Saturday, 26 May 2007

Memories of Rhodesia - Part 2

(have you read Part 1?)


The memory foremost in my mind is of long days and boring computer printouts! My first job was in the ‘waste’ department of one of the local banks and, to this day, I am still not sure why the department was so called. As the most junior of juniors (I was the youngest employee in the bank), my job consisted of carrying enormous metal filing ‘drawers’ from the strong room to my desk, placed at the furthest point from the strong room as possible. Into which, part of my daily chores was to file, in alphabetical order, the hundreds of cheques used daily by our account holders. Having spent most of my morning doing this, I then had to pull them out again, tick them off the print out, check them against the statements and stuff the whole lot into envelopes ready for posting.

Dress codes in the banking world in 1974 were very strict. We were expected to wear a uniform (hideous!) and stockings every day. There was no room for individuality and any transgressions were strictly dealt with by the Head of Department, a fierce lady who, in retrospect, made my school teachers look pretty tame. Never-the-less, I embraced the concept of being a working girl with great enthusiasm and was soon offered a promotion to the much more up market Computer Department where I was initiated into the wonderful world of data capture with promises of full training.

The computer industry in 1974 was still in its infancy and in Rhodesia, a country at war with itself and suffering the effects of sanctions, the industry was even further behind. I remember being very proud that our bank was the only one besides the Reserve Bank that had the ‘latest’ interlink keyboard to disc system. You typed all the information into your station, which was automatically stored in the large ‘square box’ next door, this information then being downloaded once a day onto a disc (not dissimilar in appearance to a ‘discus’) which was removed and taken to the computer room and downloaded onto the mainframe. We also still had the old Burroughs paper tape machines and one ancient manual ‘punch machine’ that still used paper cards.


Life in Rhodesia in 1974 was pretty wild. The country had been in isolation since its declaration of UDI in 1965 and the resultant war was slowly escalating. For us it was a ‘terrorist’ war, for the militant ZANU and ZAPU forces it was a ‘guerrilla’ war. I don’t intend to go into the rights and wrongs of the matter here, suffice to say that being a teenager in Rhodesia at that time was no guarantee of living to a ripe old age.

Most of my boyfriends were doing their National Service, a compulsory two year stint in the army starting at the age of 18. Young boys very quickly became young men and young soldiers on R&R from their time defending the borders were a wild and impulsive lot. It was a time of drinking too much, partying all night and dragging oneself into work the next day. Not exactly the life I would want for my 17 year old daughter but the life that was ‘normal’ for the times we lived in.

I remember those times with nostalgia. We were a tightly knit group, pulling together in a common cause (which we were sure was a good cause) and there was a camaraderie that transcended all differences in background, education and personality. Sometimes one of the group would go away and not come back and this brought us even closer together and made us party just that little bit harder.


It must have been around my 18th birthday when I decided to leave home and take on a job as a barmaid in a small town called Karoi. My parents were pretty horrified but I was fed up with the banking world and thought being a barmaid would be fun. Looking back now, I realise that my parents were worried sick for my safety, Karoi was right in the middle an escalating war zone, a farming area not far south of the border between Zambia and Rhodesia.

It had a permanent military base where the men on call up arrived at the beginning of their ‘stint in the bush’ and left from after the compulsory six weeks. By this time, every able bodied man under the age of 40 was required to do his time defending his country. The normal was six weeks in and six weeks out – all the while trying to fall back into a normal life during his six weeks out, going back to his job and trying to hold his family together. There were several different options for military service, from joining the Reserve Police or Internal Affairs military wing to being a ‘troupie’ in the Regular Army.

It was against this background that I arrived in Karoi and ventured forth on one of the most exciting times of my life. It was a time of irresponsible good fun shadowed by moments of deep sadness and, occasionally, fear and anger.

I remember so many colourful characters from those days. There was the farmer who used to come to the pub after work on his tractor, get motherlessly drunk and then wend his way home at closing time, more often than not driving into a tree or ditch and being found by a passing motorist and rescued, if lucky, or spending the night under the stars if not. I remember him turning the wrong way onto the main road on one occasion and ending up driving through the hedge and into the fountain of the supposedly much classier Karoi Hotel down the road, to be found there the next morning by the very irate hotel manager, an elderly gentleman of British military background commonly known as the Colonel.

The Colonel was a fierce man who spent a great deal of his time repelling the invasion of his hotel by the less upstanding members of the community. He was known to place bans on people for months at a time even, it was rumoured, years! Having once fallen foul of him it was unlikely that you would ever be welcomed into his castle again. Obviously he was fair game to the younger members of the community who expended a great deal of time and energy in finding ways to annoy him, usually with great success.

I also remember a particular troupie whose party piece, after considerable alcohol had been consumed, was to hang upside down from the rafters and ‘down’ flaming glasses of brandy. Not too serious if he was at the beginning of his six week stint but often quite deadly if he was on his way home, still wearing his ‘6 week growth’ and requiring the judicious sluicing down from the melting ice buckets to put the flames out.

Having no car of my own, on my day off I would often borrow a neighbouring farmer’s horse and ride the two or three kilometres into town to relax at the police camp mess, tying the horse to the radio aerial conveniently placed on the lawn outside. Having spent a riotous and fairly drunken afternoon with the off duty policemen and other military personnel there, I would slowly meander back to my ‘accommodation provided’ room and sleep it off until a knock on the door heralded the start of yet another party.

More to come - watch this space for Part 3!


Rebicmel said...

I love this story as it is unfolding...I am such a nosy so and so aren't I.

Crystal Dawn said...

My My, Police camp mess you say! How envious I am feeling at the moment! Sounds like you had one very adventurous quest after another Jayne!

Your life sounds so very interesting. I am looking forward to the next addition of 'Memories'. I've been working on my blog today. Although it is a holiday weekend it is VERY humid out so I shall remain in closed quarters.

~until then~

Jayne :) said...

Hi Missy and CD :)

Glad you're enjoying my 'life history'- there were moments when it nearly found itself consigned to 'file 13'! More tomorrow.

fangers said...

Next!!! (I read part 1 first, and very well done I say!)

Jayne :) said...

Hi Fangers

Thanks! Part 3 will be up today sometime. Tis very satisfying to know that you guys are actually enjoying it - I wasn't sure if it was very good. :)