged that, much like most enterprises in the area, the farm had operated for 200 years or more on indentured slave labour. The historical and cultural treasures that were uncovered during the dig allowed the people of Solms-Delta to connect with their history and heritage and fully come to terms with and pay homage to the extent of their forbears’ role in the development of this important tract of land. The vestiges of the dig can be viewed at the Museum van de Caab social history museum and Music van de Caab centre, located on the farm itself.

According to the company website, the archaeological digs “uncovered the realisation that everything on the farm – from the vineyards to the elegant Cape Dutch buildings – was built on the backs of slaves. This meant the tenants who live on the farm today deserve a fair share of the products of their forebears’ sacrifices and their own current efforts.”’

So when Solms and Astor established the trust in 2007, after six years of operations on this 325-year old farm, they initially handed over a third of the business to workers and made provision for a six-member board. It was a R65-million transaction that formed part of the the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s Strengthening the Relative Rights of the People Working the Land programme.

The decision to move to an equitable 50/50 split in land, operations and profits made the initiative the first of its kind, particularly in the wine industry, which has relied so heavily on indentured labour in the Cape and still reflects only about 2% black ownership today. Workers at Solms-Delta say they’ve never been in this position before, and are excited and motivated by the possibilities.

“The demographics of land ownership in South Africa are a very pressing issue, an indefensible and unsustainable legacy of apartheid which we ignore at our peril,” Solms said.

“The extent of the land that we at Solms-Delta identified and developed for the ultimate benefit of our workers has been increased through this transaction from 20 hectares to 50 hectares, and their share of equity in the company has also been increased, from 33% to 45%.

All income accrued from the sale of the Solms-Delta land and equity for the department has been injected into the business and adding value to the workers’ shareholding.

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LINK - https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-11-29-solms-delta-land-reform-initiative-a-first-of-its-kind/#.Wh98m1WWbIU

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