Surviving the Rhodesian Bush War

GROWING up as a young boy in the beautiful countryside of the former Rhodesia and then suffering the horrors of the bush war is the life story of 85-year-old Guy Hilton-Barber, now a resident of Settlers Park in Port Alfred.

FULL LIFE: Guy and Moira Hilton-Barber survived the horrors of the then Rhodesian bush war and now live peacefully in Settlers Park Picture: BOB FORD

Born in the Grahamstown district, Hilton-Barber’s father moved the family to Rhodesia during the depression of the 1930s, because he was offered a farming opportunity there.

He managed ranches for 10 years in the south east lowveld near Bulawayo until he was given the opportunity to acquire his own piece of land. This came about when the Government selected farmers who had potential to take over state land. This was made easier for them in that arrangements were made that they could pay for them when cash became available.

He proved to be an astute cattle breeder and developed the now well-known Tuli breed, which was an indigenous red beast which did very well in the conditions. He was rewarded for his efforts by winning countrywide cattle farming competitions.

Hilton-Barber later followed in his father’s footsteps and was chairman of the Matabeleland Cattle Producers’ Association for more than 20 years.

“With the carrying capacity being one to 30 for cattle and needing 1 000 head for an economical unit, you needed a big slab of country,” Hilton-Barber said.

Meanwhile, Hilton-Barber completed his schooling at the well-known Plumtree High School, after which he attended the Gwebi Agricultural College near the then Salisbury. It was while he was there that he was selected as a Nuffield scholar to further his studies at a similar institution in the United Kingdom for six months. Top students from throughout the Commonwealth were invited to attend.

After completing his studies, Hilton-Barber returned to the ranch and married his wife, Moira, in 1960. He then acquired a ranch next door to his father, where the newly married couple lived.

“Dad and I farmed together without living on the same property. It worked very well as he bred the cattle and I grew them out,” Hilton-Barber said.

The operation grew from strength to strength with them eventually owning five ranches totalling 70 000 acres. Distances were vast and Hilton-Barber used to fly to his father’s ranch in his Piper 235 for lunch on Wednesdays to discuss their business matters. This flight used to take 30 minutes.

Tragedy struck when his father was murdered when he was shot five times.

These were happy days, but this was all to change in the 1970s when the bush war broke out. Most farmers were called up to do two-week stints with the police reserve and the wives helped by manning radios.

Tragedy struck when his father was murdered when he was shot five times. The killer turned the gun on his mother, but fortunately missed. The perpetrator was never found. Then union members visited ranches and unsettled the labour force.

The family were very vigilant and always prepared for possible attacks. One day Hilton-Barber and his staff were attacked while dipping cattle. His 14-year-old son, Craig, was about to drive off in their pick-up and bravely retaliated with an automatic rifle and managed to fend the attackers off.

Hilton-Barber added: “But we adapted and tried to live normal lives as far as possible. We got used to playing golf with FN rifles in our bags.”

In 1980, Zimbabwe became an independent country in place of Rhodesia, and the bush war was effectively over. But then followed Mugabe’s genocide in Matabeleland for the next ten years when thousands of Ndebele people were murdered. This was followed by so-called peace.

Of the 5 000 farmers in Rhodesia at the time, 4 500 were forced off their land with many being beaten or killed.

But it all just eventually became too much and Hilton-Barber stopped farming in 2000. Of the 5 000 farmers in Rhodesia at the time, 4 500 were forced off their land with many being beaten or killed.

The Hilton-Barbers opted to stay in the country and ran a safari business for four years, which proved popular with tourists from Europe. He said they enjoyed the low flying experience in their light aircraft to the Victoria Falls, Lake Kariba and other tourist attractions.

But life became unbearable when an estimated 600 invaders moved on to their property and reduced it to a virtual desert and decimated the wildlife population.

And so it was that in 2004 the couple had had enough and decided to leave the country they loved. “We had family here in the Eastern Cape and it was like coming home really,” he concluded.

The couple have four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


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