publisher colophon

9Starving the Fly

My name is Mugocha Mavasa, son of Mubhulachi Mavasa, son of Marhule, son of Nyambiti, son of Makulani, son of Hlati, son of Mugwangwani, son of Malanzela, son of Hlati, son of Xinyori xaHumba. This is my ancestry.


Figure 9.1 Mugocha Julius Mavasa.

Source: BPP.

I used to be called Julius Mavasa, but many call me Mugocha (the one who is always barbecuing), because I once worked mutsetse [in the Tsetse Department]. So now my name is Mugocha, my birth name is no longer heard of anymore. I do not recall when I was born. It is a long time ago (possibly in the 1940s) at Chitalahimbera near Bhaule, here in Chibwedziva. Chitalahimbera means “that which fills up even from drizzle,” because every time it rained, even briefly, the pool filled up quickly.

I joined vanhu vetsetse in the early 1960s as a teenager. Gillett, who was called Ngungunyana, was in charge. … We were all summoned to the camp so that they could select who could be magocha. So we went there. I was still young and I was wondering to myself whether I would be able to use a gun. When we arrived at the tsetse camp, we went to sleep. In the morning Ngungunyana started selecting, simply by pointing: “You, come here, you come.” Some of us were too young, and we stood behind the elders, the three of us: me, Koko, and the son of Zhuwawo, or “Fifteen,” my father’s old friend. We were resigned to an old pattern where valungu [xitsonga for varungu, white people] usually selected the old-timers already skilled in guns they had learnt under instruction from their own fathers. …

Then he pulled me out of the line. I was shocked because I knew nothing about hunting with guns. I was convinced that if I fired a rifle, the mbumburu [bullet] would strike at me and I would instantly be dead. I did not yet know that when you fire a gun, the bullet goes out through the front and flies away from you. After pulling twenty of us out of the crowd by the shirt, Ngungunyana dismissed the rest. He said we were the ones going to Mwenezi. Others were chosen for the work of repairing the fence broken by twiza [giraffe] trying to cross, because some were this side, some had been shut out on the other. Their task was to patrol the fence, killing or driving away any mhuka that they found endangering it. Meanwhile, repair teams with machines would follow these magocha, mending the fence where broken.

In the morning, we were taken before mudzviti (magistrate). He said we should get fingerprints, which consumed our entire day till sunset. After that we were deployed to Chipinda Pools. We came back. Our drivers were Mazhau, Langton, Kingston, and Peturo [Petros] the [four] drivers at the local tsetse camp. Peturo was short, Langton had a big body, Kingston was heavily built, while Mazhau was a giant, so tall that he would start a [Nissan] UD truck while standing outside, with his foot on the accelerator and revving. He was tall.


Figure 9.2 A typical tsetse field officer’s headquarters before 1960 would, like this one, include his hut, office, store, and hospital, all built using 100 percent local materials and designs.

Source: The Rhodesian Annual 1932.

We were driven back by these men. We were egging them on, oblivious of the fact that a motokari [motor car] can kill. People ran to Mazhau’s lorry because he was a fast driver. We wanted to get to Chipinda early. At this time we had not yet been issued with rifles.

So we returned to Chipinda. The Runde was in flood; we got off and rested on the west bank. The next day Ngungunyana arrived to cross us [in a boat] to Chipinda tsetse camp. He said: “Magocha mauya!” [“Welcome Magocha!”]

We said: “E-eh.”

He said: “Now that you are all here, let’s go to the ground.” So, we had left our vehicles this side of Rundé; on that side there were similar lorries. So we were taken into that ground at Chipinda Pools, the one close to Sevenjeke, between Guluje and the rubbish dump. Little did we know that the guns were here, many guns. 303s.

When we arrived, we are issued 303s. Gillett—Ngungunyana—was pulling the trigger numerous times, but the chamber was of course empty.

Then he called out: “One, come here!”

We remained standing there, our minds fearful about what the guns could do to us, what to do with the guns.

Ngungunyana took one mbumburu [round]. They had put up a shooting target, far away, almost at the mid-point of the ground, one of those drums used for mixing mushonga [insecticide] for spraying. He started hitting the target. Then he started calling us one by one to do the same. Some coming from Savé knew guns, they were smacking the target. There was one, of the Chudhu family, there was one short one … he was very good. We were now under training. So the short one took the gun, fired, hit the target. Gillett told him to stand to one side.

“Next!” Ngungunyana bellowed.

It chimed 12 o’clock [noon] tichingodzokera shure, kuti vatange vakuru, vatange vakuru [and we kept going back to the end of the line, so that the older ones go first, the elders first] until we finally arrived.

Vuya!” [Come!] Ngungunyana again called in his xitshanganized fanakalo access.

So we went up. Some were running away from even touching the gun. When they pulled the trigger and it fired, they threw it down and ran for dear life. I was selected for the task of patrolling the tsetse fence, when I had no knowledge of guns. I fired I think 4–5 times without even looking up to see where the rounds were going.

So they left me alone, and took my companions, whom they said were being assigned to protect the game fence. Another group was selected to go kuhugocha. I was deployed for one month in the fence protection.

Then I returned to Chipinda; on my second deployment I hit mhene [duiker]. So they said, ah, the boy who is assigned fence protection duties is a good shot, he must be recalled and taken to Chifukwa at Sevenjeke to hunt with other magocha. So I was removed from fence duties. Those that were doing badly were removed from hugocha and redeployed to fence protection.

I started shooting.

Now, we were allowed to kill fourteen mhuka per month. If you hit your fourteen mhuka before the month ended, you’d sit out the rest of the month. We were paid on the 24th each month. I hit the fourteen mhuka, I think, on the 5th or 6th, long before the month had gone anywhere. …

Again they said this guy is too good; he must be removed to Guvulweni where there were still many mhuka. Here the animals were no longer easy to find. So I was taken there to stay with Chifukwa; his name was Peter but every white man we gave our own name. Our own name based on his behavior or looks, or the places we first met him, where he stayed. Chifukwa is where Peter usually hunted. So we called him Chifukwa. I hunted with Chifukwa and a young man named Aaron who came from Mozambique, who was Chifukwa’s cook.

At some point I realized that this was not working out well for me. I had been bitten by a snake on the inner lower shin of the right leg. I said I am done with hunting. I am going. I went to my homestead.1

They were called magocha—black men the Branch of Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Control (BTTC) employed to kill mhuka to starve mhesvi. Magocha was not a name of insult—just an acknowledgment of a fact—for men who were always barbecuing.2

As discussed in Transient Workspaces (Mavhunga 2014), members of the older generation were not novices like Mavasa when they began hugocha (game destruction work); they were already professors of the hunt, especially the Korekore of the Zambezi valley and Hlengwe and vedzimbahwe of the Savé-Runde and Limpopo valleys. The government issued such men guns and deployed them in mhesvi-infested masango (forests). “They would test us to see if we could fire a gun,” recalls Willias Chabata of Nembudziya, Gokwe. “Some could, so they were issued firearms, and moved around with them, shooting mhuka. The likes of Saira, this old man from Machichiri, were magocha. Miriyoni and Misheck were magocha. They hunted this side, and later crossed the Sanyati into Hurungwe.”3 Some hunted until all mhuka were cleared from designated areas. Others, like Mugocha Mavasa, retired prematurely after being bitten by nyoka. Some were city boys visiting kumusha (home), who joined to make a quick buck—men like Raymond Muzanenhamo of Nembudziya.4 Others, like Mavasa and Chabata, were based in mumusha.

But where did the idea come from—that by exterminating mhuka, hunters like Mavasa, Chabata, Muzanenhamo, and countless others could also help Rhodesia annihilate mhesvi? In this chapter, we shall return to the pivotal moment in the transition from a period before and into Rhodesia to follow the mobility of ruzivo rwevatema into so-called ruzivo rwevachena, thus shaping its very core, complete with the dependence on vatema to execute such indigenous stratagems. Then we will reflect on the conduct of hunting and its meanings and purposes in vatema’s lives. I argue that whatever the Rhodesian apparatus added to the hunt as a method of pest control, credit is due to vachena only for repurposing, retooling, and renovating within the context of what was already present among vanhu vatema. The glossary at the back of the book will allow the reader to reference chidzimbahwe and other regional keywords.

The Origins of Magocha

Hugocha emerged out of ruzivo of mhesvi’s association with big mhuka. Those vachena we saw in chapters 1 and 2 interacting with vatema, learning from and surviving on their ideas and practices and documenting such ruzivo in their journals, became the bridge that took ruzivo into vachena’s scientific communities and official Rhodesian state policies.

The perfect starting point for this discussion is A Monograph of the Tsetse Flies (Austen 1903), in which British entomologist Ernest Edward Austen agreed with the positions that the medical missionary David Livingstone, the big game hunter and explorer Serowe, and many other nineteenth-century travelers had taken—namely, that vatema were correct to say that mhesvi was found wherever big game was present. The rinderpest epizootic seemed to have put the matter to pasture when exterminating mhesvi in most parts of southcentral and eastern Africa by destroying its most reliable food source: mhuka.

By 1900, however, the mhuka population was picking up again, and mhesvi too was recovering as its “food” recuperated. This twin development triggered a fierce debate in the Journal of the Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire and Field from 1907 to 1908 between Europe-based laboratory scientists, on one hand, and vapambepfumi who were ex-hunters, on the other, regarding the association between mhesvi and mhuka. Opinions crystalized around Austen, who now dismissed the premise from the perspective of laboratory experiment, and Serowe, with twenty years of hunting experience in dzimbabwe and virtually a mobile encyclopedia on anything related to “nature,” who had already endorsed ruzivo rwevatema on the mhesvi-mhuka association (JSPWFE 1907).

Few who had experienced mhesvi in its natural haunts could doubt Serowe. Fewer still could disagree with him that the only way to ensure complete freedom from mhesvi was to slaughter mhuka and prevent mhesvi’s revival in the future (Selous 1908). Austen had not experienced but had experimented on mhesvi, and he regarded the slaughter of mhuka as a danger to “faunal preservation.” Serowe had found that other kinds of game might take the place nyati (buffalo; see figure 9.3) had vacated and yet be unsuitable hosts for the savannah-loving types of mhesvirutondo, which vachena called G. morsitans. He believed that “exterminating game of all kinds in a country in order to get rid of tsetse fly would not only be an abominable crime, but an absolutely unnecessary one.” Serowe concluded: “You cannot have buffaloes without having tsetse flies as well” (Field 1907).


Figure 9.3 Nyati the buffalo, lover of water, companion of mhesvi.

Source: Author 2011.

Austen conceded that no type of mhesvi could survive without blood of some sort, but insisted—based on experiments—that it did not have to be that of mhuka.

Experiments in Lake Victoria had revealed that mhesvi also fed on riverine mhuka, specifically mvuu (hippos), makarwe (crocodiles), mbeva (mice), and shiri. To single out big game for execution while leaving these blood sources was a waste of time.

Writing in Field in 1907, Serowe reinforced his thesis of a strong connection between nyati and mhesvi:

It took many years before the fly had completely died out, but today there are neither buffaloes nor tsetse flies in a part of the country where less than five and thirty years ago both literally swarmed. If there is no connection between the buffalo and the tsetse, why is it that, not in one district alone, but everywhere in Africa south of the Zambesi, in countries as far apart as Delagoa Bay and the district of Victoria Falls, as soon as buffaloes have been completely extirpated, tsetse flies have at once diminished very rapidly in numbers, and sooner or later have become completely extinct? (Selous 1907)

Because they moved slowly, loved water and were found in habitats also favorable to mhesvi, nyati came to be seen after that debate as a sure sign of mhesvi presence.

The Austen-Serowe debate happened when mhesvi was still a remote risk—worth watching, but nothing to start fighting against in Southern Rhodesia. By 1909, the first serious signs of a return of mhesvi to its prerinderpest haunts appeared. The few mhuka that had survived the plague in the hinterland had been all but hunted out. Most that survived the rinderpest were to be found far from areas of concentrated human occupation—principally along and east of Southern Rhodesia’s border with Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) and along the Zambezi River. As their numbers grew due to natural increase, mhuka began ranging outward, with mhesvi in tow.

At the same time, to cope with new challenges to their livelihood and to escape from—and find money for—paying taxes, vatema were traveling across mhesvi-infested lands to seek work in the mines of central Rhodesia and South Africa. Vachena, native commissioners, and illicit labor recruiters were raiding vatema for taxes and labor.5 All these mobilities attracted mhesvi, always alert to anything that moved; it wasted no time catching a ride and traveling as carried mhesvi to new places, where it alighted; then, while feeding on new hosts, it deposited hutachiwana it had carried into them. This is the mobile work of mhuka, vanhu, and mhesvi.

In those days, any spotting of the chipukanana itself or outbreaks of n’gana could only mean one thing: A mhesvi “invasion” or “advance” was under way. Those like Serowe who had seen it all before made it very clear that the chipukanana’s recovery had everything to do with the return of mhuka—in particular, nyati—to their former stomping grounds. Serowe’s words need to be weighed in the context of who exactly among these vatema—the scientists (from) overseas, or the “men on the spot” facing mhesvi who dismissed the scientists as “armchair faddists”—held influence over state policy (Mavhunga 2007). Unlike other colonies, in which the British Imperial Government had direct responsibility for policy, Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing white settler state that made and executed its own government policies (Jeater 2005, 1).

Government entomologists answered to British South Africa Company (BSAC) shareholders prior to 1923; after that, they answered only to the settler government, which believed not just in expertise by experiment, as experimenters like Austen did, but also, pragmatically, in expertise by experience.6 White farmers, mine owners, and administrators became important conspirators in tsetse policy; the government was accountable to the white public.

From Intellectual Debate to Actual State Policy

All ruzivo rwevatema was considered manyepo (falsehoods), zvenhando (trivia), or ngano (fable) until proven as zvokwadi (truth) or ruzivo (knowledge) using vachena’s method. Thus, despite what vatema had told Serowe and others, and despite confirming the truth value of such knowledge through their own experiences, game elimination had to be put to the test. The shooting began on an “experimental” basis in 1919 in the Gwaai and Shangani Native Reserves of Sebungwe District as “a practicable method of fighting this terrible scourge” of mpukane. One experiment comprised the systematic shooting of nyamazana in a selected area, the other destroying the evergreen trees and other refuge vegetation around the winter habitats of mpukane.7 By 1920, the shooting experiment was showing “a considerable reduction of fly.”8 On December 15, 1921, the Gwaai-Shangani experiment was concluded, with the chief entomologist declaring that it had resulted in “a very marked reduction of tsetse.” That same year, plans were drawn up to carry out similar experiments in the Munyati River area around Chegutu, stretching north into Gokwe.9

In his annual report of 1922, Chief Entomologist Rupert Jack announced that hurumende’s (government’s) game elimination had “proved” mhesvi’s dependence on large mhuka. His department thus authorized, effective 1922, an “experimental policy” of granting concessions to individuals to hunt in twelve areas delineated for the purposes of controlling mhesvi. Of these, two were set aside for hunting by vanhu vatema, one for the Entomology Division, six for private white hunters, and three left unassigned.10

In 1923, following deaths of numerous cattle belonging to vatema, shooting operations were extended to the Kandeya area of Rushinga (Darwin) under charge of the Native Department. In November, the acting Native Commissioner opened to free shooting a wider area than the outbreak radius. As the rains intensified and forests became impenetrably thick, the operations were suspended until the dry season. That very same year, in November, the Nemakonde area was subjected to anti-mhesvi shooting.11

From 1923 on, elimination of mhuka was extended to the rest of the country as the first line of defense against mhesvi invasion. From the perspective of white cattle ranchers, whose herds mhesvi killed, and hurumende, the revenue of which it ruined, shooting operations were important not for their experimental value but as the best solution available for eliminating mhesvi. From a third standpoint, that of magocha (see figure 9.4a, b), the shooting operation was an unlimited source of nyama (meat) now that vatema were banned from owning guns or hunting.


Figure 9.4a, b A mukorekore hunter, master of the bow and arrow, and other hunting arts (left). The young apprenticed with older, more seasoned hunters, including their brothers (right).

Source: The Rhodesian Annual 1932 and 1934.

By the 1940s, the Chegutu operations had reached Gokwe. “Meat was eaten here in Nembudziya,” observes a mugocha who participated in game elimination in the area. “That’s when the name magocha was bestowed upon us by the people.”12 Initially, hurumende did not restrict magocha; they encouraged them to kill as many mhuka as they could. At the camp, the TFO reserved the liver and other special cuts for himself, and designated everything else for magocha. Later, to cater to the dietary needs of teams of spraymen, who carried only their mishini yekupureya (hereafter simply mishini [knapsack sprayers or spraying machines]), hupfu (meal), nyemba (beans), nzungu (peanuts), and nyimo (Bambara nuts), the tsetse authorities required all nyama to be dried for distribution as rations.13

It was not just the craving for nyama but also grinding poverty that led many vatema to enlist as magocha. Many just “went there to see if it would work out.”14 By the late 1960s, the earlier generations of hunters that had apprenticed in using guns and bows and arrows, making chepfu (poison), and digging and setting pits with their fathers and grandfathers had thinned out. The tsetse people abandoned their custom of preferring practicing hunters and started recruiting any man willing to hold a gun, run through the bush, and eat nyama. “They would just say come,” explained one mugocha in Gokwe. “You want work, e-e, come. You, you, you, go this side—you are hired.”15 As he recounted, this is how Mugocha Mavasa was hired. Mugocha was a nickname colleagues and locals gave him for his hunting prowess.

To give a sense of how much a typical game elimination operation might have cost in the 1950s and 1960s, the amounts shown in figure 9.5 are the official cost estimates for the Gonakudzingwa shooting operation in 1959. The budget items included materials and equipment costs for 213 miles’ worth of fences; two hundred rifles; 87,500 rounds of ammunition; salaries and housing for seven TFOs and eight thousand miles of fuel per month for two lorries and four Land Rover vehicles, and African Assistants (baasboys), flyboys, gate guards, fence guards, and any ancillary personnel.16


Figure 9.5 Estimated costs of shooting out Gonakudzingwa Native Purchase Area 1959.

Source: “Sabi Programme.” SACEMA/TA.

Tsetse Field Officers and Magocha in the Bush

On paper, the powers of the TFO over game elimination were nothing short of impressive: He directed all hunting operations, prevented unauthorized hunting, and disposed of hides, meat, bones, tusks, and so on.17 Under him were other TFOs (all of them vachena, and many ex-police), each in charge of twenty to thirty magocha armed with Martini-Henry and, later in the late 1920s, .303 rifles.18 Once these hunters had cleared their areas, the TFO ensured they automatically reverted to the role of “native police” and assumed patrol to prevent the reentry of mhuka. The TFO inspected the hunting grounds to check on the hunters and keep them to heel.19

In practice, things were not that simple. Magocha were expected to report to the TFO, to submit the tails of all mhuka killed and have their permits stamped to indicate that they had submitted their returns. These were the tails the TFO collated for statistics on game reduction. Raymond Muzanenhamo’s father, Lot, was one of the pioneer magocha. His team started destroying all mhuka from Hurungwe in the 1930s, crossed the Sanyati, and reached Nembudziya. Soon after, the senior Muzanenhamo retired on the land the government had resettled him on. His generation of magocha operated from their homes, engaged initially in destroying makudo (baboons), which were quite plentiful in Nembudziya and were hosts of mhesvi and destroyers of crops. “The white men wanted the tails of the baboons you have hit,” explained Raymond. “If you hit gudo [baboon], bring the muswe [tail], if you hit dzoma, bring the tail, if you hit ngwarati [sable], bring the tail, if you hit even any animal, bring the tail. Those were our fathers. … All they were supposed to take to murungu [white man] were the tails; the rest they left behind.”20

Having already distinguished himself on Lone Star Ranch (in southeastern Rhodesia) as a hunter destroying “vermin” (predators and baboons), John Piet was recruited as mugocha and armed with a .303 rifle to cull nyati, nhoro, and ngongoni (wildebeest) in the 1940s and 1950s. He would shoot, gather the tails of all kills, and take them to Mwenezi, where Chibwechitedza (Allan Wright, the district commissioner) was based. Before leaving, Piet usually sent word to his village for people to come and skin the meat.21

However, as one entomologist found in 1953, it was “possible that Native hunters keep what may be termed a ‘tail bank,’ into which they deposit spare tails when they have a particularly successful month, withdrawing them when not so successful.”22 Magocha picked ammunition rations and returned to the “battlefield,” or went straight home to do their own personal work in musha, returning only at the imperative of nyama or to pick up tails from their “banks” to submit to murungu.

By the time that Lot Muzanenhamo’s son, Raymond, became mugocha, mutemo (law) had changed. They were now restricted to just four types of mhuka: njiri, nguruve, nhoro, and dzoma. They were also no longer required to submit tails.23 They were issued twelve rounds, and they hunted with the TFO under supervision; they accounted for every round expended.24 Each kill was recorded against the mugocha who had shot the animal, which “would enable murungu to determine how many animals were killed in that specific area.”25 When each hunter’s kills were tallied, they showed the number of rounds per kill, how many mhuka still remained in an area, and how much work still needed to be done. If the kills matched the amount of ammunition issued, then such hunters were reissued firearms and ammo; if two months in a row passed without any kills, the operation was concluded and the hunters redeployed further ahead. Usually, magocha were based at one camp for four to six months before being redeployed to another camp, with another team replacing them from somewhere else. By the time these strangers established local connections, they were being moved again to a new location far away.

Varungu prohibited magocha from venturing into misha when off duty to limit the deliberate shooting of mhuka for the purpose of selling nyama. This measure was also designed to stamp out the previous problems of tail and ammunition banks and underdeclaring of kills:

If you fired too many bullets, you would not kill any animal. That was also questionable to vachena; they knew that we were conning them. Muchena knew we were killing mhuka, but instead taking the meat to our misha and also selling. And it was true: we did those things. We got good money. The wage we got was not enough for our needs. There were people who would come to us and say, “Hey, can’t you just spare me a piece of nyama. I will give you whatever price you ask.” Instead of a little animal you went there and hauled a whole eland to the village. Munhu mutema was wiser than vachena gave him credit for.26

As was standard Rhodesian practice, every government activity required the supervision of muchena (singular of vachena). Initially, the TFOs who were supposed to supervise magocha were located at camps by the roadside far from where they were deployed. They had no vehicles—let alone lorries or 4 × 4s; even if they did, thick thorn trees dominated the roadless terrain where the actual shooting was supposed to take place. Engine wear and tear was the order of the day. The government allowed just 150 miles mileage (or sixteen gallons of fuel) monthly, but TFOs always used double that figure expensed from personal coffers to conduct government work. TFOs would visit the nearest store “once a month to obtain monthly supplies of food” and so on, but their life of isolation would mean that once they went to town, they never came back. Fewer vachena enlisted.27 And even with the best of roads (a rarity in the 1940s), inspecting tsetse control corridors was always footwork, and it was “impossible to get men to work under the present conditions of service.”28

The situation was simply dire, as the senior entomologist explained in 1953: “Half of these [TFOs] have proved to be unreliable, most have stayed for only two or three months and either resigned or been dismissed for mischief or incompetence, and in the intervals the area has been entirely without a resident TFO to supervise it.”29 The departure of TFOs who had gained some experience and the introduction of virtual novices further exacerbated the government’s dependence on local hunters, who became the only chain of consistency tying mhesvi control operations together.30

In June 1971, Glossinologist Ted Davison put the problem down to the TFOs’ unwillingness to exert physical bodily effort and stamp out poaching by magocha under their command.31 In an effort to seize the initiative and end the bottom-up agency of magocha over tsetse control operations, Chief Glossinologist Desmond Lovemore sent Davison in July “to investigate and check on the hunting operations and to report on his observations accordingly.” “Our hunting operations were fast settling into a rut,” Lovemore said. “In fact in some areas this had already occurred, and there was therefore the virtually desperate need to have someone constantly prodding to maintain the enthusiasm” among TFOs.32

Lovemore was concerned that game destruction might easily degenerate into “literally nothing more than reporting each month, in our various monthly reports, that so many animals were destroyed in this or that hunting section or operations area, with no further attention being paid to the work. … Under these circumstances the technique will never work satisfactorily.”33 To avoid that, the TFOs had to stay constantly in touch with magocha, directing them “in order to ensure that the tsetse is starved with the minimum of delay.” The work of starving mhesvi, Lovemore stressed, could only succeed if every person in the branch, from top to bottom, was “constantly stimulated to approach their task intelligently and with enthusiasm.”34

For Davison, this was not just a question of labor management; hunters needed training on the shooting range, they needed checks against poaching, and that would take a hands-on level of man management, “the will and physical ability to get out into the veld and control the movements of our hunters.” He particularly discouraged hiring as TFOs “candidates who express an early desire to shoot animals,” who were “infirm,” and those “of an age or disposition” unsuited to physical exertion.35

In interviews, former magocha concur with this damning assessment: “We had kabhunu (a small white man) that came from Gweru. I worked with him as his assistant. Maybe because he was always drunk so maybe that’s why the tsetse bit him so much. He was always drunk. He would put a crate of beer in the Jeep, under the seat, I turn around and look at his arms and hands, I find so many engorged fly, slap! I’d kill them and tell him: ‘You have been bitten by tsetse,’ and he would be busy gulping his beer, not even noticing the flies.”36

Some of these TFOs had not even a single feather of knowledge about mhesvi when arriving in the field. The man referred to in the previous quotation is said to have come to Nembudziya to resume his post, thinking that mhesvi had a tail. These vachena were here only for the meat and the money, only too grateful to get a job and the reward of killing nzou and keeping the ivory—until that rule changed.37

Some TFOs were distinguished marksmen. Former magocha in Nembudziya remember a man they called Chiwoko (Short Hand), who told them he had lost his arm during World War II. “But he was such a beast of a marksman in the bush,” recalls one mugocha. “Waidhuura murungu iyeye [he was a good shot, that white man]. When he saw mhuka coming from there stampeding, he would just balance the rifle on what was left of his hand, and pull the trigger with his full hand.”38 There was another white man magocha called Peturu Bhomba (Petrol Bomber), who shot only nzou. “That one was a Satan. If he saw forty, fifty elephants, all of them would not live long. All by one person. … All he wanted was the ivory.”39 Peturu Bhomba was of several white huntsmen the government contracted to shoot for ivory as reward for their services. “He would tell us: ‘I am the government. It is not me who is killing and taking the horns; it is the government. When you see me, you see government.’”40 Then there was Bhatani (Button), who came from Mutoko. “He would fire only once, and the elephant would not rise where it had fallen.”41

Most of them were very cruel to vatema, just like the majority of vachena in Southern Rhodesia, and the isolation of the bush gave them complete impunity to exercise the worst of it. “They called us bobojani [bobjaan; Afrikaans for baboon],” one mugocha said. “‘You fucken bobojaan, baboon wena’ [‘You fucking bobjaan, you baboon’], they would call us.” In those situations, magocha just took instructions and followed without question: “‘Yevo nkosi, yevo mambo’ (‘Yes my king, yes my lord’). You’ve done nothing wrong, but you find yourself being given a thorough hiding.”42 A story is told in Nembudziya of one scrawny white man local magocha called “Kamadendere, a man with not an iota of dignity, so thin that if you nudged him, he would fall easily.” He was one of a group of soldiers that President Kenneth Kaunda had expelled from Zambia at independence in 1964. He was a sadistic racist. One day, he ordered a mugocha named Machazura to get into the Land Rover (see figure 9.6), drove out into the bush, ordered him into a prone position, and severely thrashed him. Then he ordered him again into the truck and drove him back to join others.43 Another time, Kamadendere “yoked us all to pull a wagon. Sixteen of us. And it had no tubes like today’s carts—iron wheels. He ordered ‘mhuka’ (us) to drive ‘other mhuka’ (each other, i.e., other blacks), taking turns on the yoke, swinging the whip on each other’s bodies as one would upon oxen, but without hides, the lashes lacerating our flesh.”44


Figure 9.6 The Land Rover was a symbol of white racist oppression to the black majority in Rhodesia.

Source: National Archives of Zimbabwe.

Some of these vachena stole the pay intended for magocha under their command. Former magocha in Gokwe talk of TFOs like Razmas (Erasmus), who received far more money from headquarters than they paid out as wages to the hunters. “Because the crookery was in the pen,” recalls one hunter, a veteran of the Copper Queen Mine game-elimination drive. “When Razmas says that he gave you so much money and here is where you signed, the superiors will never argue with that.” Such complaints led the government to send the paymaster in person to hand each mugocha his pay, instead of just giving it all to the TFO, and to go through the process of payment with him.45

The white man would be clad in government-issued long-sleeved camouflage or khakis, a cap, a warm jersey, a trench coat, and military-style boots, and he was housed in a roomy canvas tent or mud and thatch hut. He was equipped in the best manner possible for the ragged mountains, thorny bushes, and cold nights.46

By contrast, magocha had no uniform; the government issued them none. In the bush, they wore their own clothes, the ones they wore at home when going to the fields, which were marengeny’a (tattered clothes). They were going into thorn-filled bush, to engage in rough-and-tumble work; their thin shirts and trousers would soon be tattered. Then, when returning home, magocha put on more decent clothing so that they reappeared from the bush as respectable fathers and husbands returning from fending for their families, not victims of vachena.47 Most were barefoot and later wore many’atera (sandals with soles from car tires and straps from cowhide processed in the village); others used boots they had brought from migrant work in South Africa.48

Finally, it was easy for the TFO or private hunter to shoot nzou and other “whites-only” mhuka and outside permitted areas and blame it all on magocha. Munhu mutema was only allowed to skin the carcass and chop out the ivory, carry it, and do whatever vachena commanded. In Nembudziya, one such white hunter was Makaingidze (the Spoiler of Happiness), who in 1967 accused Raymond Muzanenhamo of killing ngwarati (sable). In fact, Makangaidze’s nephew, John, had killed the mhuka in Gandavaroyi. The young boy then lied, saying that he was with Raymond, who he said had shot the animal. Muzanenhamo was promptly arrested, only to be saved by the testimonies of his magocha colleagues. He had had enough; he immediately quit and went to look for work in the city.49 The TFOs at the Chipinda Pools camp in the 1960s were not just supervising; they were also poaching nhéma (rhino).50

Interviews with former magocha and vanhu who lived through the 1960s in Gokwe and Chibwedziva show that nyama was so abundant that it was free. It was made into chimukuyu (dried meat), bags and bags of it.51 The wives, mothers, and sisters of magocha would pick up the dried meat and carry it on their heads back to misha, while even more was stashed, sack upon sack, in the hollow bellies of the baobab trees that punctuate the Gonarezhou and Savé-Runde river valleys. Magocha became the vehicle for vatema to access the protein of the forest, entry to which was forbidden to them under Rhodesian law. In Nembudziya, magocha camps were sited at boreholes at Vashe, Madzivanyika, Mawere, Magumise, Tengdam, Misi, and Magocha, the last one named after the hunters who frequented the camp. Many of these hunters were vechishangwe, the most well-known being their supervisor Kaingidza Mudimu, who hailed from Goredema. Locals befriended these men to obtain nyama.52

From Indiscriminate to Selective Game Elimination

Fema Ngonda was a mufrayi and mugocha at different times in Nembudziya during the 1960s. He remembers clearly the mhuka he was required to kill—four types: nhoro (kudu), dzoma (bushbuck), nguruve (bushpig), and njiri (warthog). “Idzodzo ndidzo dzakanga dziine ropa raitandiwa nemhesvi” (“those ones had blood most coveted by mhesvi”), Ngonda recalls. The hunters were not allowed to kill anything else.53 Ngonda’s account illustrates the implementation of a recommendation made after the 1954 Commission of Inquiry to move from indiscriminate toward “discriminative game elimination.”

The supervision tightened. From 1958 to 1963, all magocha were required to base at fixed camps known to the TFO and accessible by road. In Sebungwe, magocha were now deployed in rotation in groups of twos and threes to “fixed camps located so as to achieve optimum coverage of the area, taking into account places that were particularly attractive to animals.”54 At night, the hunters slept in semipermanent camps, hunting from dawn to noon, then breaking for lunch before hunting again from 2:00 p.m. to dusk.55 These camps were called vhuka lala (vhuka = wake up; lala = sleep; see figure 9.7), located in a radius of 7–10 km from the next water point. They were rendezvous for the night only, the hunters making camp toward sunset and starting early the next morning. They had only moto (fire) and no blankets, and they roasted nyama from their kills.56 Some worked from home;57 others from camps inside the bush.58 The primary determinant for the magocha’s base was the availability of drinking water, usually from boreholes or perennial pools nearby.59 Later, in the late 1960s, most magocha were from the hunting area; they were supplied with firearms, ammunition, pots, meal, and salt. They were also issued two-man tents, and deployed to specific areas and to camps around each area.60


Figure 9.7 A vhuka lala camp, with a TFO’s vehicle parked close by and magocha busy with cleaning and cooking chores. The TFO is in the background, apparently stripping and cleaning his firearm.

Source: The Rhodesian Annual 1932.

From 1963 on, another move was made away from “hunters … dispersed in groups of 3” toward a new system involving “hunters operating from one camp, thus enabling stricter control.” Twenty magocha operated from one camp under a TFO, returning there every night. A senior tsetse field officer (STFO) administered a cluster of these twenty-man teams. Each mugocha was supposed to “account for every shot fired” with his TFO; in turn, the TFO submitted a monthly return to the STFO detailing the number of mhuka killed and shots expended on each. This enabled the field officers to determine the average number of shots fired per animal killed “as a measure of the efficiency of the hunting teams.”61

In 1970, the principle that “a high density of hunters is necessary for the removal of the last few hosts” was adopted but not uniformly applied.62 The unfavorable results led Davison to advise in 1973 against deploying big teams of hunters, preferring smaller ones instead. He decried the increase in hunter strength per team in Guruve to over twenty as a bad idea, proposing instead “to widen the distribution of effort each month with more teams” to provide “constant effort over the entire front.”63

After centralizing control of the hunters, the next step was to improve their shooting skills so that they shot as well as they tracked—the latter a skill gained from childhood through ruzivo rwevatema. In 1970–1971, the Tsetse Branch instituted a comprehensive “hunter training programme.” The glossinologist’s report from 1971–1972 describes the program involving, inter alia, marksmanship with “specially designed 3-inch by 3-inch targets … obtained on an exchange basis with a city packaging firm.” He notes that hunters and “some” officers had “enthusiastically received” the frequent target practice and periodic competitions, which early on exposed “a chronic weakness in our system in the form of appalling shooting ability amongst the majority of hunters.” Davison was disappointed but hopeful:

Even some of those employed for several years and who produce kills regularly were found to be very poor shots. That this deficiency can be remedied has been demonstrated by some officers who by a concerted effort have raised the standard of shooting in their teams to a very high level. The post of Learner Hunter recently instituted will, it is hoped, create an incentive for new hunters to work hard at the basic skills of shooting in the first few months of employment. If as previously suggested the Bonus incentive can be increased to $2 per kill, I envisage a three tier hunter force. Learners at $7 per month and little chance of earning bonus money, Hunters at $9 per month getting some bonus money, and Good Hunters who by killing 4–8 animals a month earn most of their cash from the bonus scheme.64

The branch was enmeshed in a catch-22: By reducing incentives, it would also inadvertently be promoting poaching. In the 1971–1972 season, numerous cases “both out of the area and [of] shooting non-selected species by our hunters” had been reported. Davison did not need to search far for an answer: “There is little doubt that with more money in the tribal areas than previously, and more widespread settlement, the incentive to poach has increased sharply in recent years.” Davison had established during hunter training programs that magocha with particularly bad marksmanship had turned in higher rates of kills than their (lack of) shooting skills deserved. To him, these were the poaching culprits. “This method can in my opinion be used to almost stamp out poaching amongst hunters,” he declared triumphantly. “If we constantly monitor their shooting ability any undue misses should arouse suspicion.” There was only one small glitch: “Unfortunately the next step, to back track and check spoor at the sight where the miss was fired, is not readily accepted by the field officers-in-charge. It of course involves physical effort which is beyond the ability of some of the older members of the staff, and beneath the dignity of some of the younger officers.”65

In 1973, the branch installed a policy stating that a TFO must meet certain standards “within a few months or he is replaced.” These standards included conducting range (target practice) to improve the hunters’ shooting skills. Few TFOs enthusiastically greeted this extra work of conducting range for their magocha. Davison was a bit heartened that shooting had improved overall, but the shot per kill ratio was “still alarmingly high in some areas and at certain times of the year.” Although BTTC policy required TFOs to check on shots magocha declared as “misses,” “very few” such investigations ever took place, leaving “some doubt as to whether all these shots were fired at selected species or at others.”66

Training counted for nothing so long as staff turnover remained high. From 1971 to 1972, Davison observed that many magocha were increasingly “of extremely poor quality,” with new hunters “heavily” outnumbering the old and not staying long at all, unlike the old-timers. Only 20 percent of magocha hired for tsetse control operations in Sebungwe, Gokwe, Hurungwe, and Guruve from 1972 to 1973 stayed the whole season. Half the hunters hired worked for five months or less, although Sebungwe and Hurungwe fared better. The vacancy rate for Sebungwe was 57 percent and Hurungwe 44 percent, whereas Gokwe and Guruve were at 68 percent and 66 percent, respectively. Data on previous seasons was not available, but these figures convinced Davison that field staff “grossly exaggerated” staff shortages as an alibi for poor results.67 Almost to a person, former magocha interviewed in Chibwedziva and Nembudziya confirm these shortages, stating the cruelty of TFOs, extremely poor wages and conditions of service, agricultural chores at home, and greener pastures in cities and mines as reasons for quitting.

Davison attributed the reasons for departure to the rise of the rural bus transport system bringing the city closer to previously remote areas. “The lure of higher wages and bright lights in towns—recently rendered ‘nearby’ by bus services, are attracting many tribesmen to leave the Tribal Trust Lands in search of jobs,” he said. “The greatest incentive we can offer is cash earned near home. Whilst it is beyond our duties to strive for all round pay increases, the Bonus Scheme is one system we can manipulate relatively easily to fulfill our objectives.”68

A study of figures from the northern regions shows that many magocha returned home from October to November to plow the fields so that their wives and children could plant crops, then would leave them to handle the weeding while they returned to hunting soon after. They returned home for Christmas (when they had their “off”) with fresh meat, then (some) returned to their bush workplaces in January, and a few more in February. Davison’s conclusion that “the payment of a bonus on the basis of a full season’s attendance may go some way in preventing good hunters drifting in and out of employment as they wish” illustrates the agency of magocha in influencing conditions of service and the entire tsetse control operation—just by going home to perform their duties as fathers, husbands, sons, and siblings.69

The first attempt to control hunters through money-denominated incentives or restrictions arose in 1955 with the introduction of a salary. Chorley had reasoned that this “would enable the TFO i/c [in charge] to exercise greater control over the hunters and ensure a better distribution of the rifles.”70 However, as the 1960s wore on, it became clear to magocha that they were being poorly paid deliberately to induce them to hunt more and sell.71 The bonus scheme introduced in 1970 had the double objective of “increas[ing] the welfare of the long serving hunters … in the form of a bonus on kills” and creating an incentive “for all hunters to put more effort into the task” of hunting. To fund the initiative, the number of hunters per team was reduced by four to create a savings of eleven dollars per head, or Rhodesian dollars (R$)11,760 for the whole year for all magocha. By the end of the 1970–1971 hunting season, only 23.7 percent of the bonus (R$3,027) had been paid out, which to Glossinologist Davison was “a dismal failure” that had “not provided the desirable increase in the hunters’ welfare.” In some areas, “so little money [was being] earned and by so few that the scheme [had become] worthless.” The whole plan boomeranged after the initial success, and in 1971, Davison noted that “latterly the effect has worn off and even some dissention has arisen due to the unequal chances of earning bonus amongst the teams.”72

Chief Glossinologist Desmond Lovemore did not agree with Davison’s conclusion that the bonus scheme had failed. The kills from June 1970 to January 1971 showed that despite reductions in the number of hunters per team from twenty-four to twenty in three areas, the total number of kills made in each case was “well in excess” of that for the previous season’s corresponding period from June 1969 to January 1970.73 Davison, meanwhile, conceded that during the 1971–1972 hunting season, the total bonuses paid to hunters under the bonus scheme was $300 less than the previous year’s figure of $2,720. Instead, the amounts paid out were “split evenly amongst the [460-strong] hunter force [and] amount[ed] to a benefit of $5,9 each over the year.” However, he maintained that the distribution was not even, with many hunters getting no more than one or two dollars from the scheme for the whole year. The glossinologist found the scheme problematic because it did “not provide any incentive to the majority of our hunters.” His solution was simple enough: Increase the bonus per kill. In the likely event of kills exceeding the bonus budget available, the expenditure would then be limited “by raising the qualifying number [of kills] for teams in these sections.”74

From 1972 to 1973, the bonus scheme for dzoma was discontinued. The result was a steep drop from 612 to 295 dzoma killed, a rise in the numbers of nhoro from 91 to 150, and constant figures for njiri and nguruve. Davison concluded: “It is also to some extent a demonstration of what a cash incentive can do amongst hunters.”75 That same season, the bonus on each kill was raised to two dollars “to increase the incentive and to ensure better distribution of the available cash.”76

The changes in bonuses and the mechanism and criteria for payouts, as Davison explains, unleashed interesting kinds of subversion from magocha, felt by the government as follows:

The total amount paid out this year ([R]$4,963) is almost double that of last year, ([R]$2,720). In this manner 80,1% of the funds were used as intended, as opposed to 35,9% in the preceding year. The adjustment to the amount to be paid per kill has therefore achieved its objective, and greatly increased the welfare of successful hunters. The over-expenditure in the [Hurungwe] area was the result of the high number of kills obtained in the [Matsikiti] Section when the area in fact had the lowest monthly allocation—[R]$120 which allows for only 60 kills. In the Gokwe Area some resistance and disobedience was encountered when the qualifying number was set high to curb expenditure. Under these circumstances hunters were more likely to sell products to the local [villagers] than declare kills in the hope of qualifying for bonus payments. This practice, and that of forming syndicates to qualify more rapidly, has exposed a weakness in the present system when applied to areas yielding a lot of kills. Since no such further areas remain … to be cleared however, the problem is resolved. However, the low earnings in the [Guruve] area indicate a problem which lies ahead, namely a decrease in the availability of hosts which will of course, decrease benefits paid out. One anticipates sharp reductions in the Gokwe and [Hurungwe] sectors in the coming year. If this prediction comes true it is suggested that in future years, part of the available money be spent on an “attendance bonus” as practiced with spraying labourers. This may go some way in solving the problem [of] the turnover of hunters.77


Because magocha operated virtually on their own (singly or in groups), they acquired such latitude as to determine every outcome of game elimination: the statistics the department produced, the conclusions they made of them, and the policy and “scientific” decisions arising from such conclusions. TFOs who were supposed to supervise them were located at camps far from the hunters, and most did not stay on the job long enough. This meant that the only chain of consistency tying the mhesvi operations together was magocha.

The hunters were not here for murungu’s “scientific research”—far from it. They were here for nyama and mari (money). Yet in killing for meat, they also killed for science and policy. Hurumende cared little for the nutritional needs—let alone welfare—of magocha. Yet in deferring to and availing them of space, guns, and ammunition, it provided them the instruments to become magocha and a rich vein of nyama supply to musha. The name Mugocha or Magocha stuck to some of these men and became their first or even last names—for example, Mugocha Julius Mavasa of Chibwedziva. Every animal shot for nyama was, in any case, one less potential carrier of mhesvi. That, too, was good policy.


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MARC Record
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