Pazar, Şubat 15, 2009

How Mohair Industry and Tobacco Industry Developed in South Africa

How Mohair Industry and Tobacco Industry Developed in South Africa?*
Written by Serhat ORAKÇI

In 1838, Colonel John Henderson, a former British officer, imported the first Angora goats via India from the Ottoman Empire to the Cape. However, the goats were found infertile because the Turks did not want the breed to spread beyond the country. Luckily, one ewe gave birth to a ram kid during the voyage to the Colony and it was from these two that the first original Angora flocks in the Cape Colony were bred. “When Colonel John Henderson imported the first Angora goats to South Africa from Turkey in 1938 he planted a seed, the fruits of which he could not have foreseen.”1

The city of Angora (Ankara), now the capital of Turkey strongly resembles the up-country Karoo district of South Africa, in terms of geographical configuration, pasture, and climate. Not only the height above sea is similar, but also the hills and mountains especially around Somerset East and Cradock are densely filled with forest. In like manner, the similarity is borne out in the characteristics of abundant veldt, made up of dust, stones, and small dry scrub, of vast treeless flats dry as bone, and alluvial deposits descended from the hills.2 In addition to the abovementioned similarities between the natural home of the Angora and their new habitat in South Africa, the energy and the care of South African breeders paved the way for rapid growth of the Mohair industry in the Colony in the 19th century.

The fertile ram kid adapted to the climate and vegetation of the Eastern Cape well. He grew up and afterwards was mated successfully to selected ewes. The original ram had a long life and through careful selection several flocks were raised throughout the Colony. A single ram and ewe could not have any significant influence to the development of an industry if the second importation of Angora goats did not follow at least 15 years after the first one. Attempts were made by the Swellandam Agricultural Society to import some Angora goats from the Ottoman state as early as 1852.3 The society secretary F. W. Reitz asked for Government assistance in obtaining more Angora goats from the Ottoman state. It was difficult at that time to obtain any Angora goats from the Ottomans because the sultan placed an embargo on all Angora exports for a long time because Turkish adversity to the spreading of the breed beyond the country. Downing Street enlisted the cooperation of the British Ambassador to Istanbul who authorised the sale of an unlimited number of animals at 85 to 90 piastres4 for ewes and 150 to 200 piastres for rams. Therefore, the door for the importation of this attractive but little-known commodity was opened. During the second half of 19th century, Angora importation into the Colony continued. The British consular officials in Turkey played an important role in these imports. Agents from South Africa were sent to Turkey for better selection.5

The young Angora industry established international trade links within a short time. The first shipment of mohair left the Cape Colony for Britain in 1857 and in 1865 the first Angora goats were exported to Argentina. Angora shows also became commonplace in the Colony. In Port Elizabeth mohair exports comprised 97% of the total exports of the city in 1865; 94% in 1866 and 83% in 1876.6

By 1878 there were already more than 30 different purchasing houses for mohair in Port Elizabeth alone and 97,5% of the mohair was exported through Port Elizabeth, 2,2% through Cape Town, 1,9% through Port Alfred and 0,2% through Mossel Bay to different countries, especially Britain. During the 1880`s the number of Angora goats had risen substantial in the Colony thanks to further importation and cross-breeding programme. It was reported that there was two and a quarter million Angora goats in the Cape Colony in 1880.7 The period between 1882 and 1899 was expansion years for the mohair industry. By the year 1882 American and British authorities regarded South Africa’s mohair as equal to Turkey’s finest fleeces. The Zwarte Ruggens Farmers` Association (ZRFA) was formed to represent the interests of wool and mohair producers in 1883. In this period developments in the Cape mohair industry and an embargo on Turkish goat exports encouraged American interest in the importation of Angora goats from South Africa. In April 1894 the Angora Goat Breeders` Association was established. During this time the breeders of the Cape recognised the need for new, improved blood. The Cape Government allocated a sum of money for the private importation of Angoras by the Premier, Cecil John Rhodes. With the visit of Rhodes to the Ottoman Empire a concession was obtained from the sultan for the export of Angoras in 1895. By 1899, the quality of the Cape clip had surpassed Turkey. It had also grown to 56,3% of the total world production with Turkey producing 40,5%, 3,2% America and a very small quantity in Australia.8 It should be emphasised that mohair was an important export commodity for the Ottoman Empire. In 1899 mohair’s share in the Empire’s total exports was 6.7% with a value of 1,037,948 lira. However, after 1899 was a massive declining period for the Ottoman mohair industry. The Empire lost its monopoly on Angora giats and mohair industry.9 Owing to the superior intelligence and scientific methods of Cape breeders, the South African mohair industry turned from Cinderella to princess eventually.

Today, South African mohair is the purest and finest in the world. For the past few years, China has been the most important single destination for South African mohair. It was from a humble beginning that South Africa has become leadering country by producing 61% of the total world production of mohair at present.10

The success of the South African mohair industry reveals or general characteristic of South African farmers behaviour, especially the 1820 settlers during the 19th century. As immigrants from European countries, then experimented different crops to cultivate and animals to breed the best suited to their new circumstances. South African grown Turkish tobacco developed a very similar with the Angora goat industry. As happened previously in the mohair industry, from a very small beginning growers and farmers in the Cape opened the doors to a large industry unknown to them.

South African Grown Turkish Tobacco

J. F. Theron, a farmer from the Tulbagh district, was the first person formally applied to the Agriculture Department for a loan and assistance to grow Turkish tobacco on his plantation in 1909. Later, the De Meillon brothers from Stellenbosch asked for financial support from the Department to the cultivate Turkish tobacco. According to the report of the Department, De Meillon brothers had already undertaken small experiments on their farm ‘Ban Hoek’ with Turkish tobacco and the results were excellent. In the same year, a tobacco expert from the Department, Mr. Stella, visited some farms in Stellenbosch to establish a ‘Tobacco Experimental Station.’11 In 1910, at the request of Malan, Minister for Agriculture for the Cape Colony, the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent samples of Turkish tobacco seeds to Cape Town. According to the report of Ludwig Wiener, Ottoman Consul-General to Cape Town, one package ‘Samsun’ and two packages ‘d’Isketche’ were received and a third sample ‘De Cavalla’ was promised to be sent in a short time. These samples were requested by the Tobacco Experts for experimental purposes.12

The Department of Agriculture had been giving its attention to Turkish tobacco for some time and encouraging farmers, especially in Stellenbosch, to cultivate Turkish tobacco. It can be understood from the letter of the Department that from a very small beginning the industry expanded in a short time. During 1910, the Turkish tobacco crop was already about 70,000 lbs, a great deal of which had been sold to local factories at the auction sale of the Chamber of Commerce at very satisfactory prices. In 1911, South African Turkish tobacco growers were already seeking overseas markets for their production and there were many other growers as well as farmers who desired to grow Turkish tobacco.13 In 1917, the production of South African grown Turkish tobacco reached 150,000 lbs. per year and the first samples were sent to England and America for export purposes.14

South Africa was not the only country that cultivated Turkish tobacco. Some other European countries also used the Turkish seeds for cultivation. However, neither the importation of Angora goat nor the planting of Turkish tobacco seeds supports any regular and mutually based economic relation between the Ottoman Empire and South Africa at that time. In a very different nature, the Ottomans succeeded to establish some originated religious and political ties with the South African Muslim minority. The connection between the Ottomans and South African Muslim population commenced in 1862 with an alim (scholar), Abu Bakr Effendi, to teach and guide the Cape Muslim community.


*The article was compiled from MA dissertation 'A Historical Analysis of The Emerging Links Between The Ottoman Empire and South Africa Between 1861-1923' by Serhat Orakçı

1 D.S. Uys: Cinderella to Princes, The Mohair Board, Port Elizabeth, 1988, p. 3

2 Men of the Times, the Transvaal Publishing Company, Johannesburg, Cape Town & London, 1906, p. 137

3 Cape Town Archives, KAB GH Vol. 23/23 Ref. 41; see also GH Vol. 1/231 Ref. 6

4 Originally a dollar size silver coin, the piastre served as the major unit of currency of French Indochina (Present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), and Ottoman Turkey. The kuruş, the subvision of the Turkish Lira, is commonly known as the piastre. 100 kuruş; equal 1 Lira.

5 Uys, P. 5-6

6 Ibid., p. 11-12

7 Ibid., p. 21-22

8 Ibid., p. 23-34

9 H.A. Erdem: Bir Başarı Öyküsü; Güney Afrika`da Tiftik Üretimi, Dış Ticaret Dergisi, Iss.: 13, April 1999. See online version:, (accessed 1 February 2006)

10 J.L. Rtief: Presidential Report, The Angora Goat and Mohair Journal, SA Mohair Growers’ Association, September 2005, p. 39 See online version of the journal,, (accessed 15 February 2006)

11 National Archives of South Africa, TAB TAD Vol. 1005 Ref. N780/2

12 National Archives of South Africa, TAB TAD Vol. 1007 Ref. N784 13 TAB TAD Vol. 1008 Ref. N829 14 SAB IMI Vol. 3 Ref. I5/5

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