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’ 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:
. . . 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:
And here’s my mother supervising the loading of pigs into the 3-tonner for the trip to the market in Salisbury (Harare today):
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:
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:
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):
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:
. . . about three-quarters of the way down the drive to the farm buildings and house:
. . . and, finally, the house:
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.
Have you visited Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia for us old-timers!)? Let me know in the comments!
The Expat Traveller