Thokozani wines are made by the Diemersfontein team which reduces overheads and risk for the empowerment company. The latter does most of the marketing and the wines are doing well internationally, especially in Holland. The plan is to grow output to about 10 000 cases a year across the three Thokozani wines, from 6000 cases presently, which would take Thokozani wines to about 10% of Diemersfontein’s annual production. The Thokozani Wine is doing well and represented in the US, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic , South Africa and Botswana. But why create a new brand from scratch? Why not let workers share in Diemersfontein’s existing success? “It about separating ownership of a brand,” explains David. “If people feel that they have a major proportion of a small brand it has more meaning than having a smaller part of someone else’s brand.” Thokozani is owned by two groups of investors: the staff (which own 80%), and Diemersfontein Investments represented on the board by David (20%). David defends his 20% slice, saying he needed to tie himself to the commercial success or failure of the fledgling enterprise, at least in the development phase. Over time it may become more autonomous. “I did it because I saw BBBEE companies often become quite isolated,” he says.
The whole purpose is to create a mentorship, not just hive off a bit of your farm. It should also be in my commercial interests that Thokozani thrives, hence my retaining a healthy chunk of it. David and Denise have tried to address the problem with capacity building and life skills training but have no illusions – it takes time to turn farm workers into shareholders. “Attitudes don’t change because you wave a magic wand,” he says, “We have a long history of mistrust in this country. So are farm workers making any money out of it? Not yet, but the business is showing a small profit already and declared its first dividend in December 2009. David also emphasizes that unlike most BBBEE deals that are profit-share schemes, most of Thokozani’s assets are linked to real estate and therefore, no matter how the wine or conference business performs, the workers have shares in a valuable, long-term appreciating asset. (The land values have doubled since Diemersfontein started selling its first residential erven in 2003/04.) “Part of the challenge is helping workers to think long-term which is a shift for the less sophisticated parts of the workforce because it runs counter to this whole historical mindset of being a people who can’t accumulate wealth and live life only for the day,” says David.Thokozani Business Development Director Denise Stubbs says that the creation of Thokozani has changed attitudes on the farm. The number of staff shareholders has grown to 85 out of around 115 employees and a new cohort will soon qualify.