The Lure of Africa


A bogged wagon on Que Que’s early roads.

The Lure of Africa

Before the Great War, as a schoolboy in Llanbedr, near Crickhowell in a remote Welsh valley, Gervas Hughes collected  double headed stamps from the Globe and Phoenix MIne sent by his half-brother Tom (Reginald).  At university his Argentinian roommate tried  to persuade him to move to Argentina but the lure was Africa.  As soon as he completed his studies in agriculture in 1921, at the age of twenty, Gervas travelled by ship to Cape Town and then into the interior by train to stay with Tom working as an engineer at the Globe and Phoenix Mine.

The Lure of Africa

Gervas’  first impression of Que Que was that it was very hot and very dry.  His first job was at East Clare Ranch for Mr. Ackerman.  Daily he collected the cattle that had just died from the drought.  He transported them in a Scotch cart pulled by four oxen to be boiled in 44 gallon drums.  The meat was fed to pigs while the dry bones were ground to meal in a large coffee type mill worked by a mule.

After four years he left East Clare.  He  rented two farms on the Bembezaan River, Impala and Igogo, for £20 each a year from the Barratt brothers.  It was a flood year of over 70 inches. Gervas’ crops washed away.

As luck would have it, his mother and father chose this time to visit from  England, staying with Tom on the G&P.  He had no horse so he swam across the river  to visit them.  They in turn came out to Igogo in the miners’ spider (light cart with high wheels) with six mules. His mother prayed all the way and his  father was horrified. They took him back to England via Beira. They almost didn’t make it.  The railway was isolated by the Pungwe floods, the engine went off the line and the engine driver got appendicitis and had to be replaced by a passenger who said he did not know ‘that sort of engine’.

Gervas stayed exactly two weeks in England and headed back to Que Que. In those days third class on the Union Castle from Southampton to Cape Town was £17.10.0 and the rail fare to Que Que was  £2.10.0, so one could make it for twenty quid.

Soon after his return, in 1926, Lionel Somerset, the husband of Violet Austen, and secretary of the Lime Works, asked Gervas to take over from the Land Department his farm Greenham, 6,000 acres, now divided into two farms, Greenham and Haven, 6 miles out of town on the Gokwe Road. He moved his cattle from Igogo and built a hut near  Giraffe Spruit. He started doing ox wagon transport for small workers moving boilers and mining plant.

One day on his my way back from Mafungabusi Hill he went down with polio.  Paralyzed in his hut a miner on the farm, Monty Egan, got Baldachin’s garage to bring him to the G&P hospital which consisted of  two beds in the mine dispensary.  After a month he could walk a little and went by train to Salisbury where Dr. Godfrey Huggins confirmed the trouble. Gervas wired his father who came out, sold everything and took him home again.  But there was no cure for Africa.

Many Thanks to Tim Hughes of Queensland, Australia, for the story excerpt from his unpublished manuscript  Matambega and Son and the picture.