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8Traffic Control: A Surveillance System for Unwanted Passengers

Ke nna lexokolodi le leso leputlelele la nkô ye nthso,
Se-nwa-meetse le ’dibeng tsa baloyi.
Wa re ke tla lôwa ke mang?
Ke paletse le-ija-motho le ’fsifsing la nkata,
Mo dinkatawana le dinyamatsana di bokollaxo madi bosexo le mosexare.
Ke nna lexokolodi le lese lepopoduma le dumêla teng.
Baxêxo ba nhteile ba re ke nna Ke-sa-ya-Borwa.
Ke hlanamile xa e se nna marwala-dithoto,
Namana ye nthso yaBorwa,
Ke nna moloyi-moso
Moloyi wa bosexo le mosexare,
Ke nna Ramaêtô setsubalala lesokeng, mohlôya-tsela,
Ke nna lexoletsa mollô teng.
Ke laditse pitsi kxang
Re ile re siana ya re ke lebelô, mohlaba wa re ke nabile,
Ka feta nna namane e nthso.
Kei le ke fihla motse-molla-kôma,
I am the black millipede, the rusher with a black nose
Drinker of water even in the fountains of the witches.
And who do you say will bewitch me?
I triumphed over the one who eats a person (the sun) and over the pitch-black darkness,
Where the carnivorous animals drink blood day and night.
I am the millipede, the mighty roarer that roars within.
My people have named me, they say I’m-still-going-south.
I have changed, I am no longer a carrier of
goods, the black calf of the South,
I am the black witchThe witch of day and night,
I am a traveler the vigorous rapid one and hater of the road,
I am the one that kindles fire in the stomach.
I have won the horse,
When we raced I was the fastest, the sand filled the air
And I passed, I the black calf.
I arrived at the place where the circumcision drum was beating.
Ba re ba mpotsisa, ka re ke tswa xa ntintilane,
Ke tswa setsibye,
Ke tswa naxeng tsa kxole.
Ba re mphaxo O tla tsea wa eng?
When they asked me I told them that,
I come from a place which nobody knows,
I come from the unknown, from a far-away country.
They asked me what kind of provision I would take?
Ka re xa ke tseye mphaxo ka etsa mafsêxa a a xeno
Nna ke lalêla ka tlala mo-ja-o-sa-hlalle.
Kei la mathudi boxadi bya Ramaêsela,
Xe nka hwetswa mathuding mokxolokwane ó ka lla
Wa etsa sebata-kxomo xe nkwê e swere ya mosate.
Xaxeso ba nhloboxile.
Xa se nna ngwana-lapa,
Ke lexokolodi le tumisa khuiti,
Xa ke ditelwe ke tlala,
Ke ditelwa ke bana ba naxa;
Xa ke ditelwe ke maoto-bohloko,
Le xo loba ke loba xo bôna
Xa ke rate xo huêla dikôma
Dikôma xa se tsa bo motho;
Baxeso ba itaeletse xe ba ntesa k aba lexwara-xwara.
Metse nkabe e se ya thopya
Nna sexakalala mohla motse ó eme ka dinao,
Naxa e re: ‘Ke tla ba khutisa kae mafsexa a?
And I said I do not take provision like these cowards of yours.
I sleep without food, I, the omnivorous;
I shun the verandah where Ramaêsêla is married,
If I be found on the verandah a triumphal outcry will be heard
Like the great cry when the leopard has victimized the royal animals.
At my home they have lost all hope of ever finding me
I am not a house-child,
I am the millipede that praises the vlei,
I am not delayed by hunger,
Nor am I delayed by sore feet,
But I am delayed by the children of the wild;
To pay tribute, I pay tribute to them.
I do not want to die for the sacred
The sacred belong to nobody;
My people have committed national suicide by allowing me to become a deserter
Villages would not have been taken into captivity.
I the brave, when the village stands on its feet (in danger)
And the country says: Where shall I hide them these cowards?
Ke dula ke le dihlako mo tseleng
Ke wêla-wêla mekoting
Ke etsa noka xe e êla,
Ke rwele motse wa monna yo moso
Ba ka ntirang benye-tsela
Nna lexokolodi
Le leso se polakêla-dinakô/(Demetrius Segooa, in van Zyl 1941, 130–132)
I remain with my feet on the road
(always travelling)
And go falling-falling into the dongas,
I imitate a river which is in flood
Carrying the village of a black man.
What can they do to me, the owners of the road
To me the black millipede
That rushes for scheduled times?

This is a setswana poem about the train, likened to a black millipede traveling in very difficult conditions, such as the heat of the sun and the thick, impenetrable darkness of the night, the hills, and the mountains. Its journeys are endless; surely, it also has to be tired like every other being. As something that conveys all kinds of things to their destinations, the train calls itself a being that consumes everything (van Zyl 1941, 153). It is vulnerable here to vatema’s poetic innovation, to vatema’s intellect. Why, its many wheels are feet—so many, like a xekolodi’s! From that perspective, the setswana poem would fit perfectly within emerging portraits of the locomotive and automobile: as cultural objects and spectacles. Trains and railroads, bicycles and cycling, and more recently airplanes and cell phones (Schivelbusch 1977; Mom 2004; Seiler 2008; McShane 1994; Sheller and Urry 2004 and 2006; Creswell 2006; Cwerner, Kesslring, and Urry 2009)—these narratives of means of transport and communication have dominated even the so-called new mobility paradigm (see Mom et al. 2011). In these emerging narratives, if it is not the means of transport or the physical infrastructure that carries it, it is the traveler—the human traveler.

Elsewhere, I show how ordinary people in Mozambique—and, indeed, Zimbabwe today—have turned the road into a thriving, transient marketplace (Mavhunga 2013, 2014). People can be seen bringing to the roadside all kinds of merchandise to sell: charcoal, chicken, vegetables—anything that might tempt the motorist to stop. The human dimensions and meanings of cars to vachena and vatema have only begun to be explored (Gewald, Lunning, and van Walraven 2009; Green-Simms 2009; Hart 2016). To be fair, the importance of the car as an historical element in vatema’s experience—or perhaps the experience of the car in Africa—had been signaled as early as 1986, but apparently the call was not followed (Kopytoff 1986).

Much of the recent transport scholarship on Africa focuses on human-fabricated and inbound modes of transport (cars, trains, airplanes; e.g., Gewald, Lunning, and van Walraven 2009; Pirie 2009). The railroad and road literature has dealt extensively with construction, with teams of African forced laborers cutting and digging through thick forests and hutunga-infested swamps to build roads, railroads, and later airstrips to host these incoming Western artifacts (Akurang-Parry 2002; Akintoye 1969). Because they were press-ganged into this arduous work (Heap 1990, 2000; Akurang-Parry 2000; Law 1989; Machin 2002), the majority exercised several stratagems to escape their conditions: migration to neighboring territories ruled by a different European country, temporary flight into the bush, and downright sabotage of bridges, roads, and railroads (often named after “important” vachena, for all the back-breaking slavery that went into building them by vatema; Likaka 2009).

Once built, the railroad tracks became material extensions of vachena’s territorial aggression, linking labor reservoirs to mines and farms, and these sites of production to coastal ports, from which minerals, cash crops, rubber, and timber were shipped to factories in Europe and the United States. The existing literature does not make explicit this point about the outward-facing nature of railroad infrastructure that vachena designed, and vatema built (Robinson 1991; Bekele 1982; Dubois 1997; Pirie 1993, 1997). By contrast, Tanzania and Zambia’s ambitious TAZARA railway line built in 1970–1974 was aimed not only at connecting the two countries, but also at facilitating the shipment of freedom fighters and matériel for the liberation of Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa (Monson 2009). Today, the view of vatema’s heads of state is that China is helping Africa build infrastructure to link African countries to each other, where vachena were only interested in extractive infrastructures facing toward Europe (Foster et al. 2008).

The research on cars is still only beginning, but substantial literature exists on roads. Like the train, the coming of the automobile led to massive conscription of vanhu vatema as “road-cutting gangs” (Zhao 1994; Chiteji 1979; Sunseri 2002). Contrary to earlier research however, such road work affected and involved not just the men conscripted but the women left at home who fed them, who Kathleen Sheldon (2002) calls the “pounders of grain.” At the construction site, Landeg White (1993) has superbly captured the drama of vachena’s bridge construction. The negative impact of roads (displacement—making it easier for vadzvanyiriri to downpress vatema even more) and their benefits (easier transportation) have received some attention from historians and policy studies (Stephens 1994; Chilundo 1995). Historical studies of automobiles themselves only began in the last decade, with a focus on the car, bus, lorry, and motorcycle as environmentally, economically, culturally, and politically transformative means and ways (technology) (Gewald, Lunning, and van Walraven 2009; Pirie 1993, 2011; and several other articles).

This chapter takes the mobility discussion in a totally different direction—away from trains, from vanhu (humans) and means and ways as the central actors, to mhesvi subverting the transport systems that vanhu contrived. This is to further the thesis of this book—the idea of mhesvi as mobile workshop, this time as a passenger taking a ride on pedestrians, disabling ox wagon transport, riding on automobiles and on bicycles, and forcing vanhu to institute mechanisms and infrastructures of traffic control. The glossary at the back of the book should help the reader understand chidzimbahwe and other regional keywords.

How Mhesvi Determined if a Person Rode or Walked

Prophylactic settlement could only be effective with good control of foot, bicycle, and automobile traffic in and out of mhesvi-infested areas. Herein lie profound connections between mobilities of vanhu and mobilities of mhesvi.

The tapestry of footpaths illustrates the role of foot transport as a mode of conveyance from place to place and of haulage transport, especially for trade, migration, and military expeditions. It shows that footpaths were the first roads of Africa, ox wagons and palanquins (machila, or hammocks) among the first “cars” (i.e., if we take car to be shorthand for carriage). Vatema not only physically carried the white man’s burden; they also carried the white man himself, as a burden reclining and dozing off in machila. Later, the machila was improved into a gareta (bush cart), which was basically a chair with two long handles at front and back, with one mutema pulling in front and another pushing from behind the chair (Gewald, Lunning, and van Walraven 2009, 25).

Bulls, donkeys, mules, and horses were ridden and used as pack animals or to draw wagons, sledges, carts, and plows. Rivers were crossed via drifts or wooden bridges. Magwa (canoes; singular igwa) and zvikepe (boats; singular chikepe) were made and deployed as freight and passenger craft across and along rivers and from one coastal settlement to another. Many of the magwa that incoming vachena used in the hinterland, starting with the Portuguese (since 1498) and then the British and many other itinerant vachena (subsequently), were and are still locally made (Sheriff 2010).

Well into the 1950s, ox wagons still plied the beaten track, with two black men on foot—one an outrider (conductor), the other the driver—and in between them at least eight spans of oxen towing heavy loads, often including the white client who paid for their labor services. Since the nineteenth century, South African men played an enabling role as foot transport vehicles in vachena’s encroachments of their land and those of others: by missionaries, traders, explorers, concession-seekers, and hunters. These mobilities prepared the way for vachena’s partition of the region. By their micromobilities inside the horse, ox, or donkey’s body, hutachiwana that caused n’gana, and horse sickness, rinderpest, and African Coast fever, immobilized zvipfuyo as means of transport for vachena, forcing them to walk while exclusively relying on vatema to shoulder and head-port their burden (trade goods and supplies). This can be seen clearly in practically every travel writer’s account (as referred to in chapters 1 and 2).

In the northern, northeastern, and southeastern areas, the biggest problem was movement of vatema across vachena’s boundaries to and from mine, farm, and emerging urban workspaces since the beginning of gold mining in South Africa in 1886. During famine years, mine agents scoured the countryside for vanhu vatema prepared to trade their labor for grain (van Onselen 1974, 276), providing free transport as far as the roads and footpaths into the countryside allowed. A pattern emerged in which vatema from Northern Rhodesia (colloquially called mabwidi in chidzimbahwe) preferred to work in the mines, while those from Nyasaland (Manyasarandi in chidzimbahwe) took up farmwork (Scott 1954). Figure 8.1a shows men carrying misengwa (luggage) embarking on their journey to collection points, at which Southern Rhodesian government lorries awaited them (figure 8.1b).


Figure 8.1a, b Embarking on rwendo (journey) to the mines and farms on foot (left), and boarding lorries from the mines (right).

Source: Scott 1954.

By 1950, non–Southern Rhodesian black employees made up 50 percent of the total workforce; of these, 56 percent were in Mashonaland (maize and tobacco farms around Salisbury and Umtali) and 40 percent in Matabeleland (at Wankie colliery and the Nyamandhlovu sawmills; and the rest miscellaneous; Scott 1954, 45–46). Most of these figures must be read as vanhu passing through mhesvi-infested areas separating Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, and Mozambique from Southern Rhodesia, potentially carrying mhesvi on their bodies.

The pedestrian and ox wagon background detailed previously clears space for consideration of two incoming things that local actors strategically deployed as means and ways of moving around in southern Africa: the automobile and the bicycle. They matter to this discussion because of the way mhesvi subverted them into means of short- and long-distance transport. The train is excluded because there is no evidence of any such subversion by the chipukanana. This chapter emphasizes the intellectual agency of vatema in seeking means and ways of earning a living in the wake of increasingly restricted access to land and the biting effects of taxation under vachena’s rule. The resultant mobilities from misha (villages) to migodhi (mines), maguta (towns), and mapurazi (white-owned farms), including across borders via undesignated crossing points, inadvertently offered mhesvi ready means of transport. Herein lies an interesting history of mobilities through which means and ways (vehicles), people (migrants to and from work), and zvipukanana (mhesvi) became vehicles for hutachiwana.

The Automobile and Mhesvi

Starting as surreptitious affairs from individual homesteads, and winding through neighboring misha and dondo or sango (forest; plural masango), footpaths merged into beaten tracks across and along the borders, staying that way until they reached railheads and, from the mid-1920s on, automobile roads. By the mid-1930s, there were over three thousand miles of road networks available to the Free Migrant Labour Transport Service for labor recruits who signed up to go to designated Southern Rhodesian mines and farms registered with the Rhodesia Native Labor Bureau (RNLB). The Nyanja-speaking recruits from Nyasaland called this transport ulere or “free” (Scott 1954, 36). Vedzimbahwe called it urere (free-bee; see figure 8.2). These bus and truck routes followed the Zambezi inside Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to Kalabo; another followed the same river into Mozambican territory to tap into Nyasaland (now Malawi).


Figure 8.2 Regional migrant labor routes from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Source: Scott 1954.

Two ulere routes are of interest to mhesvi-related traffic control: one from Luangwa and Kafue (Northern Rhodesia) through Chirundu to Sinoia (now Chinhoyi), the other from Msusa and Misale (Nyasaland) through Darwin (Dande) to Mutoko. Later, the Misale-Mutoko route expanded to Chikwizo in 1947 while the Zobwe-Tete and Honde-Umtali (Mutare) ones were also absorbed into the ulere system (Scott 1954, 40). These two routes were connected to an older tapestry of paths to the Rand, which later followed the Mozambique-Southern Rhodesia border to Pafuri and thence to the Rand. Another followed the Savé from Vilankulo to Masenjeni and the Shabanie (Zvishavane) Mine recruiting depot at Marumbini and thence either to Shabanie or to Pafuri and the Rand. One of the collection depots for road transport to the Rand was located at Pafuri, in the armpits of the Limpopo River.

The ulere lorries were part of a larger automobile presence in post-1920s southern Africa. These vehicles came from three US companies (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) and three British automakers (Morris, Austin, and Land Rover), which had a virtual monopoly in the southern African market until the 1960s. From that point on, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, and South Korean brands took over. The shipment of preassembled automobiles to southern African ports increasingly began to be replaced, from the late 1920s on, with the development of regional car assembly plants and retail branches of the big automakers. Cars automatically necessitated the development of roads, stemming from three factors: first, the railroad companies’ desire for feeder roads to link farms and mines without having to extend the railroad system; second, the need for mine owners and farmers to recruit and transport vanhu vatema from the countryside to the mines, farms, and towns; and third, the emerging tourism industry’s quest to link newly established game reserves, historical monuments, and “wonders of nature” like Victoria Falls as one vast trans-Zambezi product exclusively and discriminatively for the enjoyment of vachena. Government statistics show that 1,722 private motorcars were registered in 1934. Of these, 1,407 were from the United States and 308 British-made (“More Motor-Cars in Southern Rhodesia” 1936, 21).

For vapambepfumi, the road motor vehicle was proving to be “a powerful supplement to the railways in the development of Rhodesia” (“The Civilizing Influence of Roads” 1929–1930, 144). The most obvious reason was flexibility of access. The road could reach “immense blocks of settlement, far removed from the main line of the railways.” Such areas had every ingredient needed for agricultural success, but experience the world over had shown that “the building of branch railway lines to assist the development of agricultural areas [was] not economically sound.” Prior to the adaptable materiality of the road motor vehicle, there was no alternative to the branch railway “when a district had outgrown the transportation limits of the ox wagon.” Yet Rhodesia avoided the “uncommercial risks” of the branch line. The construction, operation, and maintenance costs were too heavy in relation to the value of agricultural traffic (144; “The New Pioneers” 1929–1930, 102).

The Iron Tortoise and the Inciter

In the same period (1920s onwards), the coming of the bicycle added a new dimension to the speed of the traveler on foot, while retaining the element of flexibility. Pedestrian and cycle traffic were as much if not more of a challenge to the control of mhesvi (the inciter) as motor vehicles. In fact, by 1960, the director of Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Control observed that bicycles had become “the most efficient carriers of tsetse to the control points. Flies carried per 100 cars were 0.7; per 100 cycles 10.7 and per 100 pedestrians 1.9.”1

Without ascribing to it any malicious intentions, mhesvi was subverting means and ways of transport such as cars and hambautare (“iron tortoises,” as vedzimbahwe called bicycles) and organic vehicles such as people and draft cattle into its own means of transport. If US automakers completely dominated southern and central Africa’s roads, British manufacturers had a virtual monopoly on the iron tortoise—the cars of vatema. Bicycle makers exporting to Rhodesia included Norman Cycles (Kent; the Norman); British Salmson Ltd. of London (the Cyclaid bicycle); the Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited of Aston (the Hercules bicycle); Phillips Cycles Ltd. of Sethwick (the Phillips); New Hudson (the New Hudson Tourist Roadster); Rudge-Whitworth Ltd. of Coventry (the Rudge); the Birmingham Small Arms Company of Birmingham (the BSA); Sunbeam Cycles Ltd., Birmingham (the Sunbeam); Armstrong Cycles of Birmingham (the Armstrong), and Raleigh, Nottingham (the Raleigh).

Vatema deployed these hambautare as their favored mode of transportation between workplaces in maguta and kumusha (villages), not least because automobiles were, throughout the Rhodesia period, the preserve of vachena and a very few vatema who could afford secondhand cars. The bicycle was in demand not solely for conveying its rider from one point to the other; vatema also remodeled it into a transient workspace for performing all kinds of work (Mavhunga 2014), as a platform for staging their own modes of everyday innovation (Mavhunga 2013).

Two stories often told about bicycles in vatema’s experience of hudzvanyiriri have a bearing on the mhesvi theme of this book. The first relates to World War II. When the war ended, combat veterans from Burma and Malaya, where Japanese enemy fire had not discriminated between vatema and vachena, returned to a segregated Southern Rhodesia. While vachena were awarded farms, vatema were rewarded for their service merely with bicycles. To add insult to injury, vatema were forcibly removed from their lands to make way for these new landowners and were resettled in mhesvi-prone areas. Thus positioned in the buffer zone between the mhesvi-infested areas and the white-owned farms, vatema acted as a human shield against veterinary disease and as vegetation-clearing agents to suppress mhesvi habitat or incursions. Many returned to find their families removed to the mhesvi-prone areas to make way for white officers and white soldiers who opened ranches and new farms under the Land Tenure Act. They were still required to carry a stupa or chitupa (an identity document vatema were to carry always or face arrest) and to follow the Native Registration Act, which mandated that all vanhu vatema must carry an extra pass in addition to chitupa (Matibe 2009, 5).

Hambautare (xikanyakanya in xitsonga, after the sound of pedaling, kanya-kanya-kanya) must be located within a larger economy of vatema’s importations and strategic deployments of Western-made goods. Like possessing a musket in the late nineteenth century, ownership of a bicycle meant that someone was a real man. The bicycle was one of many consumer goods produced either in Europe or locally in the factories that vachena had established. On white-owned farms, people learned to operate farming equipment such as plows, cultivators, ridgers, and motor vehicles. When returning to their misha, they went into the “blacks only” sections of cities to buy clothes, shoes, blankets, hambautare, floor polish, shoe polish, petroleum jelly, beauty cream, metal cooking pots, hunting knives, sugar, soaps, matches, cigarettes, soft drinks, sewing machines, wrist watches, radios, gramophones, cameras, furniture, and other goods to take home. They loaded these goods into the carriers of the “chicken buses” or the “long chase” (long-chassis omnibuses) at misika yemabhazi (marketplaces for buses; bus stations) to begin the long, dusty, and bumpy journey home (Mavhunga 2014, 71-98).

Zvechirungu (chidzimbahwe) or svexilungwini in xitsonga (meaning “the things of the white people”) were also imported in the form of ideas carried out of the industry or city in the head and transplanted into musha to express new modernities. This is how iron or asbestos-roofed brick houses, cement-plastered and painted walls, grocery stores, table manners, and the four o’clock tea traveled from vachena’s suburban house in the guta (singular of maguta) to kumusha, sometimes via their lodgings in the crowded black quarters called marukisheni (locations). Vatema purchased the goods not just for their own use, but also as resources for resale and as equipment for business. Through a combination of thrift, risk-taking, and innovation, some of these men later bought cars, amassed sizeable herds of mombe, built “modern” houses in their rural homesteads, built grocery stores at the local shopping center, and even started bus companies and hotels (Mavhunga 2014, 136–140). Black entrepreneurs like Mwaera and Machipisa in Highfield Township, Moses Chikuhwa of Glen Norah, and George Tawengwa of Mushandirapamwe Hotels and Buses fame all began humbly, riding on their retrofitted bicycles selling tomatoes or exchanging grain for huku (chicken). Bus operators like Isaac Maziveyi, owner of two buses under the Maziveyi Omnibus Service stable, were in business by the early 1950s. The likes of Mverechena, Matambanadzo, Chinaka, and Mucheche became brand names of buses and hotels, but the bearers of these names arose from very humble origins (Chikuhwa 2006, 106). Others (men as well as women) distinguished themselves as owners of tailors’ shops, often run as family businesses that sprang up at shopping centers in urban locations and rural areas, sewing cutoffs collected from urban textile or garment-making factories into hembe dzemapisi (clothes from pieces).

A dearth of new bicycles or repairs in the varungu’s workshops spawned the development of bicycle-repair shops, mobile (bicycle-borne) and under-the-tree welding workshops, and tire-repair workshops in the countryside. The remittance of overseas and locally manufactured things to kumusha depended on the existence of tsika (culture) and facilities for thrift and retirement packages that allowed some vanhu vatema to buy and install grind (or hammer) mills, to build magirosa or zvitoro (grocery stores), or to establish a bus company plying rural routes. The feedback loops between guta and musha that made such savings and investments possible were the very same ones that transformed munhu mutema traveling back and forth by bicycle or on foot into vehicles for carried mhesvi (Mavhunga 2014, 138–140).

Carried Fly: The Mhesvi Passenger and Traffic Cleansing

The development of migwagwa (roads) was considered paramount to monitoring the movements of mhesvi and its passenger hutachiwana and the potential vehicles for both: vanhu and their mombe. The dilemma facing the government’s use of rural development as a strategy of controlling mhesvi was how to utilize roads for surveillance against the chipukanana while preventing it from catching a ride on ngorodzemoto (carriages of fire; or motokari, motor cars) plying these roads. That is why from the 1920s on the government set up cleansing chambers (see figure 8.3) and tsetse gates to monitor and cleanse cars, cyclists, and pedestrians of carried fly. Almost all ngorodzemoto were owned by vachena prior to 1950, with very few vatema who could afford them. By contrast, all cyclists, pedestrians, and rural commuters (lorry and, later, bus passengers) were vatema.


Figure 8.3 The fly chamber through which all motokari on busy roads passed.

Source: Proceedings and Transactions of the Rhodesia Scientific Association 1960.

The term traffic control is first mentioned in the chief entomologist’s annual report in 1928, expressing alarm at the increasing danger of “motor vehicles being used more freely for prospecting, etc.” and carrying mhesvi with them (Jack 1930).2 In May 1929, a bill was passed in the legislative assembly to “secure the necessary powers for the control of traffic from fly areas.” By the end of the year, however, the mutemo (law) had not been implemented, in part because “effective treatment of motor vehicles, without having recourse to the use of deadly poison, constitute[d] by no means a simple problem.”3 The first comprehensive, practical steps to control traffic coming out of mhesvi-infested areas, right on their edge of such belts, began in 1930 and proceeded well into the 1970s.

In what became known as the “Zambezi Front West” and the “Zambezi Front Central,” the road (mugwagwa) that cut through mhesvi-infested and noninfested areas enabled motor vehicle traffic to pass through that had to be cleansed of carried mhesvi, leading to the assignment of cleansing chambers. The Kariba Dam also placed further barriers to cross-border mobilities that were already difficult—except by boat for vanhu and mhuka. There were two major roads. One was the Salisbury-Lusaka highway via Chirundu Border Post, which passed through Hurungwe Native Reserve and the mhesvi-infested areas of Makuti and Chirundu. The other was the Bulawayo-Livingstone route passing through Gwai and Shangani and the mhesvi-infested Mapfungautsi plateau.4 There were other (minor) roads going to tin and tungsten (Sebungwe District) and mica mines (Hurungwe), both in mhesvi territory.5

From 1939 to 1945, the Chirundu highway became an important route for moving black troops and supplies traveling to join the Allied War effort in Burma. Mhesvi lurched onto the truck convoys, providing a headache for the guards manning the chambers at Chirundu, Makuti, and Vuti.6 In the postwar era, the massive drought of 1948 dispersed mhuka in all directions in search of water and grazing, carrying mhesvi on them into Hurungwe and triggering the catastrophe covered earlier. Then, from 1953 to 1963, during the construction of the Kariba Dam, more dispersals occurred due to the displacement of the Tonga people from the Gwembe Valley into Hurungwe and other areas.7

The river barriers of the Zambezi were entirely absent on the southeastern border with Portuguese-ruled Mozambique. The most critical mobilities remained those by foot, hoof, or paw. That is why the fences were necessary: not only to create buffer zones, but also to channel kufamba kwevanhu nemhuka (human and animal traffic) to tsetse gates for inspection. Here, the transborder movements on the Zambezi Front East (Rushinga) and the South East Front (Savé and Runde regions) illustrate how vachena’s arbitrary borders had simply cut straight through misha (villages) organized along kinship lines and set up transgressions by other kinds of animals and plants. As people now visited their relatives, they carried mhesvi back and forth (Mavhunga and Spierenburg 2007).

A major problem from the onset of fences was that of roads passing through both mhesvi-infested matondo (plural of dondo, forest) and misha. Some led to several active mines, farms, emerging towns, and neighboring countries. Others were maintenance and patrol roads for tsetse control work that soon became the only public roads available. Either way, all roads in Hurungwe Native Reserve were fairly busy and had to be manned.8

To ensure that vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists using these roads did not carry mhesvi out of Hurungwe, there was only one exit point located on the eastern boundary of the reserve. It was here that a cleansing chamber was installed in July 1952. All traffic was barred from crossing anywhere other than at the designated gates, with the exception of a few stiles erected over the eastern fence to enable vatema on foot passing between the reserve and the farms to cross.9

Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles were controlled lest they become vehicles that carried mhesvi from infected to clean areas—a process vachena called mechanical transmission or the problem of “carried fly.”10 This traffic cleansing took place at deflying chambers and tsetse gates (see figure 8.4), where “carried fly” catching rides on ngorodzemoto (motorcars), hambautare, and vafambi was apprehended. Administrative centers like the chief’s court, Native Commissioner’s offices, dipping tanks, cattle sale pens, and shopping centers pulled human traffic toward them, thus acting as magnets for the movement of mhesvi.11


Figure 8.4 Fenzi yetsetse and gedhi retsetse: a typical tsetse fence and gate, with mufrayi standing behind the gate to inspect traffic.

Source: Proceedings and Transactions of the Rhodesia Scientific Association 1960.

The “cleansing” or “deflying” chamber was established on roads and the “tsetse control gate” on footpaths vatema used. At each cleansing chamber was a gate guard (mufrayi) dressed in uniform. In his hand was a fly net and hand spray pump. The traffic arriving was supposed to stop at the control point, where mufrayi first examined it for mhesvi. Any clinging on were caught in the net. The guard also sprayed the motor vehicle around and underneath to unsettle any mhesvi that might be relaxing or hiding there. Just in case the critters made for the shade of the open-sided, grass-roofed huts, their undersides were liberally sprayed with persistent OCP. This is something that came later in the 1950s; prior to that, arsenic was used. Attracted by the shade, the flies flew in and landed literally on their own deaths; OCPs killed them through skin contact.12 The issue was not whether the guards manning these chambers caught flies every month, but whether motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians passing through them were mhesvi-free going into uninfected or deflyed areas.13

Conclusion: Transport Systems and Dangerous Insects

Before takeoff, planes from several airlines flying out of Africa are sprayed with a pesticide aerosol. The New York–bound South African Airways flight that makes a stopover in Dakar, Senegal, is sprayed, as is the Emirates Airline flight that stops in Lusaka, Zambia, en route to Dubai. Apart from causing eye irritation for people wearing contact lenses, the aerosol is “completely harmless”—or so we are told. It kills hutunga and other zvipukanana that might be hiding under our seats or clothes. It is good for us. What can you do—get off the ndege?

This chapter has shown that the connections between human-fabricated transport systems and portable, tiny zvipukanana carrying deadly viruses is not new. We see it today with hutunga carrying Zika and ticks carrying multiple viruses. The significance of measures we see at airports or at the checkpoints on roads as we leave game reserves is the link between microbial mobilities inside zvipukanana, zvipukanana riding on our cars, buses, and planes, and these latter transport systems becoming conveyors of people, zvipukanana, and hutachiwana.

Seen from musha, the sites where vachena had designated cleansing chambers and tsetse gates become workplaces. The mugwagwa (road) and nzira (footpath) that vatema used in their everyday itineraries on bicycles or on foot and which later vapambepfumi passed through in their automobiles were a site of knowledge production where the mobilities of cars and pedestrians at once become (potential) mobilities of mhesvi and the hutachiwana they carried. It was because of mhesvi that the gate and chamber were established; they were an infrastructure of the mobile workshop: the mhesvi on the move, forcing vachena to keep it under surveillance, providing vatema with work. Without mhesvi, the control of the movement of vanhu and mhuka would not be necessary—which was another way of saying that the traffic being controlled ultimately is not that of cars or bicycles, but the traffic of mhesvi itself, because of the deadly passenger it carried inside it.


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