(as Fair Trade Fortnight kicks off here is Stocki's experience of the tangible difference between Fair Trade and the oppressing norm...)
It was a more remarkable learning curve than we could ever have imagine, more provocatively challenging than we could have planned. For some time we had been a community interested in Fair Trade. In fact we had been endeavouring to make our Presbyterian Chaplaincy as Fair Trade as possible and are campaigning with Christian Aid and Tear Fund to push Queens University to become a Fair Trade University. So we had a rough idea. Fair Trade proponents and pioneers The Co-op had put us in touch with a Fair Trade vineyard about an hour’s drive out of Cape Town towards Paarl and though for many involved in a Presbyterian Chaplaincy a Vineyard might not have been a first choice, off we went to investigate.
Our hostess at the Sonop Vineyard was more than helpful and took the team on the regular wine making tour. It was pretty much a whole new world and the sci-fi design in a vast and almost empty plain out towards the mountains gave it a James Bond feel which was capturing the groups interest much more than how the vats worked! Anyway after a few moments of the tasting session the message was loud and clear. We did not know how to nose, sip or what on earth the bucket was for…she quickly rearranged her mindset and said, “Maybe you are much more interested in the Fair Trade aspect of our work.”
Meeting the workers was an inspiration. They were so excited about their work but more importantly about their new found freedoms. They spoke about their ownership of land; they own their homes and have their own land where they have their own vines that they tend and sell on to the mother company. In South Africa, of course, land ownership is a raging issue. For the non-white to own land is a whole new sense of security, dignity and freedom. No longer could they be tossed out of their homes and sacked on a white man’s whim. Yet more than that, education is so vital to the new South Africa. That which the oppressed used as a protest against apartheid by boycotting has now become the very avenue to consolidating the change by making sure the children get the education that their parents never had. So we heard about the nursery school in their own village, the Primary School where the bus takes them and the possibility of University – all paid for! Even the adults are getting all kinds of practical schooling. It is a world not dreamt about ten year ago but very much a reality. The sense of dignity, self worth and driving purpose of these workers as they develop their land is a joy to inhabit.
But there was more…moments later and just a few hundred yards away we were standing by a fence in their village. On their side of that fence were beautifully painted houses and carefully groomed gardens. There was a little school and a play area. There was colour and beauty and all of that freedom and ownership we had just heard about was bursting with life. But on the other side of the fence…was the neighbouring vineyard. There was literally the thinnest breadth of wire dividing. And on that other side there was dirty, faded, paint peeling houses. There were rough dust and dirt paths between them. There was no colour, no energy, no pride and no sense of hopefulness.
It was a stark contrast. It was the most challenging piece of land I had ever stood upon. The choice was clear and stark. Buy into one side of the fence and there is a sense of care and justice for the workers. Buy into the other and there is simply exploitation, disregard and neglect of workers and their children. When my students stand in their local Co-op to buy coffee, sugar, tea, chocolate or whatever they now know they now have a visual aid to help them decide what products to buy. Their decisions have suddenly become a whole lot bigger and a whole lot clearer. There is a thin line between justice and oppression and we stood right at the sharpest part of the fence. Which side will we be investing in? What side of the fence best describes the redemption of heaven? Which side is God most thrilled with? What does it mean in our everyday shopping for us to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?