Beef control during Second World War

Britain was forced to rely more on Rhodesian beef supplies than ever before.

DURING the course of  the Second World War (1939-1945/6), the African peasantry was forced to make its contribution to the imperial war-effort by turning out in their thousands as manual labour, not only for white farmers and the expanding base mineral industry but also for the Government public works programmes, such as the construction of air fields.

Consequently, the Compulsory Native Labour Act (CNLA), came into effect on August 1 1942, where upon Africans were ‘press-ganged’ to work on white farms, and for use in the expanding base mineral industry, mostly chrome and tantalite producers, around Bulawayo, where production was considered to be of strategic importance to the war effort.  

The Act also empowered the Government to forcibly conscript African males between the ages of 18 and 45 who were out of employment for three months or longer. 

Thus, between 1943 and 1945, an average of 11 408 conscripts were forcibly recruited annually for the entire period of the war.

The colony’s demand for labour became so great that: “For the first time … a significant number of African women entered the labour market primarily as domestic labour.”   

Thus, through the use of legislative compulsion, African movement into towns and mines became more rapid and African urban density increased on the order of almost 10 percent annually for the duration of the war. 

At the time, the country was forced to ration maize supplies and had to import maize from countries as far afield as Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Brazil and Argentina. 

However, it is important to note that food imports were made more difficult by the shortage of shipping space during the hostilities.

The urbanisation process of the African peasantry was crucial in creating the necessary conditions for internal industrialisation and agricultural expansion in the country during the war years.   

Thus, for the first time in the colonial history of the country, and in contrast to the period before 1939, an urban domestic market for agricultural products such as beef and milk was created; concomitant with the necessary conditions for the expansion of the country’s fledgling beef industry.

In the meanwhile, while the domestic market was expanding, prospects for the country’s beef exports also brightened significantly with the escalation of hostilities.

Due to the disruption of beef supplies from the Argentine, Britain was forced to rely more on Rhodesian supplies than ever before. 

In March 1940, the Government signed a contract with the British Ministry of Food to meat supplies to British troops.

Under this contract, the British Government agreed to: “Take all the beef and beef offal that the country can supply at prices that were fair and reasonable and based to a great extent, on the net prices realised before the outbreak of the war.”   

But, as the war intensified, the British were forced to: “…. take all the beef that the colony can spare.” 

However, around 1942-43, the pattern of Rhodesia’s war-time beef trade with Britain changed as overseas exports dwindled as Rhodesia’s domestic and regional markets were beginning to absorb all previous surpluses of beef. 

So much as that by the time beef exports to Britain petered out, the difference between supply and demand in the country was increasingly being met at the expense of the overseas export trade.  

The shortage of cold storage on ships actually worsened with intensification of the war itself. 

As a result, the country’s exports stopped altogether between 1943 and 1944, while in 1945, only minimum amounts of beef were exported.  

The loss of the English market however, was partly compensated for by an appreciable increase in exports to regional markets, comprising of the Union of South Africa, Northern Rhodesia and the Congo.  

Both Northern Rhodesia’s and the Congo’s abundant copper resources were of strategic importance to the vast Commonwealth ground, sea and air war-effort. 

These two important markets, which had hitherto for a long time been closed to Southern Rhodesia’s beef exports, finally began to open up under the stimulus of the war.  

Even the South African market which had for long eluded the best efforts of the cattle industry throughout the 1920s and 1930s began to take more beef from Southern Rhodesia.

Just as in Rhodesia itself, the domestic war-time demand for beef in South Africa resulted from the need to feed the armed forces, refugees and prisoners-of-war. 

In South Africa, a heavy drain on its fresh meat supplies was being experienced as huge military convoys began to round the Cape following Italy’s entry into the war and the consequent closure of the Mediterranean route to the eastern warfront. Due to these factors, and in order to cover its shortfall in domestic civilian beef consumption, South Africa was forced to import more beef from its northern neighbour – Rhodesia. 

It was noted by the South African Minister of Agriculture at the time, while speaking at a Congress in October 1944, that: “Meat was short, partly because in the first four years of the war five years supply of cattle had been slaughtered. 

In the year 1942-43 about 300 000 head of cattle had been supplied for military purposes alone and at the same time civilian consumption had increased.  

So great had been the demand on the country’s stock that the previous year cows in calf had been slaughtered as well as many of the country’s breeding animals. 

The shortage, therefore was inevitable.”

Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. 

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