Tag Archives: Bulawayo



Books (Photo credit: henry…)

Yesterday I enlisted the help of my char to tackle an annual task – moving the bookcase in my bedroom and vacuuming the carpet. We do a chain-relay routine where she gets down to the bottom shelf, which I cannot do, grabs a handful of books, passes them up to me, and I stack them in wobbly piles on the bed, until the shelves are empty. We then move the bookcase away from the wall, cluck over the thick layer of dust, and she wields the vacuum. I was relieved not to find any tiny mouse skeletons because that’s where Chocolat’s mice find shelter when they escape momentarily. The tiny spaces a mouse can squeeze into always amazes me.
When I’ve cleaned the shelves, and dusted the books, we then restack the shelves. I take the opportunity to weed out unwanted books (yes, there are such items, but not many) and this year I hesitated over The Mottled Lizard by Elspeth Huxley; it’s a charming account of a childhood spent in Kenya, but oh dear! The spine is torn, the pages have browned to a deep caramel colour, the cover is limp, and creased. The two giraffe have faded to a greenish-blue, it’s a sorry sight. There’s a price on the cover: 5/-. Five shillings! Can you imagine that? Inside the cover on the facing page is rubber-stamped: Rhod Price 6/-. I suppose the import charges to Rhodesia from Britain warranted the surcharge. Underneath that is another rubber stamp image, in pale red, barely legible: Carlton Exchange, Bulawayo. I have no memory of the Carlton Book Exchange, but I must have know about it, and probably used it. My eldest daughter, who remembers everything Bulawayo related, will be able to fill in the gaps for me.
The book was published by the Four Square publishing company in 1965. Although the book looks like a relic from the Boer War, it’s not actually that old.
Perhaps another contender for the title in this bookcase is one of my favourite books The Sunshine Settlers by Crosbie Garstin. The first page informs us that this edition is a Facsimile Reprint, issued by Books of Rhodesia, Bulawayo 1971, of the 1935 edition. It has been slightly amended by addition of black and white line drawings by Daphne James. I remember my Dad owning a copy of the original 1935 version, which I read as a child, and loved. The book was burnt when my Mum’s house burnt down in the early 1960’s – house fires ravage family memorabilia; you can buy a new stove, you can replace your clothes, but books, letters, photos are irreplaceable. Ditto the handsome brass box, with a tortoise shell pattern engraved on the lid, and ditto the two brass urns, with elegant tall necks, decorated with an engraved pattern of curlicues and flowers, all the way from Persia, a gift from Uncle Bill who worked in the oil industry, a million years ago when the country was called Persia. Oh well …
So when the Books of Rhodesia copy came out, I pounced on it with glee, and have read, and re-read it happily over the years. It describes pioneering life in Rhodesia in the early years, just prior to the First World War. My Dad came out to Rhodesia in the late 1920’s, and life on the farms hadn’t changed that much in the intervening twenty years. Life was just as hot, dry, dusty and challenging as it had ever been, but viewed through Crosbie Garstin’s twinkling Irish eyes it was all a splendid adventure. Try and read it if you can find a copy; sorry, but I’m not lending you mine!




We were accommodated  in a relative’s spacious house in Burnside, enjoying the magnificent thatched  verandah, the swimming pool, the resident maid.

The beautiful thatched verandah looking on to the pool

Although our stay was brief, I  gained some fascinating insights into daily life in modern Zim.

There are  bizarre anomalies. For instance: a big, flat screen TV in the lounge, connected  to DStv (satellite) television, but in the back yard the maid is washing clothes  in a zinc bath, parked on the dusty earth, with a green hose pipe delivering  water onto the laundry……  from high tech to basics.

You need to  be resilient and inventive to live comfortably in Zim.  You definitely need your own generator,   because there are regular daily power cuts that are arranged on a wildly  complicated timetable.  A local explained  the system to me, but it left me baffled. There was a gas stove in the kitchen,  in addition to the electric stove, and we had to use the gas daily, when the  power went off.

To my  surprise there is now a SPAR store in Leander Avenue, a new addition to the  area. It provided us with good Portuguese rolls, and one of the best croissants  I ever ate in my entire life.  Further  down the Hillside Road was the newish TM Supermarket, a big store, in a new  shopping centre where all the shops were filled with merchandise. As opposed to  the tatty, bedraggled, old shopping centre at Bradfield, where more than half  the shops were closed, or empty, and those that were operating were grubby and  third rate.

No more empty shelves, and anxious shoppers  clutching kilogrammes of useless Zim-dollars, queueing on a rumour that there  might be fresh supplies of cooking oil, or mealie meal. Those days appear to be  over. I walked round the TM Supermarket looking with interest at the  shelves.  About 75% of the goods were  South African imports, while dairy products, fresh produce, biscuits, cereals,  mealie meal were local brands.  I saw no  convenience frozen foods, and only one small freezer compartment offered a  selection of frozen peas.  No Woolies  ready-meals here!

We compared  the food prices and they were much of a muchness, even taking the US  dollar/rand exchange rate into account. However, diesel and cigarettes were  cheaper than in SA.

You need to  be on your toes when driving as there is often a happy disregard for road  rules, especially in the city centre. Not to mention the traffic lights, some  of which are not working.  I commented on  the number of dented and bashed up cars driving around, and a local explained  that panel beating was just too expensive. Fortunately the climate is so dry  that rust damage is not an issue. I suppose if you are a local resident you  learn to avoid the suburban roads that are dangerously potholed, or where the  tar surface has worn away leaving dangerous little islands of black amidst the  corrugations. No doubt you learn which culverts to avoid, where the guard rails  are dented, broken or missing, where the vegetation has choked the storm-water  drains which must lead to flooding in the summer. Roads and public buildings  are just not maintained. If you don’t like this, then you’d better go and live  in another country.

I commented  on the random patches of olive green pain I kept seeing on electrical  sub-stations and walls around the city.  Someone dryly informed me that although no government buildings (e.g.  hospitals & schools) had been painted in over 20 years, the olive green  paint disguised MDC political anti-government slogans, and the blotting out had  occurred within two or three days of the slogans appearing.  To my amusement I saw a whole rash of pro-MDC  (opposition party) / anti-government slogans decorating a long stretch of wall  that bordered Bulawayo’s one and only mental hospital, Ingutsheni.  It seemed appropriate somehow.

Nothing about Zimbabwean politics or  government makes much – or any – sense.
Once you have grasped that the country is run by a cabal of despotic,  greedy, corrupt people and that outraged Western bleating is not going to make  any difference, then you have begun to grasp the realities of life, politics,  and the bottom line in Africa.  Westminster style democracy? Don’t be silly. Get a grip. Take a reality check, and then swallow a very large chill pill. You’re going to need it.


Filed under ZIMBABWE


I’m sure you know what I mean.  When you stroll around your home town after an absence of over 30 years, it’s just the same, only different …. You see familiar buildings, but now they’re shabby with faded paint, peeling fascia boards.  The building that always stood next to them has vanished completely.

Many of the street names have been changed, and where you do find an old, original  street sign, it is rusted and buckled – something heavy having rammed it.

Bulawayo only had two bookstores when I lived there, and here is a pic of the Preece  & McKenzie building, tatty and neglected, and no longer selling books.

Preece & McKenzie bookstore building a shadow of its original beauty

Several of the old stores have closed down, but Bulawayo still has one department store left over from the old days:  Meikles.  We went inside for old  times’ sake. The kids used to love going to tea in Meikles tea-room, where you  could order cream cakes, and listen to a man playing the piano – the height of  luxury in far off 1969.

The lighting inside was dim and it was obvious that the merchandise was geared to a  different market, but the glass counters of the Beauty Department were still in  place, opposite the entrance.  Helen commented that at least, this time, there was some perfume – a few scant bottles – in the display units. On her last visit, many of the shops had been semi-empty with very little goods on sale.

I was relieved to see the solid Bulawayo Public Library building was still there  although we didn’t go inside. The Bulawayo Post Office stood firmly on its  corner, unchanged, but the big bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes, which stood  at this intersection, has been removed. No surprise here. The venerable Bulawayo Club was in its usual place.  I wonder if it still maintains its Edwardian regulation about sending lady visitors through a side door, because women were forbidden to use the steps to the front entrance – men only, don’t y’know.

We strolled around the streets for two hours. I picked my way cautiously over the broken paving slabs, not wishing to fall. During this time, I saw only two other white  people. The streets were busy, people moving purposefully about their business.
I was surprised to see how well dressed the crowds were; not smartly or
fashionably dressed, but neat and clean – after all the negative media
reporting I suppose I had subconsciously expected to see a population in rags,  begging on every corner. This wasn’t the case.

I did notice, however, how thin the people were. No big fat mammas here, no swelling beer guts, common sights on South African streets.  And no groups of men  just hanging around, with vigilant eyes, that are seen in South African suburbs.
In fact, we all agreed, that we did not feel threatened in any way.  We felt perfectly safe as we wandered in the city centre. Perhaps not terribly welcome, but safe nonetheless.

Although there was no rubbish in the streets, they were grimy. At the end of a long, dry winter there is certainly no water to spare for street washing.  The fountain in the much loved Centenary Park was not working either.  However, we saw  a lavish wedding party posing for photos by the dry fountain, framed by the  dusty palm trees and brittle brown grass. Dry, dry, dry.  Including my skin, which turned into crocodile hide, itchy and flaky.

We visited  the Bulawayo Public Swimming Pool, where we had spent so many idyllic afternoons – the facade was dingy and run down, but when we peeped through the gates we were relieved to see the same old magnificent trees in the background, the water was chlorine blue, and people were swimming, so that made us feel better.

Bulawayo Public Swimming Pool

We did a tour of the suburbs visiting the kids’ old schools, some of which were run  down, neglected, no more surroundings gardens – just dust and dry grass.  However Eveline School was neatly painted and a signboard proclaimed its  Centenary Year.

Eveline School (portion of) in all its painted, centennial glory

Milton Junior School wasn’t so fortunate: every window was broken, and to all intents and purposes it appeared to have been abandoned.  Woodville School, where  my Mum taught for over twenty years, wasn’t too bad, all the windows were  intact and there was teaching material stuck up on the walls. It was school  holidays, so we could roam around freely in the school grounds.  The toilets – which we used – were filthy and smelly; no water to flush. We’d have been better off behind a bush!

Helen looks into the classroom where she, Laura and Tony were taught by their Grandmother

We drove past Brady barracks, where I spent three years working for the Rhodesian Army, as a civilian.  I was shocked to see how run down and unkempt the camp looked. In the mid-70s it was spic and span, and anything that didn’t move had been whitewashed! Now the camp appeared deserted, although ragged curtains fluttering at a window indicated some human presence.

On a brighter note we went  to drop off a charity onation in Suburbs, one of the older, posher, long-established residential areas, and found well maintained houses, neatly painted, with handsome stone walls (in bygone days people usually had hedges or diamond mesh fences) and – oh joy – neatly trimmed grass, or a rockery, or a flowerbed flanking the entrance.  What a difference  gardens make to a street – my spirits lifted, after seeing all the  neglected front  gardens reverted to bush, or
filled with the stalks of last year’s mealie planting.

As the poet said : A garden is a lovesome thing  ….  He was so right!




Memory Lane is not always the sweet, flower-strewn path we would wish it to be.  Sometimes it is filled with potholes and dead-ends. Our family visit to Zimbabwe in mid-August provided memories that were sweet, some sights that were bitter, but it was worth the effort. We had a wonderful holiday in Zimbabwe.

My sister and I had not been back to Zimbabwe for over 30 years. Eldest daughter Helen (ultra efficient trip organizer) and husband John visit Zim regularly,  at least once a year. Younger daughter Laura and son Tony had also not returned  for many many years. My three children were all born in Bulawayo, then  Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. John is also a born & bred Bulawegian.  I spent 31 years in Bulawayo, almost half my life span.  Here is a picture of our party, taken at Bon Accord Farm, in the Shangani District, on a bitterly cold day – 7˚C, the coldest I have been all winter – but as you can see, we were all
cheerful, and smiled for the camera.

Back: John, Helen, Laura, Tony

Back row = John, Helen, Laura, Tony; Front row = Julius, Alison, Eugene & Jennifer

I’m wearing Laura’s winter hat which the family decided made me look like a goblin; I hate to admit it, but I think they were right ….

But I have consoled myself that when you reach the age of 70, you can discard all  illusions or aspirations of glamour and simply be yourself. So it’s official: I  have been reclassified as a goblin. The hat proves it.

Watch this space – next instalment to follow …….


Filed under TRAVEL