The Story of Melsetter

With so much land having been bought by the forestry companies, the numbers of farmers in the area were greatlyreduced, and they carried on with the lines previously established and with continued experiments. Recently many farms have been sub-divided and this has resulted in intensive development on a greater number.

Maize is grown generally in quantities sufficient for rations and stockfeed. Wheat was again tried on Albany: the first excellent crop ripened magnificently but unforeseen and unavoidable delays occurred and only a portion was harvested before early rain ruined the rest, and the second crop was destroyed by rust.

Many attempts have been made to grow vegetables on a commercial scale for the fresh market, for canning or for seed, but high transport costs and hazards in growing, harvesting and marketing have killed the enterprises. Potatoes have varied in their returns, the best being from AA seed grown at over 6 000�, and reasonable returns are always hoped for from ware potatoes grown as a cash crop: a disastrous failure was during the February 1963 floods, when on one farm 35 acres1were drowned and rotted in the land.

The main bugbear of internal parasites in sheep has been overcome, and sheep on a fairly small scale are carried successfully on a number of farms. Gwendingwe Estate plans to aim their sheep enterprise at the fine wool market and to supply a very high quality lamb which will sell more cheaply than beef, which Rhodesia needs for export.

Fruit production continues to be a successful interest on many farms, although some peach orchards were found to be uneconomic and were dug out, and a citrus development was abandoned when water supplies diminished owing to the forest plantations surrounding it. Avocado pears show promise, and apples grow very well in selected parts.

Gwendingwe Estate went ahead with large orchard plantings with the purchase of Fairview in 1959, a line where they had precedent as so much trial and error work had been done by Bill Hanmer. Their orchard is roughly 150 acres, entirely apples apart from a few individual trees for the use of the staff They have adopted a semi-palmette system, with the trees 12�6� apart one way and 25� the other, avoiding the expense and trouble of supporting them on wire trellises and gaining the advantage of being able to use cyclone sprays on the hedge of trees. The Estate expects to be able to cope for one more season only with their present packing system, as this year�s crop is estimated to be double last year�s crop and this compounding is expected to continue.
The picking will be into bins in the field, mechanically loaded onto trucks, or use may be made of the semi-trailer bin; it is anticipated that more mechanisation will he necessary. They hope eventually to have close on 18 000 trees and to produce between 80 000 and 100 000 cases of apples a year, and for the picking season 1970-71 hope to be cold-storing in bulk on the Estate a considerable proportion of the late crop in order to extend the season.

Great interest has been taken in the possibility of tea-growing in this district which experts say is ideal. In 1965 a Tea Committee worked on this potentially valuable extension of interests, but the financial obstacles were insuperable and the project did not get under way then, but interest is still maintained. 

Coffee growing on a commercial scale is being expanded rapidly in selected frost-free areas. Yields of up to half a ton per acre from 3-year old trees and of up to one ton from 5-year old trees have already been reaped, and yields of one and a half to two  tons are confidently expected when the trees come into full bearing. It is a long-term project in the initial stages, but excellent returns are anticipated after about six years.
Disease in other countries has had a depressing effect on world coffee production, and this has stabilised the price at a high figure, currently about $800 a ton, which is expected to continue for some years, with a bright outlook for this disease-free, area. Each coffee farm has its own small factory for initial processing, and a central mill has been erected in Chipinga.

Macadamia nuts show great promise. A few trees have been growing in the district for some years, and, with the now known potential value, more extensive plantings are being made with grafted trees.

Many farms continue with cattle, both for slaughter and breeding stock, and a recent venture is the establishment of a stud herd of Simmentalers, with initial importations direct from Austria.

Melsetter�s very great potential for the intensive development of high-carrying pastures is gradually being realised, and many farmers are taking a practical interest in this aspect of production. The research done on Henderson Station on the very high grazing potential of certain grasses when suitably fertilised has pointed the way. In Melsetter the prospects of good profits from this form of production are enhanced by the very long growing season of some ten months or more, the drip climate and high rainfall, and the proved suitability of the gteater part of the area for the establishment of legumes in association with the grasses, which effects a substantial saving in fertiliser costs.

Holiday cottages on Nhuka, Claverdon, Hillside and Alicedale are proving popular. Bill and Helen (Kloppers) Staff started farming Alicedale in 1959. Frank and Annette Elias took occupation of the old Pasture Station in 1967, and called the farm Nhuka, chiNdau for eland, because of the large number of eland which grazed there; they have cattle and sheep, a dairy herd, hens and pigs, but plan to concentrate on beef cattle and sheep as they establish more pastures.

An exhaustive study of the area was made by the Department of Conservation and Extension and their Melsetter Regional Plan was published in 1968. It is of great technical and scientific interest and copies are currently readily available.

During 1967 meetings were held and a Local Government Commission investigated the formation of a Rural Council based on the Road Council area and decided that a Rural Council would be the right thing for Melsetter. The last minuted meeting of the Melsetter Local Committee was in December 1967, and their function was taken over by the Rural Council which, after elections had been held in the six demarcated wards, held its inaugural meeting in November 1968.

Looking after the Memorial Hall, this �baby� which had been left by a previous generation to the district with no means for its upkeep, continued to be a problem. It served a wonderful purpose as the only public meeting place for very many years but less use was made of it as other facilities became available, and when the Rural Council was established it seemed that this would be the correct body to administer the Hall. In April 1969 a public meeting of residents of the district resolved that the Hall should be donated to the Rural Council; that the name of the Melsetter War Memorial Hall should be retained; and that the Hall should continue to be available to the public as long as the need existed. On 28th November 1969 the Board of Trustees held their final meeting and the Title Deeds were transferred to the Rural Council and the funds in hand were given to the Memorial Hall Library.

The Library sub-Committee of the Memorial Hall Board of Trustees carried on for some years, but as it continued to expand it became an autonomous body and the Library Committee has continued to do excellent work in providing a well-stocked and well-run Library.

Telephone party lines have increased to twelve and there are 160 telephone subscribers, some of whom have their own extension systems. Postal services have improved, with a daily mail service to and from Umtali.

At the Police Camp there is an establishment of fourteen who cover an area of little over 700 square miles. The Chimanimani mountains are patrolled on foot, cloud lifting and weather permitting, and elephant, buffalo and sable are sometimes met. The Melsetter Shellhole of the M.O.T.H.S. has recently been established.

The Road Motor Service continues to be the main public means of communication; the regular scheduled goods lorries travel mainly on the main road, with a weekly service on the Scenic road and services to various points in the district; and special goods and cattle lorries are available when required. There is a twice-weekly R.M.S. passenger bus which takes about five hours between Umtali and Melsetter.
A private daily passenger bus service runs between Melsetter and Chipinga, and regular African passenger buses ply between Ngorima, Melsetter and Umtali. For some years landing grounds for light aircraft have been in regular use on Cambridge and Sawerombi.

The South African General Mission changed its name to the African Evangelical Fellowship, and many missionaries over the years have made their contribution at Rusitu and the expansion has been great. There is a hospital with considerable medical work being done, a Secondary School with boarding accommodation, comfortable staff houses, and a Book Store and Post Office. At the Bible Institute men and women are receiving training to enable them to evangelise and teach their own people. In the district there are numerous schools and church centres. Monthly undenominational services are held in the Dutch Reformed Church.

At the School David Wall came as Headmaster in January 1969. After reading some of the material referring to the School in the National Archives Wall said recently that what he had thought were grave impediments were no such thing compared with some of the problems with which earlier Heads of Melsetter School had to contend. The numbers at the School in recent years have fluctuated between 64 and 70, and with closer settlement and better roads the ratio of dayscholars to boarders has increased considerably.

Hopes have been fulfilled that a good hotel, with a good road leading to it, would provide a tourist attraction and today the 2-star Hotel is very well patronised all the year round.

Great things are expected of the Rural Council which has very much wider powers and greater resources than any previous local body. The Council has applied to take over the lease of the 31 acres of the Arboretum in order to ensure that the land remains for all time as Parkland. Topics which have caused anxiety for many years are being resolved: the water supply is being increased on a proper basis, stands and plots have been correctly sorted out and are being taken up, tarring of the streets is expected to start in 1971, and the cemeteries have been taken in hand. The Road programme has been extended, general district improvement is envisaged and E.S.C. electricity is due in Melsetter very shortly.

The vegetation, flora and fauna merit a full account, but as the subjects are too vast for an amateur to write on them short notes only have been compiled from authoritative sources.

The main vegetation types are: Closed Evergreen Forest in small patches mainly in gwashas: Short, Open Grassland mainly at the higher temperate altitudes: Bracken Scrub where the veld indicates good climatic farming conditions; and Woodland, both dense and open.

Beautiful and interesting birds are present in abundance. The Prince Edward School Chironi Expeditions in 1965166 listed 400 collected, of which three had not previously been recorded in Rhodesia: a Bokmakierie, an East African Least Honey-guide, and a Bronze-naped Pigeon. Other treasures are the Angola Pitta, Gurney�s Sugarbird, and the
Narina Trogon.

A few of the flowers are the Pincushion found in the Chimanimanis and many other Proteas throughout the district, Disas and other lovely orchids, Ericas, fields of redhot pokers, everlastings, purple Dissotis, Dierama, cassias, a quantity of gladioli, Gloriosa superba from clear yellow to deep maroon, lobelias from the tiniest weed to the impressive giant Lobelia stricklandae, and aloes in great variety including two which were originally known as A. Chimanimaniensis and A. Melsetterensis, but which have both since been reclassified as A. Swynnertonii.

Indigenous trees are many, varied and interesting. Butterflies, snakes, fish, small mammals and grasses are available in profusion.

Swynnerton�s work in the natural history field in the Eastern Districts was published many years ago in the Journal of the Linnean Society. Conservation officers, botanical research teams, and Natural History expeditions have made many studies in the area, and specimens from Melsetter may be seen in Rhodesia�s National Collections.

Some of the Fauna have been met in previous pages, but mention should be made of the flash of a duiker across the road, the cry of nightapes round homesteads, and children�s delight at hares running in the headlights of home-travelling cars. The eland have always been a delight to see although complaints about the damage done to crops have been very real, and recently they have shown that they are very partial to the bark of Patula pines which has caused concern to the Forestry companies.

An Eland Sanctuary is now being created in order to save a part at least of the herd: over 2 000 acres of  Commonage land have been granted for the purpose by Local Government to National Parks and Wild Life, an appeal for funds for the erection of the fence has been successfully launched, and it is hoped that the project will soon be in operation.

To those who have stayed with me to the end I say thank you for your tenacity and I hope you have found enough of interest to repay your patience. I say goodbye to you but not to Melsetter, so rich in potential, so often frustrating, sometimes punishing but always full of joy and promise. Those who know her go on looking for the pot of gold at the foot of the Melsetter Rainbow, and where could one travel more hopefully?