“A great number of investments have been made” – Fridjhon

Two years down the road, the SA Wine Industry Trust (SAWIT) is facing criticism about alleged sluggish progress, but in reality the groundwork has been done for plenty of action from here on and manifestations of this have increasingly been seen in the media of late.

SAWIT chairman Michael Fridjhon, said in an interview that the Trust had expended all of its Busco funds in year one, while at the end of year two, most of the funds designated for Devco had actually been either spent or committed.

SAWIT’s funding, of course, is derived from KWV, following an arrangement with the Department of Agriculture at the end of 1998 whereby, following its conversion to a company, it would pay over approximately R400 million to the Trust for development of the South African wine industry. About half of this goes for generic promotion of wine in export markets, research and technology transfer and the rest to community development and empowerment projects in the wine industry. This is being effected through two Article 21 companies, Busco (Business Company) and Devco (Development Company).

As a result of this, KWV’s profit has been under severe pressure in these two years – the SAWIT instalment in the current financial year alone amounting to R19,2 million – and SAWIT’s rate of progress came under fire at the KWV AGM at the end of last year when a former member of the board, Japie van Wyk, called on government to deliver the goods for this financial “sacrifice”.

When approached for comment, Mr Fridjhon said that although there had been comments that delays had been caused by political differences, “no decision of significance has in fact been delayed on account of this although there were points of difference.

“Devco correctly decided to work through issues of funding guidelines and appropriate infrastructure or funding groups before simply spending the money.”

“The decision to create the Education Fund required agreement between all trustees – to clarify definitions arising from the Trust Deed which did not actually provide for a fund for students coming from outside the wine industry – and emerged as a result of several initiatives which the Trust undertook over the previous 12 months. These included for example, administration of the SAA Education Fund and development of the Cellar Assistant Exchange Programme. This required creative and consultative work between all trustees; likewise the Mandela Northern Cape Projects.

“At the heart of Devco’s delays has been the problem of structures for funding – unlike the Busco funds. Devco’s funds cannot easily be handed over to established bodies for administration – since none exist and since the Trust Deed specifically prohibits the trustees from creating infrastructure. Just the same, Devco has made a great number of investments,” Mr Fridjhon added.

It has been learnt authoritatively changes are being implemented to streamline the two companies’ operations, particularly with regard to meeting procedures and systems to facilitate representatives from diverse organisations and geographical areas.
– Cassie du Plessis

“We couldn’t just rush in” – Saunderson

The Trust was in no position to rush in and pour funds where there had been suspect accountability and lack of capacity, says SAWIT general manager Marthinus Saunderson.

As with any community project at birth, the Trust has had its share of political bickering, mistrust and points-scoring, but the work is bearing fruit. Only now can farm workers proudly claim to have a project where they will be growing their own grapes – the one in Lutzville.

“The fact that people are black is not the sole criteria that is going to make business work; also we are not going to bail out anyone going bankrupt,” Saunderson says.

“The principle is to get to a point where there are systems in place that will enable real empowerment. The biggest problem is lack of tacit knowledge and capacity to put ideas into proposal and professional business plans. To this effect the Trust is working with all the stakeholders in the wine industry including trade unions to address the needs of farm workers. All of a sudden everybody is claiming a stake on behalf of farm workers.”

Despite the Trust’s work on the farms, there is still a body of opinion that believes issues that bedevil the wine industry – such as the dop system, violence and child abuse – are still rife in the wine farming community. For decades this blight to the wine industry’s image was a consequence of inaction and complacency from all stakeholders – the workers themselves, governments, suppliers, communities and the general public.

The Trust’s successful programmes to date include:

  • Collaborating with the government to address the problem of alcohol abuse, including research on foetal alcohol syndrome in the winelands in collaboration with the University of Cape Town.
  • A joint programme with the Medical Research Council to treat children with whipworm, sponsored to the tune of R27 000.
  • Philanthropic programmes from local and overseas experts on the foetal alcohol syndrome that have made immense contributions to genetic research and this motivation has spurred the Trust to allocate more funds in this area.
  • A literacy programme on wine farms.
  • Development of courses to produce accredited farm workers, to which R300 000 has been allocated.
  • The Wine Education Fund being established with R3 million over three years.
  • “The next black winemaker will come through this Education Project.
  • The fund will focus primarily on financing students who enroll at the University of Stellenbosch for a B Sc in Agriculture, specialising in either viticulture or oenology. Assistance will also be given to third-year diploma students at Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch, provided they are studying in cellar technology.

“In the new year there will also be linkages between the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Adelaide in Australia on short term courses on wine marketing, branding and wine e-commerce.”
– Vukile Mafilika

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