During the course of 2005, the owners visited the area of Van Reenen, looking for a farm to buy in preparation for their retirement. Their idea was to acquire a farm and then appoint a farm manager. They and their family would then visit the farm over weekends and school holidays during the years up to their retirement from the pharmaceutical business. One was looking for an area lending itself to the cultivation of oil-rich plants and the subsequent establishment of a small press, distiller and laboratory, so as to further her own interests in this area of expertise. The other wished to keep some cattle.
They then purchased the farms in the area. Once they were committed in their purchase and also spending more time in the area, they became familiar with the villagers of Van Reenen. They pretty soon realised that the area in general and Van Reenen in particular was “forgotten” in many ways. Though the village was the “main gateway” to KZN, not much was done to alleviate the poverty. For example, they found that:
▪ Unemployment in the township stood at a staggering 98%,
▪ The N3-highway cut right through the middle of the village, separating even the public services and amenities in two,
▪ The Tourist Information Centre for KZN was actually located at Montrose, a private enterprise situated in the FS, thereby withholding funds and jobs from the “true” gateway community to KZN,
▪ At that time, the authorities never consulted the community with regards to the construction of the existing N3-highway and the effect that it would have on this historic village prior to their continuing to divide the town,
▪ A fly-over, that would most certainly have assisted this village to continue with a sense of some unity, was never constructed nor offered to the village by N3TC and SANRA,
▪ The N3-highway affected both Black, Indian and White people of this community. The sense of self and sense of place, which prevailed here amongst all members of this community, was shattered instantly,
▪ The residents of the township have title-deeds to their properties, but in a town where there is no social progress and economic growth, let alone a future, this achievement stands tarnished,
▪ Very little is done to give the people hope. Child prostitution with reference to truckers entering the village is the order of the day. On those days that pensions and social grants are paid out, the local tavern and off-sales flourishes. Meanwhile, trucks keep on rolling in … and more and more children become affected through prostitution. …whilst HIV-Aids becomes more rampant.
By July 2007, the “De Angelus Estates” skills development program had been extensively planned, formulated, discussed and promoted to international friends and family. Key persons, both locally and internationally, have come to visit the farms in order to acquaint themselves with the proposed project. In turn, funding projections have been initiated and are being set in place.
Currently, this phase of the project now spans five farms, forming one great unit collectively known as the De Angelus Estates. The need is profound and covers a vast area, especially affecting the region of Van Reenen in particular and Ladysmith and Harrismith to a lesser degree. The ability of this project to address this need is unimaginably huge and real, simply because it was born out of a true vision and not merely out of greed.
In terms of desirability, this project will, without a doubt, be the first of its kind in South Africa and more than likely even in Africa. It would be extremely desirable for a country such as South Africa to have a well-planned and managed mixed agricultural hub, an urban development totally based upon self-sustainability, a state-of-the-art spiritual wellness centre, all of which is interwoven by a training and skills development hub of international esteem. For the villagers of Van Reenen, such a project can be nothing else but desirable. As the gateway to the south (KZN) and to the north (FS and Gauteng), the De Angelus Estates will be a desirably bright light on the future horizons of this region.