From early on in her life, the odds were not necessarily in Elize Lambrechts Boer’s favour. But she refused to let it get to her. She never accepted her situation as fate. She looked life square in the eyes and decided she was going to make a difference. Not only in her career in agriculture, but in the lives of her fellow humans. She believes it’s all about passion, perseverance and empowering people. Gerrit Rautenbach spoke to Elize shortly before she received the Deciduous Fruit Gala Award for Advanced Agricultural Worker – the first time ever, that it was awarded to a woman.
Elize Lambrechts Boer was born and resided her whole life in the Hex Valley, De Doorns. She worked her way all the way up to general manager of Moreson, Lentelus and Elim farms, collectively forming Louis and Madelein de Kock’s Verdorsniet-boerdery. No mean feat but Louis will vouch that is all on merit. Should you ask Elize how she did it, she does not hesitate to answer.
“It’s because I was a drop-out.”
Growing up in the Valley was good. No, great. At school, she was always a star with report cards of gold. Afternoons and holidays she earned good pocket money working on the farm, Saffier, where she was born. Yet, Elize at first believed farm life wasn’t for her and dreamt of becoming a successful, even famous dress designer. She has always been hungry for knowledge but was not empowered enough to elude one of the biggest traps of life. At 16 she fell pregnant and the school lost a star pupil. She ended up looking after a baby and working in an old age home in Cape Town. That’s when she realised she missed the farm. And being involved in farming.
She knew no-one was going to help her if she felt sorry for herself, so she decided the only way out is to just begin at the bottom as a general worker on a table grape farm. With nothing more than a positive attitude and an insatiable need for knowledge. Soon she progressed to team leader. Supervisor followed before she was promoted to packhouse manager.
She has now been involved with Verdorsniet for 20 years and was the first woman in a managerial position in the Valley, the first woman to become a general manager, the first woman to complete the modular table grape course at Elsenburg. In addition, she also obtained NQF4 in management and was the second-best student in her NQF2 (mixed farming) class at Cape Agri Academy in Porterville. Amongst others. Most of the time she had to work a full day on the farm and study at night, but she relished in it.
She, however, realised that no matter how much knowledge and aptitude you have for agriculture, you need to know and understand people. It’s people making farming happening. So she empowered herself with counselling courses to help workers to cope with their circumstances, be it HIV or diseases such as TB, foetal alcohol syndrome or personal problems or unhappiness in the workplace. She created this framework to empower people with knowledge. That led to another initiative from her to create a clinic on the farm. Anneline Sight was chosen to get qualified as the official health worker for the farm enabling her to run the clinic on a daily basis.
Elize’s insatiable need for knowledge is how she made it to the top as a woman in a man’s world. She realised she can only earn their respect by being superior. Knowledge creates superiority. And then she uses that knowledge to empowers them to be better, earning their respect in return.
“I believe excellence is a prerequisite for a woman to make it in a man’s world. When you get the chance, be it via a women’s empowering programme or an inheritance, it’s only going to happen through very hard work. Good work ethics will ensure that you become a role player in your industry and not just another woman in a man’s world. To be noticed, women need to be super successful.”
Another initiative from Elize was to create an environment looking after the future by means of a crèche and daycare centre, establishing a backdrop offering the opportunity to broaden the youths’ knowledge and keeping them positively occupied and off the streets. She went on her own to see the Minister of Social Development and got them to sponsor eight computers for the centre. Yet again the common denominator is learning. Through this, she has helped many a kid to get their vision and jest for life back. They are out there today working as inspectors, bankers, traffic wardens and managers in agriculture or studying further. Elize also helps potential new students to obtain bursaries.
Apart from creating a positive environment for the people of Verdorsniet, her main function is to run the farm together with three production managers reporting to her for the three units totaling 53 hectares of table grapes. During packing season she has around 200 people to look after. In 2017 Verdorsniet packed a record 250 000 cartons. She is responsible for the planning of every working day; how many grapes need to be cut, to be packed, how many pallets organised or what is needed to complete the programs of the marketing and export teams. Amongst others. On many occasions, she represents Louis at high-level meetings.
To quote Louis: “After many years of hard work and dedication, Elize is truly a member of the De Kock family. A pillar of strength on the farm, in the community and church. When you look at Elize, you see Elim.”
Elize managed to get the Ministry of Agriculture to visit the packhouse. Helen Zille also visited the farm, being shown around, wearing a pair of Wellingtons and all. As deputy chairperson for the Hex Valley Farmworkers Association, Elize was paramount to help stop the crippling strike in 2012 by getting Romeo de Lange, director: social crime prevention to sign their memorandum.
All in all, Elize Lambrechts Boer has made it big time in agriculture. And in life. As a colleague, a manager, counsellor, friend. And a mother of three children. On 17 March of this year, she lost her son, Ruan in a tragic car accident. Despite this horrendous loss, she is still out there, helping to make the best of Verdorsniet and its people. Because she believes in herself. She also believes women are better choice operators in agriculture. Should you ask Elize why, she does not hesitate to tell you.
“Agriculture is about food. About feeding and providing. And that’s the essence of our maternal instinct.”