"After lunch we started the long haul down the Hadunge, and were green with
envy when a helicopter flew over � we felt it could have offered us a lift.
Arrived back at the School, all very dirty and very very tired, but with a
feeling of satisfaction and of having enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I was
thankful that I had taken the trouble to get reasonably fit. One or two of the
girls thought they were coming to a holiday camp, and suffered agonies from
stiffness and sore feet!
�I�ll never regret having done the course. I found it something
different, something I thoroughly enjoyed as a challenge (and something I doubt
if I�ll ever do again!).�
Fires have always been a hazard when they have been lit for burning
fireguards or rubbish or veld for grazing or when they have started from
lightning strikes, and have got away and swept through grazing areas and through
the mountains, damaging veld and flora and fauna.
The village has been endangered many times but somehow no really serious
damage has been done: the old gums and cypresses have presented magnificent
sights as some have caught and blazed up to 150 feet; a lucky change of wind has
often prevented whole plantations or houses from being burnt, as happened at The
Gwasha recently when the house with its thick belt of trees all round was
entirely surrounded by a blazing fire.
Generations of children have memories of the School being threatened: on
one occasion all the children were evacuated to the Police Camp, and on another
all were assembled in the middle of the night on the netball court while the
fire blazed in the trees surrounding the school; in each instance almost
superhuman efforts resulted in the fires being contained just in time.
Farmers in isolated homesteads have had their lands damaged and their
houses threatened, with particular anxiety when roofs were thatched. The danger
of potential damage became very much greater when much of Melsetter was planted
The district usually has up to 12� of rain in the six months of~the dry
season, but the 1962 winter was the driest on record and many parts had no rain
at all for months.
1962 ushered in some months of tension as Melsetter faced a
new form of threat by fire and the words arson and firebugs were added to the
daily vocabulary, as a handful of fire-raisers defied the organised and armed
forces of the law and threatened Rhodesia�s timber industry.
A few unexpected fires started, including two on Nzuzu and Boskatrand,
and on 20th September fires started simultaneously on Westward Ho!, Settler and
Silverstream, and during the next two weeks there were reports of fires on most
days. The Police Reserve was mobilised, units of the R.L.I. and S.A.S. were
stationed in the district, helicopter patrols took place daily, and paratroops
were dropped at strategic points.
The forest estates extended over about 40 square miles with only the
two main roads and rough country roads twisting through the mountainous country,
with hundreds of miles of forest tracks carved out by bulldozer or blasted by
dynamite as access roads for Land Rovers and logging trucks. The forests of
planted timber, the tough close bush and scrub, and the rise and fall of the
terrain, made an ideal hiding place even from patrolling aircraft and perfect
country for guerilla warfare, especially arson.
After the long dry months the slightest spark in the tinder-dry bracken
and bush under the trees could set off a blaze which was almost unstoppable.
Most of the trees were under five years old and had not yet been pruned: the
lower branches growing close together near the ground made natural fuel for the
licking flames, and once a fire had started it was difficult for the
firefighters to stop it.
The B.S.A. Company was able to confine its fires to about 200 acres
because of its centralised warning system and a force of radio-controlled Land
Rovers, a Cessna plane, 24-hour lookouts from fire towers, 17 European and about
1 500 African employees, and water-trucks, stirrup pumps, beaters and other
equipment. At the first flicker of smoke a radio report was relayed from the
plane to headquarters, and Land Rovers and water-trucks set out for the spot
laden with firefighters. On one occasion when a firebug lit three fires within
ten minutes, he was actually seen lighting the third, but could not be caught as
it was at night and four miles from headquarters.
The situation was complicated by the fact that most Europeans were in
the Police Reserve or special Police forces. After their 12-hour shift on police
duty on road blocks and patrols the Companies� employees snatched a couple of
hours� sleep before going back to duty on their estates during their 12 hours
off police duty, and private farmers and their wives had to travel home and do
their farming and housekeeping in their off time. African Police Reservists also
did their share of duties.
The Companies were geared to deal with the emergency and were usually
able to contain fires on their estates, but farmers also suffered losses.
Albany�s main loss, estimated at about �2 000, was caused by neighbours� burning
back in an effort to make everything safe when Sunnyside, an unoccupied farm,
was set alight. The fire got away, swept through dry grass on Wanganella,
through acres of mature wattle on Albany, and on up to Heathfield, where damage
estimated at �10 000 was done. Driving through the devastated areas was a sad
business during the first week in October.
Things quietened down a bit, but on 14th October fires were lit on
Albany and Nyabamba, seen at 3 a.m. on a beautiful still moonlit night, and
quickly put out. Police and tracker dogs came in the morning to follow up any
The firebugs used many ingenious devices to set off fires when they
themselves were nowhere in the vicinity. Other sporadic fires occurred later in
1962, and then again in September 1964 and 1965, but the efforts were not as
concentrated as they had been originally. Some of the instigators were caught
and served varying sentences.
The incitement to acts of subversion was undoubtedly caused by external
pressures, and only a few local Africans were influenced by them. Farm and
forest labourers carried on with their normal work, and turned out when called
upon to fight the fires. No European found any feeling of personal animosity,
and when travelling was necessary one was greeted in normal friendly fashion by
Africans along the road, but it was deeply regretted that anything should mar
the excellent relations between the Melsetter peoples who have always got on
well together. Once terrorism and intimidation of their own people by
undesirable African elements ceased, relations continued in their normal
The fire-towers are manned day and night during the dry season.
Recently a fire-watcher on duty spotted a plume of smoke from a lightning strike
in a plantation. He lifted his telephone and found it had been put out of action
by the lightning. He thereupon ran, quite contrary to instructions, to the scene
of the fire, put it out before it could get a good hold, and then ran down to
the office to report!
Everyone was very pleased as tarred sections of the new road were
opened to traffic and the section between the Nyahode and Biiwiri rivers over
Skyline was particularly appreciated as it did away with the need for travelling
over the cuttings, but in February 1963 near-disaster struck. December and
January were fairly wet and from the 25th January there was steady rain every
single day until the end of February, and falls of up to 36� were recorded on
farms during the 28 days of February.
The rain became particularly heavy, with falls of up to 4� on the already
soaked ground, about the 19th February and then the Skyline road gave real
trouble. The damage was very impressive as in many places the enormous fills
over the valleys gave way and caused subsidence of the road, and the fills were
washed out completely underneath the outside edge of the tar leaving half the
road with a thin skin of tar and nothing underneath it. Light traffic only,
travelling slowly all the time, was allowed to use the road, and the Roads
Department moved in. The road bristled with DEADLY HAZARD notices, and it took
eighteen months to get the road in proper order again.
Serious damage was done at the same time to local roads. In one night
on the Nyahode road a dam burst and stones and boulders were washed on to the
road, and a bridge and a culvert were completely washed away. With the main
local roads out of action farmers had to travel by devious routes, and old
abandoned tracks were brought back into service for slow progress.
Hazards have included trees falling down during heavy rain and blocking
roads. This has sometimes led to travellers having to turn round in the wet dark
night and travelling anything up to an extra 40 miles in order to get home, or
else borrowing beds in neighbours� houses � on at least one occasion without the
sleeping hosts� knowledge!
In the village, Mr. and Mrs. Theunissen of Beverley Park opened their
small departmental store, and various African stores have also operated from the
In March 1964 the W.I. was hostess to the N.F.W.I.R. Executive Council
of 53 members, when one member from each W.I. in the country and others in
official positions came to Melsetter by luxury coach from Salisbury and in
private cars from other directions. Most of the visitors were accommodated at
the Hotel, and many got up early the next morning to watch the sun rise above
the mountains and to have a glorious morning walk with the scent of pine and
cypress in the air and the sparkle of dew on the grass, before strolling up to
the W.I. Hall for the serious business of the day.
Melsetter members provided lunch in the Memorial Hall, and many old
friendships were renewed. In the evening the W.I. entertained its official
guests and many Melsetter residents with sundowners and supper at the Country
Club, Derek Barbanell, Warden of the Outward Bound Mountain School, showed
beautiful colour slides of the School and the Chimanimani Mountains, and then
Melsetter was entertained with songs by its illustrious guests, who nearly
brought the roof down with a spirited grand finale chorus.
The following day the Council business was completed by lunchtime and
everybody piled into the luxury bus, the Charter school bus and two cars and set
off for a tour of the district. One car was equipped with a compass and as it
set out a passenger asked: �Do we travel north, south, east or west?� and was
puzzled by the driver�s reply: �Yes�, but a few minutes later after the compass
needle had swung due north, east and south with a little bit of west, she said
thoughtfully: �I see what you mean.�
Among the visitors was Dorothy Qualle, who recorded that �1 felt rather
Rip van Winkel when I recalled the road to Tilbury twelve years ago: nine gates
to open and close and three spruits to cross in eleven miles; now the rivers are
bridged and the gates replaced by excellent grids. Stubbings, the Estate
Manager, led the convoy to the top of a hill to the Haroni View � quite
magnificent. Then on past the old homestead which Cecil Rhodes visited and
through more plantations to Springfield, where Mrs. Nethersole gave us yet
another magnificent tea � what superb cooks all Melsetter women are! �and a
glorious view of the mountains. Then through lovely country, passing through
patches of indigenous forest and glimpsing tree ferns in the kloofs, to
Rathmore, where Mr. and Mrs. Plunket welcomed us warmly and stayed us with
flagons at a very enjoyable party.
�The following day, farewells to our very kind hostesses, with more
gratitude than could be properly expressed. Melsetter W.I., with only 27
members, had given every thought to our comfort and not overlooked a single
detail, and made this one of the happiest Council meetings any of us have ever
In June 1964 there were reports of stones across the main road which
stopped cars driven by Africans, who moved the stones and proceeded without
further interference. The first European to arrive at such a roadblock was
On 4th July P. J. A. Oberholtzer
, aged 45, father of six children, was
driving home to Silverstream from Umtali with his wife and three-year old
daughter. Past the Biriiri Mission in the darkening evening they started up the
winding road towards the Biriwiri bridge. 74 miles from Umtali their lights lit
up a line of stones and rocks across the tar, and Mr. Oberholtzer started to get
out to remove some so that his car could proceed. He was immediately attacked
with a shower of stones, some dark figures gathered round him, and he was
stabbed in the chest. He shut the car door and drove over the stones, and the
car overturned at the edge of the road. The attackers smashed the windscreen and
threw petrol and lighted matches into the cab of the truck, but, before their
efforts to set the car on fire could succeed, another car came, up behind, and
the attackers vanished into the night.
Mr. Oberholtrer had died at the wheel of his car, and Lawrence Marshall
and Mrs. Martindale took Mrs. Oberholtzer and the child to the Biriwiri Road
Camp, from where messages were sent for Police and doctor.
After a search, James Hlamini and Victor Mlamo were arrested, found
guilty of murder, and in due course hanged. Matthew Tresha was later
apprehended, convicted of helping in the attempt, and sentenced to 20 years�
imprisonment. A fourth member of the gang escaped from Rhodesia. One of the gang
was a local man, the others were Rhodesian-born but had lived for some years in
In 1965 the W.I. held its 21st birthday party at the Club, to which all
Melsetter residents were invited and everybody enjoyed a hilarious and
The Melsetter Amateur Dramatic Society has produced some excellent
plays, and many entertaining sketches have been put on at the Club on social
occasions, and there have been Gay Nineties evenings, a Palace of Variety with
Bunny Girls, happy New Year�s Eve dances, Police Balls, Scottish dancing,
and many other enjoyable dances and concerts. A small Art Club has some talented
A Pony Club to encourage young riders was started by Teddie Winwood and
Jack Howard, which is a Branch of the Pony Club which has headquarters in
Warwickshire, and successful school-holiday camps have been attended by young
riders from Melsetter, Cashel and Chipinga at Tilbury, The Corner, Springvale,
the Country Club, Silverstream and in Chipinga.
In 1967 the 92 miles of full width tarred road to Umtali was completed.
Magnificent though the drive over the Scenic road is, no Melsetter resident
regrets that it is no longer the main road.
Deaths of prominent residents saddened the community. In 1966 there
died John Kruger, and Rookwood was taken over by his son Bettix; Ted Allott, by
then frail and no longer taking an active part; and Giellie Bredenkamp, a very
kind person, always ready to help, who was known affectionately as the Mayor of
Melsetter � his widow Nellie moved to Umtali, and their son Mike took over the
butchery and farming interests and moved to Dairy Plot with Estelle. In 1968
John Olivey died � Mickey carried on Sawerombi helped by their sons Tony and
Charles; and that year Fred Delaney also died. In 1969 Edward Green died, and
Mutzarara is now run by his son George with his wife Margy.
Celebrations of 80th birthdays were held in 1969: Olive Allott, gay and
sprightly and active as ever; and Joey Delaney, who was one of the most active
dancers at her party in the W.I. Hall which lasted till the early hours of the