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: