Many centuries ago, a very special breed of cattle arrived in southern Africa. They were named after the Nguni people who migrated with their herds from the north central and eastern regions of the continent, crossing the Zambezi around 600 CE and settling in much of present-day South Africa.
Evolved from the Sanga longhorn cattle — as depicted in 8000-year-old rock art in Lybia and the Sahara, and later in the Egyptian pyramids and in San rock art — the Nguni are a very hardy breed. On top of their slow, epic journey through Africa, they have had 1400 years to adapt to southern Africa’s extreme environmental conditions.
Nguni are a favoured breed among the indigenous peoples of the region. They feature prominently in the culture, folklore and traditional economy of the Zulu. Each of the different Nguni skin patterns, for example, is identified in Zulu with names relating to daily life or the natural environment, such as “lark’s egg”, “sugar bean” or “dregs of the sorghum porridge”.
Wars and conflicts during the colonial period, and the introduction of “improved”, European breeds (along with their diseases), decimated the indigenous herds. Fortunately, the Nguni’s many attributes — including disease resistance, high fertility, easy temperament and adaptability, quality meat and beautiful hides — together with the special place they occupy in the lives and cultures of our peoples, have all contributed to their survival and growth as a species.
The Groundcover Herd
In 1999, we sold our Sussex cattle and bought a registered Nguni herd from a breeder near Phongola. Our reasoning was simply that we wanted beautiful and hardy cattle. Little did we know that the demand for Nguni as a sensible production animal — as well as for Nguni skins and fashion accessories — was going to skyrocket within a few years.
Today we have around ninety breeding cattle, which we trade at an annual breeders sale in nearby Mooi River. We have collected outstanding animals of different patterns and colours. As a result, ours is perhaps the most photographed, painted and admired herd in the country. We are members of the KZN Nguni Club and are proud to be involved in the preservation of this remarkable breed.