The Story of Melsetter

1922 was a year of general depression, when, following A.C.F. outbreaks and the slump in cattle prices, a drought resulted in shortage of grain. Two financial ventures also failed with heavy losses to local members, and, through the resultant lack of available cash, storekeepers also suffered heavily. The first venture was the Umtali Farmers� Co-op Society, whose local members were compelled to pay their pro rata share of the losses, between �45 and �50, although they had received only trifling benefits. The second was the Odri Canning Co., to which local shareholders had subscribed fresh capital to assist in reopening it, seeing in it the only means of disposing of surplus slaughter stock; it was a vain sacrifice as the factory closed down after barely three months and went into liquidation and the export of slaughter stock, the farmers� chief means of support, practically ceased.

Some horses were imported, and one case only of horsesickness was reported in 1922. Farmers were very particular to keep up inoculation, anxiety was felt when the Veterinary Department was unable to furnish fresh supplies of the virus, and the following year there were great losses from horsesickness.

Cronwright, besides being a General Dealer, auctioneer and dealer in gunpowder and explosives, was in a small way dealer in roll tobacco. He obtained excellent roll tobacco grown and manufactured by the farmers and in one particularly good year he sent 3000 lbs into Umtali, and felt that his business was capable of expansion. When a new Customs and Excise Ordinance was brought in, however,, he found the Regulations so onerous and the penalties so alarming that he closed down the tobacco side. He already paid �40 per annum in licences, but objected not so much to the cost of the new licence as to the amount of book-keeping required for dealing in very small quantities.

The Farmer�s Association held regular meetings, at which speakers from Salisbury included the Chief Forestry Officer, the Acting Chief Vet, a Cotton expert and the Chief Land Inspector. Among matters discussed were the need for a hospital and a District Nurse. Melsetter F.A. resolved to admit lady members at 2/ 6d per annum, and the three local Associations formed a union for closer contact and joined with Umtali F.A. as a central body to co-operate in the promotion of publicity.

W. W. Tucker succeeded Elliott as C.C. and R.M.  and pressed for houses for Government officials: an official residence for the Magistrate was an urgent need, as habitable houses in the town were seldom available. The small hotel was well conducted, but was not a desirable home for Officials to reside at permanently, and the two small blocks of Government quarters were occupied by the Assistant N.C. and the D.V.S. and junior officials had to make their own arrangements at considerable personal expense. Later, in 1928, the Government bought The Gwasha from Longden as the Residency.

Farewell Roberts, who had been born in Melsetter in 1900, came as clerk in the Magistrate�s office and found the Township very quiet as everybody had a lot of difficulty in making ends meet, but although they were all hard up they were all happy and contented, and played tennis, shot their meat, and enjoyed horse-riding. That year Melsetter much appreciated seeing its first bioscope.

A keen interest was taken in the political situation before the Referendum to decide whether Rhodesia should unite with South Africa or go ahead on her own with Responsible Government, and the future was freely discussed with perfect good humour. Longden was an enthusiastic Unionist, and was opposed by Mrs. Tawse-Jollie who had defeated him at the previous elections, was Rhodesia�s first woman M.P., and now campaigned for Responsible Government. Some residents hoped that Melsetter would get a railway if the Referendum went in favour of union. Many political meetings were held, frequently addressed by speakers from Salisbury.

F. S. Malan, Minister for Mines & Industries of the Union of South Africa, visited Melsetter in August at the invitation of the F.A., and addressed meetings and attended a Garden Party at The Gwasha.

On 2nd May 1922 in the Court House a representative meeting of eight out of twelve householders in town and six out of seven on the Commonage decided to appoint a Village Management Board for Melsetter Township. C. Orpen and Dr. Rose were proposed as Government nominees, and Mulling and H. D. Martin elected as local members.
The first V.M.B. meeting was held in the Magistrate�s office in June. Tucker took the Chair, and successive senior Government officials were regularly elected to this position.
Lethbridge started as Honorary Secretary, and when he became a member of the Board  the Secretary�s salary was �2 a month with free sanitary service, and later varied between was a prob �5 and �6.

The Ratepayers� A.G.M. in 1923 elected J. L. Martin, H. D. Martin, Mulling and Overland Gordon to the Board. Other members during the decade were the Revs. A. B. Wessels and C. A. van Schalkwyk, Longden and Sossen, whose Emporium was opened in 1933.  In 1933 F. E. Cronwright started his long and valued membership. Those first meetings set the pattern for years of discussion on topics which took up much time in the problems of administration, and many of them caused constant and and regular concern.
The town water furrows were sometimes used in an irregular manner, residents complained about not getting their fair share of water, and there were many other snags attendant upon the method of supply. An argument took place with the Police when the patient Magistrate found a dam built across the town furrow and an excavation made so that refresi every drop of water was diverted from the kloof into the police furrow; he had the matter rectified, and asked the Police Superintendent to find out who had caused the trouble. He said that masses of weeds were choking the police furrow along its entire length and that if it was cleaned and puddled regularly, as was the town furrow, the Police would find that they had ample water without interfering with the town supply.

The Sanitary Service was the V.M.B�s only source of revenue, the fee being 10/- a month per bucket � which cost 14/6d each � and the service had many problems.  Sanitary Fees, later called Village Fees, included night soil removal, rubbish removal,  water supplies and the right to graze 20 head of cattle free on the commonage: for stock above this number the charge was 1/- a head for large stock and 6d a head for small.

After a year�s successful administration the V.M.B. had saved �50 out of Sanitary Fees,  and built a small reinforced concrete dam at the intake for �38, and in 1924 bought and installed 1300 feet of black piping at 1 / 2d per foot, which partially solved the immediate water problem.

Dangerous trees caused much discussion: trees could be cut down without specific permission, and standowners had to apply for permission even to cut branches; in 1925 nine trees in the streets were felled on the advice of a Forestry official. Firewood was another headache as people collected it illegally and did not pay dues. Fireguards for the protection of the township and of individual plots had to be dealt with regularly, as did also the question of keeping the village grass cut.

The first burial in the new Cemetery was in November 1922. A later request for Government assistance in fencing it was refused, and the Board was told that funds should be raised locally by private subscription. Although the greater part of the town population consisted of Civil Servants who were unlikely to contribute and most farms had their own private burial grounds, somehow the money was found and the site was fenced and tidied.

With their slender finances the V.M.B. found it difficult to maintain the roads for which they were responsible in the surveyed township, and frequently appealed to the Divisional Roads Engineer for improvement to the road to the Police Camp, the path to the Waterfall, and other roads outside their precincts.
Efforts were made to ensure that all houses were built to a reasonable standard, but unsightly Nachtmaal houses, miserable shanties, existed unoccupied save for when the owners visited the town, and caused concern until gradually they were demolished.

Another unattractive feature resulted from butchers� practice of slaughtering cattle and pegging out hides in the streets and not disposing properly of offal. Residents objected, and the V.M.B. arranged for slaughter poles and insisted that offal should be buried.

More village telephones were installed, and Melsetter was included in the list of MinorExchanges.

Wagon transport was still normal, but the quicker buckboard was used by Condy inspecting schools and by Gorden the Vet, Captain Onyett the Police Superintendent and Dr. Magoon the dentist on their rounds, and horses were used by many, still including Dr. Rose. In 1923 the main roads were in a shocking state, and the Magistrate said that there was nothing to prevent proper repair and that inhabitants of an isolated district such as this should be given first and special consideration in access to the railway line.

Nan Crawhall (Mrs. Ball) was teaching at Umtali High School, and she and Kay Knipe wanted to spend a holiday with Mrs. Tawse-Jollie near Mount Silinda. How to get there was a problem as nobody would do the trip from Umtali where there were only one or two private cars and one taxi, but eventually Reading fetched them in his old bone-shaker Overland and conveyed them to Chipinga for �50. As the car could take no luggage, carriers, for whom they paid 1/- a day and supplied food, took ten days to walk to Mount Silinda by devious paths through the hills.

In the cold dark morning the girls left at 4 o�clock. The dusty track wound in and out amongst the bush and over the bridgeless rivers. They ploughed through sand, skidding and swerving to avoid protruding tree stumps, and had to stop to allow the engine to cool every few miles; the breaks were pleasantly passed by making tea with boiling water from the radiator. At Thaba Nchu they were greeted by the regal figure of Mrs. Cashel; had tea with Mrs. Wodehouse, a gentle lady of great musical talent, who had most patiently made the highly polished floor of her lounge from papier mache and were given refreshment by kindly people along the route. From Cashel up over the mountains they tended to concentrate on the tortuous bends and steep slopes to the partial exclusion of enjoying the scenery, and admired the confidence with which Reading drove over a narrow divide where the land sloped steeply on either side. They skirted the Chimanimani mountains in the glow of evening light, and reached the hotel in the dark, where they had baths in water heated in paraffin tins on an outside fire.

Next morning as they jolted through the Nyahode river Nan�s hat-box, on the running-board of the car, was ripped by a hidden branch. At Silverstream the passengers alighted while Reading bumped his way over rocks and stones through the riverbed. Later there was the perilous descent of Jansen�s Hill, a narrow steep track with a great hump in the middle. For the last few miles in the dark to Chipinga a piccanin was engaged to carry a lantern through the veld to warn of stones and rocks in the way. They spent the night in the little guest house, and Mrs. Tawse-Jollie sent horses next morning for them to ride.

Mrs. Ball later had reason to be thankful that she knew the Melsetter and Chipinga areas when, married to the Vice-Principal of Umtali High School, the arrival of the school coach bringing the boys and girls from their distant homes was anxiously awaited. �After nearly fifty years I am proud to remember those grand youngsters of pioneer calibre, splendid and steadfast, with resourcefulness to meet all their difficulties, who are now fine men and women of our land.�

The Morris-Carter Commission investigated the details of where the Africans had been living before the Europeans came and determined which areas should be set aside for their exclusive permanent occupation and reservation. In Melsetter the areas of occupation had definitely been in the lower-lying country away from frost and cold and near to water supplies, and on the basis of the Commission�s findings generous Tribal Trust Lands were apportioned with provision for future population expansion.

Chief Sawerombi was offered land but refused it. The VaRombe was a sub-tribe with very few followers dispersed on European farms who came under Chief Muwushu, and the Sawerombi chieftianship was in due course discontinued.
Chief Chikukwa was also offered land and refused it. The vaUngweme spread across the border with much of the tribe in Portuguese territory, and Chief Chikukwa�s home was on Rocklands. He and his followers decided that they would prefer to stay as they were and not to take up the alternative land offered to them in the Sabi as they felt that they had Mozambique open to them if they should want to move.

Mutambara and Muwushu T.T.L.s were marginal for agriculture, with erratic rainfall and a limited variety of crops which could be grown. When the population was scant it was possible for them to exist in their traditional manner gathering fruits and roots and hunting game although they did suffer from famine, depredations of wild animals, raids by other tribesmen, and disease. In 1923 a drought resulted in famine and great hardship. Franklin travelled round on horseback, shooting buck and distributing mealie-meal at different centres, and Farewell Roberts walked down the Devil�s Staircase to Hot Springs to issue grain from a depot there, and heard lions most nights.