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 mold the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.
Seeds of War
Johannesburg, December 1889
My dad was a magistrate in the district of Woodstock in Cape Town. He was my best friend in the entire world and when I told him that I did not desire to study further, as he did after school, but rather choose to ride transport between Cape Town and Johannesburg, he did not like it, but he supported me. He saw why I had to do it.
I did not follow any particular passion other than a general quest for adventure. Ancient ways were disappearing and wanted to get up close and personal with it before it was gone. There was the almost wholesale slaughter by hunters for sport and food; the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley and gold on the Rand brought people from around the world with strange new customs with no regard for the land. Apart from the adventure, riding transport was a very lucrative undertaking. In those days there were only two ways to make money quickly. One was to join the diggings in Kimberley and take your chances there and the other was to ride transport between either the harbour cities of Cape Town and the interior or Durban to the interior. (1)
When I told my dad my plans he did not immediately reply. Not for days. I could tell he was thinking about it. At night I heard my bedroom door in the old house open. I knew he was standing in the doorway watching me as I lay half asleep. A few days later, when I came home from the mountain with Minette, he called me to the stables. There was a mare, light brown with a white mark on her forehead. I never saw her before. My dad handed me the rains. “Her name is Lady!” he said. “You will need a good horse. The road between the Colony and the Rand is long!” We never spoke about it again.
The morning of my first expedition to Johannesburg came. The three wagons left at 2:00 in the morning. The plan was that I would follow later and catch up with them outside town. I heard the driver call the name of the oxen and cracking the whip as they moved down the hill from our house towards the main road out of Cape Town, past the Shambles abattoir where David de Villiers Graaff now ran Combrink & Co. and the new city railway station was being constructed. I was too excited to go back to sleep. At 5:00 a.m. my mom called me. The coffee and rusks were ready.
The coal stove warmed the kitchen. My dad poured the coffee into the saucer and slurped it up. That’s how he drank it – every morning before the sun was up. He walked over to the hat rack where he fetched his felt hat and cravats and said to me, “Come, I ride with you till you catch up with the wagons.” When we got to the wagons my dad stopped and I rode up next to him. We shook hands. Firm and warm. As if we would never see each other again. “Look after yourself! Be careful! Be vigilant! Bring back great stories and when you are back – tell me everything!”
This became our routine. My dad would ride out with me till I get to the wagons. He would greet me in almost the exact same way every time. Months later upon my return, my dad would be waiting for me at the Durbanville hills and we would ride back together the last few hours. He would tell me about my brothers and how their studies are progressing and the health of my mom. He would have me recount in the greatest detail every event of my trip, always spurring me on to “leave out nothing!” Even though he did not formally approve of how I chose to occupy myself, I knew that he was vicariously living every moment through me. When I heard him re-tell my stories to Uncle Jacobus, sitting under the big trees next to his enormous home by large wooden tables, eating the finest bacon imported from C & T Harris in Wiltshire, England, I knew that he was proud of me and did not care that people frowned upon the choices I made.
We all knew that Johannesburg would soon be reached from Cape Town by a two-day train ride. (3) The advantage for the businessman and the material development of the continent was clear, but a deep sadness came over me every time I think of it, knowing that I was part of the last generation to see this land unspoiled. My dad also knew this and when I told him one day how few elephants I saw between Cape Town and Worcester, he remarked that we came to build a new land but in reality, we are destroying it. “Soon”, he said, “the great beasts of the field who made the roads we travel on and who sustained life here for untold generations would be gone and having destroyed nature – on what will we pray then?”
My dad was a great fan of Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist who explored South America. He learned many of Von Humboldt’s books off by heart. Von Humboldt wrote eloquently on the destruction of South America by colonization and my dad loved pointing out the same progression in our land.
It was indeed the giant elephants who created the network of connecting roads across Africa. No other animal has the ability to clear a road through rugged terrain like a herd of them. Ancient elephant migration paths across Africa have been used by other animals since the dawn of time. They were the arteries that distributed humanity across this vast land acting as human migration routes. African tribes traveled it to trade salt and copper. European settlers with their ox wagons used these paths to connect territories. Dutch farmers, disgruntled by the abolition of slavery and in general revolt against the Cape Government trecked along them out of the Colony into the interior to form a new people, the Boers. Along these ancient roads, I now transport material and supplies to small rural settlements.
Besides disappearing nature, I was hungry to meet “real people.” Take Daniel Jacobs as a good example. One night at a dry riverbed outside Kimberly, a slightly older Boer asked if we could camp together for the night. He was traveling alone and our transport party provided him with the security in numbers for the night which lone travelers lack. He was on his way to Johannesburg on government business. No sooner did he introduce himself when I realised that he was one of those “real people” I always hoped to meet on my travels.
Daniel Jacobs was an impressive man. His stature was tall and imposing and his mannerism was enduring and kind. His mind was keen and alert. He had a love for history and a keen intellect. I liked him and I liked what he likes! We spoke till late in the night. Despite his energy, Daniel had a sadness about him which I did not fully understand. Was it a sadness or a realism about life? I was unsure.
I told him stories of our adventures on Table Mountain. He knew Cape Town well but has not been on Table Mountain as often as Minette, Achmat, Taahir, and I. Despite this, we had the same experience that in nature we meet God. In the simplest interaction with animals; the witnessing of grand vistas; breathtaking sunsets; stormy highfelt afternoons; Cape winter winds – for us, these were the heavenly choruses praising the Creator.
We spoke about all these matters. Later that night he took out a notebook from the pocket of his black jacket. He opens it and angled it against the fire to read. Of course he knew his words and as he read he dropped his hands holding his notebook and reciting it from memory. A poem. He penned it one of his many travels to Johannesburg from the Colony. In Afrikaans. The simple words and phrases mixed and precipitated a word image that I later often recalled when I would see vasts herds of game on the Highveld or feel the rain in my face as I crossed the salt lakes on the other side of Kimberly. Of spiritual barnes – the reservoir of the words of God contained in our experience of nature.
He titled it GEESTESKUUR – Spiritual Barn
Kom kinders van Suid-Afrika –Come, Children of South Africa,
Kom luister na die stem van God – Come and listen to the voice of God
Wat die wind daar buite dra – Carried by the wind out there
Die sang van die duif in die dennebos – The song of the dove in the pine grove
Die geskarrel van die veldmuis op soek na kos – The felt mouse running and looking for food
O Here u natuur – Oh, Lord, your nature
Is vir ons ‘n geesteskuur. – For us, it is a spiritual barn
Kom kinders van Suid-Afrika – Come, Children of South Africa,
Kom luister na die stem van God – Come and listen to the voice of God
Wat die wind daar buite dra – Carried by the wind out there
Die breek van die branders teen die kus – The breaking of the waves against the coast
Die gekras van die seemeeu op soek na vis – Noisy seagulls looking for food
O Here u natuur – Oh LORD, your nature
Is vir ons ‘n geesteskuur – For us, it is a spiritual barn (2)
We parted the next day and I knew that a friendship was struck for life. It is these encounters with real people that inspire me.
I dont just marvel when it happens – no, I actively seek out those who will make an impact on me. To me, people like Daniel Jacobs are like wild animals and nature. They define this land and yet, people like them are disappearing.
The rugged Boers of the interior with their stubbornness, coffee, beskuit and biltong. They farm this desolate land and live semi-pastoral, semi-hunter existences. For all their striving for independence, they are becoming completely subjected to European laws and customs. Soon, the only features that will set them apart from European trends will be their almost universal disdain for the English, their strict Calvinist religion, and their language (and of course moerkoffie, beskuit, and biltong).
I heard stories, no doubt exaggerated, as these tales are, of Englishmen who lost their way and when they happen upon a Boer homestead, being turned away without food or water only to die in the wilderness. I wonder if these stories were fact or fables intended as a warning for English would-be travelers to these lands.
Theologically, they remained isolated and free from the softening that took place in Europe and England of the harsh positions following the reformation. In a way, it was much on account of their faith that they were able to endure the hardships of the frontier, as was the case in countries like America.
In any event, I wanted to travel through their lands and experience their warm culture, their openness to strangers (as long as you don’t speak English), their perseverance of their faith and their dedication to their own family and kind, before their way of life as frontiersmen change forever.
What is true for the Boer, was true for the indigenous African tribes. Their cultures have been in decline since the Dutch, German, French and the English arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and ventured into their lands. I grew up with the boys from all the different peoples of this land but often wondered about their beliefs and stories and language before they came to the Cape. Now they are Christian and Muslim and they speak English or Dutch, as I do. I wondered what was their language was in Malaysia or India, in Madagascar and in Mozambique. What was the names of their gods and what stories did their parents tell them of their ancestors? What games did their people play which they don’t even know?
I have seen the Khoi burial sites at the foot of Signal Hill. I heard the stories of how they danced when the full moon appeared and how the mountain was sacred to them. It saddened me that I could not find a single Khoi boy who could teach me their songs or who knew their legends of Table Mountain. Did their worriers and hunters ever climb to the top? What did they call this breathtaking rock planted at the tip of the great African land?
I knew the caves where escaped slave hid out on the Mountain; I heard from the old people how one could see their fires burn at night against the mountain slopes from town but these were sad stories, testimony to the cruelty of humans. Even as a child when I first heard these accounts, I wondered who they were and what stories they could tell. Likewise, I wondered about the stories of the Khoi. Lost stories. Of a spirit world which existed in the dreams and trances of their Sharma’s and old people. These spurred me on to find and tell the stories of Africa which I still hear before they disappear forever.
This was not to say that riding transport was not financially rewarding. Some years I was able to come home with as much as GBP4000 ($20 000) in my pocket, every 6 months. Without knowing it, I was receiving a better education than any university could offer and that while I was building up cash reserves for a much bigger adventure. Still, my repertoire of remarkable stories grew ever larger.
I once stayed over on a farm in the district of Potchefstroom, owned by Petrus Jordaan. His father knew the legendary Boer leader after whom Pretoria was named, Andries Pretorius, personally. The Jordaan family was a traditional Boer family who lived exactly the kind of life that I wanted to observe up-close. The immediate and extended family all lived together. There was strength in numbers, something that was very useful in a frontier situation.
Everybody had their work for each day. There was no time to be idle, except on a Sunday, which was the Lords Day. Meal times were very important. Everybody gathered for breakfast, lunch, and supper around Petrus Jordaan’s big dining room table. A bowl of water was poured and passed from one person to the next and everybody washed their hands in it. The water was never changed during the washing and the visitor always washed last. Only then was the water thrown out.
Each meal was an elaborate affair with food that people from the city could only dream of. At night, after supper, one of the kids would run to fetch the big family bible. It was handed down from generation to generation, translated into old Dutch. Petrus would read a passage and pray. After bible reading, the family lingered at the table and shared stories from the day until either Petrus or his dad, Stefanus, would get up and announce that it was a hard day and time to retire to bed.
One such evening, Petrus’ father, Oom Stefanus Jordaan told me about Andries Pretorius. Under his leadership, a group of Boers tried to set up a republic south of the Vaal River. A struggle for independence followed lasting seven or eight years until the British won a decisive battle at Boomplaats and Pretorius fled across the Vaal with a group of his followers to set up the Republic of the Transvaal (“Trans,” as in “across” and “Vaal,” as in “the Vaal river”)
The Khoi and the San had their beliefs which shaped their actions. I had mine and Pretorius had his. I wanted to understand why a faction of the Boers seemed so preoccupied with enslaving the people of this land. Oom Stefanus did not mind when I asked him about it. He explained that for Pretorius and some of his follower’s slavery is an inherent right and duty of the white man in this savage land. One of Pretorius’ favourite scriptures was from the Old Testament where Israel is commanded to either slay or enslave the surrounding nations. To him, the natives were the people of the cities who were “far off” and he had the Divine command to enslave them. His was the nation of God, the chosen, who would bring Gods light into a savage, godless land. The Boer had a God-given right to occupy the lands of these people. They were to him the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites whom the Lord had commanded to destroy. (4)
The policy has been carried out in a cruel and relentless way. Entire tribes were sometimes massacred. Adults were killed and children carried off and indentured on farms. Indenture was a savage replacement for slavery where the indentured person could be sold as a tradable commodity. They sometimes received a small allowance for their labour and sometimes not. The big supposed advantage over slavery was that the period of indenture had a definite end-date when they would be freed and when they would sometimes receive additional compensation for their labour, or sometimes, not. They would, sometimes, be given land from the farmer to settle permanently on at the end of the indenture, and, sometimes, nothing. Oom Stefanus told me how even leaders like Paul Kruger participated in these schemes and that the policy was almost universal in the Transvaal Republic. (5)
The English, despite their own atrocities against the indigenous tribes of Southern Africa, were fierce opponents of slavery and Oom Stefanus told me bluntly that the continuation of the practice of slavery in the Transvaal was the spiritual motivation for the English to annex it and for the Anglo-Boer war of 1880 and 1881. (5)
Visiting Boer farms in the Transvaal left me with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. On the one hand, these people were the warmest and heartiest people I knew. Rugged, industrious and hard working with a faith that almost moved mountains. On the other hand, I was angry to see the little black kids, indentured by people like the Jordaan’s on account of the fact that they were caught on his farm or captured when the Boers raided native villages or bought as “black ivory” on auctions like you would trade cattle.
An indignation rose up in my heart against this cruelest of practices when I hear things like Petrus Jordaan’s wife says that after a few years, these young ones accept their fate and become accustomed to their new life, as the memories of their parents fade. They become so loyal to the Boer family that they are prepared to fight against the English with the Boers. When I hear stories like these, my mind wonders back to the Cape and the many black friends I grew up with and call my friends to this day.
These are however not the only stories I heard on my many travels through the interior of this vast land. I can honestly say that I have heard similar stories of regular, unspeakable cruelty perpetrated by almost every people in Southern Africa against neighbours. Khoe who raided San villages and killed the adults and carried away the children. The British, waging war against the native tribes, dispossessing their lands without giving them anything in return.
I learned on these rides that not all people think with one heart and mind. Among the English, there are people who support the Boer and have compassion for his course and there are those who oppose it. There are Boers who support slavery and those who are as fiercely opposed to it as some of the Brittish. Not all people are the same.
Of all the peoples of the interior, I feel closest to the Boers of the Orange Free State. Not only on account of the fact that they do not practice the indenture of native people but a family member on my mother’s side, Oom Piet Rademan, moved to the Northern Free State and now farms very near the point where I cross the Vaal River on my way to Johannesburg. I made it a habit to set up camp at Viljoensdrift and then to undertake the 12-hour horse ride to their farm, Rooiwal, in the Vredefort district to spend a few days there before I return to my camp and cross the Vaal River on my way to Johannesburg
Oom Pieter Jacobus Rademan (born on 13 September 1838) grew up in Swellendam in the Cape Colony and moved North to the Orange Free State where he met and married Susanna Maria Geldenhuys from Kroonstad. He settled at Rooiwal in 1872 where they now live with their 10 children.
When I started the transport company, I used to camp on his farm and would bring him building material from the Cape. These days, his barns and homestead are all built and I carry only tobacco for Oom Piet that my dad sends him and spices for Aunt Santjie in my saddle bag. The trip to Rooiwal is a short and a pleasant detour. Sometimes I will take Aunt Santjie thread from my mom or recipe books from a dealer in Adderley Street. (6)
Oom Piet lived to the ripe old age of 99. I was, in later years, told the story that when Oom Piet was advanced in years, he thought that his dominie (pastor) did not visit him often enough (home visitation by the pastor was very important to the Boers). He instructed his workers to harness the horses and prepare the carriage. He rode to Vredefort where he stopped in front of the pastor’s house. Ds. Van Vuuren invited him to get down and come in, but he refused. He told Ds. Van Vuuren that he is an old man and may pass away any day now. He is scared that he will die and when he gets to heaven, the Lord will ask him how it’s going with his servant in Vredefort and that he will have to tell the Lord that he does not know because Ds. Van Vuuren no longer visits him at his home! (7)
Oom Piet’s faith is of a milder nature than some of the extreme positions of the Transvaal Boers. He was a kind and gentle man. His is a sincere faith similar to that of my Uncle, Dominie Jan (my mother’s brother), Oom Sybrand and Oom Giel. These are all family members who became dominies in the NG Kerk.
Oom Piet was a simple man who tended his Afrikaner cattle and planted his corn on the rocky hills surrounding his simple but functional home. His children are the backbone of his workforce and the small number of natives who work for them are treated in fairness and allowed to live in the way that they have been accustomed to for hundreds of years, receiving a wage at the end of every week. (5) There are, for sure, stories doing the rounds in the family of him and his wife who could he hard taskmasters if the workers did not perform their duties up to standard but of the practice of indenture there was no sign and they desired nothing else but the peaceful existence of all peoples.
Oom Piet’s farm became a place where I would have some of my happiest times in the interior. I visited there as often as I could. In later years my grandfather, Oupa Eben, and grandmother, Ouma Susan, obtained the farm next to him, Stillehoogte. (7) The northern Free State became my second home and from their farm, I could see the herds of wild animals starting to dwindle, even during the short time I rode transport.
In a few short years, I would turn my back on riding transport and embark on an entirely different adventure. In the ebb and flow of human affairs, I soon had to determine my own place. I saw clearly that the seeds sown by the Anglo-Boer War of 1880 and 1881 were still germinating in the soil of Southern Africa. Despite the fact that the Boers were victorious against England, I could not see the pressure groups in London relenting on the issue of slavery. On the other hand, the Transvaal Boers’ view of the native was a matter of religion to them and I could not see this change easily. The powerful British Empire was dealt a bloody nose by a small group of Boers and this would certainly be redressed, especially in light of the discovery of gold at the Rand and the influx of English people (immigrants) lusting after it.
I saw many competing nations with many diametrically opposing goals and desires and many scores to settle. I could not see powerful black tribes ever exist in South Africa, independently, alongside the powerful British empire or the Boer republic of the Transvaal. The British would not allow this. The native tribes, on the other hand, were humiliated, their men killed, their women and children carried off and their land taken. The resentment that is festering in such peoples cannot be ignored or suppressed forever before it turns into war.
Whichever way I think about it, peace was not something I saw for this land for the near future and I had to think deeply about what I wanted to dedicate my life to and how to make a living. In any event, it would be foolish to think that one would be able to ride transport through this land, uninterrupted while clouds of war gather.
As these things were becoming clear to me, I embarked on another trip to the Transvaal from Cape Town. Little did I know that this would be the trip where a most fortuitous event would occur. A problem that would lead to a meeting which would lead to a plan that would result in the rest of my life. On this trip, I met the most interesting Boer from Potchefstroom, Oscar Klynveld. This trip became the transition into the greatest adventure, ever, born from the seeds of war!
(c) eben van tonder
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(1) The exact same options were identified by the Moor brothers in the late 1800s living in Natal, sons of English (Irish?) immigrants. 1872, the oldest of the Moor brothers, FR Moor, went to Kimberly to make his fortune. His brother, JW Moor, later became important in the history of bacon in South Africa when he along with other farmers from the Estcourt area created the First Farmers Cooperative Bacon Company in 1917. JW was the chairman. This company later changed its name to Eskort, the iconic South African bacon producer.
(2) The railway linking Johannesburg and Cape Town was completed in 1892.
(3) Daniel Jacobs write: “Nadat ek my Nasionale Diensplig voltooi het, was ek nog vir ongeveer ag jaar betrokke by Stellenbosch Kommando met die hou van o.a. jeugkampe vir veral Kleurlingkinders. Ek dink dit was hier by die laat 1980’s toe ons vir ‘n week lank ‘n tipe Weerbaarheidskursus van die Weermag by die Voortrekkers se Wemmershoek-terrein naby Franscchoek bygewoon het. Ons moes elke oggend alleen iewers gaan sit en stiltetyd hou. Ek het toe die een oggend in ‘n denenbos gesit. Terwyl ek daar sit het ek baie bewus geraak van God se teenwoordigheid. Ek het toe die eerste strofe van die gediggie geskryf na aanleiding van wat ek daar beleef het. Alles wat ek hier skryf – geluid van die wind – duiwe se sang en die geskarrel van die veldmuis het ek waargeneem terwyl ek daar gesit het. As ek my oë toemaak kan ek nog in my geestesoog die veldmuis sien wegskarrel. Ek het later jare (seker so 4-5 jaar gelede) die tweede versie bygevoeg tydens ‘n Mannekamp by die Mooihawens Kampterrein in Bettiesbaai.
(4) Recorded by Trollop in his history of South Africa; cited in a newspaper article about slavery in the Transvaal. Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), 30 December 1880, page 4, “The Revolt of the Pro-Slavery Boers.”
(5) From an article, setting out the case for the First Anglo-Boer war of 1880/ 1881 and the continued annexation of the Transvaal; published in The Times (London, Greater London, England), 22 Feb 1881, page 9.
(6) Information supplied by Nerine Rademan Leonard and Jan Kok.
(7) The story was told by Oom Jan Kok, my mothers oldest brother. Oom Pieter was their grandfather on their mother’s side, which makes him my great-grandfather. My grandmother, Ouma Susan, was taking care of Oom Piet till his death and was only allowed to marry my grandfather, Oupa Eben, after Oom Piet passed away. The day of his death, his pipe was still warm. He smoked till the day of his death.
(8) Stillehoogte was the farm of my grandparents, Oupa Eben and Ouma Susan. Every long-weekend and every school holiday we spent on the farm in the Northern Free State.
Stillehoogte belonged to Oom Piet Rademan and Ouma Santjie inherited it from her father. My Ouma Susan Kok inherited the farm since she had the Rademan (Geldenhuys name – Susanna Maria).
Aunt Meraai (Oom Sybrand and Oom Michiel Straus’s mom) had inherited the farm Leeuspruit because she had her Grandmom Uys’ name and Leeuspruit belonged to Oom Giel Uys.
As far as Oom Jan knows, the farm Stillehoogte was a farm on its own and not part of Rooiwal. The other Rademan children also inherited land in this area. Oom Jan is also not sure if this was part of Rooiwal. Oom Freek got the farm Rosebank. Oom Attie got the farm Goudinie , Oom Lourence the farm Windhoek. All these could have been one farm because they boarder each other.
The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 1 November 1908, Page 31.