It was a nice September day with the vineyards starting to develop their early summer green. That was the day we visited Warren Bam at Gunsteling near Saron. We were pointed to Warren to discuss his views of the table grape business, particularly as far as it concerns new entrants into the table grape business and transformation.
Without giving the story away, we cannot help writing about that visionary man who predicted so accurately one Sunday morning that Warren Bam would make waves in the table grape business. We learnt recently that Warren, now also a SATI director, has again been named as the top new entrant in agriculture by South Africa’s agricultural writers.
That is why we want to briefly tell the story of that Sunday morning, when Warren attended the local church in Saron seeking food for his soul. Saron, located somewhat outside the Western Cape’s urban areas and in the heartland of agricultural production, has a vibrant church community. We can imagine that Warren settled into the pew and listened intently to the pastor and the glorious singing that is so part of Sunday mornings in the country-side.
Fredo can recommend this to everyone who has not experienced it before. He is sure the local communities will open their arms to all visitors.
[divider]As the service concluded, Warren was rising from his pew. From across the room, a stranger approached. Warren had never met him before, but the stranger walked straight up to him. He shook Warren’s hand and said: ‘One day you will be a table grape grower.”
Warren left somewhat confused, even slightly embarrassed at what had just happened. Little did he know that today he would be a table grape grower in his own right, no longer someone who just worked somewhere on a farm.
Warren’s encounter reminds Fredo of another inspirational, somewhat unusual and unexpected impromptu Sunday morning church service he experienced – in the little historical chapel at Gold Reef City near Johannesburg.
It was in the mid-1980’s. The American government had introduced sanctions on South Africa and the South African fruit industry, which exported millions of cartons of apples, pears and table grapes to the USA, was facing ruin. Fredo was given the task of changing perceptions in Washington in order to convince the mighty American political machinery to have mercy on the people of the Cape fruit industry.
[divider]Fredo was told that unless the Black Caucus supports his crusade, it would be a waste of time. To cut a long story short, Fredo was at the airport in Johannesburg early on a Sunday morning to meet a delegation of church leaders from evangelical churches who were invited to come and access the situation on South African farms. For some reason it was decided that on their first night in South Africa they should experience something of ‘old’ Johannesburg.
It was Sunday morning and when the group arrived at the hotel, the rooms were not ready. The church leaders were tired and irritated. Fredo tried coffee and tea and milk tart – anything that would sooth the tension in the room.
Among the group was a stocky church leader, the Reverend Sampson. At one point he looked out of the window of the lounge and exclaimed: “Brothers and sisters, I see a church, let’s go for Holy Communion.”
They were on their feet and there we were filing across the road to the little chapel, church leaders in front, Fredo behind, dreading what would happen next. The chapel was empty and all settled on the benches towards the front – Fredo behind them.
“Brother Fred,” exclaimed the Reverend Sampson, “we have no communion wine.”
[divider]Fredo ran out of the church and across the road to the entrance to the Gold Reef City hotel. Somehow he had to find the Communion wine! He remembered that there was a decanter with sherry on a tray on the counter at reception with lots of sherry glasses.
“I need to borrow this,” Fredo told the startled reception staff. “Will bring it back shortly,” Fredo said before he headed across the road.
With the communion wine in place, the service could start. Fredo has always admired the singing and spontaneity of the black churches of the USA. Ex Government Minister Piet Koornhof, when, he was ambassador to the USA at that time, admitted that he loved it so much that he spent every Sunday morning at the church of the well-known fire brand, and at the time regarded as fairly radical politician Jesse Jackson.
On this Sunday morning, the rich voice of the Reverend Sampson lead the glorious singing, well-supported by the beautiful voices of the senior male and female members of the delegation. Fredo settled back in his pew and enjoyed!
Two hours later, with all our souls replenished, and with the sherry decanter somewhat emptier, we headed back to the hotel. The rooms were still not ready but somehow it did not matter so much anymore. The church service had done its thing and our souls soared! Everyone was ready for lunch – two hours later all were in their rooms and soundly asleep.
There is something about a Sunday church services which lift the soul and enrich us all.