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In 2003, the nation was in thrall to the thwack of the ball on the willow bat, while a different creature entirely grabbed the attention of the IDC: Nguni cattle.

nguninguniCricket was the name of the game in 2003. South Africa co-hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup, the first ever to be played on African soil, with Zimbabwe and Kenya.

The Industrial Development Corporation turned its sights away from the pitch to take up a major position in the reintroduction of Nguni cattle into rural South Africa, approving a grant facility of R7.5-million for research and tests by the University of Fort Hare on the breed.

The IDC later approved R40-million to roll out the project in five provinces. Custodians of the project in each province included the universities of Fort Hare, Free State, North, Zululand and North West.

Project participants included newly established black farmers interested in rearing Nguni cattle. To be included, farmers had to form a group that represented at least five unrelated households. Universities were responsible for providing management and technical support to farmers, as well as handling the administrative work. To qualify for the project, farmers had to have sufficient land to accommodate cattle numbers at recommended rates.

They also needed to have certified proof indicating ownership, lease-right or use-right of the land of no less than five years.

Said to be a hybrid of local and Indian cattle, Nguni cattle are indigenous to southern Africa and have been part of the region's cultural and economic life ever since the Xhosa, Zulu and Swazi migrated to the area between 600 and 1400 AD. The cattle are identifiable by their various patterns of white, black, brown and yellow hides as well as spotted hides.

After its launch in June 2004, the full programme was implemented in 12 communities and three teaching institutions in Eastern Cape. The communities involved in the project all encountered the same challenges, including a shortage of infrastructure and tick management. Solutions to the latter came in the form of Bayer, which provided discounted medicine to kill the ticks, and Onderstepoort Vaccines, which provided free research.

In Free State, the rollout of the Nguni Cattle Project was a way to alleviate poverty and encourage academic development for students of agricultural science. At the same time, the province's university, agreed to help Northern Cape by implementing the project there. Although the Northern Cape was not approved for the programme, the IDC was informed that there was a need for it.

Since Northern Cape did not have a university, it used Free State University because of its close proximity and the strong relationship with the province. The funds allocated to the Free State were shared by the two provinces as they used the same tertiary institution to implement and manage the project.

Cash invested by the IDC was used to buy cattle, infrastructure development and animal health. Because the funds had to be reallocated to building infrastructure, such as fencing and dipping tanks, however, fewer communities were able to receive the cattle each year. Instead of 15 communities involved, 12 benefitted from the project.

Yet setting aside money for infrastructure and health meant that there was better management of the project as necessary resources were available. By 2012, it was proving successful. In its first year, 20 Nguni cows and a bull were given to each beneficiary; seven years later, and the loan had increased to 30 cows and a bull.