A sad day for Swartland wine

For very many months, a vociferous battle – legal, personal, emotional – has been fought against the onset of sand-mining on the Paardeberg in the Swartland – a destructive, anti-agricultural activity which threatens a blight on one of the Cape’s most exciting wine areas.

Illegal sandmining on the Paardeberg some months back. Soon this scene will be more common.

Today it looks like the battle might be effectively over, with the Swartland Municipality (based in the town of Malmesbury) effectively trashing the wine-farms that have brought international honour to the region – in favour of short-term benefits to landowners (remember the folktales about how much farmers love their land?) who think they’ll do better out of destroying the basis of agriculture on their land.

The story and the issues and the history of the struggle are complex, and I can’t claim to comprehend the details. But some months ago, as I understand it, the Swartland municipality licensed one sand-mining operation; earlier this month, after much contestation, it finally granted licences to two more operators. One is in the Aprilskloof (affecting the immediate environment of wineries including Sadie Family Wines and Lammershoek), and one in the Siebritskloof (where Badenhorst Family Wines and David and Nadia Wines are based). The precedent is set; there’s little prospect of further permissions not being given. It’s going to mean not just scars on the landscape, but a roaring flow of trucks on the sand roads leading into these kloofs – roads which are already suffering, and certainly not designed for this.

Wine tourists? Seems like the municipality doesn’t much care about them either.

Eben Sadie – in the middle of probably his heaviest week of the 2017 harvest – phoned me this afternoon to give me this news that he’d just received. He sounded devastated. With others, he has fought hard to preserve the agricultural character of the Paardeberg. A lot of money has been spent on lawyers, a lot of time and energy in trying to get action against the threat of sandmining from national, provincial and local authorities. It seems that the municipal power is the crucial element in the equation.

How the municipal planners came to their conclusions is unclear. The arguments of the objectors are overridden with mentions of profitability and claims that “the possible detrimental impacts” (possible?) of sand mining have been addressed. A crucial sentence in the municipality’s statement has it that “the need for construction material for housing and infrastructure development as well as resulting economic growth is recognize[d] as equally important as the conservation of agricultural land”. Well, yes – as a general statement, but it is not a principle that can possibly cover all situations where losses and benefits are to be weighed. It’s merely the eternal excuse for shortsighted despoliation of our world.

The interests of the winefarmers of the Paardeberg, and of its agricultural heritage, need to be balanced against the interests of those who want to profitably mine sand from the area. Fair enough. But have those bland municipal officers (of course none of them with a stake in it!) understood the international significance of this sprawling granitic mountain, of these kloofs?

Siebritskloof – no place for sand-mining

The Paardeberg provided the nucleus for the reinvention of the Swartland over the past few decades. The Swartland wine renaissance has spread to other magic mountains and hills – Kasteelberg, Porseleinberg the best known – but the Paardeberg remains vital. The Swartland and Stellenbosch are perhaps the two South African areas whose names will be most recognised by international winelovers – then probably the two mountains those winelovers will have heard of are the Helderberg and the Paardeberg.

One of those famous mountains is now going to be ripped up and disfigured. For sand (not even first quality sand, I believe). That’s admittedly an extreme way of putting it – it’s not a wholesale swathe of destruction that will happen; this is not the Swartland apocalypse. But it’s a threat to the integrity of one of the Cape’s foremost winelands, and it does matter.


39 thoughts on “A sad day for Swartland wine

  1. I just don’t understand these decision makers at times,Why?Why?Why? we get to rent this beautiful country with all its natural glory and now its decided to destroy it for a few personal gains!
    very sad indeed.

  2. Sad news. The shortsightedness of this whole thing is the most tragic aspect for me. I was part of a similar situation a few years ago in the Limpopo Valley near Mapungupwe. When big money gains in the short term gets thrown around people (especially those in decision making positions) starts loosing their minds. Let’s hope some sanity and balance will find their way in this episode.

  3. No I haven’t, David. I was alerted to this only in the late afternoon. I’ve seen the letter that they wrote giving notice of their decision and their paltry reasoning. I’ll see if I can get hold of someone in the municipality today.

  4. Further: I have written to Mr Alwyn Burger, who is Senior Town Planner for the municipality, asking for comment. And I believe that the winefarmers and workers are planning some sort of public protest action; when I have details of that, I will relay them.

  5. This could be a good time for the industry to flex some media muscle? Carte Blanche? Business Day? IOL? Bringing a fight to idiotic and illogical bureaucracy will be easier if the decision-makers are personally exposed and the fight is made personal. Bureaucrats are partially defined by their ability to hide behind bureaucracy. In my opinion.

    • Sad to see such blatant disregard for our industry & heritage. Sending this to my ex-neighbour, Penny Haw now. She writes for BD. Will gladly join in any protest march!

    • Totally agree with you. One day I’m going to ‘come good’ on making my dream watchdog organization “MIP” (Make It Personal) a reality!

  6. It is second prize, but there are stringent rehabilitation requirements for this kind of mining. The next (legal) battle should be to ensure these mining operators are held to environmental regulations and demonstrably make adequate financial provisions to cover the cost of rehabilitation.

  7. Your article is starting to create a bit of a bow-wave that will hopefully get the attention of unbiased media and regional government. All of us that support the SIP and enjoy the fine wines from the Paardeberg are fervently hoping this will ultimately work out well for a sustainable long-term outcome.

  8. How absolutely disgusting! Such beauty, yet the promise of monetary wealth to a select few makes it okay to destroy it. Human greed prevails while nature suffers!

  9. Alwyn Burger strikes again! I have had personal experience of him flouting the land use regulations and completely disregarding rights of those most affected by his desicions. I think this should be investigated thoroughly, to determine how exactly he makes these decisions and exactly how deep this type of thing goes. I’m guessing pretty deep!

  10. Learn from the huge George Municipality blunder when sand mining rights were given on sites adjoining Langvlei – a zone 3 RAMSAR site… REHABILITATION DOES NOT HAPPEN!

  11. Any idea whether the winemakers will appeal to Province? They are entitled to do this.
    Also I presume there would have been some sort of change in land use application which would have been subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment. Was this done?

  12. Thanks all for comments. It’s good to have an indication of just how many people care. Jason: I believe that some sort of appeal will be undertaken. The lawyers and PR people are preparing a press release, so hopefully that will be covered. I’m pretty confident that the lawyers will have covered all the options – this fight has been going on for a long time at all levels. I think there’s some hope that the province and perhaps national departments might become involved again at the appeals stage.

    Dave – Eben says the mining companies are known, as is the environmental practitioner that handles cases for them. Will emerge….

    Also: We are organising an online petition to support the appeals process – will of course announce it ASAP.

    And, by the way, the Swartland Municipality Senior Town Planner hasn’t (yet) responded to my request for a comment.

  13. Thank-you Tim for putting the spotlight on this tragic occurrence. This is scheduled for to be discussed on Cape Talk this afternoon at 17h20.

  14. Greed on the part of officials motivates short term gain for a few trumping the long term benefits for our country. This has to be stopped. Sand mining in the Piketberg area was stopped and was a factor in the Stellenboschkloof farms’ victory over similar interests. The same arguments can be used to stop this outrage

  15. This is terrible news. The area is an unspoilt gem in South Africa – up until now. It is hard to believe that the objections , which are so numerous and so valid, have been completely overridden. It definitely needs investigation and transparency.Please explore all avenues for doing this.

  16. This is very sad news for us, in Canada, who support and promote the Paardeberg wine industry. People here would like to support efforts that respect the balance of this ecosystem towards upliftment for future generations. We hope that this can be done through, amongst other things, the educated people in positions of power being held accountable for their decision-making. Best wishes to all who fight for this special place on the planet!

  17. We are shocked and dismayed for the whole Paardeberg as well as for ourselves here at Fynbos Estate – as we are the next in line. A sand mining application is in process for a mine adjacent to us and right at our entrance. Additional to wine tourism, this exquisite mountain has numerous nature reserves and biodiversity areas which often sustain agriculture ( as in our case) and allow for responsible eco-tourism. Does no one in office think about the planet and about what we leave to our children? All for the one off benefit to a few individual farmers and some sand transport operators. The notion that sand mines can be rehabilitated is manifestly not true. The sought after sand , with its minerals, specific permeability’s and biological life takes 90 years to return to what it was. We stand with all those who oppose sand mining on the Paardeberg and invite you to do the same

  18. 1. The Protect the Paardeberg Coalition will be issuing a press statement later today (it doesn’t add much to what we know already).

    2. I’ve had a response from Swartland Municipality to my query. It says:
    “Please note that the Municipality Tribunal’s decision is currently subject to an appeal process.
    The issuing of a general statement in this regard is presently being considered by the Municipality.”

  19. Amazing hoe julle wynboere en Kapenaars in julle eie bubble lewe !
    Die res van SA kan maar vergaan dit traak julle min.
    Maar sodra iets in julle bubbletjie verkeerd gaan is dit van wereld belang en ‘n nasionale en internasionale ramp !

    • Geagte Frikkie
      Hierdie is immers ‘n blog oor wyn,wynmakers en die wynbedryf en kug kug die grootste deel daarvan is in die Kaap.
      Ja die Paardeberg beinvloed nie Brandewyn en Coke drinkers so seer nie maar wel ander.
      Thanks to Tim et al for putting in an effort here.

    • Frikkie.
      Ja, as iemand in “jou bubble” krap, dan reageer jy daarop. Nou wie nie in die bresse getree het vir jou en wat ookal in jou bubble verkeerd gegaan het nie, sal gaaf wees om te weet.
      En hoe enige iemand druk op jou gesit het om deel te neem aan die inisiatief om dit te stop sal ook gaaf wees o te weet; sover ek weet is jou onder geen druk om jou naam op ‘n petisie te sit nie.
      Die feit dat dit so baie publisiteit en aandag kry, mag jou dalk ontstig; maar dit is nie ons probleem nie, net meer ‘n aanduiding dat jy en wat ookal jou bubble onstel net nie die vermoens het om soveel reaksie te trek nie.
      so jy is reg; jy en jou probleme is nie “ons” probleem nie, en soos dit klink is jy ook nie regtig die tipe wat ek sou wou help al kon ek nie.

  20. As a wine lover and conservationist I do sympathize, however the article neither mentions the reason the sand is in such demand nor what the impact thereof is on the wine lands. Debate must fundamentally be founded on facts in order support sound discourse and amicable resolution.

  21. What a shame and shortsighted decision! All swartland wine makers worked hard to put this area onto the map and hundreds of thousands people, South Africans and foreigners, became fans and buyers of their products. To sacrify this for the profit of a few is pathetic.
    Can’t we find enough votes for a petition?
    Eben, Addi and all our wine maker friends: go and fight. We all are supporting you!

  22. Sand-mining has been on-going on the western side of the Paardeberg for the past 5 years or more. That is the R302 between Klipheuwel and Malmesbury. There are vineyards either side of the sand-mining, but no iconic cellars, so no reaction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you human? *