Philip Jonker responds, as a wine farmer, to farm protests

Thursday, 13 December, 2012
Philip Jonker, the owner of Weltevrede, one of the famous Cape Wine Estates that was hit by the farm worker protests and uprisings in the last 2 weeks, wrote about his life-threatening experience in the following newsletter... (Be prepared to be awed)
"Some time ago someone asked me what my dream is and I wrote: To day by day step into the bullring of everyday life where the adrenaline is pumping and blood flowing, to say and do and live to the utmost the full measure of each day. To be filled with enthusiasm, to live inspired, to keep dreaming and to let others dream. To live the freedom that my faith had ushered me into.

This week I can’t use the term ‘everyday life’. Life as we know it in our celestial valley came to a sudden halt. Towers of black smoke spiralled upwards and shots rang through the air – from a distance seeming completely unreal, like you’re watching a movie. The roads amongst vineyards and orchards were barricaded with burning tyres, rocks and chanting people. Windows of police vehicles were smashed, stoned with rocks. All permanent employees were kept hostage and there is an emotion charged climate of fear and hatred hanging over everything, the lines of worry written on the faces of people. Saddest of all is to see how the children are being wrapped up in lawlessness, partly due to the excitement but also deliberately to keep the police from using rubber bullets. Small children cry out, “Boer, we are going to burn down your farm!”, and another one next to him would cry out, “Do we have Kinderkerk on Sunday?”

Before the troubles started I called a meeting with our farm workers. I reminded them that we are there for them and that we’ll do all we can to keep them safe. I offered them my phone number to call me should anyone be intimidated or threatened. I invited them to come stay with me in my home if anyone feels unsafe. Little did I know that my phone number would be used so frequently during the next few days, not to ask for help, but to alert me about possible dangers, updating me on own initiative of what they see or overheard. I received between ten and twenty phone calls! I am touched by the deep loyalty and commitment of the Weltevrede workers. Despite huge pressure there was not one who stayed away. They all came to work. When I saw their dedication, but also the fear on their faces, I thanked them and gave them the past two days off for the safety of their homes. Sadly, the instigators portrays this as an uprising of farm workers.

On Thursday I received the first phone call that a group of hundreds is on its way to Weltevrede. I quickly went to our farm workers at their homes and warned them so they could lock and stay out of sight. We closed the winery and offices and the management were sent to my home. Everything was deserted except for me waiting. It was so quiet and all I could do was sit and quietly speak to God. I heard them coming long before I could see anything. Their thundering chants of “Viva!” and “Amandla!” echoed against the hills surrounding Weltevrede. It became louder and louder until eventually the mass of people arrived. I think it is normal to fear at that point when more than five hundred angry, armed and emotionally swept up people come toward you man alone. But I did not feel an inkling of fear because I wasn’t man alone. I discovered in me, by the grace of God alone, His spirit of love, power and a sound mind. I walked into the dancing and jumping crowd armed with pangas, machetes and clubs (knopkieries). I went up to the leader, looked him in the eye, smiled and shook his hand. Showing respect from a source of powerful humility within caught him by surprise. It was visible on his face, and parts of the crowd started to calm down. The leader asked me to sign a paper to acknowledge their request of R150/day. This was quite strange as I am not their employer, but as they were only asking for acknowledgement of their request I signed. The group were still chanting “Viva!” and “Amandla!” So I asked the leader if I could speak to the people which resulted in another look of surprise. He turned around and showed the masses to quiet down.

They passed a megaphone to me. It became dead quiet. This isn’t the kind of unprepared oral they teach you at school. I can’t remember all I said, but I do remember that I spoke hope and encouragement. I looked at them and loved them. I encouraged them not to lose hope and to hang on to the dream. I told them our fight is not against flesh. I told them that we are brothers and sisters and that we should talk, not fight. They asked me what I think of the R150 request. “Personally I wish it could be 250, 350 or a thousand. But it isn’t realistic,” I said. I told them to look around them, to see the standard of the housing we provide, to consider the fact that Weltevrede pays on average 80% above the minimum wage set by government and has never failed upping that annually. But still I admitted there is still much to change, I admitted that there is always room for improvement, but we need to build together to sustain the economy of our valley and the realisation of that dream. “Let’s not break down,” I said, while in the corner of my eye I saw smoke coming from one of my Chardonnay vineyards. “We have to build,” I continued. We have a choice to be negative or positive, despite our circumstances. The words we speak can spark destruction or it can spark life. I told them I know their conditions and we all need to work hand in hand, step by step, to bring change. But we also need to be patient. Change doesn’t come overnight. And the “Viva!” and “Amandla!” was exchanged for shouts of “Amen!” People from the crowd came pressing up against me, all wanting to shake my hand. One man came up to me and said, “I shake your hand, Mr Jonker, not because of what you just said, but for what you do in the community.” I couldn’t think of what he refers to. Maybe it is Kinderkerk? Maybe it is simply the spirit in me they sense, as people do sense attitude. Maybe it is the fact that God prompted me several years ago to walk the dusty roads of the local squatter camp and engage with cast out people, to sit in the dust and to tell them that Jesus came with good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty for captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim a new day.

This morning Lindizwe sent me this Scripture. It has helped me navigate my way forward.

Proverbs 29: 7,8: “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understands such knowledge. Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath.”

This is not a time to show force, but powerful humility