16 September 2023
I am researching the iconic Gluckman family. RCL played a crucial role in the success of the Gluckman Bros. I deal with their proximity to the plant and the key figures in The Gluckman Project. Heather MacAlister, the researcher assisting on the project, uncovered this iconic article on RCS. I reproduce the article written in 1964 here in its entirety.
Meat for the Millions
Intimately associated with the birth and growth of the Witwatersrand and with the emergence of the goldfields of the North-Western free Satate as a factor in the economic development of the interior of South Africa is the rand Cold Storage and Supply Company Limited, which this year celebrates the diamond jubilee of its establishment.
From small beginnings in 1896, there has emerged in the sixty years that have passed, a great organisation with a network of branches scattered over a wide area. Today the Rand Cold Storage and its “Renown” brand products are a household word in the Northern provinces. The magnitude of its organisation, the long and honourable history of its business activities, the present management which carries on in the spirit and enterprise of its great founders – these are the characteristics and qualities known and appreciated in thousands of homes and stores in this vast country.
Its products and branches will be found in Johannesburg itself, in the East and West Rand, from Springs to Randfontein, in Vereeniging, and Vanderbijlpark, and Sasolburg, far westwards to the new goldfields at Blyvooruitzicht, Klerksdorp and right through to Orkney eastwards to the new shafts at Trichardt, and in the heart of the once deserted gold areas of the Free State where the spinning headgear and rapid forming mine dumps have brought new life to the country.
Rand Cold Storage has been extending its field of activity every year. It has seen enormous changes taking place in the country, from the establishment of the mine camos of the Witwatersrand, where it supplied the vital food necessities of the population in the early days, to the opening of the gold fields in the Free State, where they were among the earliest of pioneers. In fact, wherever progress has marched, Rand Cold Storage has marched with it. An historian would find in the books and records of the organisation sufficient material to write a history of the growth of the Golden City for the past seventy years.
But let us go back to the beginning, to those turbulent days sixty years ago when a number of prominent businessmen, realising the necessary of a cold storage plant for the ever-growing mine camp population, established the Johannesburg Cold Storage Company Limited in 1986 with a factory in the north-west corner of the Railway Goods Shed at Kazerne. Its growing pains were severe. Undisturbed concentration upon economic development was denied to the goldfields in that era. The mere physical discomforts of a rapidly expanding community had hardly begun to be removed when an astonishing sequence of events that made history distracted a people already confronted by the difficult task of stabilising the industry upon which they lived. The disturbances and controversies of the mining camp were no stimulation for trade but the Company bravely faced the inevitable and commenced business.
Its weekly consumption at the commencement amounted to 2,000 sheep, 200 oxen, 100 calves and 100 pigs. In 1899 a large stock of imported meat was obtained and announced in the newspapers, thus:-
Little or no entertainment was available to the workers in the camp, and as a result, money was freely spent in the hastily erected bars and saloons but nevertheless, the cost of living was amazingly low by present standards as the following prices of meat bear witness:-
Beef. . . . . . . 6 3/4 d. per lb
Mutton. . . . 7d. per lb
Tails . . . . . . 1/ – to 1/3
Tongues. . . 3/ – to 3/3
After a long harangue (a lengthy and aggressive speech) with local authorities, a contract was obtained in 1899 with the Z.A.S.M. Railways to supply 4,000 sheep and 300 oxen at 71/2 d. per lb. The ink was hardly dry on the contract when the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902 broke out. The premises of the Johannesburg Cold Storage were immediately commandeered for military purposes and the Company was paid storage fees for the large supplies that were kept in stock for the Government.
On the arrival of Lord Robers in Johannesburg, a supply of the same meat was made available to the British Troops. The South African Supply and Cold Storage Company, who were the contractors for the supply of meat to the military, at once took possession of the plant, and the business of the Johannesburg Cold Storage continued only in a small way with the supply of ice and meat for the civil population.
When at last, normal conditions were restored, rapid progress was made at first, but not for as long as the optimists expected. The post-war boom soon died away and was succeeded by a severe slump. In 1904, Rand Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited – a subsidiary of Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited – was formed and acquired the entire share capital of the Johannesburg Cold Storage Limited.
From that hot day in March, sixty years ago, the firm of Rand Cold Storage has never looked back.
The turbulent period of history which the Company survived in the years that were to follow is a tribute to the men who governed the firm’s destiny. In 1904, there was an outbreak of bubonic plague, deaths numbering 74, including 8 Europeans. The premises of Rand Cold Storage were immediately closed down; the infected area was fenced in, and the fire brigade burned sixteen hundred houses.
Then, in 1907, severe depression caused such unemployment that out-of-works occupied the old showgrounds at Braamfontein and set up tents in which there soon 750 people lived. The mining magnate, Sir J. B. Robinson, presented a cheque of £ 7,500, and the Rand Cold Storage also played its part in alleviating the miseries of these people by supplying meat at special prices.
Industrial unrest added to the troubles of the period. There was a miner’s strike in 1907 and again in 1913, which ended in a violent upheaval and the burning of buildings. The premises of Rand Cold Storage were stormed by looters, but serious destruction was prevented by turning jets of cold water through firehoses on the would-be troublemakers. The following year, there was a general strike which had to be ended by the calling out of the ‘Burgers’ while the labour leaders who had entrenched themselves in the Trades Hall surrendered after General Smuts’ threat to blow the corner of the building down with a field gun.
The labour troubles were swept away by the first Great War, but after the war, there was a recrudescence of industrial trouble culminating in 1922 in the so-called Red Revolt, in which a state of civil war prevailed and over two hundred lives were lost. Once again, the premises of Rand Cold Storage came under fire. Heavily stocked with food requirements for a growing city, the premises were an obvious target for looting. It was foiled by the erection of a barrier consisting of thousands upon thousands of bags of coal surrounding the entire works of the Company. Grim-faced men waving business-like calibre rifles peered over the bags and deterred any attempts of storming by the strikers.
Yet, through all the years of distractions and upheavals, the Rand Cold Storage and Supply Company Limited carried out a long programme of expansion and improvement. The original premises were added to and modernized from time to time, new and improved methods of refrigeration were installed. All along the Reef, as new towns and suburbs sprung up and the population increased, so the now famous ‘RENOWN’ brand hams, bacon, polony and small goods took their place on the counters of shops and butcheries that were opening to meet the demand of an ever-growing community.
The post-war years have seen the Company’s greatest expansion. In 1945 a new, up-to-date creamery – the Dominion-Impala Creameries – was built at the Johannesburg premises and in 1947, there followed a modern meat and small goods factory.
Much of the Company’s expansion has, however, taken place outside the Witwatersrand. The Company was among the pioneers in the supply of essential foodstuffs in the Orange Free State Goldfields area, in the steel town of Vanderbijl, in Sasolburg at the oil-from-coal enterprise, at Blyvooruitzicht and right through to Klerksdorp and Orkney where the new goldfields are thriving.
In fact, the Company started operating a new meat business on the Freestate goldfields right from the sinking of the first shaft was started at the St. Helena Gold Mine. Like other new developments, the enterprise started from small beginnings, and at first, the Rand Cold Storage supplied the goldfields from a small shanty bearing the imposing name ‘Royal Standard Butchery,’ which it could only buy at an exorbitant price. Later the Company set about the construction of a large meat-works abattoir, cold storage and meat processing factory. Separate premises house Oranje Dairy at Welkom, to which a Stork milk Sterelising Plant – the second of its kind in Southern Africa – was added presently. Sterilised bottled milk lasts indefinitely at ordinary temperatures, and distribution points were established throughout the Goldfields and Kroonstad areas.
Today, Rand Storage & Supply Company Limited is one of the largest organisations of its kind in the country. There is not another organisation that has its finger so closely on the pulse of the business and industrial life of the Northern Provincesnor, another firm which is so intimately linked with the welfare of the gold-mining industry as the Rand Cold Storage. As long as the forces of enterprise and development continue to penetrate the vast mineral resources that lie to the north, south, east and west of Johannesburg, so the organisation of Rand Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited will continue to grow and prosper.
** Reproduction of the article is part of The Gluckman Project
Heather MacAlister (personal correspondence and her research results)