Life in Rhodesia: part one 14



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I was born in Rhodesia and lived there until 1983. We were very happy there and only decided to immigrate to Australia to get away from the Rhodesian Bush War. My husband Danny was in the Air Force at the time Robert Mugabe was made President and we decided it would no longer be safe to stay there.

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The Bush war started in 1964 when I was about 12 or 13 years old and continued until December 1979 when Rhodesia came under black rule. Life did not change too dramatically until much later on.

On 11th November 1965 Ian Smith declared UDI (the unilateral declaration of Independence). Sanctions were started against us and no-one wanted to trade with Rhodesia. The Zanu-PF terrorists were backed and trained by China. It was a very brutal war.

The civil war or bush war as it was called was escalating and we lost so many young lives. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to your husbands and sons and never know if they were going to return. Every night on the news they would tell us who had died in the war and it was terrible waiting to hear in case it was someone you knew.

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Rhodesian Special Air Service

Life started getting tough with petrol becoming increasingly in short supply. The only way to buy petrol was with petrol coupons. These were supplied to us and how many you got depended on how far you needed to drive to work. There was not any extra for pleasure.

Around about the late 70s they took away the petrol coupons and petrol was really in short supply. I used to go and join the queue at the garage early in the morning and then just have to wait in line for hours and hours until they opened the petrol pumps which was usually either 3pm or 5pm. Occasionally after waiting between 3 and 5 hours the sign used to go up that the petrol was now finished and we would all have to try again tomorrow. Upon reaching the tanks we were only allowed either 5 or 10 dollars’ worth which amounted to probably half a tank or could be less. On occasions Danny would sleep in the car so that we would be closer to the petrol tanks and hopefully get almost a full tank.

Elections were held in 1980 overseen by British troops. The Zimbabwe African Nations Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won by a majority vote and Robert Mugabe was the first black President of Zimbabwe.

Life under his rule became even more unbearable. Whenever he was on the roads he had lots of escorts. There were two police motorbikes in the front clearing the road for him. Then there were two or three army Jeeps loaded with army personnel and they all had automatic rifles. We all had to pull over to the very edge of the road and wait for him to pass. If you continued to drive the army vehicles, that came next would shoot you. We all had a nickname for him which was “Bob and the Wailers”.

We still had a very good time in Rhodesia. My Dad used to take us up to Inyanga at Christmas for a holiday most years. My brother and I would jump in the pool and the water was so icy but we did not care about that.

Inyanga Mountains is 8514 feet above sea level. Inyanga is known as one of the most beautiful holiday resorts. The mountains and pine forests, the springy grass and the fast flowing mountain streams full of trout. It is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. This is a picture of the Inyanga Mountains Hotel where the family spent great Christmases. On Christmas Eve there would be a roaring log fire as it got cold at night up there. Then in the morning the Hotel had a Father Christmas come around handing out presents for the kids.

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Inyanga Mountains Hotel

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View of Inyanga


Inyangombe Falls

 Are you from a far away country? Do you have a story to share like this? Tell us below. 

Linda Van Der Merwe

I was born in Rhodesia and emigrated to Australia in 1983 with my husband and two children. I worked at the Department of Justice and Attorney General for 16 years and then moved over to Queensland health for 3 years. In 2011 I was made redundant. I am not working and spend my days making cards, joining clubs and having fun with my friends. I have three beautiful grandsons and spend a lot of time with them. My one regret is that my beloved husband did not live long enough to meet his grandchildren.

  1. I loved this article Linda and I am sure you have many memories both sad and happy of your life in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Among my eclectic collection of bits of trivia, I have a banknote issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for one hundred trillion dollars which even when it was produced was near to worthless. Mugabe’s government just kept printing money in ever-increasing denominations until the whole corrupt system collapsed. It was just one indication of how desperate this once rich country had become – and, sadly, remains.

  2. Hi we spent many a holiday there, having family there, and my
    aunt had the “store” and some kind of hotel -motel in inyanga,
    i loved going there,,,, you brought back some memories for me.

  3. So many despots have destroyed countries purely for their own benefit. I wonder if Zimbabwe will ever recover?

  4. Linda, thank you for sharing your story. My husband is ex South Africa,…we were in South Africa for a few months and met many Zims (Rhodesians) heading down to South Africa in convoys, as it wasn’t safe to travel solo(’76-77) so very sad the way it has gone ,for both black and white is so good you have made a good life in Oz for your family.I hope SA isn,t going down the same track under despotic rule, but I,m afraid it is heading that way. All the best.

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