I loved the fact that we no longer just celebrate Women’s day on 9 August, but that the entire month of August has been set aside to celebrate phenomenal women in our country while shedding light on women’s issues. When I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed on women’s day, it was evident that some people confuse women’s day with mother’s day. I love my mother and without mothers, none of us will be here and thankfully there is a day set aside to celebrate motherhood. Consequently, I made a list of women who to me exemplifies what women’s month is about. One of the first ladies who came to mind was my dear friends, Natasha Natalie Boks.
In 2013 Natasha was appointed as head winemaker at Nederburg Wines. The first woman of colour to hold this position. Over the last three years, she has established herself as an award-winning winemaker. Born and bred in Cloetesville, Stellenbosch, Natasha was part in producing wines which received many accolades. Local awards include the FNB Top 10 Sauvignon blanc (2015), Standard Bank Top 10 Chenin blanc (2017 ), Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show (2016, 2017), Michaelangelo Wine show (2016), Veritas Wine Show (2015, 2016), and the Platter ratings (2015, 2016). The list follows four International Awards; IWSC show (2015, 2016), a first for Nederburg in its history, Muscat Du Mondu (2015, 2016), Decanter show (2015, 2016, 2017), and the Tim Atkins ratings (2015, 2016, 2017). For those of us who don’t know much about wine, the long list simply means that ‘die wyn smaak lekker en die kenners, asook die man op straat stem almal saam’. Oh, and Tassa, as affectionately known, is awesome! She knows what she is doing and she is pretty good at it.
With agriculture being a male dominated field, as a woman, she at times found it difficult to let her voice be heard. But that did not stop her from getting her message across. She worked hard and proved to be someone to listen to.
“It gets easier after you have proven yourself.”
Interestingly, Natasha didn’t grow up knowing much about wine. The first time she told her mother that she wanted to pursue a career in winemaking, her mother, entirely perplexed about her decision replied: “Hoekom wil jy ŉ duiwels ding doen?” Her mother, as many others can relate to, has witnessed the relational destruction caused by alcoholism and wanted her children to stay as far away from it as possible. This pernicious substance was not to be celebrated or promoted. Fortunately, Natasha’s dad came to her rescue and explained to her mother that maybe God’s got a plan with her becoming a winemaker. After all, Jesus did turn water into wine so it can’t be completely evil.
Uncle Trevor was right. During her second year practical, Natasha realised that her entering the wine industry was not merely a vocational decision, but answering a calling. Natasha believes that the winemaking process starts long before the winemaker gets involved, it starts with the person picking the grapes and pruning the vines. She was confronted by the daily struggles of many of the farm workers, physical labour that the ladies had to endure, and alcoholism, a direct effect of the previous Dop System. A desire to restore the honour of the farm worker and all others involved in the winemaking process was stirred up inside of her. It was important for Natasha that everyone in the process knows that “there is honour in the work you do.” She remembers once, driving at the back of a truck with the farm workers. People she knew from school were driving in the car behind them. She could see the confusion in their eyes and them being bewildered by her sitting at the back of the truck with the farm workers. It was rather a disparaging look and she felt the dishonour placed by society on the work done by farm workers.
“There is little pride in the work they do and the work they do is invaluable to the wine industry.”
Natasha grew up in a house where honour was a family value. Her mother, a domestic worker and late father, who used to work as a security guard at Stellenbosch University always did their work with so much pride. They taught her that no matter what your occupation, honour the work you do and honour others for the work they do.
The principle is even more relevant today, now that she occupies such a high position. Her understanding and value for people are perhaps, due to not growing up with a spoon in her mouth. Since the security company at Stellenbosch University is outsourced, benefits such as her being able to study for free was not on the table. Fortunately, Natasha was a brilliant student and proud product of Cloetesville High and could secure a bursary from the department of agriculture.
The year 2014 marks a pivotal time in her life. It was her first harvest as head winemaker. The best grapes were coming in and then, the news of her father’s passing. She was forced to take stock of her life. Torn between not being able to give her all during an important career defining season and the fact that three days before Uncle Trevor passed away, was the first time she saw him in two months. Her husband, then boyfriend, managed to fill in for her, doing the driving around and helping with most of the family errands. I remember that special moment on their wedding day when he announced that although her father could not walk her down the aisle he gave his blessing for the marriage. Ashely managed to ask Uncle Trevor for Tassa’s hand in marriage while on his deathbed. Boks, as we call him, is indeed the perfect husband for Natasha. His gentleness, humility and the fact that he is secure in who he is, gives her wings to fly.
I met Natasha in 2004 during a local outreach in Jamestown where we joined other university students from church to provide extra academic classes to the learners while sharing the gospel. I also discovered a photo with both me, Natasha and Ashley on it. Who knew then that the two of them will end up married to each other. The Jamestown outreach did, however, have a reputation for bringing people together. I went on the Jamestown outreach five times. I Guess I was immune to whatever the others were drinking. Nonetheless, it was our passion for people and community development that drew us to each other, and of course, Tassa’s vibrant personality. As the saying goes, “sy het nie op haar mond geval nie.”
I mostly admire her courage and faith. The courage to study something she barely knew anything about and the faith to trust God while exploring unknown territories. Currently, Natasha finds herself in the same position. Convicted by God, she knew that her season at Nederburg has come to an end. She officially resigned mid this year. At the peak of her career, she chose to be led by her conviction.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. – 1 Corinthians 1:27
Presently, she is in the process of establishing a wine consulting and marketing company where she would be able to also focus on mentorship, leadership and transformation within the wine industry. The actual wine-making was never the calling, taken back to that moment in her second year. Although she has spent a lot of time listening to the workers’ personal struggles, gave advice and even offered a prayer or two, she knew she was called to more. One initiative that stands out is the wine tastings they started doing with the people working in the cellars. The aim was to promote responsible drinking and a renewed value for the wine. Natasha dreams about having her own wine cellar – a place where she can do training, both scientific and soft skills, especially to those who did not grow up in households’ familiar to wine.
Natasha is who she is today largely due to the amazing parents God gave her. Natasha’s courage and entrepreneurial genes come from her father, and her faith in God was nurtured by watching her mother. Uncle Trevor was very involved in politics and community projects and even had his own private security company for a while. He was an educated man, although only receiving formal education up to grade 8. Her fondest memory is of her dad helping her with her head girl speech. He was self-educated, there was not a day that went past that Uncle Trevor did not read both the Afrikaans and English newspaper. Except for the value of honour, her mother, Aunty Mary laid a strong foundation of generosity. She believed that blessing is in giving, even if you have little. There was never any lack in their home even when her mother was without employment.
Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. – Exodus 20:22
God’s faithfulness in both our lives has been undeniable. I remember all the hustling during our undergraduate years, just to get by and even with good grades, bursaries were not a given. Time and time again, God showed himself faithful to us and our families. The one advantage of not growing up in a wealthy family is that from a young age you are forced to put your trust in God and not men. You trust Him for small things and you build your faith muscle as you trust him for more and bigger things. It is still scary, but taking that leap of faith for the big things becomes a little easier when you have a mountain of testimonies of his faithfulness to draw from. It has been incredible to witness Natasha’s journey from the sideline and I am excited for what lies ahead.
Natasha’s journey has taught her to stay true to yourself and to not be led by the systems of this world. She holds on to a quote by Bill Johnson, “If you know who God has called you to be, you won’t want to be someone else.” And the well-known scripture in Romans 12:2
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
To me, Tassa resembles those 20 000 ladies back in 1956 who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the country’s pass laws. A law that required black South Africans to carry a passport in order to move within their own country. The reason why we celebrate women’s day on 9 August.
More than half a decade later, I would like to honour my friend Natasha Natalie Boks for taking in her place in society as a woman. For her courage to break through societal boundaries, her walk with God, and for being a voice for others, to fight their cause and stand against dishonouring unjust systems. You inspire!