A long 3 hours from Kimberly is an area hot as ever I had experienced in my life called Upington. Like a well taken care garden, along the stretch of the road, is the Orange River enveloped by an array of Vineyards.
“Welcome to Northern Cape gentlemen” said our tour guide for the day Zandisile Luphahla, spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture. A jovial fella, I found his unshaken knowledge and history off government funded programs absolutely captivating.
His swiping grin as we entered that valley of Blocuso land told me we will be taken aback. We are introduced to a charming old man called Christo ‘Jabu’ Smit, the regional district manager responsible for the Kai Garib government funded projects.
“The land you standing on originates from Congregational Church who bought the farms Bloemsmond, Curriescamp, Soverby 60 years ago for the establishment of small villages for coloured people” said Smit as he waved his hand around the land as if to summon obedience.
The 216-ha irrigation is impressive, layered with plenty vineyards that could cover an entire township with farm workers going about their duties, while tractors bustle in grapes and raisins to the storage facility. Packer trucks are ready to load a display of rural economy playing out.
But how did this all start? I had the urge to question our hosts.
In 2000, government assisted the Blocuso communities to buy the farms from the Congregational Church through the Settlement Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) and was constituted formerly to Blocuso Trust.
“466 families were assisted to buy these lands for around R7 million. But look today, the community has turned some of the land into 216 ha of grapes” interjected Zandisile.
I stood in awe off what was laid before my eyes. Essentially 3 communities formed a trust and established Blocuso Landgoed company to manage the day to day running of the Blocuso Trust Vineyard. A select committee consisting of members of the trust, government and buyers in ensuring the vineyard project achieves its milestones.
Unlike other government funded projects, what I understood from the project was the department transferred the money to the select committee, who undertakes to ensure every cent spent is accounted for. This committee from time-to-time ropes in speciality services of persons such as lawyers, technical experts, auditors etc.
In basic summary, I concluded the arrangement was designed to limit government red tape so as to ensure the Blucoso community is served expediently.
To date, the department and its stakeholders since 2009, has contributed R74 million, which has created 24 permanent workers, and 80 temporary farm workers during planting and harvesting seasons.
“In 2019/2020 harvesting season that was an increase of 28 tons within the 26.63 ha of wine grapes and 9 tons of raisins within the 20.83 had of raisin grapes. The increase is because of the improvement of knowledge, skills and production practices,” said Smit.
Blocuso Trust Vineyard sells its wine grapes to the likes of Orange River Wine Cellars and the raisins to Pioneer Foods, RedSun Raisins etc.
Remarkably, the Blocuso Trust Vineyard reinvests some of its profits directly to its communities. Through this project alone, the trust achievements are commendable and include;
• 2012 – invested in water drainage systems
• 2013 – trust built a community hall and installed toilets in the 3 communities
• 2014 – brought mechanical equipment; 4ton truck, 2x tripper trailers, 1x grape trailer, and 1x water trailer
• 2016 – constructed a storage facility and purchased a tractor
• 2017 -2020; managing own overheads and developing new vineyard sites
What is left to say asked our tour guide for the day? We were speechless and maybe outsmarted by the intricate planning details and operations of the vineyard facility, that it belonged to a community and there were no mishaps. Everything went according to plan imbibed Smit, as he studied our agonising blanks.
With such public and private partnerships, there is hope for smallholder farmers and the country I believe as a youth.
By Tebogo Magolego