Farm village given to workers

An entire farm village in Elgin has been given to farmworkers in what is being hailed as a groundbreaking example of transformation in agriculture.

The Molteno Brothers Trust has handed over The Oaks Village, comprising 106 houses and a wealth of amenities including a school, a crèche, a library, sports fields, swimming pools, a clubhouse, a church, a retirement home and more, to the families who have worked on the fruit farm for up to four generations.

Speaking to the Cape Argus from China on Wednesday night, provincial Agriculture MEC Cobus Dowry praised the move as an example of how to prevent the scourge of farm evictions.

The hand-over has given the village's 720-odd residents ownership of their homes for the first time and title deeds will be handed over soon.

The Molteno Brothers Trust is linked with Molteno Brothers (Pty) Ltd, one of Elgin's oldest farming operations dating back to 1903, which today farms 500 hectares in the Elgin Valley.

"They (the workers) now own the houses that most have lived in all their lives," said Charles Morgan, the trust's general manager and managing director of Molteno Brothers, who drove the project.

Joan Hess, headmistress of the crèche, said her parents had begun working on the farm more than 50 years ago and that she had grown up in one of the houses where she lived until she married.

She spoke of the spirit of excitement among residents as they took responsibility for their own special village.

The deal was made possible by harnessing the government's R16 000 housing subsidies. The Oaks Village is now managed by a body corporate.

Morgan explained that the farm paid a monthly subsidy of R250 to residents employed by the farm and to its pensioners, to help pay electricity and other costs. The farm also paid for the teachers at the crèche.

Residents will be entitled to sell their properties. However, the intention was to give them their homes so they could live there, rather than to sell them for a quick profit.

To encourage residents to keep their homes, clauses stipulate that they will only personally take 100 percent of any profits after eight years, increasing on a sliding scale starting at 12,5 percent after the first year. The remainder of any profits would accrue to the body corporate, for the benefit of the community.

The houses were last upgraded in 1992, when the last of the homes were built. All are either two- or three-bedroomed units with garages.

The chairperson of the body corporate, Mario Henn, proudly showed the Cape Argus around the village on Wednesday.

Next to the library, children on holiday were enjoying computer lessons in an after-school programme run by an in-house non-governmental organisation, Geco.

In pride of place in the centre of the village is a community hall, which can host 250 people and which the village residents use for concerts, dances and weddings.

"All this is now their home," Morgan said.