• LOCATION 12 | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Between the Courtyard Ponds: Constantia’s Smallholders

    Between the Courtyard Ponds: Constantia’s Smallholders on Cape Town audio tour Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Narrator: We get a lot of rain in Constantia – more than London in fact, at least on average. And when water rolls down the mountain it weaves a spiderweb of streams that collect into our three rivers: the Keiser, Diep, and Spaanschemat. That’s the secret to these two ponds: they’re filled by a diverted stream.

    You might want to take a seat here for a few minutes, on one of the benches, while our story flows through the 1900s.

    Plentiful rain makes Constantia a fertile place to grow more than just grapes, and before suburbs sprawled out into the valley in the 60s and 70s, our neighbours were almost all farms.

    The community that lived here then was diverse, with a mix of people that reflected the estate’s own history. There were wealthy farmers who had substantial landholdings, and many of them were Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Dutch East India Company’s employees. But there were also thriving smallholdings farmed by the descendants of freed slaves. On Fridays, some of them walked up the road to Imam Sadien’s mosque. On Sundays, some of them made their way to Constantia’s Anglican church.

    This sounds like a community with rigid boundaries dividing religions, races, and social classes, and to some extent this is true – but these boundaries were also much more porous than you might expect.

    This was the era of state ownership at Groot Constantia, when the focus was on agricultural research, not producing world-class, commercially successful wine. But the state did have a tenant called Bertrams, and it was in the business of making brandy. Their distillery was only two hundred metres away, just down the hill. It’s still there in fact, and after a long period of disuse, it’s back in action. The difference is that Groot Constantia is making its own brandy now. The first bottles went on sale in October 2017.

    Remarkably, all of these different threads are tied together by the life of one man.

    Moses Jafta: My father used to be a boilerman at Bertrams. My grandfather, he used to work at Groot Constantia. And from my mother’s side…my great gran…they were farmers since the release of slaves.

    Narrator: That’s Moses Jaftha.

    Moses Jafta: I’m Moses Jaftha, born in Strawberry Lane, where we used to farm. Unfortunately I’m now at Brounger Road, but we still farm. I’m doing this now since my great gran Susan Williams…she started the farming in the 1800s. And I’m the fourth generations. And my sons is with me now. They’re the fifth generations.

    Narrator: When Moses says he is “unfortunately” at Brounger Road today, he’s remembering forced removals by the Apartheid government in 1969.

    His whole family and the entire community of smallholders were kicked off their properties because they were classified as coloured by the state, and therefore not white. A law called the Group Areas Act had arbitrarily defined Constantia as a place for white people only.

    Moses Jafta: 1969, that was the removal of us out of Constantia…I remember it quite well…[laughs wistfully]…You know…to tell you the truth, some people took it very hard. Like my wife’s grandparents, they went to live with us, you know, where the Group Areas put us, and they didn’t live long…about three months then they just went because they couldn’t take it, because we had to leave everything behind: dogs, chickens, pigs…because we had to move to a flat.

    Narrator: Moses is now the only Strawberry Lane smallholder that still farms in Constantia. He rents a small plot beside the Spaanschemat River, where he grows flowers.

    Flowers are a new crop. They’ve made their way out of the valley to Cape Town’s markets for over a century. For a while, they were transported by public bus.

    Moses Jafta: …springtime, you get all the flowers with the fragrance like freesias, sweet peas, narcissus, all the flowers that’s got the smell. You know, people go by bus, offloading their stuff…well of course the smell will stay in the bus. You can tell by the smell of the bus, that’s a bus that came out of Constantia.

    Narrator: But that isn’t the fondest memory Moses has.

    Moses Jafta: What I really do miss is the bells. Some farms only had a piece of iron. And some had the real bell that you pull with a chain. The farmer, he never ring the bell. He tell the guy, go ring the bell, it’s 12 o’clock, we must have lunch now. And there’s so many farms, and all the bells was different…you can say, you know, that’s the bell of Groot Constantia, that’s the bell of Uitsig, that’s the bell of Buitenverwachting, that’s the bell of…you know, all the farms…and the church bells [chuckles]. You know, nowadays, everything is different. In those days, you work according to your bell. There’s so many bells that ring on 12 o’clock, but you must listen to your certain bell.

    Narrator: Our last stop is just ahead, at the entrance to the Cloete Cellar. There’s a beautifully carved pediment above it . Play track thirteen when you’re standing underneath it.

Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine