The Solms-Delta Saga – The perspective of Mark Solms and Richard Astor

Mark Solms requested that this article, first published on jancisrobinson.com, be published as a right of reply to the Daily Maverick article.

I expected guarded, jaded but well-polished rhetoric from someone who knew his spiel back to front. I thought I might get to ask a couple of questions and that they might be skilfully dodged. I put 20 minutes in my diary for the call. An hour and a half later, with 12 A4 pages filled with rapidly scrawled notes, I put the phone down.

He’d been very willing to talk. He wasn’t slick. But he sounded weary, almost defeated at times. When I raised the Daily Maverick article, there was something close to bewilderment in his voice. Disbelief. The journalist, Marianne Merten, had phoned him. At the end of their call she asked him for evidence to back up his side of the story. He sent her 11 emails and attachments, documenting conversations, agreements, minutes, memoranda and more. When the article appeared five days later on 14 August it contained all the charges he’d refuted and subsequently provided evidence against. It was as if, he said, she hadn’t read a single one of his emails. At the end of our conversation, I asked him if he would forward those same emails to me. He did.

In the interim I’ve combed through what Solms forwarded, along with dozens of other articles and documents and the notes from our interview to piece together the story. I have also contacted two of the worker representatives, their lawyer, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Director General of Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Head of Ministerial Office. Replies have been few and far between.

In 2001, Solms moved back to his native South Africa from the UK, where he had worked, inter alia, at University College London and the Anna Freud Centre, and founded the International Neuropsychoanalysis Society. He bought an old farm outside Franschhoek with the intention of planting vines and making wine. It was post apartheid and he believed in being part of this brave new world. At the same time he felt, he told me, deeply conflicted and uneasy about being ‘another rich white landowner on a colonial farm with all its connotations of oppression’. So he decided that he would engage with the people who were already living and working on the farm to try to find a way forward that would benefit them.

This noble, altruistic-sounding aspiration turned out to be a difficult, complex process...

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