Thursday, October 27, 2011


Zambezia : New British Possession in Central South Africa

  • Thursday, October 27, 2011
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  • Author: E. A. Maund
    Source: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography,
    New Monthly Series, Vol. 12, No. 11 (Nov., 1890), pp. 649-655
    Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of
    British Geographers)


    A VIGOROUS spirit of commercial enterprise is now busily opening up that rich territory of Zambezia so long traversed by our explorers and ivory hunters, and which only so lately was declared "within the sphere of British influence." The British South Africa Company, empowered by royal charter, will in the immediate future find occupation, homes, and probably riches for thousands of our overteeming population, who are ever eager to colonise, when, as in the present instance, so promising a land is brought within their reach.

    Five years ago Sir Charles Warren's expedition opened up the grazing farms of Bechuanaland as a new field for emigration. This has since glown into a thriving crown colony with two fast growing towns, Vryburg and Mafeking, and a railway in construction to traverse it. Matabeleland was then a terra incognita, difficult and dangerous to approach. Ignorance created these illusions, which a more intimate acquaintance has now happily dispelled. The telegraph is fast connecting us with nearly a thousand of our countrymen, gone in to prospect and settle in this once far-off Matabeleland. They are now about Mount Wedsa, at the head of the Sabi river, a locality for years much coveted by trek Boers, as the rich valleys there afford splendid farming opportunities.* There is now an organised post and coach communica-

    * Read at the Geographical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Leeds Meeting, on Sept. 5th last.

    * Since the reading of this paper, the above mentioned expeditionary force has arrived at Mount Hampden, lat. 17° 35', long. 31° 22', without let or hindrance from the Matabele. The occupation of Mashonaland is therefore an accomplished fact. Mount Hampden is, we are informed, to be the headquarters of the Company for administrative purposes. The natives have heartily welcomed the white man; and reports from the experts show that the auriferous nature of the country has not been overrated; indeed the richness of the country traversed by this pioneering expedition, both in gold and farm lands, caused many of its members to wish to settle long before reaching the objective point, Mount Hampden, and many prospecting parties from the Transvaal and Cape Colony, are now fast trekking for this New Eldorado.-E. A. M.

    tion with Kimberley; and Gu-Bulawayo, the king's chief kraal, is actually within thirty days of London.

    I wish to draw the attention to this territory of Zambezia, so quickly being developed, of those who have few opportunities of reading the Royal Geographical Society's reports, and who rarely see our instructive, but too quickly pigeon-holed blue-books.

    Of course, many of those forming the Mashonaland pioneering party are fresh to African travelling experiences, and consequently may form and give adverse opinions on the country. It is, however, a splendidly equipped expedition, responsible positions being held by good men, capable of sound judgment men, too, who have been, seen, and think it good enough to go again. For years past, unfortunately, there harre been those who, vhen they got down country, from what used to be the "interior," loved to pose as heroes by accounts of the dangers and difficulties they had gone through, and it was this foolish way of mountainising molehills which retarded many frozn going to see for themselves.

    Matabele Land, which lies between 16° and 229 S. lat. and 27° and 33°E . long., is the most promising country for colonisation in South Africa, lying high, generally healthy, rich in minerals and soil, and sparsely populated. The people are not half so black as they are painted (I mean in character). Notwithstanding all their malicious reports to the contrary, the king and people have kept to their promises of friendship to the English, given, when their headmen came to England last year, to see if we were more respectable than the Boers made us out to be.

    Lobengula has allowed the construction of a road on to Mount Hampden,a t the sources of the Mazoe river, which, passing the Lundi river at 20½° S. lat., goes on via Mount Wedsa to open up MashonaLand; he even sent his Indunas to greet the expedition now passing through his territory. Of course savages are proverbially fickle, but the chartered company are now in a position, should it ever be to protect their necessary, working parties from the much overrated Matabele hordes.

    The country domillated by the Matabele (I cannot say governed) is as big as Germany, and very thinly populated; While the actual territory occupied by them is very small, and would comparea about as does Bavariato the German Empire. They rule from this centre much as the Roman military colonies did in barbarian however, Europe, without, the same civilising influence. Their kraals occupy the plateau forming the watershed between the Zambezi and risers, the Crocodile which varies between four and five thousand feet above sea-level. It is unnecessary to dwell here upon the Matabele nation, whose history has been one of bloodshed since their exodus from Zululand, and who still live under a military despotism of the worst kind. The terror of their assegais reaches beyond the Zambezi, while witchcraft claims many a victim along their own kraals. No better illustration can be given of these horrors than the sinister name of Lobengula's head kraal, Gu-Bulawayo, which means, " The place of killing."

    We have now gone among them not as judges, but to change all this killing and slavery by civilising influences; for we should not ourselves forget that, though it may be three-hundred years since we burned bishops and tortured for religion, yet it is actually as late as the eighteenth century that we burned a witch in Perthshire.

    It is with reference to the country where the Matabele chief kraals are situated that I would now speak, as during visits in 1885 and 1888, as well as during several lnonths' stay with the king this and last year,I have had the chance of mapping and prospecting this distriet. It will also give some idea of what England is now busily opening up. Witchcraft so terrorises the people that many were the amusing stratagems I had to have recourse to in obtaining angles from the hill-tops. Their confidenee in me, after bringing their Indunas safe home again from their wondrous voyage, was often rudely shaken. " Maundi must be a bit of a tagati (witch) when his sextant brought down the sun," and they were very doubtful whether shooting a kraal with a prismatle compass might not keep the rain off the cornfields in its vicinity. The rains, however, were particularly heavy this year; in the neighbourhood of Bulawayo no less than 40 inches of rain were measured during the months of November, Deeember, January, and February. Like all tropieal rains they are not eontinuous, but eome on in terrifieally heavy thunderstorms, with hot sunshine between. For several weeks before the rains actually fall the clouds bank up and threaten. Then is the king busy with his witch-doctors, making fell potions to eharm the clouds to break. One sees him anxiously gazing at every heavy cloud, for the people come in from all parts to beg rain from him, " their rainmaker," for their parched grounds. And many is the laugh I have had with him on the subject when, after a heavy rain, the people come to "bonga" (praise) him. Great then is his good humour, but he is far too shrewd to be a believer in his own powers in the rain-making line.

    The months of September and October, before the rains, are the hottest in the year. All vegetation appears to be burnt up, and the country has a dreary aspect. Cattle grow thin, and the vast herds are sent off low down the rivers to find grass and water. In September I have registered a maximum in the shade ranging between 105° and 111° F.; but the atmosphere is so dry that one does not feel it; 85° near the sea coast, with the air saturated with moisture, being comparatively much hotter. The evenings and tnornings are delightful, and at an elevation of 4000 feet the heat is not enervating, in fact we used to play lawn tennis through it, much to the antlsement of the natives. During the winter months, May, June, and July, it is often very cold at night in these highlands. Even on the Macloutsie river, at elevations under 3000 feet, I have known 15° of frost at night, with the thermometer ranging over 80° in the day, as measured by instruments registered at Kew.Mealies put in soak for the horses over-night have been frozen nearly solid in the morning. Notwithstanding this great variation in temperature, this season is particularly healthy. Trek oxen suffer from the dryness of the grass and cold; so do the poor unclothed natives, who do not thaw out until the sun has well aired the day. The climate is, however, well adapted to the Anglo-Saxon, who can work all the year round in it. There are Englishmen who have lived up there for the last 15 or 20 years. And what is more essential for good colonisation, white children thrive well, some of the missionaries and traders having reared large families. Of course, low down the river banks, during the rainy season, one expects to find fever,as in every new country, but houses built a few hundred feet above the river avoid any such danger.

    The Matabele corn-land principally lies in the district embraced by the map accompanying this paper, and when the clouds begin to bank they begin to pick, for as yet the king sets his face against ploughs. Sowing goes on in October and November, and after the first rains it is marvelous the rapidity with which the grass and corn grow. The russet brown country changes suddenly to an emerald green, and the grassland, which is good and abundant, and forests are ablaze with flowers of every hue. Those so soon to have farms up there will assuredly choose this season when wishing to effect a land sale. Harvesting goes on in May and June, and much of the corn is soon turned into Kaffir beer, the national drink, while a good deal is traded for coloured cotton and beads. Kaffir corn was traded last year for five-shillings' worth of goods per sack, but mealies were more difficult to buy. There is a great future in the corn as also in the cattle trade for this country. As I have mentioned, during the winter, or dry season, the cattle are sent off the plateau down the rivers, as higher up the water only remains in pools,the rains being so heavy that they run off quickly into deep channels; but by judicious storage of this rain supply vast tracts might be irrigated, while springs are numerous and only want opening up. In the Gu-Bulawayo district the soil is very deep and rich. Anything and everything seems to grow and flourish. At Shiloh, where Mr Thomas, a missionary, nonv dead, led on water from a spring, and made a large garden, I reaped and thrashed out several sacks of excellent English wheat. I planted potatoes too, which gave a very good crop. Cabbages, carrots, onions, marrows, beans, peas, cucumber,tomatoes, and lettuce also throve well. In fact, all Europeans vegetables, as well as sweet potatoes and mealies, grew very quickly in this irrigated ground. The rivers are generally in beds too deep to run the water off except at great expense; but windmill pumps, nuriyas, and dams could be utilised. With the aid of water, almost any fruit seems to flourish. From the same garden, we enjoyed a large crops of oranges,lemons,figs, grapes, bananas (or rather plantains), peaches, apricots, pomegranates, mulberries,and Cape gooseberries. The date-palms and apple-trees, though growing well, were too young to bear. The orange and lemon trees grow luxuriantly and fruit well. So too do the figs. There were beautiful groves of them in this missionary's garden. The vines grown over high trellised alleys also bore a great deal of lescious fruit. The white ant is the gardeners enemy, but luckily he seems to prefer the sandy soil to the rich loams. Many will be the splendid market gardens by and by to supply the mining centres. The Matabele women are the labourers. One sees during the picking season long rows of girls often with a queen among them, keeping time with their mattocks to a not unmelodious chant. Great quantities of excellent tobacco are grown by the Mashonas and Makalakas, that grown at Inyoka, of which the king receives a yearly tribute, being considered the best. It is principally converted into snuff. The rice grown in Mashona Land is excellent, and cost last year about eighteen shillings' worth of goods par sack. The grass, corn, rice, tobacco, and gardening capabilities of this country are sufficient allurements for farming colonists, while undoubtedly it would produce coffee and sugar. Cotton and india rubber we know it produces in the north, as the Mashonas weave blankets of the former, and make candles of the latter. Indigo grows as a weed, and is used by the Mashonas for dyeing their homemade blankets.

    Farmers have to combat lung sickness among cattle and that terrible scourge horse-sickness. Inoculation and quarantine laws will stamp out the former The natives now inoculate for lung-sickness, a treatment which is very successful, but they do not understand closing infected districts. For horse-sickness a specific has still to be found. It comes on yearly after the rains. In good years one per cent perhaps will die, whereas in a bad season like the last one a high percentage succumb. I lost eleven horses out of thirteen in a week. A " salted horse," or one which has gone through the sickness and therefore is supposed to be proof against it, will cost you 50l.o r 60l., whereas a very serviceable horse can be bought for 10l. down country.

    Matabele Land is well wooded, though the timber is not large. The mopani, a hard-wood capable of withstanding white ants, is useful for buildng and firewood, while its bark tans excellent leather. Until coal is found nearer than the Zambezi valley there is a good and sufficient supply fbr miIling purposes.

    It is to the mineral riches, however, that we must look for the quick development of this country. The gold in MashonaLand will, I believe create a " rush" only to be paralleled in the derelopment of California and the Western States of America. In the accompanying map no less than twenty reefs will be seerl marked, which, as far as the suspicious natives would allow, I prospected. In some of these we found free gold, and colour in the water courses below them. Old workings,too, were visible, which shows that at one time this quartz was worth working, even with crude appliances. There is a banket formation similar to that in the Transsaal in this district. While north of the Ramaquoban river the Charter Prospectors found a large body of reef which returned as much as 2 oz. of gold to the ton. These riches running among and even through the Matabele kraals must for the present lie undeveloped. The rich gold reefs in MashonaLand have been written and talked about for the last twenty years, and below Mount Hampden alluvial deposits are known to exist. This poor man's gold-field the Company has now sent experts to develop. It is from this Mazoe and Hanyani district that the natives bring gold-dust in quills for sale to the white men, notwithstanding the known penalty of death they risk in the traffic. But all this we will hope is now changed. The natives know that the white man will have the gold where it is known to exist, and they have wisely made the best of the situation by putting themselves in the hands of a strong company countenanced by the Great White Queen, who will befriend and not dispossess them.

    From numbers of natives who yearly go from here to find work in Johannesburg and Kimberley, the people generally have learned that it is better to have the benefits arising from these mines nearer their own homes. Hence the mass of the working population are in favour of the white man crushing their quartz, and thus saving them 800 miles tramp southwards.

    The Makalakas and Mashonas, the original inhabitants of the country, though physically much inferior to their masters, the Matabeles, are clever and willing workers. They fashion the hematite iron, in which mineral the country is particularly rich, into a variety of objects, principally, however, at present into assegais. The copper, too, in the country was formerly smelted by them, as is evidenced by old copper workings I have seen.

    Where once the Matabele learn the benefits and freedom to accrue from the white man's rule they will soon, I believe, work as well as the Zulus in Natal. If, however, they will not change the assegais for the pick and the plough, then gradually they will disappear beyond the Zambezi before the inevitable march of civilisation; and from among the downtrodden Mashonas and Makalakas we shall find plenty of labour for both mines and fields.

    It is strange that this country, so long reputed to be rich in gold and other minerals, of which Baines wrote twenty years ago as being the Land of Ophir,should until now have baffled our colonising instincts. The work, however, has now begun under the most favourable auspices. The administration of Zambezia is already organised,law and order will reign wherever the Chartered Company penetrate. The revolvers bowie knife, and spirit saloon will there have no place. Gold laws are framed, and the ivory-giver, the elephant, will now be preserved instead of exterminated. Raiding and slavery must cease; and Christianity will spread where hitherto the missionary's labours have been well nigh fruitless.

    We English colonise native territories to make them pay. We know that "a strong executive means order," and that stirring up native strife only necessitates costly expeditions. Slavery it is our ambition to abolish. So, too, we suppress the liquor traffic as breeding infinite troubles. Bechuana Land is a happy example of what can be done in this line. Khama's people are rapidly becoming civilised, and afford a good market for our goods. The greed for gold will always overcome climatic difficulties.

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