Ahead of what proved to be series-clinching victory in Johannesburg, Alastair Cook took some time out of the firing line to visit Waitrose Foundation farms and community programmes in the Hex River Valley.
Waitrose, which provides work by employing people to work on the farms, has a crucial role in the area, passing money back from the sale of products to the workers to spend on things such as education, health facilities and community development.
The initiative was set up in the Western Cape around 10 years ago with the purpose of improving the quality of life for farm workers, and has made an instant impact in the area.
Sir De Villiers Graaf, chairman of the Waitrose Foundation board, explained: “The success of the foundation in my mind has been enormous.
“The community in South Africa is historically very impoverished so there’s a huge need for improvements in education, living conditions and the opportunity to get involved in sport which the community weren’t able to do before – particularly during apartheid.”
The England captain was impressed by what he saw during his visit, which included a trip to the vineyard, a women’s club, a creche and a spot of coaching at a sports project.
“It’s been a fantastic day here with Waitrose and the project they run. It’s been really mind-blowing to see the work they’ve put in,” he said.
Cook was present with his family, wife Alice and daughter Elsa, to interact with the community and he admitted he was surprised by how much of an impact it had had.
“With Elsa here and playing with the kids, we realised how lucky we are back home but also how lucky these families are out here with all the money the foundation is putting into them,” he said.
Cook, a keen farmer at home, added: “The foundation, most importantly, is looking after the families. The farm wouldn’t be there without the workers. Its a huge project.”
There was also time for Cook to warm-up for the third Test with a game of cricket with the local children, and the role of sport, he said, was crucial to providing a future for future generations.
“We know how important sport is to education and teamwork and giving people a direction,” he said.
“I think its no coincidence that everything is improving because there are facilities for kids to go out and do stuff. There’s a cricket ground, there is a rugby pitch to play on, and a school – that is an important thing and without that kids don’t have a future.
“Everyone can be very proud of the project here, and it can only get bigger and bigger.”
School principal, Jessica Swartz, was delighted to welcome England’s leading Test run-scorer to the project, but he was not quite what she expected.
“Alastair Cook was very down to earth and a nice personality. We thought he would be all dressed up but he was just like us! His wife Alice was also very nice and down to earth,” she explained.
“To have Alastair Cook in our midst, we never thought it would happen, but the dream became a reality. Most of our children won’t forget today”
“The foundation means very much to the whole community. Everything they put in is helping us to develop.”
De Villiers Graaff added: “He’s an idol for people to look up to and inspiration for farm workers children – who have talent – as to what can be achieved.”