Friday, 16 July 2010

A visit to Fairhills, South Africa by Harriet Lamb

Today we met up with Mkhululi, the widely respected regional coordinator for Southern Africa. With him we go to visit Fairhills, whose wines you can enjoy in the Coop and who have used the premium to run a creche, among much, much more. On the way Mkhululi tells us that the joke doing the rounds in South Africa is: If only England had won! That way, given the fuss they still make about the last time England won, they would have talked about the World Cup in South Africa for the next 50 years, which would have been good for us...

It is shocking and inspiring to talk to the people at Fairhills. Shocking to learn that it was only in 1996 that white South African wine farmers finally stopped paying workers partly in wine. The legacy is still all too strong: many, many workers are alchoholics. So Fairhills runs special schemes to help such people. To date, 47 people have been on their programme with a 97% success rate.

They explain how important the Fairtrade standards are -  the sad truth is that too many workers in South Africa do not know, let alone get, their basic employment rights. At least, they say, Fairtrade ensures that the employment laws are met. So that is the starting point. Next, most workers are illiterate given that one of the many terrible legacies of apartheid was an education system shot to pieces. Today Fairhills claims to run the largest adult literacy program in the Western Cape with workers from 19 years old to 72!

Fairhills as a wine brand is 25% owned by the workers. Their vision is that one day, as well as owning the brand, the workers will also be part-owners of the farms growing the grapes. So that one day very soon, sitting round the Board table of the farmers' cooperative growing the grapes, along with the 21 white farm owners will be the first black representative of the workers - who will then also own a farm. The vision is almost within their grasp, as the workers' Joint Body seeks to build the capital and the knowledge to buy a farm and take their rightful place at the table.

It's also totally shocking to go through the figures with Fairhills. They reckon that if you or me pay 3.75 for a bottle of wine, only 35p goes for the wine itself! The rest is swallowed down mostly by the taxmen who take about 2.50 (including both VAT and an import duty imposed on wines from South Africa by the EU, an inequity that has the South Africans' blood boiling) and the retailers... As ever, talking to the farmers and workers reminds me to fill the To Do List many times over... And yet it is always so inspiring that so many people are ready to give their energy to finding solutions.

Photos. Top: Harriet with Mkhululi at Fair Hills at one of their hand craft shops that use space where wine was once stored. Bottom: Mkhululi at the Fair Hills computer lab set up using their Fairtrade premium.

Visit the World of Fairhills blog

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