Ciskei Cattle Ranch Manager

Theoretically, the Ciskei, as it became known, to distinguish it from the Transkei, was another ‘homeland’ for Xhosa people in accordance with the Apartheid policy of separate development. It lay between the Fish and Kei Rivers, but was a tattered patchwork of reserves and white-owned farms, and a white wedge south of the Kei River which included East London, King Williamstown, Stutterheim, Cathcart and Queenstown.

Ciskei

Ciskei

In order to try and consolidate the patches, the South African government was buying up some 300,000 hectares of white-owned farms to hand over to the Ciskei which was to achieve its independence. During this transition period, around 1978, when the Ciskei had become a one-party state under Lennox Sebe, some of these farms were rented back to whites to garner some income while the consolidation process was in progress.

Peter Butler, an East London businessman and stock speculator, in partnership with his son, Bruce, hired several of these farms and stocked them with cattle that Peter bought at several cattle sales in the area.
After an interview with both Bruce and his father, I was taken on as a second ranch manager in July 1978. The other manager was Mrs Ann Connellan, but the scale of operations had grown too large for her to handle on her own.

Their idea was that Sheila and I should move to a farmhouse on the farm Waterford, near the village of Hamburg, although permission to do so involved some paperwork regarding the lease that had not yet been signed. In the meanwhile, I would go about with Ann and learn the ropes, while living at Peter Butler’s home. I would go home only three weekends in a month, which did not please Sheila.

The Butler Group consisted of Sunrise Farms, the main cattle-farming enterprise on about fourteen hired farms; BBC Farms – Peter’s enterprise; Igoda Farms, selling cattle and goats directly to the blacks for cash; Caprice Farms, selling sheep, and Connock’s Butchery in Grahamston. I had nine farms to look after, which involved dipping and dosing, tagging and branding. Ann had five farms and also did some of the buying with Peter. All in all, on a revolving basis, there were some 2500 head of cattle.

Peter Butler was a hard-case. He backed down for nobody, always seemed to be involved in disputes over legal stuff with competitors and had a photographic memory. Once, driving back from a sale, he saw a cow grazing loose on the roadside and stopped the car, claiming it was his, bought from another sale three weeks prior. And it was! He could tell you where he had bought almost all the stock and how much he had paid.

I enjoyed working with cattle, and generally loved the work while it lasted, except for Saturdays when Peter sold live cattle to the black folk in a bushy part of his own farm. He shot them for the new owners and they set to butchering them right there in the bush. The stink and the flies were something special. Sometime I had to take over the awful job of dispatching them. Naturally, Peter was often getting complaints from his neighbours and the police became involved.

Near the black city ofNdantsane there was a farm, which used to belong to a man named Kallie Brandt who went bankrupt, that Peter hired from the bank and wanted me to run, selling goats and sheep. Kallie hired a corner of the next-door farm and slaughtered and sold stock in competition to us. I stopped to chat to him before going off to buy some locks to the buildings that housed our stock. He told me he had shot thirteen black intruders in the 31 years that he had farmed there!

Apparently, I had been gone only three minutes when three blacks came up to ask him to show them the sheep. He half got out of his bakkie when they hit him and fired a gas pistol in his face. As he struggled with them, another fired two shots at him with a .25 gun and missed. They got away with his .45 revolver and R7000-00 in cash! (My monthly salary at the time was R450-00)

When I got back he had gone for the police who arrived soon afterwards. The fellow we had hired to look after our own sheep and goats resigned on the spot.

After some skulduggery, Waterford and the farmhouse we were supposed to move into was hired to someone else. Another house near to the town of Peddie became an alternative, but was also eventually ruled out. After a few months of toing and froing and then when the chance came up of a job with an Italian construction company building a road near home, I resigned.

So, there was no need to leave the Modderlaagte.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
This entry was posted in Backgrounds, Shaping a writer, South Africa, Writing novels and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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