Growing up in Africa

I grew up in Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe as they call it these days.

It was once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, mainly because of its highly successful agriculture industry: the soil make up in different areas of the country meant that beef, dairy, sheep, maize, cotton, citrus, tobacco, tea, coffee and all manner of other crops all flourished strongly.

Rhodesia even produced its own wine by the mid 1970s.

Agriculture was a strong contributor to Rhodesia’s and then Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’s (as it was briefly known) positive trade balance.

How the Breadbasket was emptied

All that soon collapsed after Mugabe came to office, and by 1982 Zimbabwe was looking for IMF loans.

At first things deteriorated slowly, but then Mugabe destroyed the agriculture industry by kicking the farmers off their farms and giving them to his inner circle and their friends (it was called ‘land redistribution’).

Unfortunately, none of the new land owners knew anything about farming.

As a result, by 2007 inflation had hit 24,411% and you had the 100 Trillion Dollar note:

Zimbabwean 100 Trillion Dollar note

Although there was a brief period of optimism after Mugabe resigned, Zimbabwe is once again in an appalling position with low incomes and rampant inflation.

Today, the standard monthly income of $400 (Zimbabwean dollars) would barely feed a family for more than two or three days: a 1KG chicken costs $90, a 10KG bag of maize meal costs $119, a loaf of bread is $18.50, a litre of milk is $25 and a single mango is $20 – total $272.50.

Those figures come from a local resident who lives not far from where my parents’ second farm was. You can read more here.

Such are the effects on a country’s population of rampant corruption in government.

Rhodesia in the mid 20th Century

My parents moved to Africa in the early 1950’s, courtesy of a heavily sponsored passage that was being offered by the British government in those days.

They bought 1,000 acres of virgin African bush, cleared the land, made their own bricks and built a farm. Here’s the pit from which the clay to make the bricks was dug:

Digging clay to make bricks

. . . and the first house they built with them:

My parents' first house in Rhodesia

Over the years they farmed different crops or livestock: pigs, maize, tobacco, cotton and beef were the main ones – at least those are the ones that I remember.

Here are some healthy-looking cattle – although the red clay soil that this farm was on was not the best for beef, they still did well on it:

Beef cattle grazing

And here’s my mother supervising the loading of pigs into the 3-tonner for the trip to the market in Salisbury (Harare today):

Loading the pigs for the trip to market

That farm was bordered on two sides by rivers and on the other two by roads. This low level bridge was at the south eastern corner of the farm, at the junction of the road and the Marodzi river.

Our farm was to the left of the road and stopped at the river:

Low level bridge

After a good rain storm (3 inches of rain in an hour is not unusual during a heavy storm in the rainy season) that bridge would be well under water. At those times the only way to get to the village was across this swing bridge:

Swing bridge across the Marodzi

That river flowing under the bridge was home to a couple of hippopotamus (the plural should probably be hippopotamae!), one of which was enraged because the next door farmer had tried to shoot it with a 12-bore shotgun.

The hippos were protected game in Rhodesia but, because this particular hippo had been injured and become enraged, it started attacking and killing cattle and attacked but, as far as I can remember, never caught, people near the river.

As a result my father secured a special licence to shoot it and put it out of its misery.

Here’s the view we had from the front of the house (this was taken on my return visit in 1999):

View from the front of our house in Rhodesia

In 1969 my parents were made an offer for the farm that was too good to refuse – so they sold it and moved to a new district to the east of Salisbury and about 80 miles away.

There, and with the proceeds from the farm they sold, they bought another farm (1,200 acres) that was on sandveldt – excellent for cattle.

It was in a beautiful location and a lovely farm but, with the changing political and security situation, my mother sold it in 1985 (my father had died in 1977).

When I returned to Rhodesia (it was Zimbabwe by this time) in 1999 I paid a visit to both farms and was shocked by the state of the second one.

Here’s the entrance to the farm from the road:

Entrance to the second farm

. . . about three-quarters of the way down the drive to the farm buildings and house:

The drive down towards the farm buildings

. . . and, finally, the house:

The house at Kaia Lami

The car is the one we had hired for the trip and the room immediately behind it was my bedroom.

The dilapidated state of that house was typical of the state the entire country had fallen into. Many of the roads had become dangerous through lack of maintenance, Salisbury (Harare), once a pristine city, was full of rubbish, and basic services were patchy.

Now it’s many, many times worse.

Growing up in Rhodesia

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Rhodesia was an idyllic place to grow up, although I do remember struggling with the heat at first.

I learnt to drive tractors and cars at the age of 8, horses even earlier (I would typically ride 20 miles or so to Pony Club camps in the school holidays) and I was taught to shoot at around the same age.

Herding cattle through the spray-race (to kill the ticks), helping to build the barns in which tobacco was cured before being sent to market, and bouncing around on the back of a Land-Rover was all part of daily life during the school holidays.

The first farm where we lived was seriously fertile – it was as flat as a pancake and when my parents sold it in 1969 the buyer basically put the entire farm under the plough and turned it into a giant maize field.

On my return visit in 1999 it was great to see that it was clearly a seriously productive farm. A dramatic contrast to the state of the second one.

Rhodesia also had a thriving tourist industry – but as so often happens, I don’t remember visiting any of the popular destinations while I lived there. It wasn’t until I went back as a visitor (and tourist!) in 1999 that I saw the most popular places.

Stay tuned – on my return trip I visited old haunts and explored new ones (for me).

Old haunts: here’s a description of my school days.

New ones: here’s a description of my visits to Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana.

Test your knowledge! Have fun with one of our travel quizzes – click here!

Have you visited Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia for us old-timers!)? Let me know in the comments!


Martin Malden

Martin Malden
The Expat Traveller

What do you think?

17 comments… add one
  • Rob Malden Dec 18, 2019 @ 21:33

    Nice piece – pulls the heart strings
    Some pics of Heyshott that I don’t remember seeing before, do you have any others?

    • Martin Malden Dec 18, 2019 @ 22:03

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, sure – I’ll upload all the pics I have to Google Drive and give you the download link.

      Give me a day or so 🙂



  • Rob Malden Dec 18, 2019 @ 22:09

    Brilliant, thanks boet

    • Martin Malden Dec 18, 2019 @ 22:12

      No worries 🙂

  • Matt Lin Feb 17, 2020 @ 19:52

    Hi Martin,

    I love your article about Zimbabwe, and the best part is that you wrote it with your honest emotions. I can feel there are some time-traveling moments when I read this post, and your words and sentences give a vivid image of your childhood back in the 1960s.

    I think your photos also suit quite well for this post, and they are precious for Zimbabwe too. The one I love the most is the father stands in front of the houses with two sons, and it’s timeless.

    I am looking forward to your next posts about Zimbabwe when you went back in 1999 as a tourist, and I think it must be exciting and profound.


    • Martin Malden Feb 17, 2020 @ 20:41

      Hi Matt,

      I’m delighted you enjoyed it – I enjoyed going through old pictures and recalling some parts of my childhood 🙂

      I finished the one on my return to Zimbabwe recently – if you’re interested, it’s here.



  • Tara Feb 18, 2020 @ 9:04

    I live in CAnada and I remember having a friend that moved to my city from Zimbabwe. This would have been in the mid to late 80’s.

    I’m saddened to learn of what has happened to the farmland and people there. The pictures you’ve shared are so beautiful! There’s nothing worse than knowing your home land has been corrupted by greed.

    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    • Martin Malden Feb 18, 2020 @ 11:35

      Hi Tara,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, what has happened in Zimbabwe is tragic. As is so often the case, the politicians managed to screw up a positive contributor to the global economy 🙁

      I’ve never visited Canada. I had an aunt who lived on Vancouver Island, but I never visited while she was alive. Something I regret.



  • Anne Zarraonandia Feb 26, 2020 @ 7:51

    Martin- You have a wonderful story to tell about a place that has changed over time. The beauty in your photographs comes through loud and clear! You have a knack for explaining to the “new” reader. Way to go! I can’t wait to read more from you in the future.

    • Martin Malden Feb 26, 2020 @ 11:07

      Hi Anne,

      Many thanks and I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      That certainly is a place that has changed over time..!! From a net contributor to the world economy it became a net drain on the world economy within 3 years of Mugabe’s accession.

      Tragic, but that’s politics!



  • David Buckley Mar 1, 2020 @ 23:45

    History is riddled with so called leaders who turn empires into dust. Mugabe did not serve his people well and the worst type of history was created.

    An excellent bit of work, very informative.

    • Martin Malden Mar 2, 2020 @ 7:50

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

      Unfortunately, Mugabe’s successor (who was his 2-I/C throughout Mugabe’s time in office) has continued the process. Zimbabwe today is, again, experiencing 500% plus inflation, widespread shortages, power cuts and starvation.

      It’s not just tragic, it’s criminal. But the world turns a blind eye because Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe) doesn’t have any oil.



  • Judith Ellen Mar 2, 2020 @ 0:54

    Lovely pictorial reminiscence Abledragon.

    Mugabe did take the breadbasket of Africa and turn it into a basket case, reversing generations of hard work and investment of mainly white farmers by expropriating their farms and driving them from their land.

    It must have been heartbreaking, not only for the farmers and their families, but also for their staff who depended on these farms for employment.

    In the end it wasn’t about blacks vs whites in Rhodesia, it was all about Mugabe’s personal enrichment while the people starved.

    Your post is part history, part travelog, part personal reminiscence and makes for an enjoyable, informative read: good links and lots of imagery. You take us there!

    • Martin Malden Mar 2, 2020 @ 7:46

      Hi Judith,

      Your point about the impact on the people who worked on the farms is constantly overlooked – those people and their families were as devastated as the farmers by what happened.

      I remember when I explained to the person who helped me with housework and cooking that I was leaving, she literally burst into tears.

      It was a very sad and upsetting time for everyone there – the entire population.



  • Bolupe Mar 2, 2020 @ 3:14

    Hi Martin,
    Your post took me right back to Africa. I’m sad about what happened to Rhodesia as a whole and the farmers too. How heart breaking!

    The other stories we grew up hearing from Rhodesia wasn’t pleasant and it makes me feel terribly sorry for all those who had their live hood upset as a result of one man’s leadership.

    Oh! Africa my Africa. It is such a good thing to give your perspective of growing up in Africa. Those pictures and memories will definitely live with you.

    I wish we taught children more about this important part of British history in schools.

    • Martin Malden Mar 2, 2020 @ 7:40

      Hi Bolupe,

      Glad you liked it!

      I’m guessing from your comment that you were originally from somewhere in Africa..?

      I’m afraid that Britain’s actions in the 1960s in Africa were not a good part of its history – not just with regard to Rhodesia, but with Nigeria and Biafra as well, and others.



  • Keith Grant Oct 29, 2020 @ 21:55

    I also remember Freddie Quinn-Young who used to beat us with the reverse side of a large clothes brush

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