The Story of Melsetter

Chapter 9

In 1915 the Government took over the School hostel, an Assistant Matron was appointed, the fees were raised to �36 per annum, and boarding grants were allowed and Bills or Promissory notes accepted from parents for fees, but still the system did not run smoothly and only 50% of the children in the district were being taught in school.

In spite of difficulties, with lively young teachers at the school, tennis parties were popular and were often followed by supper and a singsong and dance, and the School had an excellent library of standard authors rewritten in simple form.

A letter in the Rhodesia Herald criticised the running of the Melsetter Postcart, particularly on the first 43 miles and the state of the mules. In reply Kimpton as the Mail Service Contractor welcomed the correspondence, hoping that it would cause the matter to be enquired into and that there would be at least two decent-sized road parties soon on this so-called road. He went into great detail, pointing out that until a few months previously the coach had never been late and the mules had been fat and fit although they had been on the road since June 1913: the shocking state of the road now compelled him to use ten mules instead of six as previously, he had in the last four months lost 15 mules, and the first 43 miles took eleven hours instead of seven.
All transport animals were crying out to those in authority: the Road Engineer had recently said that to 60 miles out there was no road left, and Kimpton asked if it were possible for a mule to be properly treated when he had to pull on a road that even the Engineer admitted had ceased to be worthy of the name. From Umtali to Silinda 130 miles were practically impassable and the other 40 needed to be kept in repair; to do all this the Government allowed one white man, two carts and, including drivers and cookboys, twenty natives, which Kimpton felt was about as much good as trying to clean out a stable with a table fork. Soon afterwards he gave up the mail contract, and Zederbergs took it on again.

The Controller of the Defence Force wrote that it was the intention of the Administrator to make a tour from Umtali to Mount Silinda, using Motors, and asked if the roads might be attended to where necessary. The reply was that the road party was working towards Melsetter and would go on to Mount Silinda, but it was doubtful if it would be beyond Chipinga by the date mentioned.

By this time Melsetter had a telephone exchange with four local subscribers.

In 1915 Longden retired and went to live on Sawerombi West where the old Umtali road passed his homestead. As no work had been done on it for about ten years it was practically impassable but was his only means of communication with Melsetter. He put his section in order, and on the Commonage portion the road was put in order with prison labour free of charge to the Department of Mines and Roads.

Finding a replacement for Longden after his twenty years as Melsetter�s Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate was not easy: the First World War was on and there was some anti-British feeling among a few of the people, A.C.F. was stilt hampering farming progress, and there were other problems. The choice fell on F. G. Elliott, then Native Commissioner at Matopos, to be C.C., R.M. and N.C. at Melsetter.
In Cape Town in 1916 his daughter Madge was looking forward to leaving school and having a gay life in Bulawayo, but she was sent for to keep her mother company in Melsetter, so far away from everywhere. For the first two years the Elliots lived at The Gwasha and moved to another house which Elliott bought when the Longdens came back to the village.

The schooling problem was acute and the number of children receiving no education at all was a matter of concern, so the Government implemented a scheme whereby any farmer could apply for a Government-paid teacher if he could guarantee to have ten children attending school and could provide accommodation for the teacher and a classroom.

To Voorspoed Farm School in 1916 came Joey Grobler from her teacher-training course at Stellenbosch. She travelled by train to Umtali and by coach to Melsetter, where Constance and Harris McLeod escorted her up to Melsetter School: she sat on a Madeira chair tied on to the platform of a four-wheeled cart with no sides, and the children walked on each side urging the donkey up the hill.

Early next morning she set out on a pony lent by Elliott, accompanied by Dons Lotter on horseback and a boy carrying her portmanteau and rugroll to which her tennis racket was strapped, although she was warned that there was no level ground where she was going.

They rode on a footpath to the Nyahode drift where they joined the road. At Lemon Kop, which Joseph Olwage was managing for Dr. Rose, they off-saddled and had lunch, and at Heathfield had coffee with the Kleyns. They dismounted for the steep descent to Voorspoed and led the horses, and with knees shaking and calves aching reached the Lotter homestead. Mrs. Lotter�s parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. R. Botha, lived nearby.

The Lotter�s house had a thatched roof, no ceilings, and floors smeared with cowdung; the schoolroom, with desks, blackboard, platform and chair, was about five yards from the homestead. The pupils, from Infants to Std. IV, were Danie and Fanie Bredenkamp, Lavina and Jan Schonken, Lina and David van der Linde, George Bezuidenhout, Joubert Kleyn, who all boarded with the Lotters, and Doulina, Johanna and Herculaas Botha.

Once on a walk Joey picked beautiful maroon flowers from a creeper with yellow beans, and when she got back to the house to ask the name Mrs. Lotter slapped her hand so hard that she dropped the flowers, and told her to rub her hand in the sand, wash with hot soapy water, and rub lard well in. In spite of this the hand swelled and was very painful, itchy and blistered: and Joey had learned not to touch buffalo beans.

Primitive but civil native women from across the Portuguese border came to hoe the lands, and worked all day for a cup of salt or sour milk which were scarce luxuries. The married women were naked to the waist, with a softly tanned skin apron in front to their knees, and a wider one at the back reaching to their ankles; they had big holes in the lobes of their ears, where they had a cartridge case or a piece of reed for their snuff; and pregnant women put red clay in their hair and twisted little tufts to stand up. Unmarried girls wore very thickly pleated skirts to their knees: about a yard of navy cloth was tied across the top of their bodies, under the left arm, with a knot on top.of the right shoulder. The piccanins were stark naked, with strings of beads round thighs and ankles to keep evil spirits away.
The men wore only a skin drape, and when cold they wore a soft skin sleeveless jacket.

Lotter went on a three-week trip by donkey wagon to Umtali with coffee beans, rolls of chewing and smoking tobacco, eggs and fowls, and brought back sugar, tea, rice, flour and other groceries. The day after his return the Lotters went across to the Bothas, and Miss Grobler was in her bedroom when she heard a noise and saw a black hand with a dinnerknife trying to open the window latch. Very scared, she lifted the short curtain and said: �What do you want?� The would-be intruder was startled and ran off, and she walked across to the Bothas�. Mr. and Mrs. Lotter came back with her, and Lotter punished the boy: it transpired that he had planned to steal as he knew Lotter had brought back prized items like salt and sugar and soap. Through Bland�s small store on Bland�s Folly, Joey bought a very handy tiny revolver for �3.10 with .22 ammunition.

Mr. and Mrs. Bredenkamp were very kind and sent an extra donkey for her to visit them at Uitkyk when the boys went home for the weekend, and she visited Mr. and Mrs. Jansen at Fortuna and made friends with the du Plessis at Clearwater. She met Fred Delaney, to whom she got engaged, and his friend Cliff Vice who went with Tom Ferreira on a big game hunt in Mozambique, contracted blackwater fever, and was carried in a machila to Mayfield where he died.

Towards the end of the last term Condy, Inspector of Schools for Manicaland, came on a cold wet drizzling day on horseback. He was not satisfied with the accommodation provided, and Voorspoed School closed at the end of the year and Miss Grobler was transferred.

In school holidays she came back to Melsetter, and once during the rains at a landslide in the cuttings a road party was clearing debris when the coach arrived. The passengers dismounted and the leader unhitched four mules and tied them to a tree. He then led the two wheelers with the coach almost on the edge of the precipice, while the passengers walked behind watching anxiously as it seemed the coach would - tumble over, but everything went well, the mules were hitched on again, and they carried on safely.

On a visit to Clearwater Fred rode a mule and Joey a donkey, with a boy to carry the luggage. They slept at Cattle Inspector Powell�s camp, where Ferguson the D.V.S. was also staying, and next morning went by footpath through Merrywaters.

Highlands Farm School opened in January 1917 with ten children including two who walked every day from and back to Rookwood. All the pupils, of whom the eldest was 21, were practically beginners when the school opened. When Condy inspected the school he found that their reading and recitation in both languages and their writing showed that they had worked diligently, sums were done neatly and accurately on slates, they were very good at mental calculations, a marked improvement was noticeable in their general deportment, and they were anxious to learn and seemed to appreciate the effort that had had been made to bring education within their reach but the school lasted for one year only as it was not possible to maintain a sufficient number of pupils to keep it open.