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Sadie ‘gobsmacked’ as Swartland opens door to sandmining

Swartland wine producers appear to have lost their legal battle to stop sandmining in Paardeberg, a move which Eben Sadie says threatens to undermine 20 years’ worth of work to establish Swartland as a prized winemaking region.

Eben Sadie believes that Swartland’s winemaking identity is under threat after licences were granted for sandmining operations in the Paardeberg region.

Sadie, who is widely credited with having put the Swartland region on the wine map, and whose Sadie Family Wines business is based in Paardeberg, told db he was “gobsmacked” at the Swartland Municipality’s decision to grant two new licences for sandmining operations in the Aprilskloof and Siebritskloof areas.

Along with neighbouring wineries Lammershoek and AA Badenhorst, various members of the Swartland Independent winemakers’ group and several private investors, Sadie has been involved in a two-year fight to block sandmining operations in Swartland. Those protesting arguing that mining and wine landscapes are not compatible and that mining threatens to deter investment in the region at a crucial time of its development.

The winemaker also pointed out that the Swartland Municipality’s own Spatial Development Framework for the Paardeberg – an official document setting out policy guidelines for sustainable development in the area – had earmarked it as a conservation area – a fact which the municipality’s decision appears to contradict.

“We were absolutely gobsmacked that this was granted,” Sadie said. “We actually can’t understand, with where this place is going, how they can allow that. It’s not cohesive with where the future of this place is viewed, even by the spatial development programme for the area. It’s completely taken the wind out of our sails.”

Eben Sadie is viewed as a winemaking pioneer of the Swartland region. In recent years, his terroir-focused Sadie Family Wines have become some of the most highly prized in South Africa. Sadie has frequently said the Paardeberg’s decomposed granite soils are the most viticulturally interesting in the country.

The granting of new sandmining licences, signed off on 10 February, according to Sadie, opens up the possibility that mining operations will now become a common sight the region, changing the landscape and destroying precious cultivatable land in a relatively small area that is already highly valued for vine growing. Sadie said the nature of the landscape “could completely change”.

“What we’re trying to explain to our municipality is that this is not affecting just two or three farmers,” he added. “Maybe these stand to have little financial gain but the whose area is going to get lost.

Two new sandmining operations have been granted permission to go ahead among the vineyards of Paardeberg, Swartland

“The effect is as far afield as people all over the globe who have been here, who love the place and buy the wine. The sustainable way forward is farming this area year on year, producing wines, creating job opportunities and generating appeal for our country – this is a sustainable future; the mining is a one-off that will pillage the area for the next few years, then they’re going to leave.

“They simply cannot co-exist,” he said. “If this was not an agricultural region we basically wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. But we didn’t set up our wineries and our projects in a mining area.

“The wineries and the vineyards and everything is the establishment, and this [sandmining] is going to invade that. It’s one thing setting up a vineyard in a mining area then expecting the mines to close down, but it’s completely perverse having a running agricultural sector, then just disregarding that sector and allowing basically land usage to go from agricultural to mining.”

The success of winemakers such as Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst, both of whom are based in Paardeberg, has drawn increasing international attention to the Swartland region in recent years. Sadie explained that there were a number of investors looking to develop wine tourism businesses in the region, who would inevitably be deterred by the presence of sandmining operations.

“There’s very many pending investments that want to come to this area,” he said, “and I think very many have waited for this to pan out so that they can know where to go. It’s definitely going to discourage investment but even more so it’s going to break 20 years of momentum in trying to build this very important new area in the world of wine-growing. It’s just going to break it at the worst time.

“I think it might survive it, but the pain and the wake of destruction is just going to be phenomenal. It just seems like the illogical move. For how far we’ve come in 20 years, there’s no logic to it.”

The winemaker said that there was still an opportunity to appeal against the Swartland Municipality’s decision to grant new sandmining licences. He is part of a coalition of farmers, winemakers and other interested parties called Protect the Paardeberg, who have prepared an petition against the decision, which they intend to present before a municipality tribunal in 21 days’ time.

Here is a link: Protect the Paardeberg petition.

A statement from the Swartland Municipality said: “The Municipality Tribunal’s decision is currently subject to an appeal process. The issuing of a general statement in this regard is presently being considered by the municipality.”

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