By Krista Mahr
For centuries, workers in South Africa’s undulating vineyards were paid some of their salary in wine, a disastrous arrangement called the “dop” system that was outlawed in the early 1960s. The practice unofficially continued for decades under apartheid and has tapered off under strict new laws. But a new film investigating labor conditions in South Africa’s wine industry alleges that the legacy of the dop system — and many other old inequities — continue to haunt farmworkers today.
Danish journalist Tom Heinemann, director of the film “Bitter Grapes,” visited wine farms in South Africa’s bucolic Western Cape, where he found that some workers were allegedly being paid less than the minimum wage, exposed to pesticides, consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol and discouraged from joining unions, among other problems.
Scandinavia is a major importer of South Africa’s affordable wine, and the film prompted at least one Danish wholesaler to remove the wines from Robertson Winery, a popular South African company featured in the film, from its supermarkets while the company looks into the matter.