Photo caption: Oom Hendrik Nyl (Doolhof farm worker), Andie Steele-Smith and Councillor Rita Andreas (Member of the Mayoral Committee for Rural Development Western Cape).
Known globally as South Africa’s “gang pastor”, Australian philanthropist and community pastor, Andie Steele-Smith (54) has been called out to South Africa to do God’s work, and help restore hope and dignity to the farmworker communities of the Cape Winelands.
Andie’s work in the Cape Flats and townships across the Western Cape are well documented (but we’ll come back to this …). Last year he accepted the challenge to follow in the footsteps of pioneers like the Bosman Family to aid the oft-forgotten farm workers of the Cape Winelands.
Over the past four years, Andie has carefully observed the impact of (and the heart behind) the transformation that the Bosman Family have brought to their farm working communities. He’s always been keen to work alongside other farms that wish to embrace this change, and thus positively impact the 46 575 farm workers in the Cape Winelands.
He’s a firm believer that generational change is possible when workers, producers, communities, local churches and government work together in unity.
Andie’s one awesome Aussie!
Andie’s background lies in the world of investment banking and social impact investment. And it was partly this expertise that saw him negotiate the acquisition of Doolhof Wine Estate in Wellington on behalf of its new owner, London based RAB Capital Limited in 2020.
For the past seven years, he has dedicated himself to Christian faith ministry work with gang members and disadvantaged communities such as Fisantekraal, Khayelitsha, Mbekweni and Manenberg.
In 2016, Andie started a young men’s Bible study group in Fisantekraal and unintentionally became a prominent figure in the community. He realised that many of the boys lacked a consistent father figure in their lives. This ultimately led him to ministering to hundreds of gang members in Manenberg and Scottsdene, where many of the Cape Flats’ most violent gangs operate.
Many people question Andie’s sanity, but he’s well aware of the risk venturing into one of the world’s most dangerous and violent communities by himself. “My faith is what keeps me fearless,” he says with a grin.
Not only has Andie managed to befriend high-ranking gang leaders, but he’s successfully reformed and mentored many young men in the grip of the Cape’s criminal underworld.
Andie has a genuine desire to bring about real change to people’s lives, especially those who’ve been systemically devoured by a broken societal structure. His compassion is real – fuelled by his belief – which has made him resolute in his mission to help these people help themselves to rise above the circumstances that they did not choose.
Ability to band people together
During the Covid-19 lockdown period, Andie led a food aid initiative in partnership with the Hillsong Africa Foundation and Chanan54, providing food and health goods to more than 100 000 underprivileged people in Fisantekraal and Manenberg.
Remarkably, Andie convinced high-ranking officers from notorious gangs such as the Americans, Hard Livings, Jesters and Clever Kidz to set their differences aside, call a temporary truce and assist with the distribution of food parcels and other essential goods to the community.
This act of goodwill attracted local and international media attention as major new agencies such as the BBC covered Andie’s journey of compassion through various press articles and television documentaries. This effort contributed to a significant drop in crime incidents in the Cape Flats during this time.
These days, Andie is a frequent (and peculiar!) sight in Manenberg, often seen driving through the streets in his overland-kitted Land Cruiser laden with supplies or hosting a ‘drum-braai’ on a street corner, inviting anyone to join. He’s also been dubbed the ‘Naartjie King’, often delivering tonnes of fresh naartjies and oranges to the community.
Andie has a knack for playing ‘peacemaker’ with these quarrelsome gangs, but says he accomplishes this only through his faith. He believes although this response during Covid-19 may not end gang violence, “it has helped many young men see themselves based on what they can positively contribute to society.”
Bringing love to the Winelands
He has made it his mission to assist in restoring the lives, confidence and working conditions of the Doolhof farm community in the Bovlei Valley, which had suffered from a lack of love, focus and investment prior to the acquisition.
Since arriving late last year, Andie’s impact has been felt throughout the Bovlei Valley, improving the general morale of some farm workers and community members dramatically.
At the beginning of 2021 he started a church for those in the Doolhof village and for other local farm workers. “Over there’s our church,” says Andie as he points to the lush green lawn in front of the tasting room.
“It’s where we meet every Sunday. It’s outdoors and simple, and we sit on overturned grape crates. But it has given the community an opportunity to engage with the gospel, and grow their faith into something that’s bigger than themselves. “It is a sad reality of the past that for many of these workers, they don’t see much in the way of hope or opportunity.”
He says that faith and the hope that comes from that will help improve the people’s outlooks and thus circumstances, ultimately ensuring a safer, healthier and happier community. “If we can change hearts, we can change minds, and thereafter hands and feet, and create a sustainable community that has hope and self-respect, and thus a brighter future.”
Through faith and authentic relationships, Andie’s aim is to continue the good work of Bosman and others to bring more equality and dignity to the community of the Bovlei Valley. “I don’t want to be seen as the ‘white saviour’ that just hands out stuff. I believe in giving people agency and a voice, as well as the means and tools to empower themselves. I admire and have tried to emulate some of Petrus and the Bosman family’s approach to upliftment – providing opportunities or young people to, for example, become a winemaker as opposed to a general worker.”
Andie also assisted with a recent mass Covid-19 vaccination drive, spearheaded by Councillor Rita Andreas, Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Rural Development Western Cape, to give more than 500 farmworkers the jab.
Rita attests to Andie’s kind-heartedness and generous spirit. “During these drives, Andie supplied food and refreshments to those who signed up for the vaccination and to the volunteers assisting us. His energy and compassion has been a breath of fresh air. He’s been an incredible source of inspiration for the community and the people whose lives he’s touched.”
Oom Hendrik Nyl, a general worker at Doolhof for nearly 40 years, says conditions have improved significantly since Andie’s involvement with the community. “He’s been a ray of light during dark times. We lacked a sense of togetherness in the community. Andie not only provided us with food and basic amenities, he’s also given us a voice to settle our differences and restore our dignity.”
Hendrik says Andie has a hands-on approach. “Should any of us experience a medical emergency, he’s the one at hospital to support us, no matter what time of day. He’s given us confidence and belief in ourselves again, and we cannot thank him enough. Our future, and the future of our kids, look a lot better with him here.”
“My focus is on three things,” Andie comments, “People. People, and yes, you guessed it, people. If you can change the way people look at themselves and others, everything changes! Once people respect themselves and see themselves as worthy and valuable, their entire lives can change. People are more likely to prosper in all areas of their lives and of course a sense of pride in their work, and the new-found confidence, that reflects in their work lives as well as their home lives. The greatest change happens from within.”
Andie hopes to be yet another catalyst for transformational change within the Cape Winelands and welcomes the opportunity to engage with other farms to achieve synonymous upliftment and commercial goals.