En­trepreneurs II

Chrisma Butch­ery in Raw­sonville is a fam­ily busi­ness in the true sense of the word


We all know at least one sad story of a on­ce­suc­cess­ful fam­ily busi­ness that went belly-up, just like that. Af­ter­wards it would be at­trib­uted to per­son­al­ity clashes or a gen­er­a­tion gap – some­times the old and the young oxen sim­ply wouldn’t pull to­gether or in the same di­rec­tion; in other cases death came like a thief in the night while no suc­ces­sion plan or strat­egy had been in place.

In con­trast, at 31 Van Riebeeck Street in Raw­sonville, about 90km from Cape Town, the Smit fam­ily has been man­ag­ing Chrisma Butch­ery suc­cess­fully for 51 years, de­spite the deaths of three peo­ple who were key to the busi­ness, which sent gale-force winds of change though this Boland fam­ily en­ter­prise.

De­spite this, Chrisma is do­ing bet­ter than ever, be­cause, aside from the fact that all four of the Smit chil­dren are, or have been, in­volved in the ven­ture, 38 years ago a young teenage boy named Paul Laver­lot started work­ing along­side the fam­ily. And 15 years ago Paul’s son War­ren fol­lowed in his fa­ther’s foot­steps, and his daugh­ter Rutina did the same two years ago.

YOUR CON­JEC­TURE about Chrisma’s “main se­cret to suc­cess” is con­firmed at the en­trance when Ockert Smit, who’ll have been at the helm of the busi­ness for 30 years next year, reaches out his hand in greet­ing. The same feel­ing takes hold of you when his sis­ter, Mag­gie, who takes care of ad­min, ac­counts and staff mat­ters, in­tro­duces her­self, and later again when you meet stock man­ager, Paul.

The Smits are in­deed the “bosses”, em­ploy­ing more than 15 peo­ple, yet at least one – but usu­ally both – of them is at their post ev­ery sin­gle day. They don’t shirk re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and they don’t bark orders, and they don’t just “work” here. Ockert and Mag­gie and Paul are Chrisma. They know ev­ery cus­tomer. They an­swer the phone them­selves. Ev­ery thank­ful and thank­less task there is to do in this butch­ery they are able to do them­selves if they had to, be­cause long ago their fa­ther, Mathys, took a long shot and with hard work – and lit­tle else, re­ally – es­tab­lished a brand that has peo­ple from all over stop­ping here – whether it’s for steak, bil­tong, droë­wors, or, be­lieve it or not, “the best red vi­en­nas in South Africa”. Of course, it helped that they were the of­fi­cial meat sup­plier to the Afrikaans TV pro­gramme Maak ’n Las; the late Tolla van der Merwe and Ol­lie Viljoen are said to have stopped here of­ten to buy a few slices of brawn, which they would eat in the car.

“Man, here in the Raw­sonville district they talk about ‘stam­fam­i­lies’ [pedi­gree fam­i­lies] – the orig­i­nals – and the oth­ers who’ve landed here from some­where else are called ‘in­ge­waaide voëls’ [birds that have been blown in],” says Ockert. “We are among those birds, but I think by now you can say we’ve made our nest.” THE STORY OF CHRISMA and the way things are done here to this day start with Mathys, who left school at 14 with Stan­dard 6 to his name. His fa­ther was a sheep farmer in the Fraser­burg district, but times were hard dur­ing the De­pres­sion and Mathys had to pitch in by work­ing for a black­smith.

A few years later Mathys com­pleted a block­man course at the meat re­tailer Roel­cor in Black­heath. He then worked for the com­pany for more than 20 years be­fore he de­cided to start his own busi­ness in 1965: a butch­ery on premises he rented at Gou­dini Sta­tion. Here, he and his wife, Christina, toiled night and day, un­til he re­alised they’d need to ex­pand, in the year their sec­ond son, Ockert (the very one who holds the reins to­day), started school. And so Mathys bought an­other butch­ery, this one in Raw­sonville that, to top it off, used to be­long to Roel­cor! They chris­tened the new ven­ture Chrisma – a com­bi­na­tion of the names Christina and Mathys.

“It is truly as­tound­ing what a plan­ner our fa­ther was,” says Ockert. “Af­ter an ini­tial loan of R10 000 to buy this butch­ery, he never again bor­rowed money, ap­plied for an over­draft or in­curred debt. He ab­so­lutely be­lieved that cash is king, and ev­ery time he’d saved enough, he would build a small ex­ten­sion or buy a new ve­hi­cle that was truly nec­es­sary. (In time he moved >

The story of Chrisma starts with Mathys Smit, who left school at 14 with Stan­dard 6 to his name. His fa­ther was a sheep farmer in the Fraser­burg district, but times were tough dur­ing the De­pres­sion and Mathys had to pitch in.

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