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Ceres farm worker’s choir a saving grace for Tru-Cape grower


Photo by Denene Erasmus for Farmer's Weekly Magazine.

Photo by Denene Erasmus for Farmer’s Weekly Magazine.

Elsie Oliphant is one of over 30 farm workers at De Kock Boerdery in De Eiken, Ceres who along with running the farm’s creche also co-leads the farm’s award-winning choir.

“We started in 2007 inspired by a course on living a purpose-driven life offered by the local church”, she says.

Elsie says that some of the workers who attended daily prayers lead by farm owner Wilhelm de Kock, a Tru-Cape  apple and pear grower, wanted to contribute by singing hymns. “We enjoyed singing and were surprised by how good we sounded as a group. We called ourselves the Soul Sisters.

The choir’s success qualified them to perform in the in 2012 competition for farm choirs.

Willem Krotz, a farm supervisor conducts the choir although he has no formal music training and can’t read sheet music. Wilhelm found guidance and focus in his Christian faith which helped him change his life towards a more healthy and wholesome one.  Choirs practice twice a week and up to four nights a week when leading up to performances and competitions.

As a result of the choir and the focus it demands there is less alcohol abuse”, explains Willem, “it has become a saving grace for many of us.”

The choir and its success also brings prestige and kudos to the workers and management alike with a renewed sense of pride and purpose.

As any manager of people will know things are rarely plain sailing and never easy. “I had to pick staff up from the floor who were so drunk” Wilhelm says, “which not only impacts on their lives and their families but on my ability to run the farm effectively. When I first decided that I wanted the people who work for me to have a better life, I thought that I needed to give them more money but that only translated into more drink. My next project was to renovate their houses but, even after painting them, this made little difference to the quality of the lives they were leading. That’s when I realised that I needed to become invested in their lives and get involved in their spiritual as well as their physical wellbeing.”

“In the more than nine years since the choir began we have seen a profound turnaround in everyone’s lives at De Kock Boerdery. Other growers continue to be amazed that our staff arrive on a Saturday morning sober which really proves the power of music and faith”, he ends.

The farm choirs are also part of the PATMOS projects.  Tru-Cape donated R20, 000 to PATMOS which does social and spiritual work among farm labourers in Ceres, to buy a second hand bakkie. The bakkie enables Pastor Cecil de Kock to reach fruit farms in the Bo-Swaarmoed area. Without this bakkie, the ministry work would not have been possible, according Cordré Smith, finance director of PATMOS .

PATMOS was founded by her father, Andre Smith and a neighbour (Johannes Pienaar) when they saw the need for spiritual and social work among farm workers. The focus of PATMOS is on the spiritual care of agricultural workers in the Witzenberg region. Since farms are located far from the nearest town, transport is a necessity for this ministry.

It had become necessary to replace the previous vehicle and, due to the nature of the work, it was important to purchase a reliable replacement. “Farmers already contribute a lot of money each year and we could not go knocking on their doors for more money. Therefore, we are very grateful to Tru-Cape for its generous contribution,” Smith said. Donations to PATMOS fall under spending on socio-economic development on the Agri-BEE scorecard.

“The area is too big and distances are too far for the churches in Ceres to really make an impact. Because most farm workers could not get to church, PATMOS decided to bring the church to where they work,” says Smith. The PATMOS concept is that all participating farms contribute financially to cover costs. Farmers also allow workers time off to talk to PATMOS staff. Along with spiritual work, PATMOS also does upliftment and social work on the farms.

Currently PATMOS has three full-time spiritual workers and two volunteers that support about 15, 000 people. Support also comes from nearly 60 farms  that participate and spend about R700 000 on the project each year. The Dutch Reformed Church in Ceres also contributes financially.


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