UCT celebrates 96 years by tur

UCT celebrates 96 years by turning psychoanalysis into wine

Professor Mark Solms both delighted and challenged University of Cape Town alumni in London with the story of his ambitious and successful approach to land reform in South Africa as practised on his own wine farm, a model of black empowerment where all who work the farm own shares.

UCT celebrates 96 years by tur

solms lecture (Large)University of Cape Town alumni around the world gathered on Wednesday 2 April in a global celebration of the institution’s 96th birthday.

For those in London that meant returning to academia in what turned out to be the most salubrious of ways: with a thoroughly engaging lecture by Professor Mark Solms gloriously entitled Turning psychoanalysis into wine. Halleluia!

Fourteen years ago Prof Solms’ reputation may have centred on his academic eminence as a psychoanalyst. Today he is perhaps better known for his ambitious and successful approach to land reform in South Africa as practised on his own wine farm, Delta – now run as part of the Solms Delta estate, a model of black empowerment where all who work the farm own shares.

An alternative title for the evening, the pink-shirted, Boris-quiffed Prof Solms suggested, may have been Psychological impediments to land reform in South Africa. Hardly celebratory one might think, but delivered as a series of very honest personal anecdotes, Solms’ story of the physical and emotional excavation experienced by his own family and the families who ‘came with the farm’ he inherited in 2001 both delighted and challenged the returning students.

His story tells of a man who in left England to return to a newly democratic South Africa determined to show that despite looking like a typical white farmer, he was good. A good farmer who treated his staff well and involved them in decisions about the farm.

“I had no intention of becoming a politician or taking on the problems of the whole country, which, quite frankly, are overwhelming, but I felt that by taking on this one citizen-sized chunk of the problem I would be making some contribution to the development of the country.”

His ambition turned out to be far more complex than he could ever have imagined.  Despite his best efforts, weighed down by history, meaningful communication between himself and the farm workers turned out to be nigh impossible and painfully frustrating.

And yet he felt a personal obligation to do something about this problem.

“Recognising the fact that you don’t understand, that things are not good, is better than rushing off and doing,” he said. “The reflexive desire to do something, though it makes you feel better, is just defensive.”

He started by calling in the professionals: archaeologists from UCT. Together with the farmworkers, they undertook a visible, physical excavation of the farm, uncovering Khoisan and Bushman artefacts dating back 6000 years.

Historians, also from UCT, were brought in to listen to and document the stories of the farm workers while musicologists took note and composed a musical history that had such a profound impact on the people that music is today as important a part of the farm’s trade as is wine.  And the intensely personal on-site museum doesn’t do too badly either, attracting more than 30,000 visitors every year.

“It was an incredibly hard but important process for both me and the farmworkers to go through to uncover the history of the farm and the people they were descended from.”

It helped explain the fear and guilt which, Solms posits, is felt by every farmer and why the experience of every farm worker is interpreted though an embedded lens of slavery.

Having gone through this incredibly visceral experience, Solms recounts not with pride, but as a matter of academic fact, that while he recognised giving the farm back to the farm workers was the only morally sound thing to do,  â€œI didn’t want to.”

He just didn’t want to.

“If you face these feelings, which are not pleasant feelings, then you get your mind back,” he says. “Then you can face the facts, even the ones you wish were not there. Then you can come up with solutions.”

And a solution, developed in collaboration with the farm workers, was indeed found. Today Solms Delta comprises three neighbouring farms, one bought by the farm workers using a loan secured by Solms and his neighbor Richard Astor, whose farms stand as security. The entire estate is operated through a trust of which every single person who works on the farm is a beneficiary. Neither Solms nor Astor have lost anything, but the skills transfer they are facilitating, and the attention paid to the internal emotional  experience of everyone concerned means that Solms Delta is now a business doing well from doing the right thing.

“We have to face history,” Solms affirms. “But the internalisation of that is very difficult to deal with and is largely ignored by policy makers.”

Difficult, yes, but not impossible, and progress is being made. Farmers, politicians and policy makers are paying attention. Solms is clearly pleased to report that the single most exciting thing that has happened during his journey is the recent sale of the neighbouring farm – which at 2000 hectares dwarfs Solms Delta. It’s going to be run according to the same model pioneered by Solms. You might recognise the name – Boschendal.

This event was organised by the UCT Trust, a UK-registered charity that raises funds for UCT in the UK and Europe. If you are a UCT alumnus and would like to hear more about forthcoming events in the run up to the centenary in 2018, please contact uct.alumni.uk@tecres.net. For more information on Solms Delta visit www.solms-delta.co.za