18 August 2011 by Chris Marais

Love those Spotted Beasts

I met my first Nguni cow late one afternoon in a meadow in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. I’d been looking for my friend, the late Justin McCarthy, at his leathercraft shop at Howick, and someone said oh no, he’s busy staring at his cattle.

“Aren’t they wonderful?”, my normally un-gushing buddy asked me as I walked up. Justin was sitting on a rock, surrounded by his 100-odd Ngunis, communing with his colourful beasts.

I had to agree. The Zulu nation has always been mad about their elegant, lightweight, mothering and hardy, spotted beasts. Now the rest of the world, including the likes of Justin and I, were catching on.

Later, I met the Swazi Nguni, owned by the famed Reilly family. It is said to be smaller than regulation Ngunis because during wartime when enemies raided, the Swazis retreated with their flocks into mountain caves. Who knows if it’s true?

What I do know is that the African breed is a tough and beautiful one. The Nguni is tick-resistant and can cope with extremes of weather. The Nguni is also a very good mother, and bears small calves, making the birthing process much easier.

I then bought myself a copy of The Abundant Herds - a celebration of the Sanga-Nguni cattle of the Zulu people, written by Marguerite Poland and David Hammond Tooke, and fell deeper in love with the breed and its cultural significance.

So when we moved to the Karoo, I thought I would never see another Nguni. This, after all, is a world of bigger beef.

So what a delight to meet Keven Watermeyer, a Graaff-Reinet farmer who runs a flock of Venda chickens, Zulu Mbuze goats and many, many Ngunis. And they look so perfect out there on the Karoo veld, slowly marching past the windmill in time for a quick drink before wending their way home.

Kevin said:

“Sometimes I come here just to spend some time with the cattle. They’re great company. The calves will all gather around you and lick you. It’s my special time.” It all sounded very familiar to me…

Category: Culture & History

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