Many tourists who travel to the idyllic Cape wine estates in South Africa for a tasting are unaware of the terrible truth. These wine estates were built as a result of human slavery. Despite the whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture, there are numerous antique bell towers standing silently as witnesses to this history. Africans and Indigenous people were called to their daily tasks by slave bells throughout the centuries.
In a country where many farmworkers are abused and mistreated, one winery has adopted a land reform initiative to seek justice for descendants of slaves. In the post-apartheid South African context, it has become one of the most fascinating social experiments. In spite of the bucolic villages, French oak barrels, picturesque landscapes, and gourmet dishes, nearly two centuries of slavery remain a reality. A significant number of tourists visit the wine regions every year.
One of Cape Town’s landowners, Mark Solms, decided to expose the truth about the incident. During the 18th century, he and his partners created a slave museum in a wine cellar in their historical home, where slaves used to be whipped as punishment.
In the famed Franschhoek Valley, Namibia-born psychoanalyst had the following to say:
“We’re still dealing with the consequences of slavery today, which undoubtedly aided the working and building of these farms,” he says. It is traditionally the owners who are rich and white and the workers who are poor and brown, both of which are a result of slavery.
Interesting Fact: Mark Solms’ most notable contributions include his discovery of a forebrain mechanism for dreaming, as well as his integration of psychoanalytic theories and methods with modern neuroscience. ‘Neuropsychoanalysis’ is reputedly the first term he used.
As reported by Mr. Solms, Cape Dutch buildings have oriental flourishes on their gables. A key feature of Cape Dutch architecture is its influence from the East Indies. This was directly connected to slavery. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, slaves were transported from West Africa and the Dutch East Indies to Cape Town. The number of slaves quickly exceeded the number of white settlers. When slavery was abolished in 1838, 63,000 slaves had been imported.
Despite the fact that they were freed, farmworkers frequently continued to be manipulated by crude systems in which wine was exchanged for labor, which perpetuated their alcoholism. Apartheid was oppressive to workers during the 20th century. In Cape Town, farm workers are among the lowest paid in the country, often live in substandard conditions without electricity and water, and are at risk of eviction and being exposed to unsafe pesticides.
Solms, an owner of one of South Africa’s most progressive wineries, made it his mission to build an establishment where people who were dispossessed could own a piece of the business. In spite of his enthusiastic description of his ideas, the farm workers remained sulky and mute. As he recalls, “I was very enthusiastic about changing this piece of South Africa. However, I encountered resistance, inertia, and apathy. Throughout the process, communication was difficult. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I was unsure what to do.”
Using his psychoanalytic expertise and studies of dreams, he sat with the workers and listened. Ultimately, he concluded that the apathy and indolence were a result of the slavery era itself and the “messiah” mentality adopted by many white landowners, such as himself. According to him, there was no hope for the future and one must examine their own complicity in the situation.
As a result of the merger of Mr. Solms’ neighboring estates with his partner, Mr. Astor, a third farm was acquired. One-third of the equity was distributed to 180 farm workers and residents through a trust. In addition to helping with alcoholism and domestic violence issues, a social worker and health care provider are available at the Solms-Delta estate, which produces 30,000 cases of wine annually under brands such as Cape Jazz and Africana.
In addition to researching the slaves’ ancestry, historians hired by Mr. Solms identified the enslaved people’s original owners. Archaeologists also examined the site. Stone Age tools have been found on the farm that belongs to the Khoisan people, whose descendants still work there today. Having expertise in psychoanalysis is a natural extension of all of this, he claims. Depending on the circumstances, “digging up the past” could be a therapeutic process. It is ineffective to ignore the truth.
Workers and tenants say the Solms project has changed their lives. Medwin Pietersen, the farm’s brand ambassador at international wine shows, says the 31-year-old descendant of slaves has changed everything on the farm. In the past, he recalls living in dimly lit houses/ outhouses. Nowadays, satellite television, water, and electricity are available and the world has changed for him. One day, he will thank Mark for all that he has done for him. Mr. Solms says that the reform project has led to better wine and creating a great working environment is one of the reasons.
Sanna Malgas, who has lived on the farm since 1980, recalls that in 1980 she and her co-workers toiled outdoors regardless of weather conditions, including when they were sick and when it was raining heavily. “I didn’t want to let this happen to my kids,” she says.
Wine is made by hand, and the attitudes of the workers affect what is in the bottle, from how the vines are tended to how the grapes are selected. Workers at other Cape wineries have requested similar changes after learning about the Solms-Delta project. Solms has angered or embarrassed some of these employers, but others are willing to promote their employees as a result of the incident.