Top South African estate Rust en Vrede is being torn apart by a bitter family feud that threatens to see patriarch Jannie Engelbrecht exiled from the family trust.

In an action at Cape High Court this week the Engelbrecht family has brought an urgent application to have former Springboks star Jannie declared unfit to serve on the trust that contains most of the Engelbrecht family fortune.

Engelbrecht and his son Jean are both major names in the South African – and international – wine world. Jean’s friendship with champion golfer Ernie Els resulted in an award-winning wine bearing the latter’s name.

But the family – Jannie’s estranged wife Ellen, Jean and his sisters Angeline Engelbrecht and Judy Graeff – are now accusing the founder of the Stellenbosch estate of cronyism, embezzlement and putting the business at risk by undermining Jean’s role.

According to the South African Sunday Times, Jannie Engelbrecht is accused of filling the trust’s board with confidantes with the aim of manipulating it, using the income for himself even though he is not a beneficiary, and repeatedly undermining Jean.

The trust’s assets include six farms and other business interests.

‘Every allegation has been refuted and will be further addressed in court on Wednesday (26 May)’ Jannie Engelbrecht said.

It is understood the relationship between father and son deteriorated in 2002 when Jean discovered an alleged affair his father was having with journalist Romi Boom.

Jannie ejected Jean from the trust in February 2002. Ellen filed for divorce – naming Boom – in May of that year.

In a letter of February 2002 Jannie told Jean, ‘Your consuming ambition to drive me out of my business is starting to boomerang.’ He said the business was ‘in jeopardy’, and ended, ‘I am taking control again.’

Ellen said it was only when the relationship between Jannie and Jean fell apart did Jannie start accusing his son of being ‘reckless with the finances of the trust and its companies.’

The judge in the case granted an interim order suspending all of Jannie’s powers to appoint trustees. Parties must file papers by Tuesday.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies