On a cold winters evening of 1953, Oupa Neels sat down next to the fire at Chelmsford farm to read his treasured Farmers Weekly, which had arrived in the post that day. He saw a large tract of land (87 000 acres ) advertised for Sale in the Gwayi Valley in Southern Rhodesia ( Zimbabwe)……….. Was this fate?
The previous year while on holiday to visit their oldest daughter Minaar Kriger in Northern Rhodesia ( Zambia) they had passed through this area driving the never ending strip road through hundreds of kilometers of dense dark teak forest . Their overnight stop was at Van Niekerk’s Hotel … Mr van Niekerk was such a character and a great host, they decided to stay a few days and visit Hwange National Park , Oupa met Ted Davidson on this journey , who was the founding Warden of Hwange National Park, Ted did not really socialise with the farmers in this area, as he was unhappy about the conflict between the farmers,their cattle and the park and its growing lion population. He would however become firm friends over time with Commander Tony Combe and my Grandfather who had a pragmatic approach to working with the local wildlife authorities in the area.
It was at around this time that he was approached with an offer to buy his farms in the Northern Cape by the Manganese Mining Company at Hotazal . In light of the recent droughts the family agreed to trek North to Karna Block, a ranch straddling the perennial Shangani River and offering more sweet veld grazing than they would ever need for their cattle . They selected their best breeding stock of ten Afrikaner Bulls and thirty cows, who were loaded onto the steam train together with their horses and two stubborn mules named Jacob and Esau, their long winding train journey North would end at Kennedy Siding on the border of the newly formed Hwange National Park.
There my father and his brothers Andries and Dawid met the livestock off the train in the early hours of the morning ,they saddled up the restless confused horses and began the long journey back to their new home on Karna Block . A two day journey camping under the stars every night ,the brothers took it in turns to keep watch over their precious cattle with their trusty 303 rifle loaded and ready for action, stoking the camp fire to keep the chattering hyena and lion away.
The homestead on Karna Block looked out over vast miomo woodlands , down across the Shangani Valley , to the far boundaries of the ranch which were lost in the distant haze. Within days of their arrival a lion passed by close to the homestead and Jacob and Esau did their usual trick an bolted back in the direction of the train, just as they had done in the Northern Cape. Dad, being the youngest, was given the job of tracking them down to Kennedy Siding where he would discover from Old man Smit that the tracks from of mules were last seen heading across the railway line into Hwange National Park. So ended the lives of the well traveled stubborn mules Jacob and Esau!