For months, farms in the Western Cape, home to most of South Africa’s vineyards, have been blighted by violent strikes.Workers demanding the minimum wage be raised from $7.50 to $16 a day have torched millions of dollars worth of property in the region. Despite the wage being raised to $11.50, there are calls for another round of civil disorder.
Amid the chaos, the farms that have carried on are isolated pockets of worker satisfaction. At Bosman Family Vineyards, in the foothills of the Bainskloof mountains, the owners give workers a stake in the company, forming one of the biggest black economic empowerment deals in the South African wine industry. Approximately 250 permanent employees live in houses equipped with electricity and running water. Teachers are kept on payroll to teach the workers’ young children. Retirement residences are provided. Adama Red, one of the farm’s most popular wines, is named after Adam Appollis, a forefather to many of the workers at the 300-year-old farm.
When the strikes in the region began, workers had to be smuggled in to the vineyards. “We have a few employees that live in town—we were concerned about their safety,” says Petrus Bosman, the managing director. “So they came to work in civil clothes a few days, worked shorter hours, not going into town normal hours, to avoid conflict and intimidation.”
The technique worked. “This year, we did our biggest graft ever,” says Bosman. “We managed to pick by hand every bunch of grapes, in the shortest time ever, without using machines or additional work force.”