Rhodesia from beginning to end

 [flickr id=”6011724231″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”medium” group=”” align=”center”]

Rhodesia beginning to end by Ron Morkel 

Ron Morkel’s family saga, Rhodesia beginning to end, culminates at the family farm, Mazuri Ranch, in the Rhodesdale district forty miles south east of Que Que.

Rhodesia beginning to end by Ron Morkel

The book begins with the harsh upbringing of his grandfather, Arthur, in South Africa.  Rejected by Rhodes’ committee recruiting men for the Pioneer Column trekking into Mashonaland in 1890, Arthur and a relative undertake the journey independently with a wagon, eight donkeys and a year’s supplies.

They encounter many difficulties, especially malaria. Arthur succeeds with a small vegetable farm in Fort Salisbury, assisted by Fredrick Selous and Dr. Jameson.  Later he establishes the farm Avondale.  He strikes it rich on the Joker gold mine, and then starts the Ceres Farm in the Shamva area and digs the first irrigation canals in the country.

Arthur’s fifth child, Cliff, as a young man, has to manage Fungwe Mine, “the hallway to  Hades” near the Mozambique border, really wild tsetse fly country with malaria, wild animals and successive drunken white overseers.  After five years living in isolation in a lean-to, he sees WWII as an honorable way out.  After service in East Africa he returns to Rhodesia and qualifies for a land resettlement ranch at Rhodesdale, eventually acquiring over 28,000 acres.

The book becomes vivid when it covers Ron’s own life at the farm.  Conditions remained primitive, but they were good stewards of the land and wildlife.  Eventually, in partnership with other Rhodesdale farmers, his father ran hunting safaris.

Ron’s personal account of the escalating fifteen year terrorist war is heart wrenching.  Slightly built, he wielded a Bren gun, the so called ‘light” machine gun in ever increasing six week call ups, leaving his young family vulnerable on the farm.   He lays bare army cruelties by ignorant NCO’s and terrorist atrocities in the Tribal Trust Lands and on the Zambian and Mozambique borders: a nuanced account. Eventually he leaves the beloved farm and country in 1979 and seeks a new life in the West.

His account avoids introspection and family conflicts.   Perhaps this is a reflection of the society as a whole.  Still, this is a valuable addition to anyone’s library who is interested in the area and those times.

However the book is prefaced by a brief potted history of Cecil John Rhodes, as well as an epilogue on Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe.  It is disappointing that in reviewing Smith’s The Great Betrayal: the memoirs of Africa’s most controversial leader Morkel hasn’t reassessed Smith’s performance.  “It is difficult to name a politician that I consider as misunderstood and aligned as Ian Smith.  The effort and resources put into demonizing this quiet man have been overwhelming.”

The facts are that it was his Rhodesian Front predecessor, Winston Field, that Smith subsequently ousted, who failed to secure independence for Southern Rhodesia on the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland when Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, both of whom had never been self governing, were granted theirs by Britain.  Sir Edgar Whitehead, defeated by the Rhodesian Front, would never have been hoodwinked on visits to London and bamboozled by ‘the treatment’ at Checkers.  He was out of the top drawer himself.

Further more, Ian Smith gave away Southern Rhodesia’s other trump card in declaring UDI.  By doing so he lost the safe guard and obligation Britain had to protect and defend Southern Rhodesia from terrorist or other attack.  Rhodes, on the other hand, at the very outset, recognized the importance of Britain’s support, hence his selection, out of thousands, of 200 men from good families to form the Pioneer Column.  As anticipated, Britain did come to the aid of the pioneers in the rebellions that soon followed the pioneers’ arrival.  Rhodes’ wisdom comes full circle in the The Morkel saga but Ron fails to see the connection of what might have been but for Smith’s blunder.

Smith was vehemently against Whitehead’s 1961 Constitution before he was for it. How many times did he flip-flop on this vital issue as well as many others?  Americans are all too familiar with the term.  But Smith was the master, press censorship making it all the easier.  He was all things to all people.  A constitution was ‘after all only a piece of paper’.  He had taken a leaf out of the book of independent Black Africa!

He sought to transition from a racially integrated political system to a separated one, from evolution towards a common society to re-entrenchment of the White privilege, from British ties to South African links, from constitutions commitment to constitutional license.

The Morkel family experience illustrates this powerful story, laying bare the rise and fall of the Rhodesian legacy.  It speaks for itself.  By tacking on the potted history the book unwittingly discloses the political ineptitude of the Rhodesians.  They were victims of their own propaganda.

Many thanks to Brian Tulloch of Houston, who grew up on Twin Springs Ranch,  for the book recommendation.  His father, Robin, surveyed the neighboring Rhodesdale Estate for subdivision when it was re-purchased by the Southern Rhodesian government from LonRho.

The book is available from Amazon:



  • Karl

    Reply Reply September 1, 2011

    Hi Diana,

    Your blog is very interesting. The Rhodesia phenomenon isn’t quite so easy to explain, although many people try. I hope to have my own little version out for Christmas.

    Cheers, Karl.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply September 1, 2011

      Karl, I agree Rhodesia from beginning to end is written from one family’s perspective and so by nature the point of view is limited. Never the less Ron Morkel’s book makes a valuable contribution to the Rhodesian library. I don’t agree with his take on Smith in particular.
      I am writing a novel based on our experience in Que Que which I hope rings true to the times (1946-1961) and will give a broader perspective of the complexities of the society, opposing views and depth of characters.
      I look forward to details of your book and a heads up when it’s available on the bookshelves. Diana

  • Ron Morkel and Margi Ahlgren

    Reply Reply December 22, 2011

    Diana, We have finally had the opportunity to digest and discuss your thoughtful critique of our work, “Rhodesia–beginning to end.” You obviously read the narrative with a keen eye for detail and made a rigorously intellectual analysis of the political backdrop. You point out that the White government was largely in control of “press censorship” as you term it. Recognizing that, I researched exhaustively into sources other than my own recollection in an attempt to soften my own biases. However, life stamps us with impressions that indelibly make us who we are, and in the Prologue section of the book, I acknowledge that fact.

  • Ron Morkel and Margi Ahlgren

    Reply Reply December 22, 2011

    To continue, I believe that valid points can be made for and against Ian Smith’s handling of events. In the end, who can truly know what would have happened if he had done differently? I speak from my perspective only, and you recognized the difficulties I had in coming to terms with tactics I witnessed being applied in the Army, as well as by some of my friends and neighbors. Perhaps I never shall fully reconcile the inconsistencies. Since this book was written primarily to document events for my family, I saw no point in introducing personal conflicts where facts are questionable and unverifiable at this point. I could only speak to my own inner conflicts, mentioned mostly in passing to leave judgement to my readers. All in all, I consider your comments quite well thought out and appreciate the vigor with which you considered my work.

  • John Sandford

    Reply Reply June 22, 2012

    Hi Diana, An excellent website you have established here. There are some serious omissions to the political comments made, above. Immediately after Harold Macmillans, “Winds of Change”, speech,South Africa did the right thing, and declared a Republic. Rhodesia should have done the same in 1960, but they voted with a 2 to 1 majority for the Roy Welensky 1961 Constitution, to reject their Independence.The Referendum stickers were all over Bulawayo, at that time, and no doubt throughout Rhodesia. For the United Federal Party and the Roy Welensky Constitution, “Rhodesia says Yes”. For the opposition Dominion Party, ” Vote No!- Independence Now”. This constitution made a Civil/Terrorist War inevitable, because with Political awareness now being spread among the Black Rhodesian population:- How can they possibly continue to be governed, by (now), self declared illegitimate English Settlers?, waving Union Jacks and holding Queens Birthday Parades. The prevalent attitude of Roy Welensky supporters was:- We have always been a Colony, we are quite happy being a Colony,:- Why dont you just leave us alone?. The Dominion Party, at their meetings, had Kenya Farmers, who had lost their homes, and farms, as a result of the Mau-Mau uprising, on stage, to tell the Rhodesians:- If you vote for this Roy Welensky Constitution, You will lose everything , just like we have! . The frequent answer from Roy Welensky supporters was:- “Oh no! That will never happen to us! The time for Rhodesia, to grow up, as an Independent Nation, and bury its eccentric colonial practices, was 1960. Winston Field won the 1961 election, for the Dominion Party, but with only a 5 seat majority, certainly did not have the mandate to press England, for the Independence of Rhodesia, that the majority of voters, did not want. Ian Smith, who had been a parliamentary member of Roy Welenskys United Federal Party, realized the treachery of this Constitution and resigned, to join the Rhodesian Front, which was the Dominion Party. He devoted his lifetime to build an Independent Rhodesia,and to obtain an independence, acceptable to England. If he had not declare independence in 1965, then the Black nationalist take-over, would have been almost immediate, and the end result, same as now exists in Zimbabwe. We could have had, We should have had, a Republic of Rhodesia in 1960, a brilliant success of Black and White Rhodesians working and living together, a showpiece for the world to respect and admire, to see what Rhodesia has done for its people!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply June 22, 2012

      John, I congratulate you on a well presented web site. A debate about this time in history is welcome, and could be valuable. However, you must first be accurately informed. I recommend JRT Wood “So Far and No Further”.

      • John Sandford

        Reply Reply June 23, 2012

        Hi Diana, As a very concerned Rhodesian, I was quite actively involved in assisting the Dominion Party, at that time, in Bulawayo, and knew several of the Dominion Party M.P.s personally, and attending the local political meetings. Roy Welensky , for the United Federal Party, was on stage, at Mc Murray Hall, of The Grand Hotel, in Main Street. He was very actively promoting his 1961 Constitution. He had brought it back from England with him, a major political architect of which had been Duncan Sandys. ” We are going to Change the Face of History!, We are going to Change the Face of the World!, We are going to Ride the Rolls together!,”Their” lovable Teddy Bear” Roy, thundered, as he pounded the table with his fists, selling his Constitution, (totally racially conflict driven, with separate A and B voters rolls, over-riding each other by , 10% of the votes cast, and the rejection of Independence, with a direct Right of Appeal to The British Privy Council, to overturn any contentious legislation, passed by the Rhodesian Government.) The audience at this meeting, with the Mc Murray Hall, filled to capacity, totally Punch- Drunk, with this poisoned chalice;- The Charisma of Roy Welensky, rose to their feet, almost as one man, shouting out, “Roy, Roy , Roy !”. Diana, the point of all of this, is to show that it was the Charisma of Roy Welensky that sold this constitution to the Rhodesians. If Roy had given total support to the Dominion Party with their demand for “Independence Now!”, we would have had a great nation, united ,to build a great future for every Rhodesian.

  • Kim Candy

    Reply Reply November 27, 2012

    Diana do you have a book published at this time I have been printing off articles and sending them to my Dad John Nicholson as he does not have a computer and he would love to read all of the articles in your blog. He just loved reading the ones I have sent so far !

    Kim Candy Nicholson

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 29, 2012

      Kim, No I haven’t compiled the blogs into a compendium of short stories, although there are over 150 of them. I am working on a historical novel based on our Que Que experience ’46-62. I hope to have it out early in 2013. I’ll be letting everyone know of course when its launched. So glad you and your Dad are enjoying the entries.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field