Going Beyond the Barriers

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Presentation of the Colors Guider Training Camp Ngomahuru Leper Colony and Hospital early 50\'s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Beyond the Barriers

Mom’s Guiding ambitions grew by leaps and bounds after that first foray at the Davies plot.  She now turned her attentions to training Katie Bosman to run a Coloured Troop, and Florence Chileshe a young school teacher from Amaveni Township to run Wayfarers (a modified version of Girl Guides for Africans).

Going Beyond the Barriers

Mom, Katie and Florence set off for Ngomahuru Leper Colony and Hospital run by the Dutch Reformed Church near Fort Victoria for a Guider Training Camp to learn the ‘ropes’.

The blue uniform was color blind.  Mom was in her element.   It’s a long way to Fort Victoria, one hundred and eighty miles in fact, on a strip road with lots of dongas, crossing drifts and weirs.  Reaching the dusty village of Umvuma, about a third of the distance was a landmark.  They stopped of petrol and a celebratory Fanta for their parched throats.  There would be nothing but the odd Native store from here on.  They chewed up the miles as Mom taught them ‘Make New Friends’, ‘Zulu Warrior’, ‘This Land is Your Land’ and many more, interspersed with chit chat and comfortable silences in between.  They munched on thick slices of bread and butter, and oranges that Florence peeled and passed the skafies (segments) around in the car.  A wash down with a thermos of hot tea Mom had packed in a hamper for the way sustained them.

Finally out of the veld appeared the main gate of this huge estate set in rocky hills in broken and lovely country.  Far from desolate, the flower gardens that had rightly earned the reputation of being the ‘Show place of Rhodesia,’ were a riotous welcome as they crossed the tributary of the Tokwe River with productive vegetable gardens and fruit orchards on the hillsides.  Mom popped into the hospital momentarily to greet Dr. Mostert, who had sold his practice on the Giaka Mine to Dad several years ago, to follow his calling here.  Ruddy faced and jovial as ever, he gave Mom a warm welcome.   At the cross roads they headed west as instructed, passed Beit Hall, offices and the white washed compounds that housed the six hundred or so native lepers before they moved on down the track to the Tokwe River itself and parked at the water pump.

It was late afternoon already.  Camp was well underway.   The welcome scent of wood smoke, the clanking of the zinc buckets, the crunching of dry grass underfoot as the voices of the Guiders talking to each other, or singing in parts and sometimes harmonizing carried above the mournful cooing of the doves.  They easily joined in.  The tents were already up.  They had only to roll there bedding out.

A hot stew with thick gravy in a traditional three legged iron pot bubbled over the open fire, to be ladled over a generous dollop of mashed potatoes on enamel plates.    The Africans ate the stew with sadza (stiff grits, Africans’ staple food) in the traditional way.  They wolfed it down in the lamplight before prayers and taps.  They were asleep before lights out.

So began African and Coloured Guiding in Que Que.

15 Comments

  • Betty

    Reply Reply September 12, 2010

    How many scouts were there (23?), and were you included? What an adventure! Was it hot and muggy or was it crisp and cool that time of year? Did your Mum follow the scouting guide, or was she winging it with only the passion of camping under her belt? I am most curious about the leper colony, having become interested when I read Michener’s Hawaii and Pappillion. What were the conditions in the camp and how did the patients look? Bible movies make it seem that skin is curling off and appendages are breaking off! Was there a fear of wild animals coming in to your campsite? So many questions! Great descriptions!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply September 13, 2010

      Betty,

      We only camped in the winter months of June, July and August because the incidence of malaria was down (no rain). It was cooler then, too. Lovely cloudless sunny days, but the nights could be cold with frost crisping up the grass overnight.

      This was a Training Camp to instill the Guiding principles to the new Guiders (leaders). The organisation was quite strong in Rhodesia as B.-P. had learned his woodcraft skills there during the 2nd Matabele Uprising (1896). She wasn’t winging it, she believed in the power of the uniform as an equalizer to transcend the racial barriers which it did.

      Africans were really prone to leprosy. The colony housed 600 Africans and only 6 Europeans. The cure rate was good for patients provided with a clean un-congested environment, treated with D.A.D.P.S. and a healthy diet, hence the missions extensive vegetable gardens. The problem was treatment needed to be continued for at least two years after the first negative slides from skin scrapings. Compliance was difficult in an African rural setting. Yes, the lesions and disfigurements were gross in advanced cases.

      The missions in this case the Dutch Reformed Church provided clean hostels and taught the 3 R’s and handcrafts so they could go out into the world and make a living once cured. They did wonderful work.

      The mission had huge acreage and offered it to the Guides for the multiracial camp as it wasn’t easy to find a venue to house mixed race events.

      It was a remarkable happening for many reasons.

      Re Michener, we visited the Catholic Church in Maui in January whose priest ran the leper mission on the neighboring island and was made a saint. All these missionaries around the third world were saints really. Michener did the missionaries a disservice in his book Hawaii I believe (but its a good read no doubt about that!)

      The treatment’s so much more effective now, the colonies are a thing of the past, thank goodness.

      When are you coming to visit? We can chat more about this over one of our dinners!

      Diana

  • Mike Canter

    Reply Reply May 24, 2011

    I found your Going Beyond the Barriers article particularly interesting as I once lived at Ngomahuru! I remember Dr Mostert well. I loved that place and hope to revisit it someday although I have reason to believe that much has deterioated since the time you refer to.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 24, 2011

      Mike, Dr. Mostert had a number of contracts (RISCO, the Gaika, among them) in the QQ area that he sold to my Dad in the late forties in order to follow his calling to Ngomahuru. I worte a fictionalize version of how that occurred in the second blog I posted called, A present At The Hospital Christmas Tea…look back to April 2010.

      Great work was done at Ngomahuru…by such dedicated people. What brought you there?

  • Mike Canter

    Reply Reply May 26, 2011

    Betty asks (see above) if you were included. Although you don’t give a direct answer you write that “…. we only camped in the winter months….” (suggesting that you were included?)

    In reply to your question: it was not what brought me there but who. My parents. My father was the Station secretary. As you rightly say: ” … ruddy faced and jovial as ever….” Dr van Reenen Mostert was in charge when Dad was appointed. That was in ’52 I think. Mrs Mostert (Peggy) was equally jovial and friendly as her husband).

    In your posting above, you write that your party camped near the Tokwe water pump. I take it that the camp wasn’t too near the crocodile and hippo infested river?! If it was then it surely must have been the prayers and taps(?) that protected you there! The later water warden (Nick Gloss – he came after van Tonder) once told of how he came across the upper torso of a person floating in the water. He thought the other half had probably been chomped off by a hippo. My brother, a friend and I once camped on the banks of the river. (This was before the torso incident). During the night we heard sounds of hippos grazing nearby. Terrified we fled to the car and stayed put – doors locked – until dawn!

    I believe that Ngomahuru started as a leper station by the church in 1927.

    Mike

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 27, 2011

      No, I wasn’t at the Ngomahuru camp…it was a Guider training camp, and was multiracial. All the multiracial gatherings were held at mission stations that were generous in making their facilites available to the Guiding movement. I was a kid then probably 1953 or 54 at the latest (you had to be 11 to ‘fly’ up to Guides that would have been the end of 1957 for me… My mother took Florence Chilese (?sp) (an African elementary school teacher from from Amaveni Township) and Mrs. Katie Bosman, a Coloured to this camp. From this experience they spearheaded the Non European movements in Que Que.

      I did join her at later camps on local farms and later at Dutchmans Pool (at the Scout/Guide Camp site donated by Rotary/?Round Table), Zimbabwe Ruins and so on…when I was older…there are several blogs about those experiences in general.

      My mother wrote briefly about Ngomahuru in her brown paper covered notebook with a flamelily Christmas card pasted to the cover entitled The Outdoor World as well as in odd notes. No doubt ignorance is bliss….she obviously did not realize it was quite so wild! The Mission chose the camp site, perhaps they had a night watchman posted! Everyone returned in one piece! Perhaps the numbers kept the crocs and hippos at bay…

      One doesn’t generally associate Dutch Reformed with African causes but they did wonderful work, unsung hero’s from as you point out so early in SR’s history. Am I right in saying it was the only leper hospital in SR? I believe there were a handful of European (5 or 6) patients there also.

      Were you a boarder at Fort Vic? or home schooled? You must have had a very interesting childhood. Tell me more?

  • Mike Canter

    Reply Reply May 27, 2011

    Thanks for the info Diana.
    If N’huru was the only leper station I don’t know. I’ve heard of Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement in Zimbabwe’s northeastern Mutoko communal lands, 90 km east of Harare but have no idea when it was established.
    Regarding the handful of europeans – here too I’m afraid I can’t give a definite answer. There may have been patients before but definitely not during my time there (1950s). The handful of europeans that I knew there were all staff: 2 Docters, Secretary, Agricultural officer, Water bailiff and 2 Nurses (and their families).
    As to school – I had lessons by post first and later was a boarder at Cowling House in FV.
    Regards, Mike

    (I will also email you direct about other issues)

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 28, 2011

      Mike, The gardens there were exceptional. Hats off to the Agricultural Officer. Got pictures to share? Amazing what wonderful work was accomplished with so few trained staff.

  • Mike Canter

    Reply Reply May 28, 2011

    Most regretfully I only have a handful of pics taken there. Besides being B&W they are of our house & family members; they reveal little of any garden features.
    p.s.
    Each staff house had its own garden, both flower and vegetable. The Agri Officer was mainly resposible for farming activities such as maize production and the rearing and slaughtering of animals but chiefly cattle. Perhaps you are right in that he may also have been responsible for the general beautification and upkeep of the station.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 29, 2011

      Mike the houses themselves are interesting…you know a picture is worth a thousand words…even the backgrounds tell you much. I was under the impression that the Leper Colony was pretty much self sufficient with the garden vegs, crops, and meat supply and that there were beautiful beds of flowers that were kept immaculately at the entrance to welcome you to the place….it was a welcome sight of civilization out there in the back of beyond.

      Tell me more….

  • Mike Canter

    Reply Reply June 5, 2011

    Yes, you’re right about the pictures only I don’t see any way of uploading any to this site.
    It was largely self-sufficient (i.e. then, not now). A lorry went to town once a week for mail and other supplies.
    As to those beautiful gardens: all I’m saying is that I never saw them. But Ngoma was a big place: more than 8000 acres! Maybe the road we took to get to our house bypassed that garden of eden, who knows?

  • Flo

    Reply Reply November 15, 2012

    Hi Diane

    I was reading your article and came across the name Florence Chileshe , I was wondering if you were by any chance referring to my grandmother . My name is Florence Chileshe and my grandma was the head of girl guides and brownies at amaveni primary school for as long as I could remember and although I went to kwekwe junior school I attended the brownies and girl guides at my grandmas school which also happened to be where my mother Miriam Chileshe was also a teacher there . I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and I now know a lot of things about kwekwe and guiders in general that I didn’t know about . Have you got any more pictures from my grandmas time with your mum at all please ?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 15, 2012

      Flo, Its wonderful to hear from you! Yes, my mother and Florence worked together along with Mrs. Bosman for many years to bring about the multiracial camps held at Dutchmans Pool at Echo Park following their beginnings at the guider training at Ngomahuru. My mother also took a group of African Guides to the Victoria Falls one year, and I have a thank you letter from Florence in the files. Unfortunately my mother never mastered the camera and so I only have a few photos taken when my father very occasionally popped out on a Sunday afternoon and took a few. I have more of the Loreto Mission Guides where my mother was also active.

      What can you tell me of the Guiding movement in Amaveni these days?

  • Flo

    Reply Reply November 15, 2012

    Oh I’m 29 now and I live in the UK now but I never missed trips to to wonderful places like vic falls , hwange , kariba , great zimbabwe , echo park and many many more great places . My grandma was head of guides until she retired . A lot of girls say that they owe it to guiders like my grandma for teaching them invaluable skills from running a successful home to being a professional woman of today . I can’t wait to tell them that I found someone whose mum made it all possible . I bet your mum had it tough ignoring all those race barriers that were there and to take on such a challenging but worthwhile journey . Pls feel free to email me any copies of letters and staff between yo mum and my grandma I’ll be really grateful . My email ad is laitney@hotmail.com

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 16, 2012

      Flo, It is so good to make contact with you. After my mom passed (in 2006) I continued with an annual Christmas letter exchange with Katie Bosman (who spearheaded the Coloured Guide movement in Que Que along with Mrs. Agenew (Indian) at Russell School. Katie moved to Botswana, and my brother is in contact with Tyrone, her son in Johannesburg occasionally. Katie, Florence and my Mom were the leaders of the multiracial camps and did all the training sessions together and became good friends. The Guide uniform made everyone colour blind, the focus being on teaching girls that they could be anything they wanted to be and prepared them in big ways and small with the self confidence to make a difference: they were the role models. Guiding was the most important thing in my mothers life. She began when she was 12 and actually her first venture outside South Africa was as a young guide representing South Africa at a camp at the Vic Falls as a teenager. She felt every girl should see Africa’s wonder of the world.

      I believe Florence also went high up in Education circles in the Midlands…if not beyond, but I do not know any of the details. I think originally she was from the Umtali District? Tell me about your family and how you got to be in the UK. I expect Florence has regrettably passed. They were giants of their time.

      I will see what I can dig up for you in the way of memorabelia…

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