Let’s face it – The Winelands does not exactly have a glowing reputation for engaging in Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE). All too often, young BBBEE wine companies are left to sink or swim and as a result can quickly become isolated, with little capital or experience.

For many years, the South African government, through various industry role-players, have promoted transformation and upliftment. Regrettably, many of these initiatives that were started up was done to the benefit of the farmers alone; sourcing wine and bottling it with a label donning an African name, keeping the property owner in good standing, though not benefitting any of the people who devote their lives to the brand.

This is where Thokozani is different

To understand the story of Thokozani, it is necessary to go back to the beginning. The year was 2005 when, Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate Owner, David Sonnenberg, approached Denise Stubbs, saying: “Denise, we don’t really have a plan, but how can we change the lives of our community; this Diemersfontein community.”

This little sentence planted the seed for one of the finest examples of successful Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) in the Cape Winelands. In light of David’s desire to leave a sustainable legacy, he blatantly refused to follow the route of other BBBEE models and simply offer handouts – his approach was inclined to be a helping hand. “You can not take someone who has been a labourer their entire life, as their parents and grandparents were, put them into the context of business over night and expect them to swim instead of sink”, David explained. He added: “I don’t believe in grand gestures – in saying ‘here, have this farm, you guys’ – and I haven’t been in a position to buy farms. We have to work with a model that we can afford.”

To achieve this, Thokozani was based on a shareholding model. In 2007, a workers forum was established with 35 staff members of Diemersfontein receiving between R10,000 and R20,000 worth of shares in the company, depending on their seniority; allocated conditional to them staying and working on the farm for five years, while also contributing 2% of their monthly salary towards acquiring additional shares in the company. The majority shareholding of 80% of the company resides in the hands of the workers forum, while Diemersfontein, as the ‘mother company’ retained a 20% shareholding, represented on the board of Thokozani by David Sonnenberg himself. This offers David an insight into the operations of Thokozani and allows for him to exercise his desire for offering guidance through his ‘helping hand’ approach.

We have two sides to the business: Thokozani Winelands Investments, encompassing a wine brand and Diemersfontein’s existing conferencing arm, and Thokozani Properties, plots and cottages to serve as accommodation to visitors and conference delegates. Because of subdivisions allowed on Diemersfontein, David was able to isolate a piece of the property worth about R6 million, which included six plots and an existing cottage. Thokozani acquired the property at 20% less than market value; funded out of own resources, bank loans, staff contributions and contribution by external investors. Two new cottages, valued at about R3 million each, was constructed and joined the accommodation offering on the property. The property makes provision for future growth, with potential for four additional cottages to be built and offer the excitement of further growth for the company.

The biggest capital asset of Thokozani is property; not wine – an asset that will continue to appreciate in time. 

The wines of Thokozani is produced by the winemaking team of Diemersfontein in order to minimise overheads and the risk for the transformation company. The range is much lauded, both local and international; having achieved various quality accolades and a loyal following in various world countries through exports.

Thokozani has changed the attitudes on the farm. The number of staff shareholders went from a modest beginning of 35 to the current 85. “Our team is even more willing to buy shares than at first; some even wanting to contribute more than 2% of their salaries each month to reinvest in this winning recipe”, Denise elaborated.

We embody the true meaning of Thokozani – we proudly celebrate the success of our company; it’s not window dressing, and it’s not lip service, it is a company that greatly enhances and benefits the lives of the people who devote themselves to building the brand and the ethical lifestyle that is Thokozani.

We acknowledge where we come from and appreciate the growth and successes that we have achieved, though we are even more excited about the future of our company and the prospect of even more milestones in the future. We are privileged to take you with us and keep on sharing our wine and our ethical lifestyle with you.

Denise Stubbs of Thokozani Wines