Lewis Walter was stationed at Tjolotjo from 29th December 1952-October 1954. This is his information and photographs of an era when it was truly pleasant to be a member of the Rhodesian Government Native Department deployed in ruralareas working with the local people to make sure they had a better future.
The Nyamandhlovu District had two Native Department stations : The Native Commissioner's Headquarters at Tjolotjo in the Gwaai Native Reserve, and the Assistant Native Commissioner at Nyamandhlovu, dealing mainly with the farming area. The administrative staff at Tjolotjo consisted of the Native Commissioner, Assistant Native Commissioner, and Clerk. The Clerk was in addition Postal Agent, Lock-up Keeper, Poundmaster, Clerk of Court etc, etc. At Nyamandhlovu, there was the Assistant Native Commissioner and a clerk.
Nigel Boast, Native Commissioner/Asst Magistrate
Sterling Ryan Native Commissioner/Asst Magistrate
E.C.Gutridge Asst Native Commissioner at Nyamandhlovu
George Ansell clerk Nyamandlovu
Dick Westcott, Asst Native Commissioner
Hugh Sutherns, Asst Native Commissioner
Bob Ferguson, Asst Native Commissioner
Lewis Walter, Clerk
Giles Edgecombe, Clerk
Adam Cumming, Land Development Officer
“Gavvy” Gavin Field Asst
Harry Cantle , Field Asst
Piet Vogel, Field Asst
For a youngster who loved the bush, this was an ideal station. Hunting, fishing, patrols, tribal customs and history, fascinating geology and plant life, and so on.
Tjolotjo was about 65 miles from Bulawayo. 30 miles of strips to Nyamandhlovu, then 35 miles of appallingly bad earth road to Tjolotjo, sometimes impassable during the rains. (On one occasion during the rains it took me 8 hours to travel on my motorbike from Nyamandhlovu to about 5 miles from Tjolotjo, where I finally gave up and walked the rest of the way in the dark, leaving the bike where it had slid into the mud.)
Clerk's house, Tjolotjo.
Dhlamini Rest Camp.
Harry Cantle, Field Assistant; Rex Chambers, Malaria Control; Bob Ferguson, ANC.; John Learmonth, Malaria Control. (Trying to get name of Native Messenger). Photo taken during tax patrol. Tax patrols and dip fee collections were always arranged to coincide with the hunting season !
Lewis Walter and George Piper, Irrigation Dept., with wildebeeste at Ngamo Plains in North of the district. There was heavy pressure by wildebeeste on cattle grazing at Ngamo, and we were occasionally sent by the Native Commissioner to shoot a few to mollify the local tribesmen, or obtain meat for important tribal occasions.
It was January, 1970 and the drought had taken its toll with water supplies drying up throughout the Tjolotjo TTL. The locals were complaining that because of the drought they did not want to dip their cattle. As there had been an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in a neighboring area it was critical that the cattle be dipped regularly. This was the beginning of African Nationalism and some troublemakers were criticizing the government requirements as being totally unnecessary and some of the dip tanks had been sabotaged.
Chief Mswigana Tategulu was a wise old chief who had visited me weekly when I was first stationed at Tjolotjo. He told me it was his job to make sure I understood his people and learned to speak their language. He would make the trip to my office every week for six months just to spend and hour or two with me, talking to me and making sure I understood him and would speak in Sindebele.
Now the old chief came in to ask for my help. The troublemakers were causing dissension and he was no longer allowed to deal with them as his father had when he served as an induna with Lobengula. The troublemakers were telling the people that their cattle would die if they were taken to the dip and that this was just the government’s way of oppressing the people. Now the cattle inspectors would not allow the cattle to be taken to the market and sold if they had not been dipped. Could I help?
I told the chief to call a meeting of all his headmen and to invite the troublemakers to attend.
It was a Tuesday morning and I headed down the sandy road to the chief’s kraal. In my pocket I carried some small sticks of firework material that would explode if you ground them under your shoe. My plan was to use a little psychology associated with the unshakeable belief in the spirit world of all the local people.
Chief Mswigana and all his headmen were seated in a semi-circle, and to one side were the eleven troublemakers dressed in their best suits, pants and shirts so as to show off their affluence or influence.
I began the meeting by asking the troublemakers to state their case which they did very vehemently. Their skin hats and walking sticks with coiled snakes were designed to show their authority.
I then told the chief and all present exactly why the cattle had to be dipped and that the foot and mouth disease would kill all their cattle if it spread throughout the area. The chief nodded his head and then spoke saying the people should listen to me.
The troublemakers were not dissuaded and began gesticulating and waving their walking sticks at me. At this time I placed my hand in my pocket and quietly grasped a small piece of the firework plastic. Carefully rubbing the plastic between my fingers I began speaking again telling the troublemakers that they were facing judgement because of their attitude. As I did this smoke began to rise from between my fingers which got the attention of everyone, including my trusty sergeant. Nobody knew what I was doing, but all could see the smoke coming from my hand and then both hands as I rubbed them together. I told the headmen and the troublemakers that they could either continue to dip their cattle or their would be no sales and their families would starve. There was a sudden silence and the meeting broke up with the troublemakers disappearing down a path.
As I left chief Mswigana said to me, “Impondozenyati.” That is your name. You are the horns of the buffalo. Each of the buffalo’s horns is something to be wary of. You did well. You gave them two hard choices.”
It was October, 1971 and District Commissioner, Hamish Peters, was driving his short wheel based Landrover pickup up the border road from Point 222 to Cement Pan where we were building a security airstrip. Traveling with me was Ronnie Rankine, a naturalist and young Garth Maynard, 12 years old. Both Ronnie Rankine and Garth Maynard had lost legs. Ronnie Rankine to a crocodile in the Zambezi river when they were building the Kariba dam. Garth Maynard lost his leg in an automobile accident.
The road ran along the border of Botswana and Wankie Game Reserve and was rough to say the least. As we left Mopani country we drove into the soft white sands of the Kalahari. The heat was oppressive with the road dancing in front of us, as though a mirage. The Landrover was in low ratio, four wheel drive and the temperature gauge was spiraling upward with an outside temperature somewhere in the mid 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Landrover was bouncing along in the heavy white sand, making barely 10 mph. Garth Maynard sat in the back which was open with his aluminum peg leg stretched out in front of him. Ronnie Rankine sat in the passenger seat inside the cab.
Looking out the driver’s side window I could see a herd of around forty elephant to my right about 100 yards from the road. As we drew alongside, the herd matriarch swung from behind the herd and started running toward us with her ears spread wide. I could see a large white number 6 painted on the front of her head and that caused me realize that we were in trouble. With the accelerator flat on the floor the Landrover barely picked up speed, the rear wheels churning in the heavy sand. Glancing to my right I could see that the old matriarch had put her ears back, had lowered her trunk and was charging straight for us with the whole herd following behind. I realized we were in real trouble as I had not brought my trusty .375 magnum along on this trip. With wheels spinning and churning we were making close to 20mph but the old matriarch was gaining on us, not twenty yards behind. My one thought was to abandon the Landrover and make a run for it, but then I realized that neither Ronnie Rankine, nor Garth Maynard could run.
Steam was rising from the radiator, but the Landrover could go no faster. I could hear Garth screaming in the back and I yelled to him to stay put. The matriarch was now ten yards behind us and stretching out her trunk as she felt that this green intruder was soon to be hers. Just then I felt the wheels begin to turn faster as the soft white sand gave way to firmer sand with sprinkles of mopani black soil. The matriarch was not more than five yards behind us when we began to pull away and soon had left the herd behind.
Pulling up to a stop under a large acacia tree all I could do was suck in my breath. Garth was still yelling at me, but this time in exhilaration and Ronnie Rankine was just shaking his head. We took the water bottle, filled the radiator and continued our journey to Cement Pan where we would spend the night.
Later that day I heard on the radio that the Game Department had been darting key elephants in certain herds so that they could place tracking collars around their necks. Apparently the unfriendly matriarch had been darted from a Landrover similar to my own and was not too happy with what had happened to her.
Needless to say, on future trips, I always carried my .375. This was just as well because a few months later I got charged by four elephant at the same time after they had just broken through the game fence about forty miles from the incident described. That day I was glad that I had three rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber because every shot had to count. My DA Corporal had long taken off into the bush when the last elephant dropped not ten feet from my feet.
Those were interesting times with ZAPU beginning its penetration of the Western parts of Rhodesia. Four years of drought drove thousands of game animals from Botswana across the border, searching for water and food. That year I know that between Chris Herbst, my trusty Field Assistant and myself we shot well over fifty elephant, all marauding or causing trouble.
The following year we instituted an unusual program where we would shoot one elephant a month to feed the Kalahari bushmen. In turn they would patrol the border and inform us of any tracks they found of terrorists making their way into the Tjolotjo TTL. This program proved to be singularly successful as word soon got around and all ZAPU terrorist infiltrations moved well North into the Wankie area and across the Zambezi river.