Face to Face with Success

Meet Mark Solms - the wine farmer devoted to social transformation

When Mark Solms returned to his family-owned wine farm in Franschhoek in 2002, he wanted to contribute “in some small, citizen-sized way.”

Solms – a psychoanalyst and professor of neuropsychology – together with the workforce on his farm, began to tackle one of the most contentious issues that faces South Africa – land reform.

Although Solms had left the country during the apartheid era, he returned after democracy, eager to contribute to the country that he loved.

“The thing that really excited me was the prospect of taking on a historic Cape farm and trying to align it with the vision we then had, of our new South Africa,” he says.

I was very mindful of the fact that I was taking on the sins of my fathers.

Mark Solms

Upon his return, Solms made some changes off the bat to try to effect the process of reform – renovating the workers’ accommodation, and implementing employment contracts.

But he still found himself at loggerheads with his workforce.

Solms said that while he may have known little about farming, he knew much about pathology, and that all diagnoses start with a patient’s history.

And so, together with archaeologists and historians, Solms began to put together the history of the farm – established in 1690 – which stretched as far back as 6000 years ago.

Three crimes against humanity were all perpetrated on my farm. My house was built by slaves.

Mark Solms

“It’s a great leveller, facing the historical facts,” he says.

With these facts in place, Solms and his workforce could begin the process of reform.

“All of those ill-gotten gains had to be reversed. If you really want to put it right – you have got to give the land back,” he says.

And so, together with his workforce and the generosity of his neighbour Richard Astor, a unique partnership was formed.

Listen to Charlotte Kilbane in conversation with Mark Solms in this week’s Face to Face With Success, brought to you by Nashua.

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