Memories of Rhodesia



(Note: content not for the overly sensitive or self-important readers)

May 14, 2013

In the ongoing belief that everything when I was a when-we was the best there ever was, including springrolls, samosas and ice cold shumba and don’t even get me flipping started on the quality of the meat and Matopos cheese, I suddenly remembered our national airline.

Actually I also remembered that I knew an oke who got typhoid drinking shumba there by Vic Falls, but a) I don’t know if it was ice cold and b) accidents happen hey? Also c) it might have been a Castle Pilsner, but it’s a true story. Well the bit about the typhoid is.

Anyway, Air Rhodesia is how it was spelled but never said. We never said anything the way it was spelled, Rhodesians. Error Deesha had planes like no other airline in the world. Dakotas and Viscounts, painted blue and white with a red bird on the tail. Vintage planes hey, chorries of the sky, but still we flipping loved them. Catching the late Viscount down south for the weekend in Joeys was as international as it got when you were a chorb-ridden sixteen year old. Planes you could sit around a table on and play cards while you bumped through the clouds. There were seats facing backwards too; there must be a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m too flipping lazy to go look for it. Vomit Comets my old man used to call those Viscounts; he’d take out his pocket knife with maningi tools on it and always pretend to tighten the screws around the window when the engines started. There was also always a paper bag in the pocket of the seat in front of you, in case you had to kotch from air sickness or excitement. Or too much tchwala.

Check in your luggage there by the front of the airport, then down that passage with the two posters of elephants in it – flip man I loved those posters, blue sky and iron-grey red Rhodesian mud-smeared elephants – and then through the swing doors into customs which was usually an uncle who smelled of cigarettes who stood behind a mukwa kiosk that smelled of beeswax and stamped your passport and then off you went across the tarmac and up the steps that people pushed into place when the planes had parked. Also, in those days on Error Deesha, there was none of this smoking or non-smoking kak. You just got on the plane and all the grown-ups, from the pilot to the air hostesses dressed in crimplene, smoked. The pilots filed their flight plans in biro on the back of a pack of 30 Rothmans. The non-smoking section was out there on the wing. Everybody had a gwaai or two and a cold shumba or a cane and coke, and those little sliding out of the armrest ashtrays were packed with stompies by the time we landed. And we got given sweets when we started our descent, to stop our ears from popping.

Customs at Jan Smuts back then was another thing hey? Someone there Down South had a great idea – hey man, let’s kill one of every living thing in the whole country and stick their heads up on a murra big wall. I can just see them now, sitting around in safari suits, sipping brandy and coke when one of them had the idea, Jislike Sarel, jy is flippin brilliant! Wag net n bietjie, ek sal my geweer vinnig gaan optel. Anyway hey, dead animals everywhere there by Jan Smuts, even an elephant, starring down at you with glass eyes and when you walked out of the airport, the smell of coal smoke. When you came back from Down South you loaded up on all the stuff you couldn’t get back home because of sanctions: Peter Stuyvesant and Rothmans, Bells Whisky and always as many Rowntree’s Peppermint Crisps as I could cram into a suitcase, because June was penga for peppermint crisps, and I always had strict instructions to bring some back. Once I bought two pairs of Rustler jeans at the Oriental Plaza instead of one pair of jeans and some peppermint crisps and June was not happy. Jesus bloody Christ man Steven all you think of is yourself. Selfish. Why do you need two pairs of new jeans hey? Tell me that? But ma, you still have stacks of peppermint crisps in the pantry from the last time. That is not the point my boy. Not the point at all. I asked you to get more peppermint crisps, not to decide if I already had enough of them. What, do you take stock of everything in the house now, is that what you’re telling me? Please man – hollow laugh – you can’t even do your bloody homework. I hope you got your father his whisky, that’s all I can say, because now I really need a drink. Jesus, you make me cross. How much were the jeans?

The best thing ever about Error Deesha was in April 1973 when three Boeing 720s arrived at Salisbury airport over the Easter weekend, because Uncle Ian and PK van der Bijl wanted the English to think the Easter Bunny had given them to us. (I googled the date and the model number of the planes to make sure hey, because I always get some chop telling me it was actually a this or a that or the other and it was on a Friday afternoon at three pm and the sun was shining while it rained which we called a monkey’s wedding. I do not flipping care, because this is not a history lesson.) What actually happened is that a few troopies on R&R overseas won them in a poker game and then smuggled them back into the country in pieces and put them together over a braai and a few cold ones with a bit of help from some friends, but that was all kept top secret. I really wish I’d known they were doing it, because I’d have asked them to bring some peppermint crisps for June at the same time. Anyway, that was the day we made the sign for faga pagati and showed it to the rest of the world.

Hey world?
Ja Rhodesia?
flip you.

Man it felt good hey to be such a cheeky little country and when SAA landed at Salisbury airport showing off with their little orange-tailed Boeings, we could say so what get stuffed ours are bigger. All the gwarras who flew on those big planes got new crimplene uniforms, and luckily those planes already had blue stripes because we just put Error Deesha on the sides and flew off to Bulawayo, Durban, Joeys and other international hotspots including Beira.

Anyway, that’s my story about Error Deesha. There are other stories about it too, sad ones, which we all know. It’s just that I like to remember the happy stuff.

Author Steve Abramowitz <>. 
Used with permission.  For more of his stuff visit



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