Memories of Rhodesia



This month's Trivia is somewhat different.   Rather than asking question and making you dive into you reference library for answers, we are having a small short-story competition.  The rules are quite simple:

There are a lot of stories out there about life in the bush, about the war, about things we did. What we want are the amusing, off-beat stories. Those special moments that helped us through the boredom, the drudge and the battle.

1977 and we were doing our annual COIN training at Mushandike near Ft. Vic. It had been a long couple of days and were were nearing the RV at the National Park office. I was in the lead when a hippo suddenly broke from my right, heading for the water to my left. The only thing in its way was yours truly. I recall doing a full 180 degree turn, feet off the ground, using my rifle as a pivot. Then hiding behind this small tree, one eye looking down either side of it as the hapless hippo lumbered by.

Emerging from my near brush with death I found the rest of the stick, including my member i/c, roaring with laughter at my misfortune. 4 inches of dirt up my rifle barrel and several beers later it was all taken in good fun.

Dave Cushworth, Wilmington, Delaware

I was on a mission in the Zambezi with my mate Mike; brave and fearless we two were from the "Fighting Fifth", we could have taken on ten 'terrs' a piece with our bare hands no problems. I was scout he was my guard with no stick to our rear; only Mike and I, the bold the brave and the absolutely fearless . We were passing through thick elephant grass and each time we paused we heard a rustling in the grass behind us and then silence ; we tested this about five or six times with the same result we were being followed.

We sat wondering what was stalking us and then Mike had the great idea " Alf" , he wispered softly "If one of us stays hidden in the grass whilst the other one walks on; then the one hiding in the grass will be able to see what it is that's stalking us as it goes by"

"Mike" I replied "What a brilliant idea......... but who is going to stay behind?"

We never found out who or what was stalking us .

P.S. we were so brave and so bold and so fearless but we weren't so stupid!!!!

Alf Hutchinson, South Africa.


Garlic for Lunch?                               

Land Inspectors in the Rhodesian Department of Lands were nothing if not versatile; they had to be! All kinds of work came our way.
Impresit and Cementation, the Contractors building Kariba Dam and ancillaries employed over seventeen hundred staff, many of whom were Italians and followers. Considerable quantities of fresh vegetables and fruit were thus needed on site. Anything coming from the capital Salisbury over that somewhat tedious access road was expensive. To cover these needs, a comprehensive vegetable farm under irrigation from the Zambezi River had been established further downstream from the dam wall on the Rhodesian side.
Inevitably as building work finalized, the time approached when many of the migrant workers would be leaving, allowing this vegetable enterprise to shortly become largely redundant.
This farm was situate on State Land and as the resident Inspector in the valley I was asked to make an inventory of the property and assess valuations with a view to later sale or rent. There was the long and uneasy road access from the Makuti road, albeit of the most basic variety, used to move the produce out.
The most facile way for me to gain access from Kariba however was surprisingly by way of the then Northern Rhodesia side.  Crossing the Dam wall to eventually locate a half hidden turn-off onto a narrow winding rudimentary dirt road through stunted mopane, roughly following the Zambezi eastward. I rattled on for several miles until the track abruptly terminated at the riverbank. Nailed to a stunted and fire scorched Msasa tree was a small weather-beaten board bearing faded lettering, eventually deciphered as, ‘Call ferry-Fire shot.’  So, I did just that and sat down to wait. The two Africans accompanying me each rolled one of those foul smelling newspaper wrapped cigarettes they have a penchant for and hunkered down not too close to the river; crocodiles!                
After a while there was movement on the opposite bank, an African ambling towards a clump of larger riverine trees. Through the binoculars he appeared to be carrying what looked like a car battery on his head! On reaching a singularly large Sausage tree (Kigelia africana) he laboriously began to climb a crude homemade ‘bush’ ladder, a not particularly facile task when considering the disposition of his burden!. Detailed examination of the upper portions of the tree confirmed some sort of steel framework; could it possibly be a lorry chassis ensconced within the branches?
This long range supposition (the Zambezi is around a 150 yards wide at this point) was later confirmed as in due course the dry rasp of a starter motor could be heard followed by a series of minor explosions, clouds of smoke surged up from tree branches and into finally a throaty roar as what sounded to be quite a large engine suddenly burst into life. The treetop was then enveloped in further clouds of dense blue smoke, slowly clearing as the engine warmed up. The operator now applied himself to a series of levers, producing several discordant and jarring gearbox noises with some eventual success.
A hitherto unseen pontoon began to slowly emerge from a creek in the far bank and out into the eddying waters of the river as cables twanged and tightened, apparently driven by being wrapped around one rear wheel hub of the elevated lorry chassis and on down to the pontoon and the Zambian bank, guided by other sundry submerged pulleys.
A second African then appeared, leaping nonchalantly aboard at the very last possible moment to laconically steady the raft with a suitably applied paddle as it neared our side of the riverbank. As the pontoon approached, the boatman let forth lengthy loud cries in Shona, employing multiple ‘Iwis’, resulting in further clashing gear and screeching cable squeals from the tree. The hauling cable slackened, slowly subsiding beneath the ripples.
After usual extended customary greetings we climbed gingerly aboard, stowed our survey gear and with repeat yelled harangue the engine uttered sundry further coughs then rallied, dragging a second rusty cable sluggishly up from the depths and as it took the strain we began the return, following a parabolic like course as  the current tugged impatiently at the pontoon.
There was of course good reason for the engine being high up the tree. The water level could rise here up to fifteen feet or more depending on how much rain has fallen up river perhaps a month ago and the risk of flooding had to be anticipated. The impeding Dam had of course now negated such irregular eventuality. 
The hauling engine relapsed into silence as we transferred to an exceedingly battered and dust encrusted Land Rover which had arrived moments before at what seemed an inordinately rapid pace considering the conditions, to now noisily convey us along a narrow winding trail leading to the farm workshop, creating clouds of dust as it did so; everywhere. As we recovered, the farm manager Mario emerged, an Italian who spoke little English but since we were expected, I managed to confirm the gist of our purpose.
Later, I was much impressed by the two huge GM diesel engines in the pump house; the long intake pipes from the river were around three feet in diameter. The cultivated beds were flood irrigated through a series of channels with small lock gates and it was possible to divert water to any portion of the extensive growing area at will. There were established banana groves, raided by Elephant from time to time, pineapple
beds, Passion fruit and Pawpaws, as well as a comprehensive variety of vegetables. I began work, measuring and quantifying, assessing and valuing.
At mid-day the Land Rover reappeared; ‘Scoff time baas,’ announced the driver through that pervading cloud of ever yet more dust. He swayingly bore us along a further narrow track, overhanging roadside branches smacking noisily at the vehicle sides as we progressed, drawing to a halt below a large well built thatched Rondavel set in the shade of several trees. Through the familiar accompanying dust cloud I could glimpse imposing glitterstone steps leading up to the stoep.
The Manager greeted me effusively. “Hey, come inna, come inna, I mayka da speshul lonch eh?”
No cook boy could do justice to Italian style cooking. Seizing a large frying pan, Mario casually threw in home grown tomatoes, much garlic etc., and began stirring and frizzling. “Ah”, he said at last, “is alooken gudd” Adding what I took to be some sort of pasta from a saucepan, he served generous helpings and sat down to deal with his own. Now there is one thing in the food line I really cannot face; garlic. I tried very hard to deal with it, but was almost gagging. Mario left for the stove to replenish his plate. Seizing both opportunity and the moment I grabbed my handkerchief, fortunately of generous size to swiftly sweep the remaining contents of my plate into it and thrust it into the pocket of my shorts.
“Ah, Hah”, Mario exclaimed on his return as he glanced down at the now empty plate, “you wanta some more?”
 I hastily declined, assuring him that I was replete. We had a leisured coffee, rising from the table as the scurrying Landrover displayed an encore, screeching to a halt at the base of the steps just as we emerged on to the stoep to be again enveloped in a further clouds of dense dust, indeed severely enough to cause both us to veritably gasp. Mario chokingly remonstrated loudly with the unconcerned driver, oblivious to any problem. Meanwhile, me? Oh!  Coughing and wheezing. I had hastily whipped out my handkerchief to..........Ugh!!!! Mario regarded me in a very guarded manner for the rest of the day!  We departed late afternoon amid final peculiar glances. The ferry, after a mirrored repeat of that earlier performance returned us, heavily dust impregnated, back to the northern bank.

R. Truman, UK


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