Sunday, 27 May 2007

Memories of Rhodesia - Final Part

(don't forget to read Part 1 & 2 first)

It took about three months to decide that I preferred being on the other side of the bar and that, at some point, I simply had to get some sleep! I remember waking up at six in the morning, dragging myself into the bar to do the stock check in preparation for a 10am opening, sleeping (if I was lucky) between 2-4pm and then being on my feet until closing time at 11pm. There was always a ‘private’ party to carry on with after closing time and more often than not, I would be lucky to crawl into bed around 4am. Even with the resilience of youth, it became an impossible lifestyle to keep up. So when a vacancy in the District Commissioner’s office became available, I jumped at the opportunity to improve my position.

Although many of my memories are of the more humourous side of living in a country that was being torn apart by an ever escalating conflict, joining a department of the Internal Affairs was to bring home to me the very real threat that we were living under.

My first ‘official position’ was the issuing of fuel coupons. Due to economic sanctions, Rhodesia had been under fuel rationing for several years and a very strict rationing system was in place. With the ‘make do’ attitude of the population at that time, it was seen as annoying but necessary and almost a national sport to try and diddle the system if you could! My job was to make sure that a fair and even distribution of resources was carried out. Being that Karoi was a very small town and that everyone knew everyone, it became a game to see how imaginative your claims for extra fuel could be and whether you could get one over the young and inexperienced person dealing with it. I toughened up a lot in those first few weeks!

By 1977/78, the whole world seemed to be ‘trying to resolve the Rhodesia issue’. We were a defiant, loyal and rowdy bunch, convinced of our right to be an independent country and refusing to back down. I remember our contempt for the people who ‘took the chicken run’ and left the country, tired of the fighting and trying to keep their families together under the stress. I remember our utter conviction that we were right and that we would never give in. I remember going to the police firing range and learning to protect myself with a variety of weapons, an old sten gun sticks in my mind. Old and tired and really should have been retired, it had a propensity to jam on a regular basis and required tactful handling!

Despite the increasing hit and run attacks on outlying farms, I moved on to a smallholding just outside town with the offer of free accommodation in return for keeping an eye on the place when the owner was away. By this time any property outside the town limits was secured with eight foot fences, floodlights and, on some of the more remote farms, illegally fitted ‘booby traps’. These would range from landmines around the perimeter of the garden to claymores attached to the fence and anything in between. Gates were locked before dark and families stayed indoors until daylight. Farms were linked by a permanent radio contact, the idea being that if one farm was attacked; those living in close proximity could come to their aid.

I still clearly remember the night when the radio alarm went off. I remember sitting next to it listening to a farm under attack. I remember the chilling calmness of a woman’s voice describing the shooting of her husband as he went to lock the gates for the night. I remember her voice explaining how she and the children were in the house under fire and needing ‘immediate assistance’. I remember hearing gunshots in the background and I remember the gut wrenching helplessness I felt as tears rolled down my face. I remember anger - red, hot, fierce anger - and despair. I remember growing up.

It was not long after this that, at my parent’s insistence, I moved back home for a brief period. About two weeks later, Karoi town was mortared. Fortunately, their aim wasn’t particularly good and very little damage was done – one of the worst casualties being, I believe, the fountain in the Karoi Hotel’s front garden!


Loafing around at home in Salisbury soon lost its attractions. Once again I felt the need to be independent so when a job offer came up in Umtali, I was quick to accept. My parents, having given up the battle, just shook their heads in resignation and waved as I left.

I remember my first view of Umtali nestling at the bottom of the Christmas Pass. It was a pretty town, situated on the Mozambique/Rhodesia border. It was here that I was to get my first taste of the dreaded ‘when-we’ syndrome!

Up until the Portuguese had surrendered to military and political pressure to hand the country over, Beira (a coastal town within a few hours drive) had been the favourite playground of the Umtali residents. Since the border had been closed, they really seemed incapable of generating any other form of entertainment. Nearly every conversation would start with the words - ’When we used to go to Beria…….’ After the fun and energy of the people I had spent time with in Karoi, they seemed a rather dreary bunch.

I remember the infamous Bhadella’s, the wool shop that sold sardines! I also remember the start of the ‘sneaky bomb’ attacks, where the enemy would carry bombs into shops and leave them to go off on time fuses. Fortunately they were more often than not so badly constructed; they caused little damage to either property or persons. But I do remember when Bhadella’s roof blew off late one Sunday evening, scattering wool and sardines to the elements. It was the subject of much discussion and hilarity for several weeks. It also was the start of compulsory bag searches for everyone entering a public building.

It was during this time that political pressure was beginning to tell and that the idea of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was born. It was doomed from the start to be an unworkable idea but I remember the endless discussions and the spark of hope that this could be the midway answer to the problem. It never had the backing of the international community but we had faith in our fearless leader, Ian Smith, who had led us thus far and were prepared to continue to support him. I remember it being a time of unease and uncertainty and a time of taking stock.

I remember being in Umtali during the last mortar attack on the town. Umtali had been mortared several times in the past with very little significant damage having been inflicted. In true Rhodesian style, it was treated rather casually and with a certain sense of humour. I remember watching the mortars lighting up the sky with a great deal of excitement, having never seen anything like it before! I don’t remember feeling any sense of fear but I do remember being shouted at to get inside and to stop being so bloody stupid!

I remember the conversations the following day discussing the damage and the anger that one had landed on the golf course at which a tournament was scheduled for the weekend and the amusement that one had landed in someone’s newly built swimming pool! It was like that, we were a tough lot and life went on. Humour was often our best defence.

After much internal political wrangling and negotiation, elections were duly held and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was born. Since both Joshua Nkoma’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU parties refused to take part and Britain refused to acknowledge the validity of the elections without them, it was a completely wasted effort as a compromise. The country struggled on for one more year before external pressure forced a realization that we had no choice but to accept one or the other as the future of a country that we had all given so much for. It was a bitter blow! I remember the anger and the fear of the unknown, I remember the friends that just disappeared in the night, without even a goodbye. I remember a national mourning for family and friends who had given their lives for an ideal and I remember the bitter feelings of betrayal as we watched the Rhodesian flag come down the flagpole for the last time to be replaced by the Union Jack as an interim colonial government was put in place to supervise the forthcoming elections that would, finally and irrevocably, bring to an end a country that we had believed in so strongly and had been prepared to die for.

I remember crying.
and that's it folks - appreciate all your supportive remarks :)


Rebicmel said...

Sometimes we take for granted the freedoms we have here in the states! That is until you read the struggles of someone else and what they have went though. I remember so much of the wars fought in your area and not long ago I watched a documentary about one such fight and was horrified that so many people outside your country knew and didn't step in to help. genocide is not my idea of peace!!!!!!!!!!

Jayne, I so loved reading about your life. You have a way of drawing a person to want to explore more as they read!


~Ambre~ said...

Well, you have had quite an interesting journey Jayne. Much more than meets the eye, I'm sure. I admire the humour of the people. It is true, humour is quite a defense mechanism!

Do you think you'll ever move from Africa? Where did you relocate from at the age of 11?


~Ambre~ said...

Jayne, is it alright if I add the link to your page on my page?

Jayne :) said...

Thanks CD - add the link, I have yours :)

We moved from South Africa, my father having moved us to South Africa from the UK when I was three.

My mother never forgave him - lol

Jayne :) said...

Oh, and since we are now 'refugess' so to speak and no longer welcome in Zimbabwe, I expect we will eventually end up in the UK when hubby's work permit in Zambia finally expires!

It'll be a wrench - but at least my two boys are there already :)

Keith Hillman said...

Are really facinating and informative piece which has told me so much that I previously didn't know about it. I'm moving on to part two!

Jayne :) said...

Hey Keith - you were supposed to START on Part 1, followed by Part 2 and then the Final - sort of makes more sense that way - lol

Thanks for reading it :)

Robb WJ Ellis (aka Mandebvhu) said...

Hi Jayne

Yet another person from my neck of the woods blogging! I did enjoy your articles on life in Rhodesia and the idiocy surrounding the end of an era.

Don't stop writing!

Best regards


Jayne :) said...

Thanks robb :)

Pleased to meet you - it was something I felt the need to write. Not in a political statement sort of way but more of a personal 'clean out' - god forbid that I should become another one of those whinging Rhodies - LOL

Jayne :) said...

and oh robb, which part of Rhodesia were you in an where are you now?

It's that incurable nosiness in me - lol

fangers said...

Jayne, all I can say is wow! I need more of your writing! So don't stop typing, go girl go!

Jayne :) said...

Thanks Alan :)

You've no idea how much that means!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I recently added a news widget from to my blog. It shows the latest news, and just took a copy and paste to implement. Might interest you too.

Jayne :) said...

Hi Anonymous :)

Thanks for reading me. Would love to know who you are? LOL

Will check out widget - thanks!

Robb WJ Ellis (aka Mandebvhu) said...

Hi Jayne - sorry it has taken me ages to come back again - but I am so busy with my own blog, numerous websites that I run and I am writing my second book as well...

Quite apart from trying to be the dutiful husband/son/father...

I grew up in Salisbury and the country became Zimbabwe in my second last year at school.

I joined the ZRP and was based in Essexvale, Plumtree and Gwanda and did a lot of court work (prosecuting) in Bulawayo.

We live in the UK now.

Visit my blog at, and another at, whilst my book site is at

Take care.