Some of the magnificent cattle that President Cyril Ramaphosa has on his farm, Ntaba Nyoni in Mpumalanga. Picture: Daniel Naudé

Cyril Ramaphosa is the man of the moment. 

Our new, fifth democratically elected president has re-instilled a sense of hope, optimism and faith in our country, and newspapers and websites are filled with photos of him going about his daily business, engaging with fellow politicians and citizens as he aims to restore confidence in our country. 

Facts and figures have become available to inform the hungry public about the man at the helm, revealing other positive perspectives aside from his political and business background. Did you know that our president is also the proud owner of a magnificent herd of Ankole cattle?

Cattle of the Ages, with magnificent photographs by Daniel Naudé, unfolds the man of the moment’s enduring love affair with these beautiful creatures. 

It was on a business trip to Uganda in 2003 that Ramaphosa first laid eyes on the stately Ankole or “Cattle of Kings”, and discovered “a new fire in my heart”. As he writes, he was not yet the deputy president of South Africa, but he was told it was something of a tradition for visiting heads of state and business leaders to pay a visit to the cattle ranch of President Yoweri Museveni. Hovering in a helicopter over the ranch, which was quite a distance from the captal city of Kampala, Ramaphosa noted: “Below us lay the green, rolling landscape of Uganda, but as we took another turn, my eyes were suddenly drawn to something remarkable on the ground. 

“Down below were magnificent creatures that simply astonished me. They each had long, white, beautiful horns glinting in the African sun, and I suddenly became fixated and could not stop looking at them. The melodic clickclock of their majestic horns, some as wide as two metres, reminded me of the rhythmic call of the African drum.” 

Ramaphosa writes that he was immediately smitten, and a love affair – in fact, what became almost an obsession – began. 

The Ankole’s heritage stretches as far back as 8 000 years to the wild aurochs, the first cattle to be domesticated, and they are found in the histories of India, Ethiopia, Egypt and Europe. According to the book, some think the aurochs may have grazed the earth for more than 100 000 years before humans emerged. 

Ramaphosa may have grown up on the dusty township streets outside Johannesburg, but his father Samuel Mundzhedzi Ramaphosa herded his father’s and uncle’s cattle in Khalavha, Venda, his ancestral home. 

Ramaphosa relates how he took his father’s legacy forward by buying a farm in Mpumalanga. Following discussions with Museveni, it was agreed that there would be a massive potential to add Ankole cattle to the many cattle breeds in our country. It wasn’t a simple story, writes Ramaphosa. Facing a multitude of obstacles, it took many years before he had the pleasure of having the Ankole breed on his own farm.

Through trial and error, experimentation, blood, sweat and tears, the handsome breed eventually arrived. Dr Morné de la Rey, from Embryo Plus, was instrumental in their breeding programme from the beginning. The book is a narrative and pictorial celebration of the Ankole as they adapted to their new home in South Africa, 4 000km away. 

“I count the birth of the first Ankole on South African soil as one of my proudest achievements, and it is a privilege for me to tell the tale of how it happened,” writes Ramaphosa. 

The Ankole have proved a hardy breed, resistant to drought, ticks and disease. They have adapted well to their new environment and, as Ramaphosa informs, they are now eliciting much interest worldwide with their adaptability and resilience. Ankole cows can weigh up to 540kg, while the bulls can weigh up to 730kg. 

The massive beautiful white horns curve outwards, then upwards and inwards, and are deceptively light, yet can cause damage. Inside the horns is a network of blood vessels and, as the blood moves through the horns, it is cooled and then moves back down to the body to lower its temperature. Their tails are long and ropelike, and serve as excellent insect swatters. And most importantly, in terms of cattle breeding and surviving, the Ankole have adapted to highly stressed environments. 

“Not only surviving, but thriving in a climactic area that is often given to boom or bust,” writes the proud cattle owner. 

This book is testimony to Ramaphosa’s sage words and beautifully written narrative, and Naudé’s stunning photographs not only of the cattle, but of the beautiful landscape. 

Beautifully produced, this fascinating book will reveal another endearing side to our president’s character, and is an absolute visual treat.

BOOK: Cattle of the Ages: Ankole Cattle in South Africa AUTHOR: Cyril Ramaphosa, Photographs by Daniel Naudé PUBLISHER: Jacana REVIEWER: Orielle Berry PRICE: R589 on