The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 17

In March 1946 the Chief Medical Officer assured Dr. Ziervogel that a Cottage Hospital for Melsetter was being put on the Estimates. With this encouragement the Hospital Committee started making bricks and suitable sites were considered in readiness for the Town Planning which was supposed to be immirent. Little more was done to raise funds, as it was felt that the money in hand and promised was enough to negotiate with the Government on the � for � principle when the scheme was implemented. Years of frustration followed, with no definite undertaking being given by the Government after the verbal assurance in 1946.

The piped water system needed improving and was inadequate, and the Circle Engineer recommended a diversion weir and furrow or pipe from the top of the hill. He thought there was ample water for the present and immediate future needs, and that the Waterfall stream held enough water to supply a town twice the size of Umtali.  The Government brought Lindley North, 1 500 acres, with the intention of subdividing it into 100-acre plots for the settlement of immigrants.

The community mourned the passing of a gentle and kind friend when F. E. Cronwright died, aged 68, and appreciation of the services he had rendered was recorded.

At the School F. W. J. McCosh came as Headmaster; Mrs. J. Smith, full of energy and always knowing what bit of mischief was about to be tried, was the other teacher and there was one matron. An epidemic of measles swept the school and the small staff had a very difficult time on 24-hour a day duty looking after the sick children and also teaching the well ones. One rondavel was the only sickroom and others had to be emptied of stores and furniture with both boys and girls ill, and a case of pneumonia complicated matters still further.

After this the School got a second matron, and the School Council pressed very hard for better sickroom accommodation, and in due course a small sickbay was built on the site of two of the original rondavels.

Few local farmers sent their children to the school with its primitive conditions and State ward boarders, but Jim and Barbara Sinclair went in 1946, when Jim had Edward Rawstorne to keep him company but Barbara, not quite six and a half, was the only English-speaking girl boarder. 30 out of the 38 pupils were boarders. Gradually from then
on the school filled with local pupils.

In December an Open Day was held and at the inaugural meeting of the Parent-Teachers� Association (which never functioned very actively) the names of Martin and Steyn were chosen for the School Houses. The following year the School had its first swimming gala, held at the Hotel swimming-bath, and presented a Pageant written and produced by Fred and Olga MeCosh, which retold the story of the Gazaland Treks.

In March 1946 a well-attended public meeting discussed the pressing need for a social centre, plans for which had been held up by the long wait for Town Planning. A plan had been drawn up for building next to the Memorial Hall, but as that precluded outside recreations taking place near the centre other possibilities were discussed. Everyone agreed on the need for a centre: there were no facilities for entertainment for the village community; those living at a distance wanted to park their children somewhere with no inconvenience to anyone else in order to take part in activities; and newcomers could more easily get to know people if there were a centre. A list of suggested rooms with full details of their purposes was read and discussed. The meeting appointed a Recreation Club Committee, which worked hard at wider plans and in the meantime made the Memorial Hall more comfortable and equipped it for some indoor games so the village community was able to make use of it, and regular 2/ 6d dances were held.

In 1947 a Play-reading Club had well-attended fortnightly meetings and produced two plays in the Memorial Hall.
G. E. McLeod did an excellent job of keeping the Library going single-handed,  but with very little income and no new
books it was really moribund when in 1947 he asked the W.1. to take it over. The W.I. Library sub:Committee was immediately formed and worked extremely hard at the mammoth task of sorting through all the old books, selling those for which a market could be found, burning hundreds of absolutely useless ones, and cataloguing the remainder. During the next few years the W.I. raised money locally, applied successfully for a Government � for � grant, started restocking the shelves, publicised the amenities and canvassed for new subscribers, and got the Library going again very successfully with a paid Librarian. The W.1. took its responsibilities seriously in administering such a valuable property which belonged to the whole community.

In 1947 A. C. Soffe bought Tilbury and Dunstan from G. J. van Riet, who had bought the farms from English and had employed Schalk Kioppers to supervise his 1 200 head of cattle. Soffe intended to concentrate on cattle and agriculture, and sent out a small pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus, some Herefords and Afrikanders, and a Jersey herd to provide milk for the staff. Pastures and crops of maize, potatoes, peanuts, pineapples and 1 200 citrus trees were planted, with Tilbury the first in the district to have overhead irrigation. Investigations were made into the possibility of other development: a Dutch cigar tobacco expert from Indonesia would in his enthusiasm have transformed the farms overnight; tea experts declared the property a planter�s dream, and tea seedheds were established, but there were only a dozen Africans living on the 21 000 acres and locals warned there would always be a shortage of labour for a tea proposition � this was subsequently proved incorrect, with a happy and contented labour staff.

The Scenic road was the only means of access and from Rocklands the track went down the Haroni valley through Vooruitzicht, with eleven gates from there to Tilbury. Mud and swollen rivers were accepted hazards, and on one occasion the seven-ton lorry took eight days to reach Tilbury from Umtali.

The only buildings were a small brick under iron cottage with a permanently flushed �lavatory� over a furrow, two large stone and dagga sheds and a dipping tank. The first task was to build staff houses with materials, including sand, carried all the way from Umtali.

After the War there was an influx of new farmers, who all contributed to Melsetter�s progress. Permanent well-built houses were erected on most farms and development carried out, but all who tried did not survive the difficulties of farming here.

During the Second World War F. Neale transferred his farm Westward Ho! to his godson Neale Murray, then an S.A.A.F. bomber pilot. When he was demobilised Neale spent a year at Fairview learning about farming and conditions here, and when Peggie joined him in 1946 they started farming on Westward Ho!, sold it later to the B.S.A Co., and settled on Bokkraal, bought from Katie Cilliers, and concentrated on cattle, maize, orchards and tree plantation.
Springvale was bought by Teddie and Barbara Winwood, whose main farming lines are cattle, crops and avocado pears with which they did very well with air-freighting overseas before U.D.I.

On a Sunday in October a Mr. and Mrs. Green came to Albany. Coming from Bulawayo, they found it a pleasantly warm day, but were very impressed when the Murrays, Dr. and Mrs. Rose, John Maurice and the Geoff Sinclairs arrived, and each family as they got out of their cars said spontaneously: �Isn�t it appallingly hot?� If this was Melsetter�s hottest weather, Edward and Alicia Green felt confirmed in their feeling that this was where they would like to live. They spent the night, Pat and Edward rode over the top half of Albany the following day, arrangements were made for the Greens to buy that section, and soon afterwards Edward and Alicia moved on to Mutzarara.

Before tackling the farm Edward got Lofty Oliver to survey it. Lofty, a burly 6' 4", and Edward, who was short and slight, spent a weekend at Albany and when they set off on a one-day survey trip on a very hot February day, Lofty loaded up Edward and an African with the theodolite and necessary heavy equipment, and he himself was burdened with one footrule. His recollections of the effort are not very accurate!

�Probing new frontiers brings to mind our early struggles on Mutz: how we explored those rugged fastnesses, as yet untrodden by the foot of Bata, and in particular that grand Epic of endurance, THE ASCENT OF TREE �F�! What a triumph that was, when you and I finally made it to the topmost branches and looked out for the first time over that heaving wilderness (which you and Leish went on to transform with your inimitable energy and art into lovely Mutzarara). To the south shimmered Mount Silinda and due east was PENI. We agreed how felicitous the name was, for had it been plural it would almost certainly have attracted undesirable elements to the area, and it typified that innate sense of Dignity and Restraint so characteristic of whoever named it.

�Then you abandoned me above the Snowline and pushed off mumbling about having to telephone to Leish. I remember calling.., and calling.., and how the foolish sounds were instantly whistled into shreds by the shrieking icy blast, and I couldn�t find you... How I survived, bowed under the weight of ALL the survey kit, I�ll never know. The last 3000 feet of the descent I perforce accomplished by sliding in a sitting position down the frozen surface of the stream, with acute anguish accompanying the combined odour of smouldering khaki shorts and gluteal skin as I reached a speed rate of over 136 miles per hour.

�For an introduction to a new neighbour it must have been a stiff test for Pat and Shirley: I was covered in snow and icicles and smelt like a braaivleis, and they could hardly tell which end of me to shake hands with � but they took it all without batting an eyelash. What hurt even more than my raw tail was when I was led in and found you toasting yourself in front of the fire, looking as smug as a pregnant bedbug, and you said: �Hello, old man just dropped in? You ARE late.��

Lofty and Chris Oliver bought a portion of Mutzarara, Marangi, and for various spells lived there and developed orchards, but Lofty�s real interest was civil engineering, to which he returned. Edward�s brothers, Will and Charles, and sister Katharine Daniell, took over another section of Mutzarara, Claverdon.

John and Elizabeth Blackwood Murphy came to live with Elizabeth�s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Rose, while they built Carpenham on a portion of Lemon Kop, where they have developed a garden of outstanding interest and delight.

Dr. and Mrs. Chiko Mueller established fruit orchards on Nyashama. Dr. Mueller�s accounts of personal experiences of the Resistance Movements in Yugoslavia were of great interest. He was a great wine-maker, and tried hard, without success, to get the Government to grant licences to home producers. After he died, Phoebe-Ann carried on the peach project assisted by her sister Alice Beevers until ill-health in 197Q. forced her to leave.

John and Edna Kioppers came back to Melsetter and made their home on Guavana, a section of the Kioppers� family farm, Hillside, until ill-health forced them to leave in 1969.

Cecil and Mary Marshall started farming on Orange Grove where Cecil�s brother Hugh joined them, but after a few years they gave up farming and turned to business interests in Melsetter. On Westbourne, Dickon and Brenda Jessop started with poultry, cattle and a store. Heather Stelp bought Boskatrand and Nzuzu, while in the early 1950s Deysbrook was bought and developed on mixed farming lines by Jim and Helen Syme.

In 1948 marauding lions took toll of cattle, and it was an anxious time while they were reported on different farms.
 Also in 1948 the Ebenhaezer Committee formally handed  over the Pioneer Memorial to the care of the Village
  Management Board, and gave �10 for upkeep and repairs with promises from individual members of more
  from themselves or their children if it should be needed.

  Louis Beck, the V.M.B. Chairman, said that the Board members felt privileged to be present on such an
  occasion and that the Memorial would inspire and impress newcomers and would be a constant reminder  to all of the hardships and difficulties overcome by those who started Melsetter. Andries Kok drew attention to the fact that names on the Memorial were English as well as Afrikaans, as both peoples had started the district together, and were both still living in it. The five-year anniversary continues to be marked by a solemn service in the Dutch Reformed Church and a procession to the Memorial, where speeches are made and wreaths are laid.

The Melsetter-Chipinga branch of the British Empire Service League was formed, which held annual meetings alternately in Melsetter and Chipinga.

An account appeared in the Umtali Advertiser of a Mystery Ruin in Mountains, of which the history was unknown and that it was thought that thirty or more years ago there was a Portuguese outpost on the border into Rhodesia. This underlines the need for facts to be recorded, as readers will remember that after 1928 the Portuguese Border Post was still occupied. The 1948 article described the path leading into the gap in the great mountains as having been cut by hand, and over it white men were carried in litters. �Three miles through the gap is the house ruin and on either hand tower giant sandstone rocks. Two long avenues lead up through the deserted terraces and crumbling remains of a flower garden. Fire had blackened the ruin and the great trees which experts told me were more than 50 years old.�

Melsetter continued to wait impatiently for the promised Town Plan, and at last in May 1947 a surveyor started work. One result of the survey was that the Dunbarton Guest House was declared to be in a business area but was not classed as a business; the McLeods sold it soon afterwards, and when Hugh and Bobbie Pritchett bought it they renamed it The Anchor Private Hotel. Hugh put in electricity and offered to provide a power line to the Memorial Hall, but his offer was not taken up as soon afterwards he sold the Anchor. The Pritchetts moved from The Moorings, which they had bought from Jordaan who had built it and which the Marshalls bought later, and farmed at Pembroke Valley until the family later left Melsetter.

During 1947 the Memorial Hall verandah was widened on the upper side with money raised by the W.I. in order to ease the problem of serving teas there.

In May 1948 a Town Planning Officer brought a draft redistribution plan, which he said was the first of many, only the rough thing, planned for ten years ahead, and that six months would elapse between the final approval of the plan and action in the implementation. A model of the plan was seen here fleetingly and taken back for exhibition elsewhere, and when Melsetter asked if it could be returned here it was stated that the model had deteriorated- beyond repair.

Another year passed with no further news, and when the Minister for Internal Affairs came he was greeted with a memorandum from the F.A. and the V.M.B. setting out complaints.

At the end of June 1949 the T.P. Officer said that the Melsetter Town Planning Scheme would be published in a few days� time, but as finance was not available nothing could be done immediately. The V.M.B. asked whether urgently needed buildings could be erected before the Scheme actually came into operation, and the Officer said that he would enquire into the matter. He was unable to give any indication of the prices of the new stands.

In July 1949 the Scheme was published, with Melsetter planned as a Tourist Centre, said to be after the style of a Swiss village. The centre of the Town would be the Voortrekker Memorial in the market square, and the plan allowed for a hospital, six hotels, school site, sports ground, location, abbatoir, eight industrial sites, 101 residential stands, public gardens, trading sites, and an ornamental and boating lake between the town and the Chimanimani. The Police Camp, Memorial Hall and Government offices would remain, and allowance had been made for Cemetery and Churches.

After the utter neglect which Melsetter had experienced, the scheme struck everyone as grandiose. If slow and steady development had been allowed in the previous eighteen years some more natural growth might have been seen. No mention was made of who was to finance items such as six hotels, the lake and the public gardens. The industrial site had no road to it, and even if one could get there, no water was available. Objections and problems continued for years.