Chipinga

Chipinga Coat of Arms

 

The original settlers of the Chipinga area – first known as Melsetter – arrived from the Orange Free State in 1893.  They were led by Thomas Moodie with Ernst Du Plessis as his second in command. Du Plessis’ grandsons still farm on the original land grant –   Clearwater – and are today successful tea growers.

The area had earlier been explored by Dunbar Moodie, cousin to Thomas, who returned to South Africa with glowing reports of “the most beautiful country I have seen in Rhodesia”.  Cecil John Rhodes was approached on the possibility of European settlement in the district. Rhodes considered it to be in the interests of the country to establish and maintain proper borders between his Rhodesia and the ill-surveyed Portuguese territory of Moçambique. Rhodes agreed that genuine trekkers prepared to take physical possession of land would be granted farms of about 3 000 hectares each for a minimal quit-rent of $6 a year.

A view of Chipinga from the air
A view of Chipinga from the air

 

By the end of 1895 a total of eight treks, from a variety of towns and villages in South Africa, had arrived and had pegged out farms from what is now Chipinga to Cashel Valley further north. In a few cases enthusiastic settlers even set out their farms on the wrong side of the ill-defined border with Moçambique.

Life in those early days was not easy.

Malaria took a heavy toll of the settlers; crops failed and the almost total absence of proper roads meant that supplies and mail were received only with the greatest difficulty – and at uncertain intervals. The leader of the first trek, Thomas Moodie, died of malaria before the end of 1893 but the survivors were determined and tough.  Most of them stayed and by the turn of the century farming in the district was becoming established.

Grave of trek leader Thomas Moodie who died of malaria in 1893
Grave of trek leader Thomas Moodie who died of malaria in 1893

 

The hamlet of Chipinga was beginning to grow up and to serve the immediate needs of its community with stores, a church school and government offices.  The original Melsetter – named by Thomas Moodie after his ancestral home in the Orkney Islands , off Scotland, has been moved to its present site, nearer the physical centre of the newly settled district.

Chipinga was stirring, but not yet fully awake.

In the early days agriculture was naturally the main activity of the district. And cattle were the main standby – when they lived. In the first six years of development of the Chipinga district the herds, brought in at such cost and effort to provide dairy products and draught animals for plough and wagon, were exterminated by tsetse fly, rinderpest and east coast fever. Today Chipinga can boast of 15 000 head of dairy cattle and a profitable cheese factory, whose products are well-known throughout Rhodesia.

 

Chipinga cheese - popular all over Rhodesia
Chipinga cheese – popular all over Rhodesia

As early as 1905 the Chipinga district had proved that coffee could be grown successfully. In fact, one of the first trekkers, Marthinus Maynard, was the first coffee farmer in 1895 with 36 coffee trees grown for his own use. In 1910 Chipinga coffee was awarded a gold medal at an international show, but shortly after this the plantations were almost wiped out by disease and it was not until 1958 that an experimental farm for commercial production was established.  By 1975 over 30 000 ha (75,000 acres) of coffee was under cultivation producing a crop of c 3 500 tonnes pa.

Tea, although a later starter that coffee in the Chipinga district, became a commercial proposition earlier. The first experimental planting took place in 1925 and was well established by 1930. In 1945 the Jersey Tea Estates were founded and today the annual tea crop exceeds 3 000 tonnes and is expected to reach almost 5 000 tonnes within the next three years. The Du Plessis brothers, grandsons of Ernst Du Plessis, have constructed a R$200 000 tea-processing factory on their farm Clearwater. In 1975 there were six tea factories processing c 3 600 ha (c 9,000 acres) of tea plantations.

Timber plays a large part in the economic development of Chipinga. Some 6 000 tonnes of timber are processed annually and such crops as cotton, winter wheat and grain – totalling about 56 000 tonnes a year – are produced.

With the start of these agricultural projects Chipinga began to rise from its sleep.

Examining tea plants near Chipinga
Examining tea plants near Chipinga
Streams flow through the lush woodland around Chipinga
Streams flow through the lush woodland around Chipinga

With the growth of agriculture in the district came an increasing need for commerce and industry. At first business was confined to essential foodstuffs, clothing and farming equipment but, with the growth of the district and the improvement of communications, it was not long before the business of Chipinga became more sophisticated. Branches of major Rhodesian firms opened and today the business section of the town can cater for nearly every need and the Chamber of Commerce is an enthusiastic and resourceful body. Plans have already been passed for the construction of supermarkets, a block of four new shops has started and a chemist and an electrical shop are among those soon to open.

Chipinga is connected to the national network of the Electricity Supply Commission but is still unique, however, in that it retains a 400kW hydro-electric generating station – the only town in Rhodesia to do so – which in emergency could meet all normal demands of the township. The demand foe electricity is growing to such an extent that already tariffs have been substantially reduced twice, and plans are in hand for the extension of the service to the border post of Mount Silinda.

Some typical countryside in the Chipinga district.
Some typical countryside in the Chipinga district.

 

Industry is moving into the town and all the industrial sites in Chipinga have been taken up. Light engineering, the construction of a concrete products factory and the expansion of a local bus company’s workshops to provide servicing and repair facilities for heavy equipment are among the ventures soon to be started.

In the last decade, the average value of building plans passed annually has increased from R$4 000 to R$700 000, and the demand for electricity – a recognised barometer of development – has nearly trebled in the past two years.

Chipinga is awake.

As the hamlet stirred and grew into a town, so came the need for increased medical care, education and religion.

In the beginning medical care was a vital need. Chipinga was lucky. In 1889 Rhodes agreed to the establishment of an American Board Mission station at Mount Silinda, some 37 kilometres from the present town, and by 1893 a Doctor Thomson arrived. He it was who saved the lives of many of the first farmer settlers, riding relays of horses to answer please for medical help by day or by night. It was not until 1937 that a small government clinic was established in Chipinga, accepting its first patients the following year, and it was in 1947/48 that the first cottage hospital for Europeans was built and the first permanent Government medical officer was appointed. This was Doctor R. D. Carshalton, who is still the Medical Officer in charge of the hospital and the district. Doctor Carshalton was perhaps Rhodesia’s first flying doctor, for, in the early days of his appointment, roads to the vast district which he had to serve were so poor that he covered the area in his own plane. Today, Doctor Carshalton has charge of three rural hospitals and the central unit in Chipinga which contains 14 European and 110 African beds, an up-to-date operating theatre built in 1967 and an X-ray unit. This hospital is the main centre for the developing areas of the Sabi River valley as well as for the town itself.

 

Chipinga district hospital
Chipinga district hospital

 

Education too was a vital need for the growing community but in this respect needs of the first settlers were not so easily met. Today, however, Chipinga is well served. The European primary school has an enrolment of more than 160 pupils at present, with plans for extensions. For Africans there is an excellent and progressive government school and Mount Silinda Mission also provides primary, secondary and teacher-training education.

The first European school was started by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1909 on the farm Kenilworth. In those early days, when money was short, school fees were frequently paid with dairy produce – milk, cream or butter. By the end of 1911 the Kenilworth school, now aided by government grants, moved into Chipinga where members of the Dutch Reformed Church congregation had built accommodation. In 1929 the present government primary school was opened.

The early pioneers were strengthened and comforted by their religion, but it is, perhaps, strange that it was not until August of 1931 that the foundation stone of the Dutch Reformed Church was laid in Chipinga, and that not for a further seven years was an Anglican church built.

Today the needs of body, mind and soul are well provided for in Chipinga. Sport plays an important part among the community and an attractive sports ground club provides facilities for bowls and tennis, for team sports such as cricket or rugby, for squash and for polo or polo-crosse. It has a nine-hole golf course and the Rural Council has provided a swimming bath. There are facilities for fishing in local dams and efforts are being made to stock mountain streams to attract fly fishermen.

Today, Chipinga is not only awake, it is alert, vigorous and looking confidently to the future.

Roads are being constructed to open up the south-eastern corner of Rhodesia’s lowveld, and a major project is the construction of the fully tarred national road which will link Chiredzi with Birchenough Bridge and Chipinga.

The Chirinda Forest, 32 kilometres from the town, is believed by some experts to date back to primaeval times and contains trees thought to antedate the birth of Christ. The forest is well known to naturalists for its collection of flora and fauna – particularly its butterflies, the cycads which grow on its perimeter and Samango monkeys.

A road through the Chirinda Forest south of Chipinga town
A road through the Chirinda Forest south of Chipinga town

 

Those who are fascinated by the enduring mystery of Greater Zimbabwe can visit the Zimbabwe-type ruins on a headland some 40 kilometres from Chipinga.

The visitor can gaze across hundreds of kilometres of Rhodesia’s lowveld to the west, and to the east across the rolling hills of Moçambique towards the ancient port of Sofala and can imagine that he stands on the ancient trade route – a direct and arrow-straight slave train route from Sofala to greater Zimbabwe and on to the Khami ruins – along which the treasures of Ophir and Solomon were believed to have passed.

In and around Chipinga the tourist will find many other attractions; a natural rock arch more than 20 metres high, bushman paintings, waterfalls, the lush greenness of tea or coffee plantations and a hundred scenic views.

Natural rock arch near Chipinga
Natural rock arch near Chipinga
Ancient wall near Chipinga
Ancient wall near Chipinga

Whatever the visitor, or the modern-day settler, may elect to do he will find that Chipinga will welcome him. The town has awakened and it has no intention of relapsing into slumber which delayed its progress for so long.

Written in 1973 by Hugh Platts with some amendments.

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Chipinga town population per 1969 census: African 2040, European: 290, Asian, 7, Coloured 13, Total 2350

Altitude: 1132 m  (3714 ft)

Mean annual rainfall over 50 years: 1137,9 mm (44.8 in)

Mean temperatures for:  July, October and January

Max: 20,1 °C   Min:  9,8 °C    Max: 26,7 °C   Min: 14,9 °C   Max: 25,2°C   Min: 16,7 °C

Max: 68.2 °F   Min: 49.6 °F    Max: 80.1 °F   Min: 58.8 °F    Max: 77.4°F   Min: 62.1 °F

 

Chipinga Diary of Events - distributed throughout the district
Chipinga Diary of Events – distributed throughout the district
A sample mid-summer Chipinga dairy
A sample mid-summer Chipinga diary