I’ve had many conversations with people about slaughtering a cow, I always feel that this is the part of my Zulu-ness (if there is such a thing) that is missing. I can slaughter a goat and have been doing that since I was a little boy, but I have never slaughtered a bull. This thought comes after a conversation I had with a friend last night. She was complaining that they often slaughter cows at home and doesn’t understand the reasoning behind the tradition. She was telling me that cows are often slaughtered during traditional ceremonies and certain parts would be an offering to the ancestors.
The reason we seldom slaughter cows in my Zulu family is because my dad has always said they are not an offering to the ancestors and believes that their meat is just to feed the people and these days we have for such purposes. Despite this explanation I still feel there is a part of my Zulu-ness that is missing. I speak the language, I understand most of the cultures and traditions and their importance, I know a bit of history including of my ancestor Bhambatha kaMancinza but I still wish I would have been given the opportunity to slaughter at least one cow in my life.
My father’s reasoning is also dictated by the fact that he doesn’t like the smell and taste of freshly slaughtered cow. He would rather have it as beef that would have spent a few days being refrigerated in a butchery. He says it has made him ill on several occasions and that forced him to strip his children of that one important Zulu tradition. I often say I don’t particularly enjoy the taste of freshly slaughtered goat either but that does not stop me from slaughtering or eating it.
Then again one has to think of the practicality of slaughtering nowadays. We don’t really have cattle kraals anymore and most people would have to buy a cow before they can even think of slaughtering it.
The town house complexes we live in nowadays would also not enable us to bring cows in, let alone slaughter them and invite neighbours so they could enjoy the meat with us. We wouldn’t even have a place to tie them up as they would run away since we have no kraals anymore.
As a child I used to listen to my father telling stories of how he used to take his father’s cattle to a cattle dip where they would be washed. This used to happen twice a week and the teachers knew that my dad would be a few minutes late on those days. They permitted it as they understood its importance. I still don’t know why it was my father’s job as he had two elder brothers and one younger one, but the youngest was probably too young at the time.
I used to imagine that world of herding them and taking them to get washed. It used to fascinate me and I always used to wish it had been my life. I grew up in a life of privilege and went to schools that my dad would not have dreamt of attending. He would never have been allowed to go there because of his skin colour and because his parents would just not be able to afford it as the apartheid system in place at the time made sure they wouldn’t.
I am grateful of the life I’ve been given as it has provided me with many opportunities that have allowed me to mingle and understand different people, their cultures and lives. The life I’ve been given has enabled me to travel the world, but I still wish I was given the opportunity to herd cattle and could slaughter a cow.