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Paarl, Drakenstein Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa
An EcoVillage designed by the FairValley Association members at the heart of the Cape Wineland

Friday, November 7, 2008

The FairValley EcoVillage team, accompanied by the Drakenstein Municipality officials, met for the first time with Western Province top officials

Tommy Fortuin, Chairperson of the Fair Valley Farm Workers Association and Angeline Swarts, the Vice Chairperson said after the meeting: “It is the first time after almost twelve years that we can see the light. We have the best people in the Province and in our local Council standing behind us now, and the best professional team possible. We would like to thank all of them and our partners in Kagiso Urban Management for making it happen.”

Tuesday, just after lunch time, the ride from Fairview to the big-city is quite pleasant. No traffic jams, the sky is clear, the views of the appearing CBD, Table Mountain, the harbour and the bay, are magnificent, even after million times. The closed windows still keep us protected from the afternoon annoying breeze, until we shall embark from the good old Camry of mine onto Long Street, corner of Dorp. Tommy is dressed up with a fancy suit and tie, Angeline looks like an experienced business woman, but we cannot conceal our excitement under these facades. It is the first time we are going to meet such high level of officials in the Province. We are not sure what to expect. So many stories we have heard over the years. Tommy has been there from the beginning. He was literally the person who raised his hand at the auction, to buy the FairValley land, back in 1997. I can only imagine what is going on in his mind, while stepping into the frightening government building on Dorp number 1. There was not much said on the way here, besides the warm feelings we realized we all share towards our colleagues on the professional team, who became friends, who were gladly agreed to join us to this important meeting and present their bit of the puzzle.
Claus (Mischker, of Headland Planners www.headland.co.za) is already waiting for us outside, afraid that we’re going to miss the entrance or get lost in the big city. Claus is the facilitator of this meeting and felt responsible for us. He has always a smile on his face and endless amount of patience. Inside we meet Judy (Ferdenando, of Lower Piers Road Property Consultants CC), Henri (Comrie, of Comriewilkinson urban designers, http://www.comwilk.co.za/) and Mario (Filippi, of Lyners Engineering, www.lyners.co.za). I didn’t have to ask them twice – they all gladly came to help. I have a sense that they have a special bond to FairValley. These people are so busy. They are involved in so many projects. They actually make their living out of their time and talent. I don’t know many, of their calibre, who would leave everything and report, as they do. This is in a nutshell, what Angeline, Tommy and I spoke about on the way here. Now it was so good to see them. We are not alone.
A government lift brings us straight up to the heart of the Spatial Planning Department on the 1st floor. The lift is a bit crowded before we were spit out from it, as we carry our laptops, projector, files and even our own electrical extension cord that I brought just-in-case. We cannot allow any fault today. God forbid we can’t use the projector because there is not a plug close enough....strange thoughts I had before we left home.
Chris (Rabie, Director of the Western Province Spatial Planning Directorate) is already waiting for us, 15 minutes before the time, in his office, chatting with a lady that I guessed was Tanya (De Waal, planner at the SPD). I only knew both of them by reputation. I also knew that Tanya was the one who wrote the comments on the amended Drakenstein Urban Edge on behalf of the Province. But as I mentioned, I have never met them before and had no idea what to expect. I saw Tommy and Angeline sticking close to me and was grateful to Chris for coming forward, hand his hand to us to introduce himself with a genuine warm welcoming. Like a real host. What an immediate relief I felt. One can see and feel, right there, in the first moment, his confidence, his years of experience along with mature confidence, as if saying to us – ‘please come-in, relax and feel yourselves at home’. And God, did we need that! He guided us to the boardroom, as we needed couple of minutes to organize our presentation. It was comforting to find a projector on the huge meeting table, already connected and aimed to a screen on the wall – apparently we are not the first and probably not the last here...

When we are all ready, we walked back to Chris’ office, only to see him and Tanya chatting now also with David (Delaney, head of Planning & Economic Development Department of the Drakenstein Municipality) and Henk (Strijdom, head of Spatial Planning, at the planning services of Drakenstein Municipality www.drakenstein.gov.za). Can’t even describe what a relief this was to see the two of them there. Surrounded by the best professionals, supported by wonderful people like David and Henk, and been welcomed so nicely by Chris and Tanya, I felt almost like the meeting is not as important any more. We came to see the people, touch them, let them see that we are real as well and maybe just to begin a dialog; a bond perhaps? The same bond we all have with this project? The meeting began with a very positive tone.
I began with my presentation. The background – again the same 10 years that went by, when I arrived in 2007, which are turning soon, in 2009, to 12 years of expectations and disappointments. I shall not blame anyone for been sceptic, or pessimistic about FairValley. Nor anyone who might have the feeling that the FairValley farm workers had been unfairly treated during those years. Misused? Manipulated? They were led to believe and hope that one day they can build their houses on their land. Land Affairs granted them with government money and Charles (Back, owners of Fairview) topped it up from his side, so they can buy the FairValley land and start their own empowerment wine business. The Fairvalley Wine label did so well and became a real success story (www.fairview.co.za). In 2009, they will still be waiting though for the other dream to come true.
But as Winston (Churchill, the late prime minister of the UK) used to say – “if you want your dream to come true – you must wake up”! So we woke up. We made another plan; we had proven it to be financially viable, leaning against solid planning principles, with the highest possible urban design standards. We joined forces with the strongest social-entrepreneurship alliance possible, in the form of KAGISO URBAN MANAGEMENT (www.kum.co.za; www.kagiso.com), with Jerry (Mabena), John (Spiropoulos), Graeme (Reid) and Leila (McKenna, all executive directors of KUM and the driving force behind it), strongly supporting us from Johannesburg. We worked hard with the best team and we produced a new hope for our people.

Now, while repeating the story to this distinguished audience, I could sense the seriousness and the empathy around the table. From the background I moved on into the description of the decision making process, how we were introduced to the eco-friendly and energy efficient values and technologies, how we found out about sustainable building methods and eventually embraced the Holistic EcoVillage Approach for FairValley.
At that stage, I was happy to see that Ayub (Mohammed), a person not only responsible for environmental and heritage issues amongst others, but also passionate about them, joined the meeting and contributed a lot of his own to the constructive discussion a bit later. We have found a lot in common in regard with the way sustainable developments are going.
I moved on and briefly explained the configuration of the partnership between KAGISO URBAN MANAGEMENT and THE FAIR VALLEY FARM WORKERS ASSOCIATION, which is subject to increasing curiosity and interest from a wide range of academic, business, media and governmental establishments. Just for the province’s officials to see how this mechanism of social-entrepreneurship partnership works in reality. The format is based on 3 “legs” – the social-economic empowerment - by ownership of properties; the financial/business viability – without business logic, the development cannot takes-off; and holistic, eco-friendly and energy efficiency - in order to make it a sustainable development.
Claus followed with a brilliant analysis of the area, focusing mainly on the Paarl-Klapmuts Urban Corridor. Lots of fallow land; infertile soil, unsuitable for farming; scattered small-holdings; chicken broilers as the only significant farming activity; and a traces of light industries, mainly adjoined to the two urban nodes of these towns.
Henri gave then his magnificent Urban Design Framework presentation, the design that granted him and his team with many compliments. He took the participants through the entire design process, which systematically rose from the nature and the characteristics of the FairValley land. It really looks like this design grew up from the land. As if it has been there forever; like a sculpture, who only carves out the statue that had always been inside the stone. Impressive indeed. (You can watch the slide show on the right hand of the blog).

Mario rapped up our presentation with his Bulk Services and Infrastructure piece. Don’t underestimate Mario. He’s not an ordinary typical engineer, even if one can be mistaken about that from first sight. He has been with FairValley a long time. In 2006 Lyners did a bulk services study there – pro-bono - Just trying to help the Association to move the dream forward. Mario was there as the engineer. To show you that the services issue was always there. It did not pop-up now at the meeting with the Province. Mario took us in the past year through a very diligent voyage and discovered for us ways to stay within all our parameters and still be feasible. He studied recycling water systems, eco-friendly sewerage treatment package plants, renewable energy methods and on and on and on. We reached an understanding with Drakenstein and Stellenbosch Municipalities, regard water and electricity supply and the sewerage treatment principles. I am sure he also learnt and gained a lot and what can be better than a mutually beneficial interaction between parties?
One thing is sure – when we get there with the formal applications, Claus, Henri and Mario and their devoted teams in the offices, will be 100% ready for the challenges.
Now a discussion prevails. Chris is making sure that we notice the time – half of it gone just by our presentation. Not as bad, I think to myself, since we really wanted them to listen to us and we achieved that. David starts, makes his statement on behalf of Drakenstein. We are all overwhelmed with his, Henk’s and (another dear friend who didn’t join them today) Ashley’s (Roelf) support. David is very clear: “Drakenstein would like to develop the corridor between Paarl and Klapmuts. We were hesitant at first, but when we saw the high standards of the FairValley team and the Urban Design Framework that they produced, we think that this could lead the design framework and the planning standards for the entire corridor. Drakenstein has the prerogative to resolve its Urban Edge boundaries, but would prefer to reach an understanding with the Province. A council resolution is expected within the next two months”. I am amazed and grateful for his calmness, self confidence and persistence. Things that David says in private, around the coffee table, he will repeat around his boardroom table at the municipality and will restate them loud and clear around the Province’s table. It is really a wonderful virtue which gains him a lot of respect from all over. I feel fortunate for having him on our side.
Tanya then is sharing her thoughts with us. There is a dilemma indeed, she’s quite right. It is not a straight forward situation. She feels bad for the farm workers, as the location of FairValley is not ideal for development from her point of view. Years had gone by, since the “PR exercise” that was presumingly done on them. Right or wrong, it’s not for us to judge 12 years later. We all agree that this is the situation, this is the reality, these are the facts and that the way to handle it is to go forward. Tanya might be right from a “pure” professional perspective - if there is such thing at all. “The extension of the urban edge west of Simonsvlei cannot be supported as it does not lend itself to the principles of containment. It is recommended that options for densification be explored within the existing ‘consultant – demarcated’ urban edge”, she wrote in her report and reiterated it in the meeting. We do not agree with her, but we listened carefully. These are the arguments that we need to deal with, and we shall. We see a great urban planning opportunity lying in the Paarl-Klapmuts corridor. It is “screaming” – development! Smart, cautious, sensitive and sensible, but development. Not to leave it to the market forces to determine its characteristics in time to come – rather initiate, set the standards, put the framework, so it would be a viable urban corridor. This would be FairValley contribution back to the community. I won’t elaborate on this now though, but maybe on another occasion.

Chris Rabie concluded his part: “We are not against development, but we have concerns about bulk services in the area, the visual impact of the development and its environmental implications, especially because it is located in the heart of the Wineland. Our ‘GOLD’ is not hidden under the ground,” he emphasized the importance of the natural scenic treasures of the Cape Wineland. ”We do expect not less than a due process to meet all the legal requirements”.

I had the impression that he was kind and gentle by leaving in our hands the option – if we get it right, perfectly right, they will support. Fair enough. And we’ll get it right, I can assure you that.

So these are my final words to sum up the meeting with Province, the FairValley story and the story of the people behind FairValley: “It was a serious and mutually respectful professional discussion for which we are grateful. One cannot expect more in the first meeting. Everybody listened carefully to the others’ concerns and ideas, which is the biggest achievement. We shall go forward with Drakenstein to motivate and resolve the urban edge issue, so we can provide our beneficiaries what they deserve, after almost 12 years of disappointments. We are overwhelmed by the Drakenstein’s massive support and thankful for that. We do not expect any concessions on the due process, just open minds and hearts which I am confident we have acquired here today”. Ori (Ilan, Kagiso Urban Management Western Cape Projects manager).