But by far the most difficult and distressing thing we had to deal with, was the staff we inherited. We discovered that the all employees lived without electricity or running water and without toilets. Some people had never used a toilet in their lives. The men were paid R7 a day and the women R5 a day, and every adult on the farm was an alcoholic. The remainder of people’s pay, such that it was, came in the form of drink. Die `mense’ as they were called, were given a coke can of inval dop (falling in wine) on arrival at 7am. They were then given another coke can at 8.30am, 12.30 and 1.30. Finally at 6.30 they were given 750 mls of wine. Basically people were drunk all the time, and needless to say their children all had foetal alcohol syndrome.
What were we to do? We contacted various organisations for help but got none. We were on our own. We realised that simply taking away the drink was not going to work. We had first to put the responsibility drinking in people’s own hands and then decrease the amounts we made available for them to drink.
So step one, we paid them properly, moved people out of their hovels into better accommodation and built an ablution block with toilets and showers. Step two we let them know that for 3 months they could buy a bottle of wine twice a week on a Tuesday and Friday. (Trying to discuss this didn’t work). After that, over the following 3 months, they could buy a bottle of wine once a week, and then we would stop altogether.
I shall never forget the line of people waiting on a Tuesday or Friday for Johan or I to siphon out wine into a bottle. Mostly they drank it down immediately and ended up sleeping on the grass on their way home. One sight I remember vividly was old Kinnie face down in the grass completely out of it with the three then existent donkeys munching grass around his head. Everyone thought it hilarious. It broke my heart.
Of course this plan didn’t reduce the drunken violence that happened especially over the weekends. With many shebeens on farms nearby, the wine was flowing, and not a weekend went by without being called upon to mediate a brawl, or drive someone with a scalp caked in blood and borrie (turmeric) to hospital. We talked our heads off and again called up organisations to help – from trade unions to women’s organisations. Basically people were too stretched or just didn’t give a damn. We were not going to get any help
There were of course some more than usual surreal sides. The first Christmas we took people up the mountain as many had lived here for years and never even been up the mountain. They arrived drunk, kept falling off the bakkie, fought when they got to the top, and one poor soul mournfully calling for his mother, had to be dragged out of the fire. That was the end of outings.
Finally we realised the farm couldn’t flourish with the violence happening at every level, and so with heavy hearts we instituted a no violence rule, which meant that anyone that hurt another person or animal tame or wild was immediately fired. And one by one we fired people. For killing animals, for hurting each other or their children – and so needless to say after a year on the farm there was only one family left Anjie, who had stopped drinking because she saw how terrified her children were of her, her partner Hannes, whose drinking seemed to be manageable, and their three children.
It was at that point that Basil came to the farm and we then began to employ people not from the area. This was when I set about trying to get a community organisation happening in Joubertskloof. But more of that later …