A home of their own on the land they love

Tension over workers’ housing is a recurring nightmare for farmers, but Eric Starke is not only accommodating his workers, he’s giving them the opportunity to buy their own homes, on their own plots, in an all-new agri-village. Eric and worker Jan Van Wyk told Christa van Rooyen about the success of Oakview Village.
Issue date 31 August 2007

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“Villages within the agricultural sector should be encouraged. I feel they don’t receive enough support,” says Starke of Mouton’s Valley, a fruit farm in the Piket-Bo-Berg area of Piketberg in the Western Cape. Eric conceived the idea of an agri-village some 10 years ago, and regards it as the best future he can offer his farmworkers.

A secure old age “Most of our workers have a long association with Mouton’s Valley farm,” says Eric. “realised that merely providing a little house on Piket-Bo-Berg wasn’t at all a satisfactory solution. Municipalities are always complaining about the extra burden of accommodating retired farmworkers in the towns, while so many others are queuing for housing. came to the conclusion that the land on which you have toiled and sweated and loved with a passion, this is the place where you would like to spend your declining years. There is surely no greater motivation for farmworkers than to know that, after a lifetime of hard work, they have their very own houses, which are paid off,” continues. “If were a farmworker and the landowner didn’t offer me the opportunity to buy a portion of the property and a house, then I’d have no alternative but to move to the town.” T he Starkes have been farming on Mouton’s Valley for the past 55 years. Eric represents the second generation. Crops produced on the farm include apples and pears, citrus, nectarines, persimmons, peaches and buchu.

The process of creating the village began with brainstorming sessions on 18 April 1997, after Eric and his wife Michelle had approached Johan Hamman, a private consultant, for advice. In 2001 the business plan was finally approved by the Department of Land Affairs. According to the reason for the long delay was that nothing of this nature had been attempted in South Africa before. Villagers at the helm Oakview Village is a residential town and is currently making the transition to economic independence. It aims to generate its own funds for municipal services, so homeowners don’t have to pay for these services out of their own pockets. nitially, water from Mouton’s Valley farm was used. However, two years ago a borehole was sunk which provided sufficient water for the whole village. This water has been tested and now a water-bottling plant is being considered to supplement the village’s income.

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From the onset it was decided to set aside at least 3ha of land for farming activities to ensure an income for the village. Although a final decision has not been taken, one of the possibilities being considered is the production of buchu, possibly with financial support from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. The village is managed by the Oakview Village Trust, under chairperson Jan van Wyk. Jan needs no introduction to the fruit industry – last year he was named Western Cape Farm Worker of the Year. According to Jan, the trust has established four portfolios – financial, safety, maintenance and business administration – each entrusted to a separate committee. Monthly meetings are held to discuss planning and other pertinent issues.

The trust consists of five residents representing the village and two representing Mouton’s Valley farm. Oakview Village is situated on 16,33ha at the top of the mountain at Piketberg. It’s generally referred to as Piket-Bo-Berg. The existing houses are ideally situated on land adjacent to the farm. The village is within walking distance of the Stawelklip Moravian Primary School, as well as public transport and a school bus transporting learners to and from Piketberg High School. Each of the village beneficiaries was given the title deed to their individual house and plot. The remaining land was transferred to the trust. To date, 31 houses have been sold, 17 undeveloped plots are still available, and 14 plots owned by Mouton’s Valley are allocated for future acquisition by the farmworkers. Two of the existing houses also belong to the Mouton’s Valley farm. The average plot size is 633m2 and the size of the houses varies between 34m2 and 135m2. In addition, there are four retirement flats.

Owning a piece of Oakview According to Eric, no transfer fees are payable on the initial purchase of one of these properties. According to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), persons earning less than a specified income qualify for government housing subsidies. The Department of Land Affairs grants each homeowner a R16 000 subsidy to purchase a house. Homeowners living and working on Mouton’s Valley farm can “work off” the price of their houses. They’re given a discount based on the number of years in service, with the balance to be paid off over subsequent years in service. House prices are based on the 1998 valuations and replacement value.

Jan says they want theirs to remain a “mountain tenure village”. From the outset the terms dictated that all homeowners must be residents actually working on Piket-Bo-Berg. However, workers from farms other than Mouton’s Valley may also purchase undeveloped property in the village. “We know the people from the mountain, because they’re our people,” says Jan. He says there’s good cooperation among the homeowners. Many of the residents of Oakview Village are also related. Jan has been working on Mouton’s Valley farm for 25 years. “We’re very happy and very proud of our village,” he says. “We’re also grateful to Mr Starke for making it possible for us to own our own land. None of us want to retire in town.” According to Jan, ensuring the success of the village is a huge challenge demanding a lot of hard work and commitment, but which the villagers welcome with open arms.

An ideal solution Both Jan and Eric agree that the idea of an agri-village is the ideal solution for possibly thorny situations. “A lot of the problems which occur on farms stem from housing,” says Eric. “This agri-village project empowers farmworkers in the long term by providing permanent housing, and to be at the helm right from the start fosters self-respect and pride. The various rules and regulations instituted by the trust, and accepted by the residents, will ensure that good neighbourliness and order will prevail.” For more information contact Retha Louw on 082 302 7505 |fw