Compagniesdrift is the trading name of what enterprising and dynamic young MD Ilse Ruthford reckons is one of the most successful Cape winelands black economic empowerment ventures to date.
It was initiated in 2009 by the Myburgh Family Trust as one of its Foundations’ ongoing projects to enable their farmworkers to become economically independent and ensure a viable, long-term future for themselves and their independents.
Seed-funded with a R45-million investment in collaboration with Standard Bank and the Western Cape Department of Land Affairs through its Land Reform and Development programme (LRAD), the Compagniesdrift venture is operated under the management of two companies: MWT Investments and Faure AgriVillage.
Both are jointly owned, with equal shareholding, by the Myburgh Family Trust and the Meerlust Workers’ Trust, comprising of 72 people with long-standing working relationships with the farms involved. Thirty five of the 72 people involved are from the Meerlust Estate with the balance coming from Vriesenhof and Ken Forrester. The venture affords these individuals an opportunity to obtain an interest through the Meerlust Empowerment Trust in the two companies which conduct both commercial farming as well as a business venture (Compagniesdrift) and utilising it in partnership with Meerlust. Although 72 individuals have been given this opportunity to improve their financial and social circumstances the project ultimately benefitS +- 180 people when dependents are included.
In phase one, the companies purchased from the Meerlust Family Trust 76.5 ha of agricultural land of which 13ha is currently planted under vine and a further 33 hectares suitable for vineyards. The land includes 31 workers cottages of approximately 60m² each. The long term goal will be to develop 30 ha of quality grapes that will be used in the Meerlust range of wines and the range of Compagniesdrift wine launched in 2015.
The second phase of the project has been the development and construction by the company MWT Investments of a wine storage and labelling facility, Compagniesdrift. Compagniesdrift offers bottling and blending facilities as well as in-house labelling to wine producers from the surrounding Stellenbosch area. The facility offers a cost-effective alternative to those producers who either do not have their own facilities or where they are required to transport their wine over long distances to acquire such facilities. Opened in time for the 2011 vintage with just four wine producers as clients, the Compagniesdrift facility is today operating at full capacity, handling some 2.6 million bottles of wine for 40 wine producer clients across the Cape winelands. Plans are already in place to apply for financing to extend the facilities as it is operating at maximum capacity.
Compagniesdrift also launched a range of four wines under their own distinctive label. At this stage the wines are made on a consultancy basis by Meerlust winemaker Chris Williams with some of the grapes coming from the 13ha of established vineyards on 76ha of land now owned and maintained by MWT Investments and Faure AgriVillage.
Other agricultural endeavours include Faure AgriVillage, renting land not suitable for grape growing from MWT Investments to further develop an already-established Nguni cattle breeding programme, also generating a food source and additional income from sales of meat and the breed’s distinctive, decorative skins.
As the various projects are developed, Compagniesdrift will increasingly become a “school” for in-job training in business management and agricultural production, providing an incentive for coming generations of winelands youngsters to become part of a more skilled labour force.
Decades of being concerned for the well being of the Meerlust workforce have culminated in the establishment of the Meerlust Foundation.
The mission of the Meerlust Foundation is to provide a safe and stimulating environment for the children of the farm workers.
Initially the programme started with the establishment of a small crèche and later developed into a programme which had an educational, social skills and development focus. At that stage the Foundation, funded solely by Meerlust, was managed by a social worker and employed 11 staff members.
The vision of the Foundation is to create an opportunity for every Meerlust Child to be in a position to decide what he or she would like to do with his/her life. Over the last decade most of the children have completed at least five years more schooling than their parents had the opportunity to complete.
At the end of 2011 it was decided to close the crèche and after school facilities on Meerlust and to join forces with the Sustainability Institute in Lynedoch. This institute and the Meerlust Foundation share the same vision and values, and now, with funding provided by Meerlust, provides the children with the same facilities that they enjoyed previously. The added benefit being that they can now interact with children outside of their own communities.
The Sustainability Institute provides facilities for pre-school children between the ages of 3 months and two years, a full day crèche and a after school programme for the older children. At the moment six babies are enrolled in the crèche, 12 children are in pre-school and 24 enjoy the after school programme.