In 1980 Robert Mugabe had become our new President and a year later Corneels Van Wyk passed away, he never got to know this new land called Zimbabwe which would become our home. His passing came as a huge shock to all of us …….. our much loved patriarch was gone.
In 1981 Oupa Neels invited Dad for a traditional farm breakfast of fried Eggs , Bacon and Boerewors – he placed his worn hands on an old map of Karna Block, which he had laid out on the dining room table and then slumped forward in his chair from a massive coronary, never getting to share his plans for the future of Karna Block which was the purpose of the get together.
We moved from the Figtree area back to Karna in the Gwayi Valley in Matabeleland North . I was sad to leave behind all the wonderful childhood friends I had met at boarding school at Hillside Junior school in Bulawayo, we shared so many experiences during a bush war which made for a close community.
Driving the wide gravel road through endless Mopane forests to our home on the Shangani River was a completely different experience , cement cattle grids had replaced the rickety wire gates we had to open and close in the past to our great relief! The homestead had matured over time and now had faded grey thatched roof . the Kenya Coffee shade tree that Mum had planted just after they married ,had stood the test of time and towered above our heads. I ran to the cement water trough to find my four year old foot prints still visible in the cement where I had left them on a hot summers day in my childhood. There was still no electricity, which meant gas and paraffin lights at night and no TV… my folks liked it that way. The lyrical evening song of the Palm thrush seemed to welcome us home.
Section 8, the cattle farming operation had been badly affected by the seven year liberation war that ended in 1979. The legacy of 9000 cattle that Oupa had built up in his lifetime had dwindled to just 80 , that were too wild to handle. It was time for change , and the way forward was the farming of wildlife which naturally occurred in this area. Nemba Safaris was established and it was through the income from hunting safaris that the farm became a conservation area. Pierre saved three young elephant calves from being shipped to Zoos in the USA , they arrived completely traumatized off an Elephant Cull in Hwange National Park. Alfred Sibanda who cared for them gave them traditional african names – Nduna ( leader), Msintu ( the noisy one), Landela ( the one who follows) with his kindness and careful handling these babies settled and made Karna their home – each year they would journey back to Hwange National Park during the rainy season, they always seemed to know when to return to raid Dad’s Maize crop just as the mealie’s were ready for harvest . Revenue from the Hunting was used to re introduce wildlife species – Giraffe, Zebra , and a herd of wildebeest who all settled well , there was a mishap with offloading a herd of Tessebe who took off in a cloud of dust, having jumped the chute of the game capture truck never to be seen again…. they clearly didn’t like the look of us ..and the feeling was mutual.
Our home was often shared with orphan wild animals brought by the staff who knew that Mum with her nursing background and her love of animals would save them. Among those I remembered was a Mongoose called Siki, a little grey and white striped bundle delivered to the kitchen door by the anti poaching team. It was love at first sight and soon Mum and Siki were inseparable, he followed her everywhere chirping from sunrise to sunset and had so much unconditional love to give to all of us as we were part of his troupe. An added bonus for Mum, who hated spiders, was that he gobbled them up like a tiny fury vacuum cleaner so she no longer need to vault onto the furniture and summon Dad which her usual blood curdling screams. Into our lives also came Tinki a feisty Duiker Antelope who caused mayhem and disaster where ever he went. He was found abandoned in the reeds calling for his mother that never returned, perhaps taken by a leopard that was known to frequent that area? Never Mum’s favorite, he would tip toe into the lounge and steal biscuits off the the afternoon tea tray, have a nibble on her fern and then before leaving, would deposit a shower of pellets on the lounge carpet to let us know that he had visited. We used sit out under the coffee shade tree watching the sunset with a sun-downer to end the day , Tinki would be there to partake in whiskey and cigarettes if you did not watch him. Eventually he was returned to the wild near the the same reed thicket where he was found and lived to close to the homestead his entire life bringing his family to meet us every year.
Pierre and I were sent to off to High School in Kimberley in South Africa , a far off dry dusty place in the middle of nowhere – my father had been schooled at this same school way back when…. From a liberated Zimbabwe and we know faced the reality of apartheid and a completely different way of thinking which we did not understand .We got to know the farming areas of the Northern Cape beyond Kuruman where my father had grown up spending time with our Uncle Corneels close to the Kalahari . During the school holidays we traveled home to Zimbabwe and met interesting Professional Hunters and their American and German hunting clients who travelled the world to hunt African wildlife species. Hunting was a way of conserving a 45 000 acre wild space which at that stage did not have the wildlife populations to support photographic safaris .
By 1989 there was a diverse population of many different species of wildlife on Karna. We often heard the rasping cough of leopard in the thorny Riverine Acacia forest. Waterbuck, Bushbuck,Reedbuck , Duicker , Zebra , Buffelo, Jackal, Hyena, and Warthog frequented the pools of water in the Shangani River . On night drives we often spotted the Spring Hare, Porcupine , Bush Pig and the very unusual Aardvark . In the dry season flocks of hundreds of Carmine Bee Eaters which Dad referred to as the Fire birds would return to their nesting sites in the sandy river banks along the River. Combining Wildlife and horseriding was natural for my folks who both loved horses and riding – this was also a great way to make use of an Area that still had marginal wildlife compared with the nearby Hwange National Park. Mzola Trails became known as of one of Africa’s top riding Safaris with well trained horses and excellent riding country.
In 1981 Karna Block had small herd of only 15 Buffalo , by time we were forced to leave Karna in 2001 ( farm invasions), National Parks estimated there were over 600 Buffalo on the property. Proof that if Hunting is carried out in a sustainable way, it can have great conservation benefits.
Author: Leanne Gammon