THE cover of the book, Africa’s Dust in my Hair – True stories of life in the bush in Northen Rhodesia (Zambia), features a young woman paddling a tin bath across the crocodile and hippo-infested Lunga River in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). That fearless young lady was a young Anne Southwood. THELUVVIE.COM’s Estelle Sinkins spoke to her.
The 83-year-old Hilton resident, widow of Pietermaritzburg town crier, Peter Southwood, was at the time married to Rowland ‘Rolly’ Morris, a game ranger and hunter, who worked for the Game and Tsetse Fly Control Unit.
In Africa’s Dust in my Hair, written under the name Anne Morris and published by Old Africa Publications, Southwood shares memories of life in the remote areas of the North-West Province, where wildlife prolific.
In the early days of her marriage, she lived in a tent, cooked in a hole in the ground filled with wood and made do with toilet and bathing facilities that were rudimentary, at best.
The couple eventually built a more permanent structure in the Chingola district and later, when Rolly was transferred to the Kasempa district, they lived in a department-owned house.
Reading Southwood’s book it’s clear to see how much she grew to love the life she shared with her adventurous husband and their children, Jennifer and Julie.
There was only one black spot in her world: the Game Department’s policy of mass extermination of wildlife to eradicate tsetse fly. In Kasempa, in particular, the infestation was very heavy and hundreds of people fell prey to sleeping sickness as a result.
On the plus side, Southwood became a surrogate mother to many orphaned wild animals, including a young duiker, a whole tribe of warthogs and several bush pigs.
Big Boy and Little Boy, two lion cubs, also briefly became part of the household menagerie. The lions later achieved world-wide fame through Norman Carr’s book, Return to the Wild.
“My life was great fun,” says Southwood. “I looked after young animals whose parents had been shot, raised them and then released them in game parks. But when the game elimination started, I grew to loathe the scheme.
“I could not stand the mass slaughter of game that was the crux of the department’s bid to eradicate tsetse fly. That’s why I wanted to write the book. I wanted to tell the world about the cruelty that can happen.”
Having Africa’s Dust in my Hair published has been the culmination of a 50-year dream for Southwood, but she admits that it almost never happened.
“All my notes were in boxes and one Saturday morning I got them out and thought I would burn the lot,” she explains. “Then I went into the village and bumped into a friend, John Oxley.
“He asked me what the matter was and I told him I had been writing a book but could not get a publisher. He told me to get in touch with his sister-in-law, Brenda George, so I phoned Brenda and went to see her.
“I took a copy of the book and she told me she would read it and let me know. The next morning she called to say that she had started reading my book the previous night and couldn’t put it down. That was in November last year and here we are.”
Africa’s Dust in my Hair offers a fascinating glimpse into Africa’s colonial past and the colourful characters Southwood encountered in the 1950s and 1960s. Among them was her houseman, Jackson Matabani, who always ensured that she had her tin bath when travelling – despite the glowering looks from her husband.
Southwood also had plenty of hair-raising adventures. On one occasion a crocodile took one of her dogs, Betsy, a stray she had nursed back to health, and on another she jumped into a river to wrestle her Alsatian, Zina, from the jaws of another crocodile. Sadly Zina died.
Southwood, who learned to shoot on her parent’s tobacco farm, always had a rifle or shotgun handy to bag game for the pot or to protect her family and friends.
She recalls that she once had to shoot a huge cobra that was raiding her hen house and which spat in her eye the first time she encountered it. On another she had to kill a charging elephant – a cruel necessity, which she says broke her heart.
“My dog ran out of the camp and after a small herd of elephant,” Southwood said. “She tried to bite the foot of one of the elephants, which then charged at her. She ran to the tent and the elephant came after her, trampling everything in sight. Then it came for me and I had no choice but to shoot it. It was a horrible experience.”
Africa’s Dust in my Hair is both a charming memoir and a sobering reminder that we need to look after our fauna and flora. As King George VI so eloquently says, in a quote from Southwood’s book, ‘The wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after.’
- If you would like a copy of Africa’s Dust in my Hair, contact Anne Southwood at 033 343 4803.