The story of the transformation of an empty fever-ridden wilderness to highly productive farming estates. 

A rich golden valley of industry, prosperity, beauty and outdoor enjoyment.

Harvesting oranges at the BSAC Mazoe Citrus Estate, 1923


Mazoe Valley photographed in 1899 – a virtually uninhabited wilderness.

According to Phillippa Berlyn, writing in 1970, the name is a corruption of the word manzou, or nyanzou, meaning the “place of the elephants”.

[For the benefit of non-Rhodesian readers, please note that the “e” in Mazoe is pronounced – as is the final e in most Rhodesian place names]


Mazoe Inn c 1900 showing the coach for Salisbury about to depart.

This original building, upgraded with modern facilities etc, survived to the end and if there were some spare petrol coupons,

as was usually the case,  the veranda provided an ideal place to enjoy a cane, orange and soda – Mazoe orange of course!


A colonial model Napier owned and driven by Mr A.C. Henderson of Mazoe ascending the “Golden Stairs” in 1914.

The open and empty nature of the land then found at Mazoe may be contrasted with the wonderful bounty of nature which the building of the Mazoe Dam made possible – as can be seen from the photos further down the page.


An account of the Mazoe Citrus Estate from the 1920s.

The main road from Salisbury to Mazoe crosses the famous Gwebi Flats which comparatively a few years ago teemed with big game of every description. In the near distance is Mount Hampden (5,247 feet above sea level) – the original objective in 1890 of the Pioneer Column, and away beyond Mount Hampden the Iron Mask range of mountains comes into view. The intervening country is all sub-divided into occupied farms and substantial homesteads have been established.  As the road passes on, the first glimpse through the forest of the great Mazoe dam is obtained, reminding one of a Scottish loch.  A few miles further on the whole width of the dam comes into view with grey granite mountains beyond and the visitor pauses on his way to gaze on this beautiful panorama. The winding road along the shore of the lake leads to the headworks of the Dam at the poort, or pass, in the Iron Mask mountain range which may be termed the entrance to the Mazoe Valley.  This valley contains some of the richest land in South Africa.  It extends for a distance of some 80 miles and varies in width from approximately 10 to 20 miles.  It is well watered by the Mazoe, Umrodzi, Poti and other smaller rivers all of which are perennial.  The towering mountains on either side of the valley give an air of grandeur and the spring and autumn tints of the forest trees add a glorious touch of colour.  Twenty years ago this this part of the country was practically undeveloped and uninhabited.  To-day there are homesteads dotted throughout the valley which is aptly termed the granary of Rhodesia. In this valley is situated the British South Africa Company’s Mazoe Estate at an altitude of 3,800 feet above sea level.   The main homestead is 34 miles north of Salisbury.  Garvin Spur, a railway siding on the branch line from Salisbury to Shamva is on the farm Virginia which forms part of the Estate.

The Estate is in charge of a resident manager. The homestead and surrounding buildings already amount to a village.  These buildings consist of the manager’s house, office (connected with various parts of the Estate and to Salisbury by telephone), clerks’ quarters, engineer’s house , school house and school room, also cottages occupied by mechanics and others, with the Estate tennis club courts and recreation hall in the centre of the village. The farm buildings are about half-a-mile distant from the village.   These are the cow-byres, mule stables, wagon and tractor sheds and general store from which are issued all tools, spraying material, fruit packing material, rations for mules, horses and natives.  Here also are the electric power house and the maize and grain store with mill.  Adjoining these is the main packing house, the machinery of which is electrically driven from the power house  which, with boxwood store and box-making sheds, covers a large area.  The blacksmiths’, mechanics’ and wheelwrights’ shops adjoin.


Mazoe Estate Village 1923

The farms which comprise the Estate on the north-east of the Iron Mask range, all served by the main irrigation canal from the Mazoe Dam, are: Smithfield, Brundret, Bloomfield, Clifton and Virginia.  On the south-east side of the Iron Mask range are the farms Arnolds, Glenbervie, Maggiesdale and Surtie; this land is on granite formation and is used in conjunction with the orange orchards and other land on the north-east of the Iron Mask range for cattle.  The established orchards are on the farms Smithfield, Brundret and part of Bloomfield.  Land on Bloomfield, Clifton and Virginia is to be subdivided into small holdings.

The soil on the Estate is extraordinarily productive. It varies from a rich red loam to sandy loam.  The land is well sheltered from prevailing winds, being bounded  on the south-east by the Iron Mask mountain range.  The north-west boundary is the Mazoe River.  There is an ample supply of water from the Mazoe Dam and the main canal has already been constructed to the railway siding at Garvin’s Spur.  It is intended to extend this as far as the boundary of the Company’s Estate a further 5 miles – thus all the orchards which are already planted, and land which will be planted with oranges, will be served with an ample supply.

The construction of the Mazoe Dam commenced in November 1918, and was completed in February 1920.

The dam is of the type known as an “arched dam” with the convex face upstream. The catchment area, in which flows the Mazoe and Dessura rivers and other small streams, covers about 136 square miles. The dam has filled each year since it was completed.  The wall is is 100 feet high with a depth of water to overflow level of 95 feet and a capacity of 5,000,000,000 gallons. The actual extent of the dam when full is 4½miles in length and 2½ miles wide at the maximum points.  It is estimated that some 6,000 to 10,000 acres of land can be irrigated from the dam. [The dam wall was later raised in 1961 which significantly increased its capacity.]

The whole of the material used in the construction of the dam was of Rhodesian origin and included 25,000 tons of crushed granite, 13,000 tons of sand and 6,000 tons of cement.

The wall which crosses the narrow gorge in the Iron Mask mountains, and holds up the water of the Mazoe River, is 539 feet long (including the spillways), 33 feet wide at he base and 10 feet wide at the top.

As a result of this enterprise, the BSAC looks forward to great development in the Mazoe Valley, not only in connection with the primary object of the scheme – its own citrus estates and land which is being laid out in small fruit farms – but also by intensive cultivation of cereals and other crops which can be grown under irrigation, both by the Company, and by the occupiers of the fruit farms and and by neighbouring riparian land owners on both the left and right banks of the Mazoe River.  There can be little doubt that the present owners of this riparian land will, in the near future, sub-divide their farms, many of which are 3,000 acres in extent, and lease or sell to the man who wants a small holding for intensive cultivation.

Native labour is employed throughout the Estate, under white supervision, and the current rate of wages is from 5s. to 10s. for picannins, and from 10s. to £1 or more for adults per month plus food.  The cost of food may be taken as 7s. 6d. per head per month. The food consists of maize meal and salt supplemented by vegetables and meat.

White labour commands from £10 to £20 per month, according to the ability of the employee and the class of work on which he is employed. On the Mazoe estate there are 30 European employees and 500 to 600 native labourers.

[Value of money: British pre-decimalised currency was in use.  5 shillings = 25 decimalised UK pence = c $1 US at that time.  In England a newly qualified Chartered Accountant (CPA in the USA) earned about £20 per month.]


The school at the Mazoe Estate is a “Farm School”.  Mr. J. S. Blackwell, Chief Clerk in the Department of Education, writes:

“In localities where ten or more children can be gathered together at one place, not within reach of another school so as to attend daily, the Government offers every facility for the establishment of Farm Schools. In these schools the Government provides a certificated teacher, pays the salary, and provides the ordinary school requisites. The parents provide a suitably well-lit and well-ventilated building, and the larger pieces of school furniture.  The Department supplies a plan of of a suitable building, makes a small grant towards the purchase of doors and windows and also supplies materials for furniture, provided the parents agree to construct it according to plans supplied.  The parents are required to provide suitable board, Accommodation and laundry for the teacher, who will of course pay for such at customary rates. Tuition fees are payable at for children at Farm Schools according to the usual tariff: infants £1, Standards 1-V £1 10s. and above Std V £2 per each of four terms per annum.  Twenty-five per cent rebate is allowed on fees paid within one month.  About 50 Farm Schools are in existence as at the start of 1923.”

Salisbury hospital is 35 miles by road or by rail from Mazoe.  At Mazoe township there is a resident District Surgeon.


Construction of the Mazoe Dam began in November 1918. This picture shows the work in progress in 1919.


The dam nearing completion. It was built by the British South Africa Company under their engineers,

Messrs. Sir Douglas Fox and Partners and utilised over 60,000 bags of cement supplied by the Premier Portland Cement Company of Rhodesia.


The Mazoe Dam shortly after completion in February 1920.


View over the Mazoe Valley from the dam wall.


Crossing the Mazoe Drift by motor car mid-1920s


In 1910 experimental orange orchards were planted by the British South Africa Company and the development of these orchards induced the Company to extend operations.

By 1923 there were three estates on which this development had taken place.  On the Mazoe Estate there were already planted 62,000 trees, at the Premier Estate 11,000 tress and at the Sinoia Estate 8,000 trees.  The majority of the trees on each of these estates bearing fruit.

Irrigation at a reasonable cost is essential, and also suitable land. Irrigation may be possible but suitable soil in that particular locality not available, or vice versa.

The Citrus Adviser to the Rhodesian Government, Mr A.G. Turner, says:

“Probably the first operation on the land will be to clear it of native trees and bush, which must be done thoroughly, leaving no stumps, etc. Suitable soils will be found in red soils, sandy loams and the lighter chocolate loams, provided they are deep and have not clay or ironstone sub-soils.  Turf and clay soils are unsuitable and should not be considered. Whatever the soil is, good drainage is a sine qua non, as the orange, like most other fruit trees, must have dry feet. While it requires a plentiful supply of water, it is certain death if there is any possibility of stagnant water”

Low-lying areas where severe frosts are experienced must be avoided. Proximity to the railway is essential with suitable roads .

The “lay-out” of an orange orchard is as important as laying the foundations of a permanent building.  The irrigation service and distribution furrows have to be laid out and the trees planted to suit the contour of the land so that the water can be distributed in the most economical and efficient method.

The dry season in Rhodesia extends from April to October, during which period irrigation is necessary practically every 6 weeks, according to the age of trees and the class of soil.  The amount of water required is also dependent on the age of the trees.  For trees in full bearing approximately 1,000 gallons of water is applied to each tree or 76,000 gallons per acre for each irrigation, there being 76 trees to the acre if planted on the square.

The irrigation system in vogue on the Company’s estates is automatic.  The distribution furrows are of brick and by means of a simple system of small sluice gates in these furrows, irrigation can be regulated for a day and night supply. This is of great advantage as irrigation at night, when there is no evaporation, is of far greater value than irrigation by day.

From the sluice gates in the distribution canal, 4 or 6 furrows are drawn between the rows of trees, and the water is led down these furrows. In the case of trees in young orchards only one furrow is necessary on each side of the trees.

The length of the lead should not, if possible, exceed 16 trees, in fact, the shorter the lead, in reason, the more even is the distribution of the water.  Trees are planted 24 feet apart, the lead for 16 trees would , therefore, be 128 yards.


Main canal from the Mazoe Dam.

All orchards throughout the valley are served with an ample supply of water.


A brick irrigation distributary supplying water from the main canal at Mazoe Citrus Estate.


Irrigation furrows leading water among the trees at Mazoe from the distributary, which is seen in the foreground.


The varieties of orange which the Company has planted at the Mazoe, Premier and Sinoia Estates, are:

Early ……………….. Washington Navel.

Mid-Season ………. Joppa, Jaffa, Mediterranean Sweet, Paper Rind St. Michael.

Late Varieties ……. Du Roi, Valencia Late.

The Company has also planted 2,000 Seville orange trees with a view to providing a bitter orange for preserving purposes, as it is hoped that it may be possible to utilize a considerable proportion of the culls of the sweet orange combined with the Seville.

The Company has established a Nursery at Sinoia in which approximately 50,000 orange trees are raised each year. In addition to supplying its own estates and farmers in Rhodesia, it sells very large quantities of trees to growers in the Union of South Africa. A great point in favour of Rhodesian grown trees is that no case of citrus canker, which has caused heavy losses in the the Union of South Africa, has ever occurred in this country.

Orange trees are worked on lemon stock grown from lemon pips taken from the wild lemon of the country.  These pips are planted in seed beds in August, are transplanted the same year into nursery lines, are budded the following year and are ready for transplanting to the orange orchards in the second year, or say 30 months from the date the pips were planted.  The rapid development of the young trees is extraordinary and it takes one year less in this country than in California to raise a tree that is fit to plant out in the orchard. Mr. H.E.V. Pickstone, one of the leading growers in South Africa and Chairman of the Fruit Exchange, stated that the growth of trees on these estates is 33% better than the growth of trees in the eastern and southern parts of the Cape Province.


Tractors on new land recently cleared of bush at Mazoe.


Tractor ploughing among young trees at Mazoe.


In the young stage, that is for the first two or three years after planting out, the trees will require very little if any fertiliser but this must depend on the soil.  It is after the trees begin to bear fruit that “feeding” becomes necessary.  Trees that are properly cultivated, irrigated and fertilised will make a good growth each year with clean dark full-sized foliage. Given this healthy condition the fruit will follow. Bearing trees after the 6th or 7th year may require a dressing of farmyard manure every third year, with a dressing of compound fertiliser in each of the intervening two years.  In addition to this cover crop of beans, cow peas, sunn-hemp and niger oil are planted about October and November with the first rains; these crops check soil erosion, add humus to the soil and so make the land more friable and consequently easier to work. As the trees get older and the crops become heavier the dressings of farmyard manure and fertiliser may have to be increased.

As soon as the land is sufficiently dry, say in March, the cover crops referred to above are ploughed under. The land is then harrowed down. After the first irrigation, say in May, the land is again cultivated and so a good tilth is maintained throughout the dry season.


Spraying orange trees against pests at Mazoe.


A section manager’s cottage at the Mazoe Citrus Estate.


A scene of well ordered industry at the Mazoe Citrus Estate where less than twenty years before had been just empty bush.


The well known label from a bottle of Mazoe Orange Crush


General store, mill and electric power station at Mazoe Citrus Estate.


The fruit of the all the hard work – harvesting oranges at Mazoe Citrus Estate.

Piccanin choosing a Mazoe orange 1923

“They won’t miss one of these”

Piccanin eating a Mazoe orange 1923

“Mm-m …..”


Picking is carried out by a special gang of pickers in charge of a European. The oranges are cut from the tree with a pair of incurved clippers which cut the stalks so short that there is no danger of it doing any injury to the adjacent fruit when packed.  The picker has a glove on the left hand and clips the orange from the tree with the right hand. The fruit is put in a bag suspended round the neck of the picker. When these bags are full the fruit is gently emptied into “lug” or “groove” boxes and in these boxes is carted to the packing house.

The power grader and sizer which is in use at the packing house was made by Parker Machine Works, Riverside, California, and is capable of brushing, grading and sizing 500 cases of oranges per day.  A case contains from 80 to 360 oranges according to the size of the fruit.  The boxwood from which the boxes are made is at present imported from Sweden in “shook” that is in bundles. The sides, tops, bottoms, centres and ends are all cut to size, the box, which measures 26″ x 12″ x 12″ is nailed together on the Estate.  Next year’s importation will be wood for approximately 70,000 boxes, the following year, 1925, it will be for 100,000 boxes, gradually increasing to double that amount. The cost of a box complete with nails and strapping delivered on the Company’s Estates is about 2s. 6d. [c 12p or 20 cents]

After tipping into an elevator, the fruit passes through brushes and thence on to revolving belts in front of a sorting platform. On the platform eight to ten native employees in charge of a European assistant  sort the fruit as it passes into three grades, “Fancy”, “Choice” and “Standard”.  Fancy fruit is that which is free from all blemish and injury. Choice fruit is that which is sound except for slight blemishes which do not affect the quality.  Standard fruit is in all other respects equal to Choice but has been marked by hail, leaf rubbing etc. but must not be unsightly.  All oranges must have attained 70 per cent yellow or orange colour.


Interior of the Packing House at Mazoe Citrus Estate


Each of the men employed on sorting wears a glove on each hand.  The culls being thrown out into separate bins.  From the sorting table the belts convey the fruit to the sizer where it falls through graduated spaces on the rollers. From the bins they are wrapped and packed by the packers. Each packer always packs one particular size. He wears a glove on the left hand with which he picks up the orange and with the right hand he picks up the paper in the centre of which the orange is placed.

Good native packers will wrap and pack up to 40 cases a day. When packed the cases are taken to the nailing machine  and before the lid is put on the fruit stands at least 2 ins. above the level of the top of the box.  Pressure is applied to the lid which brings down the two ends on to the end of the box.  The strapping and cleats are then put on and the lid nailed down. This leaves a bulge  from the centre to the ends of the box and the object of this bulge is that these is a considerable shrinkage of the fruit during the month that it is in transit and if not packed in this way the fruit would become loose in the box. A box or oranges weighs approximately 80 lbs.

It will be noted that the fruit itself is never handled other than by a gloved hand.  The main object is to avoid scratching the fruit, as the slightest abrasion of the skin which would break down the oil cells may admit fungoid spores which set up blue mould.  One mouldy fruit may infect many others in the same box. All the work in the packing house is carried out with native labour  under European supervision and the results have so far been most satisfactory.


Packing Mazoe oranges with gloved hands

RHODESIAN GROWN – Packing Mazoe oranges with gloved hands


The cartage of the fruit from the trees to the packing house is done by mule trollies or ox wagons; both wagons and trollies are on springs to prevent damage to the fruit.

Foden and Robey steam wagons transport the fruit from the packing house to the railway siding where it is loaded into specially constructed railway fruit vans which hold 480 cases;

the journey from Salisbury to Capetown occupies seven to eight days. Mazoe oranges will be on sale in England just 30 days after picking.


Except where stated, the above text was written by an unknown author in the mid 1920s on behalf of the British South Africa Company. It is possible it was written by, or based on a report by, Maj, H.G. Mundy F.L.S., the Chief Agriculturist at the Dept. of Agriculture, who undertook a two day visit to the estate in February 1921.

The black and white pictures come from a variety of unknown photographers some of which were published by the BSAC.


A hive of activity at harvest time.

Oranges arriving from the orchards and packed cases leaving for the railhead.


40 years on …..


The road is fine and broad, inviting the tourist and the citizen to drive into the hills north of the capital, through smiling maize lands and pastures, and then to linger on the shores of one of the country’s loveliest dams, a mecca for anglers and yachtsmen.  Only half an hour’s drive from the city, the dam and the citrus estates which it feeds represent not only an area of spacious beauty but also a slice of semi-tamed Africa and of Rhodesia’s past.  For the district has seen much turbulence  – from the slavers and inter-tribal warfare, to the rebellion against the White Pioneers generations ago.

Today, it is a valley of peace, prosperity, health and outdoor enjoyment, and the focal point of a drive which can fill an afternoon with quiet pleasure for everyone from the very young to the very old.  These thoughts arise because the British South Africa Company, which in Rhodes’s day opened up the vast country which is now Rhodesia and Zambia, recently celebrated the jubilee of its Mazoe Citrus Estates – the country’s first major agricultural project.

The fertile Mazoe Valley had from time immemorial been a fever-ridden wilderness, but determination, medical science, hard work and vision transformed it into what it is today – a symbol of White enterprise in Africa and one of the richest agricultural areas of Rhodesia.

In 1952, [many years after the above earlier account written in the 1920s] a large drying-plant was installed for the production of cattle-feed from orange residues, and this plant has now acquired increased significance in view of the unsatisfied demand in many countries for the choice Rhodesian beef now being exported by air and sea to eager buyers.

Since the early days, the estates have expanded greatly, and the extra water required was ensured by a heightening of the dam wall in 1961, which explains why the lake is now almost double its original size. At present, there are about 226,000 citrus trees (mainly oranges but also lemons , grapefruit, tangerines and limes), and the target of the current development plan is to plant more than 450,000.


My own photo of the Mazoe Dam in 1975.

The wall was raised in 1961 and the original height can clearly be seen.


View over Mazoe Dam from the main Salisbury – Bindura road.


Fishing at Mazoe Dam 1975.

The road to Bindura can be seen to the left heading towards the dam wall at the foot of the hill.


The Fruit Kiosk at Mazoe, the dam wall is to the left of the photo.

The citrus estate is behind you!


The Salisbury – Bindura road through the Mazoe Valley.

The scene shortly after entering the valley showing the turn off to Concession, Umvukwes and Centenary.


Topping the steep hill hill overlooking the dam, the visitor will see the beginnings of the estate in the valley below  and, after a mere ten minutes of motoring, will see the trees on either side of the road  – regiment upon regiment of them, for the lines and the “dressing” are almost military in their exactitude.

The emphasis, however, is not on size but on quality.  Having suppressed the slave trade and tribal warfare, the BSA Company established communications and schemes  of general development in order to attract settlers who would lay the foundations of the modern State of Rhodesia.  It therefore spent much money and effort on experiment and research and has maintained a tradition of sharing its findings  and experience with the Government  and with private growers north as well as south of the Zambezi.

Rhodesia abound with reminders of early history, and Mazoe is no exception.  All the thousands of trees now to be seen on the estates have been budded on Mazoe Rough Lemon rootstock, trees of which were found in the area in the early days of European settlement and which are believed to have sprung from seed brought by Arab slavers from the coast of the Indian Ocean.

To those who have the privilege of visiting the modern processing factory on the estates, the long lines of Arab-driven slaves stumbling to serfdom less than 100 years ago seem almost impossible to imagine; for here, in this modern factory, are stainless steel and electronically controlled  machinery, and (instead of the Aladdin oil-jars of Arabia) great vats and plastic containers for the export of the concentrated golden sunshine which is Mazoe orange juice.

Mazoe has other claims to prominence.

It was one of the country’s main centres of mining for many years, and the keen eye can still note some of the “one-man” gold mines  thrust into the sides of the hills encircling the valley, but now discreetly masked by forest. Itself a rich centre of general agriculture –  maize, cotton, dairying, cattle – the valley is also the gateway to some of the county’s vast “new” farming areas which have been opened up to the north in the past decade or two.

Its status as a “gateway” is established by the memorial to the Mazoe Patrol, the brave  little band of men who rescued families  beleaguered during the Mashona  Rebellion  of the 1890s; and it is this memorial which marks the turning back to Salisbury on the “old Mazoe road” which, then a mere track, the Patrol and its wagons used whilst under fire from the tribes men.

The road back is far less sophisticated that the main road, but therein lies its charm, for it winds through prosperous countryside sometimes African but more often reminiscent of England or France.  Thus, in a mere afternoon, the visitor can taste something of the early Rhodesia as well as something of the solidity of present-day Rhodesia – and all in some of the loveliest scenery to be seen anywhere in the country.


The above text was written by Matthew Charles in 1965.


Bougainvillea and Jacarandas next to a side road at Mazoe.


Rainbow over Mazoe Citrus Estate taken in 1975


Mazoe Oranges 1976 – nearly ready


And this is what it is all about – one of the largest citrus estates in the world.

Mazoe Oranges almost ready for harvest.


Harvest time at Mazoe 1965


A view over a portion of the Mazoe Citrus Estate 1970.



Post Script

In 2014, Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, was widely reported to have helped herself to 1,600 hectares of land representing about 46% of the total arable land at the Estates, forcing the company to write off about $6 million in immovable assets (biological and property as well as plant and equipment) related to Mazoe Citrus Estate. 

She has subsequently seized another 800 hectares of prime land at Mazoe Citrus Estates and Manshou Game Reserve in Mazowe, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed and homeless.

What was once a vibrant orange orchard has now been described by Chris Muronzi as “a wretched waste land with either lifeless and dry fruit trees or severely wilted orange trees”.


This account of irrigation and related development in the 1920s may be compared with the later example from 1970s Chisumbanje.