An experience from Hamish Peters while stationed in Rusape.
It was November, 1967 and Hamish Peters was a senior clerk serving in Rusape. The government had just begun a crackdown on nationalist activities and the order was sent out to detain certain known troublemakers in the rural areas.
Native Commissioner, Bernhard Masterson, walked into my office one afternoon and told me to get ready to go down to the lowveld where three troublemakers needed to be picked up. I was to go with the Land Development Officer (LDO) who’s name I have forgotten, but we shall call Dan. We were to take Corporal Sama with us who knew the area and just find and bring back the three troublemakers.
We left early the next morning, traveling through Headlands down into the lowveld of the Makoni TTL, with the Inyanga mountains breaking the skyline on our right. Dan was driving his beige Vanguard Panel Van. Corporal Sama sat in the rear with Dan’s assistant and we took no camping gear as we expected to be back that evening. The trip down took us a good three hours and after four stops we had found two of the three troublemakers. Finding the third man proved more difficult as he had been visiting different beer drinks in the area. Finally around 4 o’ clock we had all three troublemakers loaded in the Panel Van and began our journey home.
Looking up at the Inyanga mountains we could see heavy black clouds and both Dan and I knew that there was a heavy storm up there and heading our way. I mentioned to Dan we had better get a move on and get out of the area if we wanted to make it back to Rusape by dark. After driving another 30 minutes we came to a river which we had to cross at a drift. It was about 100 feet wide at the point we entered the water and had a good gravel bottom. We had had no trouble crossing it earlier in the day. Dan was driving and I was looking up the river as we entered the drift. To my horror I saw a wall of water rushing toward us just as we reached the centre of the drift. I yelled to Dan, but it was too late. The wall of water picked up the Vanguard like a cork and the next thing we were floating downstream carried by the floodwaters. There was nothing we could do until with a sudden bump we were caught against a fallen tree and the Panel Van turned over on its side with water rushing by us. As my door was facing up to the blackened sky I was able to force it open and one by one we clambered out and into the water, making sure that we had our three troublemakers safely in tow.
Climbing out the river we were like seven half drowned rats. Our clothes were all drenched and it was now pouring with rain. We had to make the best of it so made for a nearby kraal where the kraal head kindly made one large hut available to us, but complained that he had no food to share. After a while one of the women brought us a pot of water and a water melon.
There was no sleep that night, but the rain abated. The next morning we made our way back to the river, still in our sodden clothes. The Vanguard Panel Van was still lying on its side in the river, held fast by the fallen tree. The river had gone back down, but was still running muddy.
We had no radio and the nearest farm was probably sixty or seventy miles away, but we knew that NC Masterson would send help!!! In the interim we were able to scrounge up two spans of four oxen each and several chains and ropes which we put to good use. With the help of about twenty of the locals we were able to right the Panel Van and cut a path up the bank of the river. With the eight oxen hitched to the vehicle and an increasing number of interested locals we finally got the Panel Van out of the river and onto dry ground.
Now all we had to do was wait for help. Well help did not arrive so by midday we knew we were left to our own devices. Commandeering some large pots and containers we began the task of draining all the oil from the sump and separating the water from the oil by draining off the water as the oil settled on top. We did the same for the petrol, but this was a much more tedious process and took us all that day and half the next day. Next we drained and cleaned the carburetor, cleaned the plugs and the distributor and waited for the sun to dry out the engine. Finally, by midday we were able to push start the vehicle which sputtered and coughed. Loading up we started on our way back to Rusape, but the engine would cough, splutter and die every ten miles which meant draining the carburetor and putting it back together again.
At just after five o’ clock we pulled into the NC’s offices in Rusape. NC Masterson came out to greet us and asked us about the good time we had had staying over an extra two days. When I asked Bernhard Masterson why he had not sent help he just shook his head, laughed and said he knew we could take care of ourselves.
During the three days we were stranded all we had to eat were water melons as the locals said they had no other food to spare us. This was obviously in retribution for picking up the three troublemakers. Ten days later both Dan and I came down with the worst dose of malaria I had ever had which turned into blackwater fever.