While we sang ‘Gaudeamus igitur’ and the graduates wore the traditional cap and gown, that’s where the Oxbridge allusion ended at the annual Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA) in Stellenbosch.

Rather it was ululating mammas, raucous cheering and personal development over academic prowess that was celebrated. Twenty-three students in all completed the gruelling 12 month programme which included working in the vineyards, cellars and restaurants of the Cape Winelands; a winemaking and sensory evaluation course presented by the University of Stellenbosch; and a sommelier’s course. But the over-arching design of this course is to develop the individual on a personal level so that he/she can mine their own uniqueness and present themselves with confidence to the world.

all students and staff

This is the fourth year in the existence of the PYDA and so far 122 young people have graduated from this academy and almost 100% have found work in the wine industry. From tasting room staff and cellar hands, to workers in laboratories and even in corporate, these carefully selected students have succeeded often out of very disadvantaged backgrounds where the odds are stacked against them.

The programme is fully funded by the likes of the Old Mutual Foundation, Remgro, VinPro and the Cape Wine Auction and enjoys the patronage of influential names in the wine industry. While tuition is free, applicants have to go through a gruelling selection process before they are accepted.

Gerard Martin (Winetech) and Ntsiki Biyela (Aslina Wines and Board member)

As each student walked proudly up to the stage to receive their diploma, Programme Director Nikki Munro read a short synopsis on each graduate’s character and potential, giving the audience a glimpse of how far each student had come on their own personal journey. Proud parents, friends and children clapped and cheered as each student received their diploma and embraced the next chapter in their story.

Student:  Porchia Jacobs from Paarl

Student:  Sipesihle Tshaka from Stellenbosch

Perhaps it was class representative Christiaan Abrahaams who summed it up best when he ended his speech with: “Sit back, relax and watch us conquer the world.”

The students ended off by singing the famous struggle song by Johnny Clegg titled Asimbonanga. In Zulu that means, ‘we have not seen him’ referring to the time when Nelson Mandela was banned. South Africans sing this song nowadays but the words have a new meaning. Now they can be translated as ‘we still have a long way to go, we are the next generation’ inspiring each other to take up the struggle to move South Africa forward to a brighter future.

For more information on the PYDA visit their website: www.pyda.co.za

-Julia Moore