golden dawn

Golden Dawn, Rhodesia vast SE Lowveld irrigation project

This is Rhodesia’s future: up to 1 million acres under irrigation producing $300m. (£150m.) of agricultural produce every year.

(1970 prices)

THERE are few better times than an anniversary to review the past and assess the future.  It was five years ago that the present Sabi-Limpopo Authority was formally created and it proposes here to look back to see what has been done and also to consider the future.

It might be felt that it should confine itself rigidly to the past five years and strictly to its own achievements.

But this would be impossible in a flowing story like that concerned with the Lowveld. For it really began in the late 1920s when the courage and determination of Tom Murray MacDougall started it all and it is really the story of the combined efforts of the private and the public sectors of the community. At no point can the story be conveniently segmented without leaving unwarranted gaps.

While the Authority cannot, therefore, confine itself only to the part it has played and the past five years, it does propose to concentrate on the work done by it and its predecessor. But this should not discount the outstanding work done by private enterprise in the area.

Here are a few brief facts:

  • The Authority’s concept for the Sabi and Lundi basins was, and still is, that 700,000 acres should be irrigated at a cost of £280,000,000 (at 1970 prices) over 25 years.
  • Up to the present time 87,600 acres have been brought under irrigation by private enterprise and the Authority.
  • So far the Authority has invested £4,900,000 in the area.
  • Some of the crops being produced by the Authority are major foreign exchange savers and the approximate saving up to October 1969 was £2,500,000.
  • Up to October 1969 the Authority spent £740,000 on African wages, £335,000 on water and £382,500 on electricity.
  • The cumulative value of production by the Authority’s estates in the area stood at £3,401,000 at October 1969. This was made up as follows:-

                   Winter crops ………………………………  £1,752,000   (1970 prices)

 Summer crops …………………………….   1,437,150

Livestock …………………………………..      184,500

Other …………………………………………       27,150


The Kyle Dam spilling after good rains.

The Kyle Dam spilling after good rains.


The Kyle Dam on the Mtilikwe River

Aerial view of the Kyle dam on the Mtilikwe River


It was in 1965 that the Authority produced its long-term Development Plan. This is its master plan, outlining some 11 major irrigation schemes and a number of minor ones, but since then its main work has been to plan in detail and implement these various irrigation schemes, either as a whole or in part. It has, for instance, planned 15 separate projects. Some of these have been implemented and some are awaiting the necessary funds.

Probably the most challenging of these were the various stages of the Mkwasine project, designed to create 16,600 irrigated acres at a cost of £2,941,000. It was challenging because it had to be accomplished quickly and because for the first time it gave Rhodesia the hope of becoming independent of wheat imports.

Take stage one of the Mkwasine project. It involved bringing 2,400 acres under irrigation at a cost of £450,000. It was approved in January 1966 and implemented by May that year – a matter of five months. This set the pattern for the subsequent stages.

It has not, however, all been plain sailing. There have been the setbacks normally associated with agricultural ventures, and some of the most serious occurred recently when early heavy rains caused severe damage to the wheat crop being reaped.

The Authority so far has been mainly concerned with the two catchment areas of the Sabi and the Lundi Rivers, where it has carried out a number of projects. But there are a wide variety of other matters that also fall within its orbit.

It has, for instance, compiled a number of reports in response to inquiries from interested financiers or the Ministry of Agriculture relating to irrigation schemes in one form or another.

For the Industrial Development Corporation it produced a report for the use of water from the Manjirenji Dam for a sugar estate. This was not implemented owing to the softening of sugar markets in 1965 and 1966.

It produced a cattle report which has formed the basis of its policy under which ranching areas are integrated with irrigation schemes, so that there is provision for piped water as well as feed for steer fattening.

It has produced reports on a number of settlement farm schemes, some for industry and some for the Ministry of Agriculture. One, for instance, envisaged the establishment of a tomato canning factory in the area.

A number of reports on dam projects have been compiled. One is the Tokwe-Mukorsi irrigation and hydro-electric scheme.

Plans for future dams include the Lesapi Dam by which Lesapi water would be used to augment the Sabi River flow below Birchenough Bridge. Reports have been compiled on the proposed Condo Dam, the Dott’s Drift Dam and the Tanganda-Buffels Drift Dam.

In addition, the Authority has been involved in assisting the development of Chiredzi, the town that serves the area. This involvement has concerned a number of different aspects such as sites; the provision of a hospital and the facilities it needed; a primary school; water supplies; hotel facilities; the provision of Government services; an African township; the formation of a Local Board at Chiredzi and Rural Councils for the Chiredzi and Chipinga districts.


Kyle Dam on the Mtilikwe River completed 1961

The Kyle Dam is a concrete arch dam completed in 1961 at cost of $2.9m (£1.45m).  It is 207ft high and impounds 293 million gallons of water.  The catchment area of the dam is 1,540 square miles; the average rainfall over the catchment is 27.9 inches per annum; and the estimated yield is 281 cusecs (204,000 acre feet per annum).  Being the main storage and control point for the Mtilikwe River system, it irrigates, with the aid of the Bangala Dam, 60,000 acres of sugar cane and othe crops at Triangle and Hippo Valley.

The dam passed to the Authority’s ownership in December 1969.


As its area incorporates some of the Eastern Highlands, it was involved in a preliminary in­vestigation into the potential development of the Chipinga-Melsetter area. Subjects investi­gated included coffee, afforestation, tea and hydro-electric power. Broad proposals for the future of this area were included in the General Development Plan.

In the field of communications it negotiated with the Beit Trustees over construction of a Lower Sabi bridge and raised internal finance for the temporary causeway which was com­pleted in 1967. The Authority was also involved in the construction of the Buffalo Range Airport and the improvements to the main access road to Triangle and Chiredzi and the link with the Sabi East Bank- Tanganda road. It also promoted improved telecommunications with the Low­veld.

The provision of improved power supplies for the area has also been a matter of concern to the Authority. This has resulted in the construction of a national powerline from Umtali to all development projects in the Lowveld, making electricity available also to the Melsetter Highlands.

The Authority compiled a survey of the known mineral occurrences in the south-eastern Low­veld; provided evidence and general assistance to the Beitbridge Rail-link Commission, and has since been engaged in a regional road transport survey.

Research in the area falls naturally within its orbit and it is involved in such matters as bilharzia and quelea control and wild life conservation.

It has held meetings throughout the country to disseminate information on the Lowveld and one of its tasks has been to provide facilities for the thousands of visitors who have visited the area. Representations by the Authority resulted in the creation of the Gona-re-Zhou National Park, which is one of the biggest in the country.

One of the major facets of its work is civil engineering. This has occasioned investigations, with the Ministry of Water Development, into dam sites and basin surveys, reservoir yields, site exploration works, materials testing, canal alignments, preliminary designs and water analyses, expenditure on which has amounted to over £300,000 during this period.

Bangala Dam, lower Mtilikwe River

The Bangala Dam is an integral part of the water supply system for the 60,000 acre Mtilikwe scheme.

Built in 1963 at a cost of $3.6m (£1.8m), it has the unusual feature of a “skijump” spillway, which creates a spectacular waterfall as it overflows.  This dam passed to the Authority’s ownership in 1969.

It has carried out the preliminary design and costing of alternative schemes for comparative purposes. For project report purposes it has designed and costed schemes such as the Tokwane irrigation plan, Middle Sabi East Bank development and, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Development, the Nuanetsi­Manyoshi scheme.

It has also assessed the hydro-electric potential of particular sites.

Again in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Development it has designed and im­plemented the irrigation canals, night storage and regulation dams and associated works for overhead spray and flood irrigation of some 26,000 acres at Mkwasine, Chisumbanje and the Middle Sabi East Bank.

It has conducted a critical study of the Lundi­Tokwe catchment, comprising rainfall-runoff correlations, probability studies and catchment potential. This is aimed at making the most use of the short-term run-off records in predicting yields of various probabilities of non-occurrence from the proposed Lundi- Tende and Tokwe­Mukorsi Dams.

Analyses have been made of the application of yields of various probabilities of non­occurrence for irrigation purposes in order to make maximum use of the water resource potential. In addition it has analysed reservoir capacities in relation to drought sequences and probable maximum periods between times of spilling.

This, in broad outline, is some of the work it has itself undertaken or commissioned and we pass on to the brief background story of some of its irrigation projects.

For clarity, three maps are provided. One shows Rhodesia in relation to the surrounding countries and the second the area of Rhodesia which falls under the Authority’s wing. The third map shows the area in greater detail and is an essential reference for those who wish to grasp the immensity of what is being attempted in the Lowveld.

Sabi Limpopo Authority location map

RHODESIA is situated in the tropical zone between 160 and 230 south, yet the high alti­tude of much of the country gives it a comparatively temperate cli­mate. Being 150,820 square miles in area, it is nearly twice the size of the British Isles. The area ad­ministered by the Sabi-Limpopo Authority is roughly the size of Ireland and covers 26,000 square miles in the south-east of the country. The average altitude of much of the area is about 1,500 feet above sea level. Being relatively low-lying, it is known as the south-eastern Lowveld.

Lying south-east of the country’s main watershed, the basins of the Lundi, Sabi and other rivers drain a total area of over 40,000 square miles. Most of the water is collected from the up­lands of the interior, where the largely summer rainfall averages about 28 inches. In the comparatively dry lowveld, through which the rivers pass, the average rainfall is only 16 inches and is very erratic. It is the need for irrigation if this region is to be fully developed, and the proved availability of good soils, abundant river water and excellent dam sites, that form the basis of the Sabi- Limpopo project.

Sabi - Limpopo Authority map of current and planned developments
Click map for a closer view.

This is Rhodesia’s future  up to 1 million acres under irrigation producing $300m. (£150m.) worth of agricultural produce every year. This development will cost over $500m. (£250m at 1970 prices), but will provide employment for nearly 400,000 people in farm­ing, industry and commerce. This represents a consumer market of 1 3/4 million people.


The Authority’s future plans in the medium term include:-

(1) developing the Chisumbanje pilot project to the present limit of unstored water in the Sabi River, expected to be about 5,000 to 6,000 acres;

(2) developing the first stage of the Tokwe scheme with a weir which will irrigate some 6,000 acres between it and the Mtilikwe River;

(3) damming the Nuanetsi River and developing about 7,000 acres under irrigation;

(4) developing the large alluvial plain embraced by the Middle Sabi Development scheme up to about 80,000 acres under irrigation.


Esquilingwe Weir down stream from the Kyle and Bangala Dams

The Esquilingwe Weir is down stream from the Kyle and Bangala Dams. The precious water can be seen starting its final journey along the canal to the vast irrigation project at Triangle.


Manjirenji Dam with Lake MacDougall behind

Lake MacDougall on the Chiredzi River, formerly known as Manjirenji Dam, supplies water to the Mkwasine project. It is this project which is making a major contribution to the national wheat self-sufficiency drive. There are now 16,600 acres of irrigated wheat and summer crops 26 miles downstream.


Hippo Valley sugar mill

By contrast with Triangle, cane at Hippo Valley Estates is grown almost entirely under flood irrigation, requiring many miles of twisting canals.  In the centre of the picture is the company’s main sugar mill.


Chiredzi Canal

The Chiredzi canal, which is about 26 miles long, supplying water from Lake MacDougall to mixed-crop irrigation estates north-east of Chiredzi.


Reaping wheat on the Mkwasine Estate

Dusk descends on a fleet of combine harvesters reaping wheat on the Mkwasine Estate.


Triangle Estate sugar irrigation by overhead sprays

By 1965 the two sugar estates of Traingle and Hippo Valley had some 58,000 acres of land cleared and irrigable for sugar cane and other crops. More than half of Triangle’s sugar cane is irrigated by overhead sprays and laid out on the pattern shown here.


Wheat under sprays at Mkwasine Estate

Sprays in operation on wheat at the Mkwasine Estate which was established by the Authority and which now consists of 16,000 acres.  This estate uses water from Lake MacDougall.


6000 acres of winter wheat, SE Lowveld of Rhodesia

This picture shows 6,000 acres of winter wheat, which is alternated with cotton, rice, soya beans, groundnuts, maize and sorghum. The Authority has invested $5.8 million (£2.9 m) (at 1970 prices) in this scheme with the intention of disposing of the scheme to private enterprise once its profitability has been demonstrated.


Secondary irrigation canal, Rhodesian lowveld

Life-giving water for Rhodesia’s vast Lowveld sugar estates is channelled for miles through the thick bushveld from the major dam works of Kyle, Bangala and Manjirenji (now known as Lake MacDougall in honour of the Lowveld pioneer).  Evidence of the speed with which the estates got under way is the fact that as much as 300 acres of dense timber have been cleared in a day to make way for crops of sugar cane, wheat and cotton. The photograph shows a secondary channel passing through fields of established cane. Wild flowers beautify the scene.


Winter wheat under spray

The immediate objectives of the Authority are to utilise the water from Lake MacDougall (shown earlier) in order to make a major contribution to the national wheat self-sufficiency drive, to grow summer crops for export and to prove the viability of mixed cropping in the Lowveld with the object of attracting private investment.

The photograph shows winter wheat under irrigation, withe main distributory canal in the fore ground.


Triangle Canal

Above, a view of the Triangle Canal and, below, part of the 1,500 acre Hippo Valley Citrus Estate.

Here there are packing facilities for fresh fruit, a juice extractor and concentrator plant and a canning factory for fruit segments and fruit juice.

Hippo Valley Citrus Estate


Concrete lined canals, Middle Sabi

Concrete lined canals like this were constructed to convey the water to the first Middle Sabi project.


Middle Sabi bean experiment

A variety of experimental crops have been grown on the Middle Sabi project, including the seed beans shown here.


Prime Minister Ian Smith opens Sabi East Bank project

Mr Ian Douglas Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia, inaugurates the Sabi East Bank Irrigation Project in September 1969.


First 20 000 acres of bush cleared for irrigation

Higher up the Sabi River, some 50 miles north of Chisumbanje, alluvial soils are being exploited by the Authority. In 1969 the Authority managed a pilot project with almost 1,000 acres under irrigation shown here from the air. Most of the water used is gravity fed from the small Tanganda River. By 1973 this project will have been extended to 20,000 acres, of which the first phase of 6,000 acres was started in 1969. Crops initially will be cotton and wheat.

The longer-term aim is to bring at least 80,000 acres of alluvial soils under irrigation.


Middle Sabi canal under contruction

Construction of the main canal at Middle Sabi.  At this point the canal has a capacity of 270 cusecs.


African farmer growing crops under irrigation

African peasant farmers are important recipients of irrigation water in the Sabi Valley. Most cultivate between four and six acres. This African irrigator is growing a mixed crop of maize, rape, tomatoes and sugar cane.


Nyanadzi African irrigation scheme

In the Lowveld are a number of small African irrigation schemes and these now have a total of 5,000 acres under cultivation but are capable of immediate expansion by a further 5,000 acres. These schemes include: Mutumbara 310 acres; Nyanyadzi (shown here) 950 acres; Mutema/Tawona 1,017 acres; Devuli 500 acres; Chibuwa 1,001 acres; Chikwarakwara 400 acres; Chilonga 200 acres and Grootvlei 20 acres.  Grootvlei is on the Limpopo and has a potential of 5,000 acres.  Individual settlers with plots varying between one and four acres will pay $28 (£14) per acre per year in water charges. Crops grown include cotton, seed beans, wheat, maize, rice, groundnuts and some fruit and vegetables.


Seed planting at Mkwasine

This picture taken at Mkwasine has caught the atmosphere of action on the estate.

Here in swirling dust rice seed is being planted.


Middle Sabi intake works

A dragline excavating the inlet channel for the Middle Sabi intake works.


Middle Sabi bush clearing

Bush clearings of typical riverine vegetation at the Middle Sabi Project.


New settler's first house

Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates have between them about 50 settlers, each cultivating between 100 and 300 acres of sugar cane.  These men, all sturdy individualists, carved their farms and lands from virgin bush, making do in “pole and dagga” huts until profits allowed them to extend and improve the housing for their families.  The photograph shows part of the typical settler “house” which served as the main residence for the farmer, his wife and two small children for over a year during the early stages of development on the farm.


Plan of Mkwasine Estate

This map shows the development on the Mkwasine Estate.  A large portion of this estate is earmarked by Government for the early establishment of a settler scheme with farms of some 300 to 400 acres of irrigation.  It is planned that the first settlers will be selected this year.



(Established by Act of Parliament No. 84 of 1964)

Shield of the Sabi-Limpopo Authority

Board of Directors

Hon. H.J. Quinton (Chairman)

G. Kileff B.Sc. (Vice Chairman)

W. de Kock B.A.

A.T. Mills A.M.I.M.E ., A.M.(S.A.) I.MECH.E.

T. Mitchel D.F.C.

Principal Officers

J.B.D. Schoeman (General Manager)

H.R. Hack M.B.E. (Deputy General Manager)

W.D.Mills B.Com. Hons. (Group Secretary)

F.M. Furber C.A.(R) (Group Accountant)


Most of the above has been taken from the Sabi-Limpopo Authority including the review of 1970

with some additional material from Rhodesia Industrial and Commercial Trade Promotion 1968-1969