We had a Farm in Africa


Our Family at the Farm. Far L Brian, our “cookboy” John, Mom, Felon head “herd boy”, “herdboy”, middle me and David, crouching another “herdboy” and Sugah our “gardenboy”.

We Had a Farm in Africa

The farm was acquired as a foreclosure when the second Hunt brother (of Hunter’s Road) succumbed to a coronary and the widows needed to sell.  There were no buyers.  The bank urged Dad to take over the residual mortgage indebtedness.

We Had a Farm in Africa

The bailout made us farmers:  Dad’s only capital investment.  It was 1956.  No sooner had the deal been done than Dad was surprised with a curt letter informing him of one month’s notice on his mine appointment.   The hospital would be closing.  The new mine manager decided the Government could cope with any sick African miners and their families.  Dad was happy to see the last of Sick Parade and the mine practice.  He had established his own private practice in town.  But this meant we would lose the large rambling house with the big shady garden at #1 Silver Oaks Road that we all loved so much.  He insisted on the three months notice to vacate the house as stipulated in his employment agreement. The manager accepted with poor grace.

Dad’s only capital was invested in the newly acquired farm.  He called in the Conservation Department to assess the soil, irrigation, crops and livestock potential. They declared it an uneconomic farming unit and permitted subdivision into 11 plots.

People were looking for a place to call their own on which to potter.   One by one the plots sold for a song.  As they did we built our new house on five acres just outside of town, renting a house nearby in the interim.

Meanwhile one of the plot holders, an old diehard smallworker who had thought his luck was in when he bought the plot, asked Dad to buy it back.  He was strapped for cash.    It was not an unusual story.  Of the 269 distinguishable deposits around Que Que the six largest mines around Que Que accounted for 88% of the gold.

We all rushed out to explore the farm.  Agriculturally the 288 acres was the worst plot, but from the scenic point of view it was, reportedly, the best.

It was hard to see exactly what we had acquired, though.  The tall elephant grass dotted about with thorn trees obscured a long distance view.   There was a trickle of a stream called Lion Spruit or Zabola Spruit, depending on which map one was looking at, that ambled its way between fine specimens of combretum to empty itself into the Que Que River at the opposite end of the plot.   A lot of the fine timber had been cut down years ago.

Structurally there was not much to see.  There were three forty four gallon drums, rusty with no tops or bottoms and the beginnings of a house consisting of ant eaten  tree trunks stuck into six inches of foundation and all bound together by odd bits of wire.

Dad was appalled. We all had our opinions.  Mom thought perhaps we could dam the spruit and fish farm.  A pump would make Girl Guide camps possible all year round, with a little cottage somewhere for family affairs where Dad could get away from everything and be un-findable.

Brian thought it might be good for camping.  I thought I might have a horse there some day (though I wasn’t comfortable in the back of a horse, and knew it).  The birds were wonderful.  David wondered about the wildlife and suggested we put some elephant on it.

Instead we put some cattle on it and called it Rise ‘n Shine.

Thanks to Bob Atkinson of Pretoria for copy of The Economic Geology of the Country around Kwe Kwe. Bulletin No 67 Part II and many other materials.


  • Betty Goolsby

    Reply Reply January 10, 2011

    Can’t believe your beautiful estate and all the servants and amenities gone with the loss of the physician’s position at the mine….your poor mom! I would have just laid down and had a nervous breakdown!! She, of course, just saw that there was more opportunity for Girl Guide experiences…what a trooper. It sounds so desolate and sad, and “out there” So happy that your dad had built up a practice and was doing well when the ax fell! I hope you were able to duplicate the oasis that you had with the first big house! What a tragic story…hope it all ended well! Will we hear what happened next?
    You look too cute in the picture!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply January 11, 2011


      Well, the loss of #1Silver Oaks Road did loom as a huge crisis at the time, but life moves on. Bigger and better things were in store which we wouldn’t have embarked on otherwise. I’ll be describing these in the weeks ahead.

      Yes, the farm, was rather “out there” and a bit of a non starter, but we all actually had fun and learned a lot a long the way. One lesson was we weren’t cut out for farming. Africa was a tougher nut to crack than almost anywhere else on earth, the cliches “Darkest Africa”, “The White Man’s Grave” and so on had real meaning. The vast interior of Africa was impenetrable for so many centuries until the great “Scramble for Africa” and after the enthusiasm for it wore off, the burden of off loading it. Unlike the American West where the immigrants prevailed over the indigenous tribes as they succumbed to the white mans diseases and mastered the environment, in Africa it was the reverse. The elements were too harsh, the onslaught of disease all consuming, farming and mining were heartbreakers for too many.


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