Like his grandfather, David Sonnenberg – Owner of Diemersfontein has dedicated himself to social and cultural tasks. The employees of Diemersfontein make their own wines on their own account under the label, Thokozani ‘, which means “celebrations” in the Zulu language.
The Sonnenbergs started producing wines on their return to South Africa two decades ago and usher in their 21st vintage this year. Diemersfontein is known for its coffee/chocolate Pinotage and have been producing award-winning wines over the years. Their business model also includes property development and hospitality as separate entities.
For many years, the South African government, through various industry role-players, have promoted transformation and upliftment. Regrettably, many of these initiatives that were started up were done to the benefit of the farmers alone; sourcing wine and bottling it with a label donning an African name, keeping the property owner in good standing, though not benefitting any of the people who devote their lives to the brand.
This is where Thokozani is different.
To understand the story of Thokozani, it is necessary to go back to the beginning. The year was 2005 when, Diemersfontein Wine & Country Estate Owner, David Sonnenberg, approached Denise Stubbs, saying: “Denise, we don’t really have a plan, but how can we change the lives of our community; this Diemersfontein community?”
This little sentence planted the seed for one of the finest examples of successful Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) in the Cape Winelands. In light of David’s desire to leave a sustainable legacy, he blatantly refused to follow the route of other BBBEE models and simply offer handouts – his approach was inclined to be a helping hand. “You cannot take someone who has been a labourer their entire life, as their parents and grandparents were, put them into the context of business over night and expect them to swim instead of sink”, David explained.
To achieve this, Thokozani was based on a shareholding model. In 2007, a workers’ forum was established with 35 staff members of Diemersfontein receiving between R10,000 and R20,000 worth of shares in the company, depending on their seniority; allocated conditional to them staying and working on the farm for five years, while also contributing 2% of their monthly salary towards acquiring additional shares in the company.
The majority shareholding of 80% of the company resides in the hands of the workers forum, while Diemersfontein, as the ‘mother company’ retained a 20% shareholding, represented on the board of Thokozani by David Sonnenberg himself. This offers David an insight into the operations of Thokozani and allows for him to exercise his desire for offering guidance through his ‘helping hand’ approach.
The wines of Thokozani are produced by the winemaking team of Diemersfontein in order to minimise overheads and the risk for the transformation company. The range is much lauded, both local and international; having achieved various quality accolades and a loyal following in various world countries through exports.
We embody the true meaning of Thokozani – we proudly celebrate the success of our company; it’s not window dressing, and it’s not lip service, it is a company that greatly enhances and benefits the lives of the people who devote themselves to building the brand and the ethical lifestyle that is Thokozani. We acknowledge where we come from and appreciate the growth and successes that we have achieved, though we are even more excited about the future of our company and the prospect of even more milestones in the future. We are privileged to take you with us and keep on sharing our wine and our ethical lifestyle with you.
David and his wife Sue are big supporters of classic South African music, helping young musicians and opera singers with performances and sponsoring their trips to Europe. With their help, the South African opera singer Pretty Yende in Paris performs the Violetta Valéry in ‘La Traviata’. A pre-school for the black and white children from Wellington was also set up on the grounds of Diemersfontein to provide a little extra to improve the starting conditions for the children in the education system.
Content credit – Diemersfontein Wines & Thokozani Wines