Bottled Education
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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 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.

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”.

Three crèches

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.

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.

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.

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 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.”

Click here to read the full article online

Izak de Vries is a published author of fiction, a journalist, photographer and known for his charity work for the Durbanville Children’s Home, of which he is the official ambassador. His work for this charity includes running ultra-marathons – including Old Mutual Two Oceans and Comrades – barefoot to raise funds for the Children’s Home.


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