THE FAMILY WASH
MANY OF US are apt to forget that until very recent times, some would say until the outbreak of the last war, the average white family in Rhodesia was poor in money. Unlike Kenya, the country was not a fashionable home for the eccentric wealthy, and the average immigrant brought with him only a small capital. The farmer might be rich in land but there was relatively little money in his household. It was for reasons of thrift, as well as distance from sources of supply, that many farms became almost self-supporting. Every woman on the farm had her own recipe, not only for her home-bread but for her jams and "konfyts", and every man about the place his own design for making furniture out of the boxes in which the cans of paraffin-the main source of light and power-were delivered. Even the ash taken from stoves and fire-places was put to good use in the home. The early farmer's wife carefully stored it, and used it as her main ingredient for producing farm soap.
She made her soap in a large barrel with both ends knocked out, which she stood on a large flat stone with a groove round the edge leading to a draining point. The bottom of the barrel was covered with thin sticks and straw to a depth of up to eight inches. Then the finicky housewife who wanted to make the best soap tested her hoard of ash by placing a little on her tongue. Good ash was mildly bitter; if there was no taste the ash was rejected. The leach, as the barrel was called, was lightly packed with the selected ash, and dampened slightly. Then water was added from time to time, and the result of the mixture was known as lye. A leach would produce strong and weak lye in about equal proportions. The test was to put an egg in the lye; if the egg floated, the lye was strong. Then fats were melted down into a large kettle, odd bits of tallow from candles, beef dripping, sour butter or anything of the sort that was handy. To the melted grease strong lyE.' was added, and brought to the boil when a double quantity of weak lye was added to the brew. If all went well, the mixture would, as the saying went, "boil up soapy" in a short time. Thereafter both strong and weak lye were carefully added-at this point the real skill in soap making came in-and the spoonfuls of the resulting brew were tested by allowing them to cool in a saucer. When the sample produced a thickish jelly on cooling, the mixture was ready to be taken off and stored away.
From twelve pounds of grease and a barrel of ashes, the Rhodesian farmer's wife who knew her job could produce fifteen gallons of what, in the early years of the century, was described as "first class soap". Lacking though it may have been in delicate fragrances and nourishing beauty oils, with it she kept her household and her family clothing clean, and when needs must, also used it to preserve her schoolgirl complexion.
The Other Brooding Spirit
MZILIKAZI, THE FOUNDER of the Matabele Nation, was a ruthless ruler, but he fled from a tyrant who was more vicious and more heartless than himself. Men who found Empires as Mzilikazi did, whether their names be Clive of India or Julius Caesar, seldom die with their hands unstained by blood. And, almost a hundred years after his death, we can re-assess this undoubtedly great man, and record that two of the greatest tributes to him have been paid by Europeans.
Here is what Mr. F. W. T. Posselt wrote of Mzilikazi, the Lion of the North; the father of Lobengula: "Great have been the changes. . . which have taken place in his former dominion. At this interval of time, we can view dispassionately his life and the stirring events which filled it. We can visualise an intrepid leader, a great commander, an able ruler honoured by his people, befriending with kingly courtesy his European visitors. His name must for long ages loom large in the history of Rhodesia, for he, too, was a pioneer, founding an empire; his spirit still broods over this land." Thus wrote Mr. Posselt, founder of one of the great European Pioneer families. Also, it was Europeans who erected to his memory a monument on the site of his old capital, which he called Mhlahlandlela, near Inyati. A great slab of granite stands under the indaba tree where Mzilikazi used to sit in council. It was unveiled on June 18th, 1941, the cost having been met by the members of Bulawayo Rotary Club. The inscription runs: "Mzilikazi, son of Shobana, the Matabele hail you. The mountain fell down on September 9th, 1868. All nations hail the son of Shobana. Bayete" .
Certainly we who live in his land should now hail him. For his cruelties were not wanton, as were Tshaka's. He preserved his rule with savage penalties, but he never allowed personal spites to affect his judgment. He was a leader of Pioneers, barely a generation before another column of Pioneers also entered this country. It was on a European's advice that he came here. Dr. Robert Moffat, the Christian missionary, and Mzilikazi, the African leader, became firm and very close friends, and it was Moffat who suggested that he take his people to what is now Matabeleland. And Moffat would never have befriended a dishonourable man. There is another link with Rhodes in that the first Matabele King, also lies buried in the Matopos. He died, not on September 9th, as the Rotary Monument states, but more probably on September 5th, 1868, his death being kept secret for four days. Nearly two months long, the king's body lay in the royal dwelling, guarded by twelve queens, and it was not until November 2nd that his funeral procession set out for two caves at Entumbane in the Matopo Hills.
The king's body and his close personal possessions were placed on two wagons; his remains and his personal effects were laid in one cave and the wagons were taken to pieces and laid in another nearby. There he still lies behind a wall of stones, a man and a king who himself and whose son always showed the greatest of kindness towards Europeans, and who surely lies easily among the hills reserved for those who in the words of the inscription erected in the Matopos National Park, "Have deserved well of their country".
The Flame Lily
Fighting my way through the post-Xmas crush
At the shops, my eye caught on a small fragile
Dash of colour, faded and crumpled, petals
Hanging askew, confined in a wrap of cellophane
So far, so far from their native home.
Gloriosa superba, and how that name rings out
Across the years to me. I was back on the savannah
Of Africa, trudging the sandy paths of childhood
When before us loomed a great tree aflame,
Its bark licked by a thousand tongues of flame.
And yet it was not consumed. The flames shot out
From strong yet tender tendrils, each wrapping round
A branch, each holding up the wondrous torch
Of dancing, flickering scarlet, the base of each
A pale creamy yellow, and below, a pistil surrounded
By dancing sepals. I returned each year to witness this sight,
Every year of my childhood, when I wore the flower
Proudly embroidered on school badge, sang the school song -
‘Flame lily, flame lily burning bright, ever prove a sign of right “
The sweet girl voices sang, at start of day,
“Gloriosa Superba, glory supreme our emblem bright.”
We were strong and proud and young, full of hope.
And so I swept up this little bundle, this frail and suffering emblem
Of childhood, when emblems were simple and true,
And bore it home, gently coaxed the petals out, and now
They stand, opening slowly in my fading life, on a New Year’s Day
On the far side of the world.