by Lousie Brodie

Enjoying fruits of their labour

Former Oak Valley farm workers from Elgin are happy and enjoying comfortable retirement

Petrus Plaaitjies
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They have devoted their lives to working on the farm and are grateful that their good pension and provision for retirement have set them and their families up for a comfortable retirement. Oak Valley is a large estate which was the first farm to produce apples in the Elgin Valley.

The estate currently has 350 hectares of apple and pear orchards as well as the Western Cape’s biggest cut flower production unit. The farm also produces premier wines and also has a livestock (beef and pork) production unit. 

In 2000 Oak Valley acquired 20 town plots in Molteno Park, a secluded suburb uphill from the main road through Grabouw. These were then awarded to the longest serving permanent workers on Oak Valley and the farm also facilitated the construction of modular homes on the plots for the workers.  

On retirement as is the case with Swanepoel and Plaaitjies, they have their home already set up and are able to retire with their pension and personal savings. Swanepoel and Plaaitjies are lifelong friends and have known each other since childhood in Montagu. As they are also neighbours in town, they can look forward to putting their feet up in the company of old friends. 

Swanepoel was born on a farm between Barrydale and Montagu and moved to Villiersdorp with his family when he was 14. Circumstances forced him to leave school after completing Grade 6 and so he worked on a farm in Villiersdorp with his parents. In 1972 when he was 20 he moved to Grabouw and started working at Oak Valley. "I worked at Oak Valley from 1972 until this year. When I started here I was a general worker and then progressed to tractor driver.

"After some time I was promoted to the supervisor of the tractor spraying team. In 1981 I was moved to Oak Valley’s newly formed flower production division.

"As I was involved with the flower division from soon after it started, I grew with the business and worked as the assistant supervisor. From that time the flower division increased rapidly and was later divided into four divisions. I worked in the chrysanthemum division as the head supervisor and had around 45 people reporting to me. I held this position for many years and retired from this position in March this year. 

"I would have retired in 2012 after 40 years of service but I was asked to stay on a while. My wife had been quite ill recently so I reconsidered and retired in March this year to be able to take care of her. We have four grown children and two of them, a son and a daughter, still work in the flower division here at Oak Valley. I am looking forward to developing my garden and after thirty years of growing flowers, I am definitely not planning to plant flowers," says Swanepoel.

Plaatjies is originally from Montagu and completed Grade 8 at the high school in Robertson before starting to work on the farm with his parents in Montagu. He married in 1976 and his wife and two small sons moved to Oak Valley in 1979. "An acquaintance of mine was working at Oak Valley and told me that there was an opportunity for us here. I applied for the job and there was work here for both of us and we worked here from then until retirement. "When I arrived on the farm I worked as a general worker in the orchards and later became a tractor driver. In 1981 I was appointed as a production foreman on one of the sections of the farm. The section is called Aprilskraal and is approximately 70 hectares. I was responsible for the functions of the entire production process," adds Plaatjies. 

"I retired when I turned 60 in 2013. We had worked at Oak Valley for 32 years and been able to raise and educate our three sons on the farm. I enjoy being retired and spend my time in my garden. I enjoy reading the newspaper every day and keeping up to date with current affairs. I am very grateful that I no longer have to work. I have had offers from labour contractors and it is great that I can turn them down and live comfortably. Oak Valley’s owner Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen has made this possible for us and for this I am eternally grateful," says Plaatjies. 

"At Oak Valley we pride ourselves in the loyalty shown by our employees who have continually demonstrated their commitment to the progress and growth of the business,” says Oak Valley owner Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen. "With employees like Petrus and Daniel everything is possible and I am grateful to them for their contribution over many years. I wish them a happy and well earned retirement," Plaatjies concludes. 

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