Chapter 11.00: The Union Letters

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The quest to understand how great bacon is made takes me around the world and through epic adventures. I tell the story by changing the setting from the 2000s to the late 1800s when much of the technology behind bacon curing was unraveled. I weave into the mix beautiful stories of Cape Town and use mostly my family as the other characters besides me and Oscar and Uncle Jeppe from Denmark, a good friend and someone to whom I owe much gratitude! A man who knows bacon! Most other characters have a real basis in history and I describe actual events and personal experiences set in a different historical context.

The cast I use to mould the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.

The Union Letters

Sea Point, Cape Town,

The quest to understand Bacon and the Art of Living has by 1959 consumed 66 years of my time on earth.  I have lived through three major wars.  The second Anglo Boer War which was fought between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902 and the First and the Second World War which occurred respectively between 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918 and 1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945.

When the sun sets over the Atlantic, Minette and I sit in our Seapoint apartment, watching it cast its deep orange cloak over our world.  We play chess or cards on the balcony which has been turned into a sunroom when we enclosed it with glass a few years ago.  We slowly sip on Gyn and remiss about the old days.  In the morning we walk along the sea point promenade to stay active.  We have not been up on Table Mountain for some years now.  At night we stay home and enjoy each other’s company.

Tristan and Lauren

Tristan and Lauren have each gone their own way.  Tristan followed his own passion when he joined a travel firm based in Australia.  Lauren studies BSc Chemistry, majoring in Biochemistry.  Tristan completed BA Accounting which he did part-time.  They both outgrew the difficulties associated with one childhood and have their own amazing families to take care of.

Woody’s Bacon

Oscar and I grew Woodys into the largest supplier to retail in South Africa of own branded products for outlets like Pick ‘n Pay and Checkers producing 15 tonnes of the best bacon on earth every day.  We both decided its time to bid our baby farewell when Oom Koos and Duncan took the company over during the depression years and we both decided to follow other meat-related ambitions.

Letters from the Union – Therapy for an Old Man

The kids kept asking me for years now to write down my memories from 1893 to 1959 and compile this, together with the letters I wrote them, Dawie Hyman, David de Villiers Graaff, and Oscar when I was abroad, learning the art of producing the best bacon on earth.  After many years of dragging my feet, I finally decided to take them up on the request.  The idea came to me when Tristan and Lauren were both living in Europe and North America respectively.  I find it difficult to make small talk on the telephone and in letters and in order to give structure to my letters to them, I decided to pick up where I left off in 1893 when I wrote them my last letter about bacon from New Zealand.  They were both pleased with the suggestion since it gives us regular contact and I fulfill their request for completing my work on bacon.

Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Co.

Prospectus ICS
The prospectus of the company replacing Combrinck & Co. in 1899.

David de Villiers Graaff changed the name of Combrinck & Co. to the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co.  He made his fortune at least twice.  The one time was when the city relocated the Cape Town abattoir again and could not provide them with a suitable alternative location for their ever-expanding business. After a process of arbitration, an astronomical amount was awarded to them.  David approached the courts who made the settlement an order of the court, which provided the financial basis for the development of their consumer goods empire.  It allowed David to erect cold storage facilities across Southern Africa and the chance to import vast quantities of meat into the Colony and later into the Union of South Africa.  During the Anglo Boer War, the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company won the tender to supply the British forces with meat.  With the refrigerated railway cars that David saw in Chicago when he visited Philip Armour’s packing plant, he was the only firm that had the capacity to take on such an enterprise.  Apart from this, the company became one of the largest meat processing companies in the world.  Our friend eventually sold his shares and the name of the company was changed to ICS during the Great Depression.

The company was in financial trouble by 1934 due to hardship that probably goes back to 1925.  Anglo-American corporation became its biggest shareholder with the total share capital of the company increased to GB£2.2 million (equivalent to £436,000,000 in 2010). The company worked closer and closer with Tiger Oats which was, back then, also a subsidiary of Anglo-American corporation.  (1)

The CT Headquarters of the ICS. 

Dawie Hyman

Dawie Hyman returned to America where he transitioned from working for the Community Chess in Los Angeles and the Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis to establish his own company supplying solutions in the manipulation of data.  After Minette and my visit to New Zealand, we never made it to America as our partners in Cape Town needed our urgent participation in setting the bacon processing plant up. We did eventually make it to Los Angeles many years later, but the objective of the visit was related to further training in areas outside the narrow scope of bacon which consumed me for so many years.


My mom and dad both passed away.  My dad, after a terrible motor accident after a holiday in Natal and my mom, after a long sickbed where she struggled with dementia.  My brother, Elmar, became a lawyer and later turned his attention to real estate and the retirement industry.  Juanita kept working as an optometrist, raising Pieter Willem and Handre, their beautiful two boys.  Andre, our older left the forestry business and entered the personal protection industry. Fanie and Luani, Minette’s twin sister, continue to live in Cape Town and their two kids, Liam and Luan went on to have successful careers in their own right.

Union of South Africa

The Times, London, England, 11 October 1910

South Africa became a Union in 1910 and there is talk right now that it will sever its ties with Brittain and form a fully independent Republic.  I have my own mixed feelings about it and saw a continuation of slavery just in another disguise.  I remember how it was called Indenture after slavery was abolished and the Transvaal Republic looked for ways to continue the diabolical practice.  There were reports of slave markets, now in a new form, but effectively the same thing continues to exist in Southern Africa right up to the end of the 1800s. The English waged the First Anglo Boer war based on an assertion that this system was nothing less than slavery by another name.

I insert the opening paragraph of Louis Botha’s speech when we became a Union.  It shows the deeply imbedded racist undertones that existed even in the thinking of people like Louis Botha.

The Buffalo Sunday Morning, 14 August 1910, the opening paragraph of a speech by Louis Botha.

While the Black people got a raw deal, the Union gave unprecedented power to former foes of the British Empire, the Boers.

The Guardian, London, 1 June 1910, a day after the Union was proclaimed.  Celebrating the new political power now largely in the hands of the Afrikaners.

The achievement of the Boer nation was remarkable and this fact should never be underestimated. Here are two more extracts from the newspaper article quoted above, from the Manchester Guardian.  It deals with the fact that a Union was a better option than a Federation and how this gave greater autonomy to the former Boer republics.  It highlights another remarkable fact of the Union of South Africa in the following clipping from the paper.

The_Guardian_Wed__Jun_1__1910_ (2)The_Guardian_Wed__Jun_1__1910_ (3)

This unification of the Afrikaner and English South Africa became a focal point for both Botha and Smuts.

Irrespective of the achievements of the Boer, the separation of races and the exploitation of black people and their exclusion from decisionmaking and government never stopped in South Africa but things went from bad to worse when the National Party came to power in 1924 for a short time and again in 1948 which lasted to 1994.  It was in 1948 when a new word was being coined to describe the policies of the new government – “apartheid”.  I can see no positive outcome to the scheme and fail to understand how the white population can continue to think that a future is possible that is built upon the exploitation of our fellow human beings and excluding them from determining their own future.  On the other hand, the Boers got a deal, pretty close to what they were fighting for over many years.  South Africa remains a deeply divided land with great opportunities as was proven by David de Villiers Graaff, despite tremendous personal challenges.

Meat Curing Focus

Photograph from L V Praagh, The Transvaal and its Mines, 1906, p.321, of the curing room of a cold storage and butcher’s shop in  Fordsburg, Johannesburg.

My focus remained steadfastly on understanding the chemistry of meat curing to aim Woodys in the right direction. In recent years I became intensely interested in the development of meat curing and preservation in Africa during pre-colonial times.  This is a project on its own to reduce to writing at a future time.  When I am done with my work on bacon and the good Lord grants me health and a few more years, I will take this project up for there are amazing tales related to it that have never been told!

Unie van Suid-Afrika, Departement van Landbou en Bosbou, Hulpboek vir Boere in Suid-Africa, 3de en uitgebreide uitgawe, saamgestel deur D. J. Seymore (Redakteur)
Unie van Suid-Afrika, Departement van Landbou en Bosbou, Hulpboek vir Boere in Suid-Africa, 3de en uitgebreide uitgawe, saamgestel deur D. J. Seymore (Redakteur)

Bacon & the Art of Living

The letters that follow tell the rest of the story of Bacon & the Art of Living!


(c) eben van tonder

Bacon & the art of living” in book form
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(1) In March 1982 Barlow bought a large interest in Tiger Oats and the controlling share in Imperial Cold Storage. In October 1998 Tiger Brands (Tiger Oats Limited) bought out Imperial Cold Storage.  It swallowed up ICS in its own portfolio of brands and subsidiaries.


Brooke Simons, Phillida (2000). Ice Cold in Africa: The History of Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited. Cape Town: Fernwood Press.