Swartland wine farmers concerned over threats of new mining rights
It was announced on Tuesday that two farms in the Swartland district have been granted permission to mine sand on their farms on the slopes of the Paardeberg. Their illustrious neighbours which include such well-known wine farms as Sadie Family Wines, AA Badenhorst, Lammershoek and David and Nadia Sadie will all be affected by this decision taken last week.
For those in favour of sand mining, it is a way of turning unprofitable land into money. Nollie Smit owns one of the farms which has been granted mining rights and he describes the situation of many farmers in the Swartland as desperate.
“We are getting the same price for grapes today as we did thirteen years ago. It’s just not worth it to farm.”
The attraction of mining on this particular section of the Paardeberg mountain as opposed to other zones not marked for agriculture is that it is close to where building materials are required, necessitating only a short journey and thus cutting transport costs.
The beauty of the region and the long-term sustainability of the farming land is of most concern to Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines (“We don’t farm for today, we farm for future generations.”) and he believes that mining will lead to destruction of irreplaceable soils and thus adversely affect viticulture and winemaking in the region.
He points out that the area has always been zoned for agriculture “If we had started farming in a mining area then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, but we didn’t” and believes that this has potential to create far more sustainable jobs than mining ever could.
According to Stats SA, jobs in the agricultural sector reached a record high in the last quarter of 2016 with around 25% of all jobs created during that period being on or associated with farms.
According to the Protect our Paadeberg Coalition (PPC) which has been formed to fight against this decision, the municipality’s decision is abrupt and puzzling.
Chris Mullineux from Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, sources many of their grapes from the Paardeberg, and he believes the authorities are not considering the long-term sustainability of the region. “We’ve been investing a lot of money here and this makes us very nervous about the municipality’s understanding of the region long-term.” says Mullineux. “We’re opening a tasting room this year and encouraging more people to visit, but people don’t want to visit somewhere that’s meant to be beautiful and then find themselves next door to a dusty, noisy mine.”
In recent years, the Swartland has been at the forefront of a growing appreciation of South African wines worldwide leading to increasing visitor numbers to the country, providing jobs and income.
Much of the Paardeberg is covered by a nature reserve with wildlife including Cape Leopards whose habitat will likely be disturbed by any mining developments. The combination of natural beauty, indigenous wildlife and world-beating wines has proved popular for tourists and visitors to the Swartland and the area is already seeing an increase in tasting rooms, guesthouses and restaurants with subsequent creation of hospitality jobs.
The last time mining threatened a wine region was in 2010 when Stellenbosch wineries such as Jordan, Saxenburg and Zevanwacht fought a vigorous battle against the government granting mining rights to a state-funded company. Ultimately they were successful in protecting their land from desecration and the PPC will surely be hoping for equal success when their objections are heard on March 3rd.
If you object to mining in the Swartland, you can sign the online petition HERE