WHITES owned an estimated 371 000 herd of cattle by 1911. 

How much of it was seized and plundered during and after the 1893-1894 uprising, has not yet been fully ascertained.  

What is certain is, a ‘Loot Committee’ was setup by the BSAC arguing: “Settlers who participated in the war would be rewarded with a free farm measuring 3 000 morgens (6 350 acres) anywhere in Matabeleland … with no obligation to occupy the land.” 

Each participating settler was also guaranteed “…15 reef and 5 alluvial gold claims,” while the ‘loot’ (cattle) was shared “…half for the company…. the remaining half divided equally among the men and officers.” 

In July 1893, The Rhodesia Herald, in urging settlers to pursue the land grab, stated that:“The indemnity for expenses incurred could be paid without hardships to the natives in farms and mining ground.”

From 1914 onwards, white-owned cattle herds expanded at an estimated average of 14 percent per annum until 1921 when, for the first time, white-owned cattle surpassed African-owned herds to reach a total of 900 000 herd. 

The total population in the country, at that time, stood at an estimated 771 000 people; of which 33 620 were white settlers with the remaining 43 480 constituting the African population.

In 1925, for the first time in the brief history of the colony’s beef industry, white-owned cattle passed the one-million-head mark. 

In comparison with other cattle producers, Rhodesia’s cattle numbers were a drop in the ocean. 

For example, in 1918, Argentina had over 27 million head of cattle; Brazil, 31 million (1917) and Australia over 12 million (1920). 

Supplementary cattle feeding was key for the industry’s entry into the world’s main beef market. 

The provision of cattle feed and the care necessary to overcome widespread under-nutrition in the country’s beef herds at the time was, however, out of the question, especially since remunerative/lucrative markets did not exist/arise so soon after the end of the First World War. 

Another major hurdle the cattle industry had to overcome was the issue of up-to-date transport facilities linking the territory’s major ranching areas to the nearest sea ports in Lourenco Marques (Maputo), or Beira, in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). 

Besides the need to establish modern chilling and meat packing factories, it was vital for the local beef industry to increase export production in order for it to off-set the high freight charges as a result of the long distance between the cattle producers and the markets.

In 1921, the main source of domestic demand for locally produced beef was the small white population and an insignificant section of the African population working in the emerging mining and administrative towns.  

The remainder of the population, mostly rural Africans, were either too poor to buy meat, or were peasant cattle farmers themselves. 

Under the weight of accumulating beef surpluses, local cattle prices plummeted, so much so that by 1922, African-owned cattle were reportedly ‘worth little more than sheep’.

By 1921, it was acknowledged that, “…both the Government and local private resources are powerless by themselves to establish a meat freezing and packing industry, or by any direct means, to provide the necessary facilities for exporting meat. 

Hence the only course is to induce those who are able and have the capital and skill to come into the country and take up this work.”

In 1923, the Rhodesian cattle industry attempted to off-load beef surpluses on to the local mining industry, as was the practice in the Americas.   

This was met with stiff resistance from the Rhodesian mining industry that was ‘unwilling to increase expenditure on African labour’ through the provision of meat rations for mine labourers.

A strong ‘beef and bullion’ alliance had successfully been forged in America in the interests of the beef industry.  

Here, the discovery of silver and gold, in both South and North America, resulted in beef prices sky-rocketing in the mining camps. 

Cattle provided not only beef for the miners, from whom there was a huge demand, but tallow for candles to light the shafts, hides for the pouches to transport the silver ore from the mines to the smelters, to fashion saddles, water bags, jackets and hats as well as countless other paraphernalia. 

In 1923, with the coming of the ‘Responsible Government’, intervention in the industry became imperative. 

Unlike previously, white cattle ranchers now had more political control and were able to use their influence in shaping Government policy in a direction to suit their interests more favourably.  

A Committee of Inquiry was established to ‘look into ways of enabling the industry to get back on its feet’.

Thus, the Southern Rhodesian Government’s intervention in the cattle industry between 1923 and 1938 ranged from vigorous efforts to attract the world’s largest meat organisations into the local beef industry, to promoting various beef control measures, calculated expressly to make the African peasantry shoulder the beef industry’s ‘cattle burden’. 

On the advice that Government ‘must leave manufacturing industries of this sort (i.e. meat export) to capitalists who have the organisation, the experience and knowledge of the business’; the Government also sent invitations to various meat packing companies in Britain, Australia and the US, inviting them to come and open factories (in Southern Rhodesia) on easy terms.

In the Americas, beef production reached a highly efficient, integrated and capital-intensive stage where the meat trade had become the preserve of powerful ‘meat kings’/monopolies.

Meanwhile, the Government entered into negotiations with the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company of South Africa, (ICSS), which was interested in establishing a meat works in the country, but to their advantage.  

The ICSS company demanded a 10-year monopoly on frozen and chilled meat exports and a 400 000-acre land grant before any definite agreement was sealed.  

Because of poor quality, coupled with the small numbers of cattle in the country, and the relatively small numbers the beef industry could produce, all efforts to attract international meat organisations to operate factories locally were unsuccessful.   

It left the Government with no choice.  

It entered into negotiations with the ICSS.  

In November 1924, amid bitter debate in the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly, a deal was finally signed between the Government and the ICSS.

Under the 1924 Agreement, which later became Act No. 34 of 1924,ICSS was granted a monopoly on the export of frozen and chilled meat and also given an unspecified area of land for the erection of the freezing works.  

The Government, on the other hand, pledged to use its influence to secure favourable railway rates, exemption of custom duties on imported machinery and other supplies for the company’s plant.

It was further agreed, under Act No. 34 of 1924, that in the event that the ICSS’s profits fell below 10 percent of invested capital, the Southern Rhodesian Government undertook to compensate the difference, to a maximum of £15 000. 

In return, ICSS agreed to register, with ‘all convenient dispatch’, a subsidiary company.

This resulted in the establishment of the Rhodesian Export and Cold Storage Company (RECSCO), with a capital of not less than £200 000 to establish a factory capable of processing a minimum of 20 000 head of cattle per annum. 

It was further agreed that if RECSCO’s profits exceeded 10 percent of the original investment, the difference was to be divided between RECSCO and the Government.  

The two parties also agreed that RECSCO’s monopoly would last for 10 years and after seven years the Government could give six months’ notice of its intention to expropriate the works at a mutually agreed price, failing which, the price would be fixed by arbitration.


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