Social upliftment

There’s nothing like a stirring anthem to make one’s heart swell and beat a little faster, to foster feelings of pride. English children’s novelist Enid Blyton would have written about a member of the Famous Five being “proud to bursting!” It’s cheesy but true. That feeling – warm and fuzzy – is sadly not felt or displayed often enough. 

The obvious exception is on the sports field when a team – be it club, provincial or national – wins a big prize but that fist-pumping, chest thumping, “YESSSSSS!!!!” bellowing pride isn’t something generally associated with the wine fraternity other than when a producer wins a top competition.

But what about behind the scenes? The things that are done quietly, without fuss or fanfare that genuinely change peoples’ lives, making a difference and allowing them to entertain the possibility of a different life course? 

Top of the list is the Pebbles Project. Chuck a pebble in a pond and see the ripples multiply. That was the premise of the initiative started in 2003 by sisters Sophia and Lucy Warner. It’s been a phenomenal success, raising millions in funding locally and abroad. It kicked off at Villiera Wines in Stellenbosch with the Grier family allowing the repurposing of a few labourers cottages to a crèche and aftercare facility for farm workers. It’s gone on to have hundreds of children under its care, providing childhood development programmes, an innovative mobile toy library as well as a mobile computer laboratory for older learners.
Read about the first decade of Pebbles and its many successes here:

Pebbles is one of the main beneficiaries of the annual Cape Wine Auction begun three years ago – and which has raised millions for Winelands education and development programmes.
(See here:

Villiera is the hub with a daycare centre which boosts the early childhood developmental needs of children, as well as homework support and aftercare for schoolchildren. Then there’s the environmental awareness programme for training adults and children on the farm and a clinic which benefits the larger local community – not just those resident or working on Villiera.

Out in the Robertson wine valley, the late Graham Beck initially endowed the Graham and Rhona Beck Skills Centre which has become a valuable resource to other wine farms in the valley. Its vision statement is: “The Graham & Rhona Beck Skills Centre seeks to be a catalyst for poverty eradication, enhance employability and sustainable growth in the Langeberg Municipal Area, by means of measurable and meaningful skills development. In order to achieve the vision, the Centre will ensure the satisfaction of the development needs of the area.” 

The programmes, training courses and conferences have produced tangible results – turning one young woman from a day labourer picking tomatoes into an administrative assistant at Weltevrede winery and subsequently the 2010 Farmworker of the year! Or a Van Loveren farm labourer into a director and Chairman of the De Goree Workers Trust. Check out their success stories here: (

Shelter from the elements or having a roof over your head is a fundamental human need. Having a home to call your own is something long denied workers on South African wine farms – but the situation is changing. At the entrance to Franschhoek, is Dennegeur, a residential development which looks no different to any other in the food and wine epicentre of South Africa. But Dennegeur IS different: workers at Anthonij Rupert Wines, L’Ormarins, La Motte and Leopard’s Leap, Rupert & Rothschild all own homes here. Not only that but it boasts a community centre, crèche and aftercare as well as sporting facilities along with a permanent health care worker on site. For many of them it’s a dream come true.

But it’s also not the only one: Charles Back of Fairview facilitated home ownership for staff, as did the Back family of Backsberg and the Bosman family of Wellington. The latter, notably, by means of a purpose built apartment block in Wellington – all made possible through the adoption of Fairtrade certification and the creation of the Adama Workers Trust. Formerly disadvantaged Bosman employees get to make their own decisions on how funds are disbursed and this was deemed a priority. (

And what about corporates such as Distell? Not only do the funds raised during the charity segment of the annual Nederburg Auction go to worthy charitable causes but the auctioneers have established a bursary to support potential viticulturists.
Earlier this year, Azolile Khoncoshe was announced as the first ever recipient. (

Furthermore, Nederburg’s branding is displayed across the toned derrieres of the Dimension Data cycling team which competes in high profile international events such as the Tour de France. Not only is the wine brand gaining exposure for its product but it supports the team’s involvement in the Qhubeka initiative which sees robust Buffalo Bikes awarded to worthy recipients, enabling them to ride to school or work. To qualify, children such as those at Kylemore in Stellenbosch have to be involved in environmental or social responsibility programmes, as well as maintain their grades for six months. Some of those bicycles are put together at Nederburg’s Paarl premises with local woman being trained in bicycle assembly and maintenance. 

Josh Groban’s beautiful classically trained voice manages somehow to make cheesy lyrics sound rousing and stirring – and anthemic. “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up to walk on stormy seas. I am strong when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be.”

Which is what these projects and initiatives – just a surface-scratching representative few of many in the South African winelands – are all about. Raising people up and changing lives for the better.

-Fiona McDonald