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:
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’ 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:
. . . and the first house they built with them:
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:
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 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.
Here’s the view we had from the front of the house:
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.
Have you visited Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia for us old-timers!)? Let me know in the comments!
The Expat Traveller