More than meets the eye to Benguela Cove

Just before our hired bus reached the wine estate on Bot River lagoon in cool-climate Walker Bay, a sign in enormous white letters came into view reading Benguela Cove. Wow, I thought, this is not a place that’s shy about itself.

Nor was it. At the entrance were huge art works and sculptures, including a full-sized figure of a golden man covered with nails. As for the magnificent chandeliers in the wine tasting room, they almost rivalled the splendour of those in the foyer of Artscape’s Opera House.

As we often hear how wine farmers are battling the drought and rising costs, it was puzzling to know why money seemed no object on this estate. However, it became clear when the award-winning wine-maker Johann Fourie told us the remarkable story of Penny Streeter (OBE) the Zimbabwean-born, British/South African entrepreneur who with her family own and operate Benguela Cove. which is part of the Benguela Collection of Properties. 

Born in 1967 and educated in Johannesburg until 1983, Penny aged 12, left South Africa for the UK with her mother Marion.

Aged 15 she started working in the recruitment sector before launching her own recruitment business which failed. Divorced, homeless and penniless and with three young children, she had no option but to go into a home for the homeless.

However, Penny Stiff lived up to her maiden name. She didn’t stay down for long and started again in business and today the 52-year-old entrepreneur is remarried, has multiple properties and businesses in South Africa and the UK, and is worth £157 million.

Yet she has not forgotten about being broke and homeless. She is the proud patron of the Hermanus Night Shelter to help people going through really tough times. 

Her view is that people can be homeless for all sorts of reasons – and she knows this from personal experience.

“But I was lucky,” she has said many times. “There was a safety net for me in the UK where I had refuge for a short time to sort out my life. Things improved because someone was there to help when times were pretty desperate.”

She supports the initiative to help provide a safety net for the Hermanus community, to give a second chance to those who have fallen on hard times – or maybe never had any good times.

Firefighting heroes

Recently we drove to Betty’s Bay to see friends whose home was nearly one of the 43 razed in the  fire which destroyed 14 000 hectares from Betty’s Bay to Hermanus.

“It was the speed of the wind that was so frightening,” our friends said, “and it kept changing.  A couple who thought they were safe were suddenly told ‘Get out of your house now’ and when they went outside, their car was on fire. They lost everything but got away with their lives.”

They were full of admiration for the firefighters working in dangerous conditions and were eternally grateful to their young  neighbours who  spent two days and nights watering their thatched-roof cottage and everything else they could. An astonishing feature of the fire was the way some gutted houses were surrounded by those which were untouched. It’s going to be a long and painful time for the bare mountain slopes and burnt veld to recover. 

Snail mail

If the letters from readers sharing gripes about the post office had been sent by mail I would still be waiting for them. Most were about the delay of their overseas Christmas post and the demise of the Christmas card tradition, with its spin-off helping charities raise money.

One reader recommended that all overseas mail to Cape Town should be sorted locally and not in Joburg. This would improve the chances of Christmas correspondence reaching the many older people without email.

He cited his case of collecting on January 2 a calendar posted on December 3 from Florida, USA. It had been opened in Joburg, put into a plastic envelope and incorrectly addressed to “Diep” to which someone had put on the envelope “try Diep River”. He refused to pay the R25.85c for “handling services”.

On January 9 he received an airmail letter posted from Bermuda on May 23, 2018.

“It had taken seven months to arrive. They could have rowed it across in a boat and it would have arrived sooner.”

Brotherly love

The famous Dutch piano playing brothers Lucas, 26 this year and Arthur Jussen 23, didn’t walk on to the City Hall stage last Thursday, they burst onto the stage – and the audience loved the two slim young figures in black who looked like twins.

Their spontaneity was engaging as they kissed guest concertmaster Farida Bacharova and, holding hands behind their backs, bowed in unison to their audience on the stage and in the hall. Even before they’d played a note they’d won us over.

What fine musicians they proved to be performing Poulenc’s concerto for two pianos and orchestra under the baton of Martin Panteleev. They lived up to the comment in Holland’s De Volkskrant that “under their hands two pianos form one flowing instrument. Two souls one mind.”

The big picture

A picture is worth a 1000 words, but uses up 3 000 times the memory.

fionachisholm@iafrica.com