So motivated and positive, despite horrific attack
Back is regarded as one of the most celebrated winemakers in the South African industry.
This assault highlights yet again scourge of violent farm attacks in South Africa. According to the latest police statistics, there were 638 such attacks over the 2016/17 period.
However, a measure of the man is that he discharged himself from hospital the next morning and stopped by the office “to show my millennial counterparts what real work commitment looks like”, according to a Facebook post.
Back was attacked while sleeping in his bedroom, which is cordoned off by a security gate. The burglars came in at “an unexpected point” and broke through the security gate, said Back’s personal assistant, Elizabeth Slabbert.
“He woke up after being hit over the head with a crowbar. He fought back furiously. At one point, he said he actually thought that he had them, but they were three people with a crowbar and he was a man by himself.
“They knocked him out with a blow to his left eye which left him unconscious. They rolled him up in a Persian carpet and left him for dead.”
After stealing a number of electronic items, the attackers left.
There had apparently been “some activity” at his son’s house on the neighbouring farm earlier that evening which Back knew about. “He thought he’d be prepared because he sleeps with his revolver right next to his bed and also has security cameras outside the house, an alarm system and dogs,” Slabbert said.
“We’ve had quite a lot of incidents on the farm previously and if he was scared every single night, he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He didn’t see it coming.”
However, she added: “His house is quite isolated on the top of the mountain, so he knew it was coming.
“I wouldn’t say he’s fearless, but he doesn’t lie awake at night wondering who’s going to come and attack him. He loves the farm and he wants to live on the farm.”
“My escape is nothing short of miraculous,” Back wrote on Facebook, “and I feel like I have come back from the dead. I am so grateful to be alive, and my heart goes out to all the people that have lost their family members in the ongoing farm attacks.”
Slabbert says that Back is “doing fine”. He underwent surgery at the Paarl Mediclinic on Sunday morning to repair damage caused to his left eye socket by the crowbar.
“The operation was a great success,” she says. He is expected to regain his sight in that eye – in fact, it has partially returned.
“He came into the office on Monday morning looking fine and positive and energetic, but the doctors have advised that he take it easy for the next week or so, so he’s spending time at the house on the farm with his wife, just taking it easy.” Back’s wife was at her son’s home in Cape Town on the night of the attack.
There have previously been criminal incidents at his son’s house and the farm manager’s house, but never attacks against Back personally.
Back’s philosophy is to try to create employment to improve the economic situation of individuals such as those who broke into his house, which will hopefully avert these kinds of attacks.
The community response to the attack was “massive”, said Slabbert. “We could never have expected it. It was just constant phone calls and flowers and messages on Facebook – it was insane! It was totally overwhelming; we’re so grateful.”
Joel Back, a cousin, who is a partner in the KosherWorld supermarket chain, describes the situation as “a shocking state of affairs that this type of crime actually takes place, that someone of his calibre, or people in general, should have to be fearful in their own home”.
He also finds the attack on Back ironic. “He is a champion of what the new South Africa could, and should, be – the last person I would expect to be the victim of such a crime would be Charles Back.”
While Joel has not spoken to his cousin as yet, he says his Facebook posts are “very positive. He just wants to get back, do what he does best and make things happen in his business, on the farm and in his community.”
Back comes from a long line of winemakers. He is the third generation on the farm that was purchased by his grandfather, also Charles, in 1937. Charles senior had arrived in this country as a Lithuanian immigrant in 1902.
Charles junior joined Fairview in 1978 after completing his winemaking studies at Elsenburg College of Agriculture. The estate is one of the most visited attractions in the Cape winelands.
Commenting on the fact that his cousin was back at the office the day after the attack, Joel says: “That’s Charles. You can’t hold that man down. He’s an absolute inspiration.”
And what of the future? Would the family want him to leave the farm in the light of the attack?
“I can’t really comment on that,” says Joel. “I’m not sure that Charles is the kind of chap that would get up and leave because of such an event, as horrific as it is.”
“I think he’s going to come back stronger and more enthusiastic about the challenges of this country and the future that we can all embrace,” Joel continues.
Back has stated that the attack was a random criminal one “by three common gangsters, motivated by their own interests” and not part of the concerted farm attacks that have plagued the country.
“I believe in the values that this country was built on,” wrote Back on Facebook, “and continue to hope for harmony and peace. I am now doubly motivated to come into work every day, and will continue to ensure that I can contribute and try to make even the smallest difference in my community.”
One of the many messages of support on Facebook, from Patrick Fieuw, reads: “I am so sorry to hear what you and your family had to endure during this night of terror. You have been a pillar in this community for so many years and your spirit has been a motivational light for so many.”
Another from Michele King reads: “I don’t know Charles, but your words have revealed a truly unique, courageous and kind-spirited person. Instead of the usual colour-bashing reports we see on social media, you have risen above the racial slurs and portrayed true character. We need more people like you in rebuilding our beloved country for all our people.”