In 1968, when you travelled towards the Chirundu border post in the Zambezi valley you took the Lomagundi road out of Salisbury (Harare). After passing through Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and Karoi you arrived at Makuti, 290 kilometres from Salisbury (Harare) which is where the road split and by turning left you would drive down to Kariba. Take out the old names and the exact same directions apply!
Up to 1980 the Makuti motel used to do a roaring trade out of the almost never-ending stream of service people traveling through the area. A great place where many a frosty has been gratefully downed. I gather it is still a welcome watering hole for travellers in the region.
Proceeding on from Makuti towards the Valley one arrived at the Marongora Parks and Wildlife offices.
The start of the section of OLD ROAD into the Valley was near Marongora. This piece of road is a narrow, steep tar/strip road off the new road and it reaches the Valley floor nearly 1000 feet below Marongora at a small stream (usually dry) where there is, or used to be, a large wild fig or similar tree. A lot of army patrols would base up near here and it was about two kilometres distant from where the new road reached the valley floor.
The old road then meanders along for a while but, if you don’t turn off west towards the hunting camps or Nyamoumba, where the Kariba gorge ends, then the old road takes you back onto the new main road twelve kilometres or so further on.
The area described above is roughly diamond shaped, twelve kilometres long by three to four kilometres wide at the widest point. The long sides of the diamond are bounded by the old road to the west and the new road – that still carried a lot of traffic in 1968 – to the east. On a quiet morning you could hear the trucks on the new road as they traversed the escarpment about two kilometres away.
A large stream bisects the area from north to south.
In 1968 I was a L Cpl and attached, from just before Easter to about mid-July, to the first company of SAP (South African Police) to be based at Chirundu. (That is 21 year old me in the picture, posing next to the helicopter).
At one point they had a small patrol base, as described above, at the foot of the escarpment on the old road.
As already mentioned, the area was about twelve kilometres long with the two roads about one and a half to two kilometres apart at the base of the escarpment and at no point did the two roads diverge more than, at most, four kilometres from each other.
Anyway, one of the SAP’s first patrols in the area got lost, well and truly lost, BETWEEN these two roads. They ran out of communications or, most probably had not taken radios (excuse: they are heavy) so when they had not returned from what was to have been a twenty-four hour patrol there was some consternation and eventually we (the Rhodesian Army) were asked to get trackers in.
The trackers quickly found the somewhat wide-eyed, thirsty, and slightly panicky, patrol.
They reported that the patrol had walked to within a few metres of the main road a couple or more times and had actually CROSSED the old road at one or two places. Mostly, though, they had walked in circles although deliberately changing direction sometimes. All within an area less than nine square kilometres in extent. I think the patrol members reported that they had fired shots a couple of times to attract attention but I cannot remember if that was so. The trackers also reported – again I am uncertain – that the patrol had walked past elephant and, at one point, perhaps either lion or hyena – entirely possible as there were, and are, plenty of these, and other, wild animals in the Valley.
The trackers also felt that the patrol had approached the main road so closely that they should have seen the road and heard, even seen, traffic on it. Presumably so bewildered at being lost they did not register these otherwise plainly noticeable things.
There was considerable teasing and quite a bit of sneering about this but the point is…
These young men were POLICEMEN who had been taken from the beat and been given a short, sharp, paramilitary course. Some (perhaps all) had received some training from the South African Army prior to coming to Rhodesia. Based on the attitude displayed to us Rhodesians, when we did further pre-deployment training with them at Inkomo Garrison, it would be fair to say that the same disdainful attitude to the training would have pertained among many of them and few, if any, lessons had been absorbed or taken seriously by many of the men. (More on this in another post sometime).
It is my opinion that policemen are trained to have a different attitude by virtue of often working alone or in pairs – the army way must have been a bit stifling and bewildering to them. This in charge, almost disdainful-of-authority, attitude really did not work in anti-terrorism patrolling when pretty much each individual felt HE should be in charge making the patrol leader’s task difficult. I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be brought into a discussion around this – that is not my intention.
So, with little training in the way of soldiering and very few of the various skills that a soldier is taught, this patrol was shambling around – lost – and it illustrates how easily one CAN get lost if the basics of navigation and map reading are not learned and observed. It also illustrates how the anxiety of being lost can affect a group’s powers of observation. They came so close to being able to follow a road and they just failed to register what was in front of them.
The calibre of these men was to improve as time passed and lessons were learned. However, they were to suffer a number of casualties before the reality sank in that this was actually a serious situation. It was not, as one South African journalist around that time commented, “…only a bunch of disgruntled cookboys running around in the bush with a few guns…” (or words to that effect), belittling the very real terrorist war that was just getting started.
This satellite image from Google Earth shows the area under discussion.
If you go to Google Earth and enter Rukomeshe research it will find it as Rukomeshe Research Station, Hurungwe, Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. By zooming OUT and scrolling LEFT (or West) from Rukomeshe you will find the area of the attached map. Then, by zooming in you can actually see the old road fairly clearly. The faint blue triangular area is the area that was to be patrolled. The patrol got lost somewhere between the old road and the new main road, a bit west of the prominent river feature I believe.
If anyone reading this remembers the incident or can add more insight I would be glad to hear from them.