Grass, money, and cattle: The livestock dealers of Phalaborwa

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dc.contributor.author Sichone, Owen
dc.date.accessioned 2011-05-20T10:33:19Z
dc.date.available 2011-05-20T10:33:19Z
dc.date.issued 1995-05-08
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10539/9867
dc.description African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 8 May 1995 en_US
dc.description.abstract During my visits to the Lowveld, I have not come across any veal monsters or their animal loving enemies. I guess one would have to go to the British port of Dover to witness that particular cattle battle. In the same way, the ecologists1 and environmentalists' campaign against the hamburgers that threaten the Amazon rain forest is best understood from an American point of view. Phalaborwa is not veal or hamburger country, but the people love their meat and even named the township of Namakgale after it. Whether the people of Phalaborwa love their cattle is more dificult to say, but they do own and keep them. There are, however, a few questions about who should raise cattle and for what purposes that are yet to be answered to everybody's satisfaction. Everybody in this case being government officials implementing development, White ranchers producing meat for the country, and Black elites wanting a share of the beef business, as well as poor villagers who wish to speculate and accumulate using livestock as a concentrator of value. The idea that some people are not qualified to keep livestock is what constitutes the local cattle battle. During one of my interviews with farmers in Phalaborwa a White beef baron, whom we shall call Willem Botha, told me that Blacks have a misconception that grass, money, and cattle are one and the same thing. In 1982 the drought killed 147,000 and the 1992 - 80,000 cattle in Giyani but the owners got nothing because they refused to sell. (2) This is an old problem in the business of modernization. Blacks, or peasants, or tribals, as the case may be, are accused not merely of understanding modern business differently, but of just not understanding. Despite the efforts of many scholars to show that such behaviour is not irrational, the dominant culture of the civil service, the development agencies and the educated elites, tend to see only problems with ‘traditional’ behaviour. For instance: an anthropologist from Botswana who, in a recent book, compared White ranchers to Black entrepreneurs and wrote in relation to one of the village farmers: By contrast, the better-experienced settler ranchers expanded their land as a single unit (cf Vorster and the Clarks). Most probably, however, Tau was inspired by the African mentality which finds greatness, not in the amount of land or size of the ranch but rather in the quantity of farms, notwithstanding their sizes. In his home village, people used to talk of him as the man with two Tuli Block farms. Among settlers, the reverse is true; grandeur is based on the size of a ranch and not necessarily on the quantity of farms. Mazonde: 1993,90 According to Mazonde, Tau's African mentality, more than his lack of access to information or his inexperience explain his failure to acquire a large farm with a river frontage or direct road link and his failure to ensure that when he bought his second farm it was adjacent to his first one. It is this same perceived African mentality that may be used to explain why Willem Botha suggested to me that, Village elders are children in matters of modern economy and must therefore be guided (by the state). Why, they are even bartering as if they are not in a money economy! They barter their big bullocks for scrap heifers from White dealers who exploit their lack of understanding of weights and the market. The African mentality somehow prevents people from seeing that one large farm is easier to manage than two small ones that are situated several miles apart, or that bullocks fetch higher prices than heifers on the market. Contrary to Willem Botha's view, barter is not a pre-capitalist mode of exchange though it may appear as such when taken out of its social context. (C. Humphrey and S. Hugh-Jones eds. 1992) There are numerous examples of counter trade between countries and barter between traders which fit into the modern economy perfectly. During my visits to the Lowveld, I have not come across any veal monsters or their animal loving enemies. I guess one would have to go to the British port of Dover to witness that particular cattle battle. In the same way, the ecologists1 and environmentalists' campaign against the hamburgers that threaten the Amazon rain forest is best understood from an American point of view. Phalaborwa is not veal or hamburger country, but the people love their meat and even named the township of Namakgale after it. Whether the people of Phalaborwa love their cattle is more dificult to say, but they do own and keep them. There are, however, a few questions about who should raise cattle and for what purposes that are yet to be answered to everybody's satisfaction. Everybody in this case being government officials implementing development, White ranchers producing meat for the country, and Black elites wanting a share of the beef business, as well as poor villagers who wish to speculate and accumulate using livestock as a concentrator of value. The idea that some people are not qualified to keep livestock is what constitutes the local cattle battle. During one of my interviews with farmers in Phalaborwa a White beef baron, whom we shall call Willem Botha, told me that Blacks have a misconception that grass, money, and cattle are one and the same thing. In 1982 the drought killed 147,000 and the 1992 - 80,000 cattle in Giyani but the owners got nothing because they refused to sell. (2) This is an old problem in the business of modernization. Blacks, or peasants, or tribals, as the case may be, are accused not merely of understanding modern business differently, but of just not understanding. Despite the efforts of many scholars to show that such behaviour is not irrational, the dominant culture of the civil service, the development agencies and the educated elites, tend to see only problems with ‘traditional’ behaviour. For instance: an anthropologist from Botswana who, in a recent book, compared White ranchers to Black entrepreneurs and wrote in relation to one of the village farmers: By contrast, the better-experienced settler ranchers expanded their land as a single unit (cf Vorster and the Clarks). Most probably, however, Tau was inspired by the African mentality which finds greatness, not in the amount of land or size of the ranch but rather in the quantity of farms, notwithstanding their sizes. In his home village, people used to talk of him as the man with two Tuli Block farms. Among settlers, the reverse is true; grandeur is based on the size of a ranch and not necessarily on the quantity of farms. Mazonde: 1993,90 According to Mazonde, Tau's African mentality, more than his lack of access to information or his inexperience explain his failure to acquire a large farm with a river frontage or direct road link and his failure to ensure that when he bought his second farm it was adjacent to his first one. It is this same perceived African mentality that may be used to explain why Willem Botha suggested to me that, Village elders are children in matters of modern economy and must therefore be guided (by the state). Why, they are even bartering as if they are not in a money economy! They barter their big bullocks for scrap heifers from White dealers who exploit their lack of understanding of weights and the market. The African mentality somehow prevents people from seeing that one large farm is easier to manage than two small ones that are situated several miles apart, or that bullocks fetch higher prices than heifers on the market. Contrary to Willem Botha's view, barter is not a pre-capitalist mode of exchange though it may appear as such when taken out of its social context. (C. Humphrey and S. Hugh-Jones eds. 1992) There are numerous examples of counter trade between countries and barter between traders which fit into the modern economy perfectly. Discussed out of context, both barter and the African mentality can only appear silly. As provocative as the concept is, this paper will not engage the notion of an African mentality directly except insofar as it is used by my informants to explain their or other people's behaviour. It needs a more careful problematisation than I can give at present. This paper is, however, not meant to provide a political economy of cattle in Phalaborwa or even detailed profiles of the cattle keepers even though I realise that this is crucial for the establishment of the social context and it will have to be done at a later stage. My present concern is merely to discuss some of the local ideas about cattle in the money economy and to illustrate the problems associated with a lack of a common vocabulary that result when a bureaucratic and technical-scientific world view comes into contact with foreign ideas and economic strategies. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.relation.ispartofseries Institute for Advanced Social Research;ISS 395
dc.subject Cattle. South Africa. Phalaborwa en_US
dc.subject Cattle. Economic aspects. South Africa. Phalaborwa. en_US
dc.title Grass, money, and cattle: The livestock dealers of Phalaborwa en_US
dc.type Working Paper en_US


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