Cows on the Beach

During the Wildcoast Wildrun® Africa experience, participants come up close and personal with a particularly interesting breed of beach bum. They have impressively long lashes, wear beautifully patterned suits, demonstrate a slow and steady gate and a unique ability to cut single track on the grassy headlands above the beaches. Only in the Transkei, will you find Nguni cattle chilling happily on the pristine beaches of this piece of coastline.


At a glance, these regal creatures of the Transkei coastline seem unaware of their tumultuous history. They seem, for want of a better term, rather chilled. An intrinsic part of the Wildcoast Wildrun® Africa experience, and the inspiration behind our 2018 finisher trophies, the Ngunis await another opportunity to witness a few crazy runners passing through their territory.

The Nguni cattle breed is special to southern Africa. A hybrid of different Indian and later European cattle breeds, they were introduced by Bantu-speaking tribes to southern Africa during their migration from the north of the continent.

The ancestors of Nguni cattle were brought by the Nguni people, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi people, during their migration to southern Africa between 600 and 1400 AD. Since then, these animals have played an important social and economic role in the development of these societies and are frequently used as a bride's dowry or “labola”. The number of animals held by a village or individual determined much of their importance to the rest of the world. King Shaka of the Zulus understood this cultural and economic importance and seized control of the Nguni herds on his dominions. Shaka also bred the Ngunis according to colour patterns to produce hides for the several regiments of his army. His elite personal guard was recognised by pure white, from animals of the royal herd, the inyonikayiphumuli.

The University of Fort Hare’s Nguni Cattle Project, launched in 2003, successfully managed the resurgence of the Nguni cattle breed in its traditional home of the former Ciskei and Transkei, bringing the Nguni back to its traditional roots to uplift poor rural communities.

During the mid-1850s, the indigenous Nguni of the Eastern Cape were decimated by two dramatic events. In the early 1850s, a bovine lung disease, introduced by imported northern European bulls in the Cape Colony spread rapidly across the frontier regions. Next, a young Xhosa prophetess, Nongqawuse, captured the imagination of the paramount chief of the Xhosa by demanding the sacrificial slaughter of all cattle to initiate a resurrection of all ancestors and their cattle to drive the British and settlers into the sea. Nongqawuse is said to have been an orphan and the niece of Mhlakaza. Mhlakaza’s father was the councillor of Chief Sarhili. After Mhlakaza’s mother died, he went to the Cape Colony and became familiar with Christianity. He returned to Xhosaland in 1853. Nongqawuse’s parents died in the battles of the Waterkloof. As a result she is believed to have been quite aware of the tensions between the Xhosa and the colonial forces. The Xhosa were experiencing an onslaught of attacks upon their community and institutions by British colonial authorities from as early as 1779. Growing up with her uncle as her guardian, Nongqawuse was influenced by Mhlakaza, a deeply religious man.

Nongqawuse appears in historical records at around the age of 15. She and another young girl called Nombanda, visited some of the fields by the Gxarha River to guard the crops and chase away birds. Two strangers appeared to Nongqawuse instructing her to pass on the following prophecies:

1) the dead would rise;

2) all living cattle would be slaughtered, having been reared by contaminated hands;

3) cultivation would cease;

4) new grain would have to be dug;

5) new houses would have to be built;

6) new cattle enclosures would have to be erected;

7) new milk sacks would have to be made;

8) doors would have to be weaved with buka roots and lastly;

9) that people abandon witchcraft, incest and adultery.

Nongqawuse reported these instructions to Mhlakaza, who subsequenty informed the royal officials. Despite their initial reservations, these officials came to visit Mhlakaza’s homestead and the Gxarha River with Nongqawuse, and eventually they were convinced. From then onwards, Nongqawuse’s role was to be the medium of communication between the ancestors and the people. Mhlakaza implemented her visions and prophecies.

With many cattle already dying from lung sickness, they seemed cursed anyway, and so began the great cattle- slaughter of the 1850s. It came close to wiping out the herds of the Cape, and specifically of the regions that would later become the homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei.

Their adaptive skills have however allowed them not only to survive the 1850s but many more decades of challenges, to be transformed today into a recognised breed. Deeply respected for its ability to withstand natural threats such as periodic droughts and marginal grazing, and with a resistance specifically to tick-borne diseases, the Nguni thrives on minimum input.

Enter the 2018 event here and meet the Nguni herds in person.