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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 06:12 GMT 07:12 UK
South Africa encourages black vintners
Shola Olowu
By Shola Olowu
BBC News business reporter in Constantia, South Africa

Mzokhona Mvemve had never tasted wine before.

Wine maker Mzokhona Mvemve
Mzokhona Mvemve is dreaming about becoming a vineyard owner
Yet he applied for the Indaba Scholarship, an award created by wine distributors Cape Classics, to help black South Africans study areas of the wine industry.

"I was a student doing chemical engineering when I got the opportunity to come to Stellenbosch University to study wine making," he said.

"It was a time of change in the country and I took a chance."

Black winemakers

The government's attempts to promote greater black participation in all sectors of the economy gave him the confidence to take that chance.

Wine barrels at South African vineyard
The world has rediscovered South African wines
Mr Mvemve started a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1997 and four years later became South Africa's first black winemaker.

There are now many more black winemakers in South Africa, a significant breakthrough for an industry dominated by whites.

But there are none with Mr Mvemve's level of responsibilities.

He began working for Cape Classics in 2001 as an assistant winemaker.

Now he chooses and manages the vineyard and decides how and when to harvest the grapes.

He also has complete control over the winemaking process right through to the finished product.

Slow change

The end of apartheid has created new opportunities for the wine industry as the world rediscovers South Africa, according to Andre Shearer, the chief executive of Cape Classics which owns and markets Indaba wines, one of the fastest selling South African wines in the United States.

Wine making at South African vineyard
Few black people have, as yet, studies wine making

But while wine styles have changed, he admits that the industry has yet to really open its doors to black South Africans.

"I'm not sure if as much... has changed [at the grass root level] in terms of the empowerment process," he says.

"There's hesitancy on some parts.

"Some people, frankly, think that things are going OK and that there are empowerment developments."

"But I'm not sure that the [changes] are, in the main, enough."

Black ownership

The government's decision to formalise its approach to black economic empowerment came about because industries were hesitant and in some cases openly hostile.

Wine grapes at South African vineyard
The wine industry should publish its black empowerment charter this year
The mining sector, seen as the backbone of the economy, was the first to be targeted and was forced to meet legally prescribed timetables to ensure greater black involvement.

Mining firms must ensure that 15% of their equity is black owned by 2009, with a further boost to 26% by 2014.

Since the mining charter in 2002, no sector specific laws have been introduced, but other industries are now putting together voluntary charters.

The wine industry is expected to publish its charter before the end of the year.

Mr Mvemve is hoping the charter will help him fulfil his dream to become a vineyard owner.

"I'm pretty much betting on the black economic empowerment charter that is being discussed currently," said Mr Mvemve, insisting that as this should help him find out what roles black people are able to play in the wine industry.

Eventually, Mr Mvemve hopes to raise a quarter of a million rand to release his own label.


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