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.