There are those who think that Stellenbosch is one of the loveliest winelands in the world as it is; others, like the strawberry-farming Zetler family seem to prefer it covered with plastic hothouses and vibrocrete walls. Much more profitable than beauty, of course, as the rich Zetlers know well. And more profitable than winegrowing, as the neighbours no doubt ruefully reflect, while they’re forced to endure this aesthetic pollution.
And worst of all, it seems that the Stellenbosch municipality is doing nothing to stop it, or even control it. A number of these unsightly and excrescent products of agro-industry have sprung up recently – with legality that in some cases seems rather more than dubious. Now the farmers on the pleasant Polkadraai Hills outside the town are having to endure a massive and unsightly development. Zetler’s – one of the biggest strawberry suppliers in the country, as customers of Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths amongst others will be aware – are behind it, and unapologetic.
In fact, says Luca Bein, winegrower and representative of the Polkadraai Hills Association, the development “has happened without any authorisation, not for the buildings, nor for the new dam, nor for the earth movement, nor for the uninterrupted vibracrete wall, more than a kilometre long, around it, nor any environmental authorisations in terms of the environmental laws and the National Heritage Resource Act, as imperatively required by planning legislation.”
The Association has been doing what it can in response, but the Stellenbosch authorities are somewhat less than helpful. Says Luca:
“We contacted the relevant authorities in Stellenbosch already in February and March respectively, but were told at first that everything is in order with this development. Luckily we insisted further, and last Friday (only!), the owner of the land (which is not the developer by the way) was served with a notification that he should please hand in a building application! Of course, the development is 100% completed by now…”
“We last week took a letter to the Mayor of Stellenbosch, presenting all our grievances and arguments, copying all concerned departments locally and provincially. But he refused to see me, so I had to leave it with his secretary. To be honest, I don’t think he will read it at all. We have lost faith in the responsible authorities. We believe that as soon as the late building application is filed, it will be granted.”
This is not the only development of its kind in Stellenbosch (there are photographs of similar blights on the landscape in Jonkershoek, Helderberg and elsewhere, on the website of the Polkadraai Hills Association).
There was a good deal of upset and alarmist action not long ago when there was talk of a state-owned body prospecting for minerals in the winelands. It’s arguable that this continuing desecration of the environment by private agro-industry is even more significant. Let’s hope that everyone reacts as strongly. Especially as the destruction is actually happening. Right now.