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Rekopane estate completes tough season
Article and Photographs by Fred Meintjes

In November 2005 the people of Rekopane Estate in South Africa’s Orange River region started out on a new venture – one of partnership between the family of well-known table grape grower Peu Bezuidenhout and 65 workers who have played a major role in the development of the business. The name Rekopane, which means “we have come together” is an apt way to describe this new partnership.
By the end of the summer Rekopane Estates had exported its first crop of more than 500 000 cartons of export grapes. New citrus orchards have been planted and the raisin and wine grape crops have been harvested. The rose tunnels have produced their bunches of roses for Valentines Day and the almost everyone has had a good rest after a hectic season.
And the 65 new shareholders have learnt that the table grape business is not easy and they have to sell their products in a fiercely competitive market. But this lesson is part of the reality of being co-owners of a large business. “But now it is no longer just a business, it is our business,” says Jack de Wee, co-director of Rekopane and Chairman of the Lorethabetse Trust, which holds the 25% share of the 65 farm workers and their families in Rekopane Estate.
Located on the banks of the mighty Orange River near Kanoneiland, west of Upington in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, Peu and Surine Bezuidenhout and their family of Naftali Estates, were already known as some South Africa’s best known seedless grape growers the idea of Rekopane was even formed. As the Biblical meaning of the word Naftali indicates, Peu Bezuidenthout really “fought and have conquered” the harsh climate of this desert-like region with true pioneering spirit to build a successful export business.
Twenty-five years after starting with just 6 hectares, the sweet and juicy grapes from this farm has become the benchmark for producers elsewhere in the world. Now Rekopane Estates is ready to take this to a new level and the new members of the Lorethabetse Trust are beginning to experiencing the true meaning of the Tswana word, Lorethabetse, which means “the sun has risen for us.”
Rekopane is a land transformation project which is supported by the Department of Land Affairs through its LRAD funds. The estate also enjoys financial support in the form of a loan from Standard Bank. And it is through this support that the new shareholders have become co-owners, but also learnt the harsh reality that nothing comes easily. The Standard bank loan needs to be repaid within ten years.
REKOPANE now consists of 528 hectares of land of which 212 hectares are planted with table grapes. Future expansion will include 68 hectares of new table grape varieties and 60 hectares of citrus fruit. The new orchards and vineyards will be developed over the next three years.
Amongst the popular grape varieties that will be exported, are Prime, Flame Seedless, Thompson Seedless, Sugraone, Victoria, La Rochelle, Red Globe and Dan-ben-Hannah. Reekopane prides itself on only the best and grape production takes place in harmony with nature. The natutral vegetation and wild life is protected and all the orchards have been certified in terms of the international environmental and food safety standerds, such as EurepGap, Tesco’s Nature’s Choice, BRC and Investors In People.

The grape season starts in mid-November and the last cartons are packed at the end of January. From the orchards and modern pack houses on the estate, the grapes is transported by road over 800 kilometers to the port of Cape Town, from where it is shipped to customers around the world. Apart from growing grapes, Rekopane will soon also be a producer of high quality Star Ruby grape fruit, with 60 hectares being planted. There is also a wine grape production, as well as a significant volume of raisins.

The investment in people has always been of high priority at the estate and extended to social, cultural and health enrichment in the wider farm community and the local school and church received strong support from the Bezuidenhout family.

The People Development Programme at Rekopane has recently received certification by the Investor in People Standard which is based in the United Kingdom.

A Capespan Foundation grant for training and development over the next three years will significantly enhance people development. Well-known skills trainer Mercia Stow will run these programmes.

The establishment of Rekopane Estates also inspired Arch Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who described the birth of this new partnership as another historic day in the relationship between land-owner and land-worker. “It is through working together that we will build up our country for our children and our children’s children, where all can walk tall and reach for the stars,” Arch Bishop Tutu said in a message at the launch of the partnership.
When the shareholders responded with two cartons of grapes at the start of their season, Arch Bishop Tutu called it a “tasty gift, some of the best I have ever tasted.”
Rekopane, on the banks of the Orange River, is a story of inspiration, of feeling for people, of man’s interaction with nature to produce the finest grapes in the world.

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