There’s an old saying that “you can take a man out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of a man.” It’s grown up around the exotic beauty of this continent, its sounds, its scents, its people, its animals, and as much as anything, its atmosphere. For all the architectural masterpieces of Europe, America and its money and China and its “Wall”, nothing matches Africa for its authenticity, its colours, its rhythm and its beat, the great clouds that fill the big sky, and the wonder of being in its wilds. The thrill of getting up to an African dawn is unmatched anywhere, and you should see the sun going down over the Drakensberg to know that there’s no other place in the world you’d rather be.
Much has been said in these columns over the years about our prized Angus herd, for the origins of which we have to thank our friends in Scotland, but there is also a quaint side to the cattle on this farm which is as far from Edinburgh as Timbuctoo is from anywhere else. Several years ago, when my wife was sculpting the final touches to our home at Umvumvu, overlooking what Alan Paton once described as lying “on the slopes of one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen,” I heard her in conversation with an artist. She appeared to be commissioning him to do a painting of the indigenous version of our cattle, commonly called Ngunis. Knowing that this masterpiece was to adorn the new dining room, the sound of the price alerted me to the desperate thought that for a fraction of the money, we could not only build a watery sanctuary for the birds of our neighbourhood, but we could decorate the veldt around us with a small herd of living replicas of what she was going to hang in the house. For those who don’t know what they look like, imagine the frame of a generously-horned beast draped with the palate of Picasso and a healthy dose of intelligence, and you’ve got an Nguni. These animals fear no drought, they’re unmoved by the ravages of winter, and they’re unlike any other breed I know, residing in harmony with their minders for millennia. For most of their owners, they’re part of the family, living on the doorstep and providing the milk, the “maas”, and of course, the protein. Their hides elevate the passageways of palaces and corporate headquarters, and their likenesses hang from the walls of the Union Buildings.
On the weekend, we took delivery of a new Alpha male, a magnificent beast of fascinating decoration. He’s here to inject fresh vigour into the herd, and hopefully to stamp his personal uniqueness into our lives.