Bob Butterworth

I am a Yorkshireman, born in Halifax 13.05.1935. In 1957, following interview in London, I joined the Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland as a Tax Officer. My first posting was to the Federal capital, where I received some training before proceeding to Livingstone, in Northern Rhodesia, where I arrived just before my 23rd birthday. To me Livingstone was Paradise: the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi river, plenty of fishing and a bit of shooting — wonderful! Add to that the transition from miserable, austerity-blighted, Britain, to the luxurious, reasonably priced beef steaks, and crayfish tails that arrived in refrigerated rail wagons from Cape Town — I have never been able to forget the place. I have a million fond memories!

After a year of enjoying this free and easy bachelor life I met a Welsh girl, Eilonwy Phillips, from Pembrokeshire — who had come out from Britain to join the Federal Nursing Service. What a place to do your courting! Wonderful weather all year round, lunar rainbows over the Falls, snorting hippos in the Zambezi, delicious, affordable, food and drink at the Falls Tea Room, or any of Livingstone’s four comfortable hotels — we became very happy in each others company. All good thnigs come to an end and in mid 1960 we were both given postings, me to Lusaka — Eilonwy first to Mazabuka, then Luanshya, and finally to Lusaka, where we became engaged on 13th April 1961. We married in Salisbury on 8th January 1962.

Our first house was on Radnor Street, in Lusaka, but as 1962 progressed it became obvious that the Federation could not continue. and “Independence” under unknown terms might soon be upon us. By then we both loved Northern Rhodesia and could not conceive of living elsewhere. The mighty  Copperbelt looked as though it must go on forever, whoever ran the Country’s admin from Lusaka, and fortunately the finest of its mines, Nchanga, needed people like both of us, so we went up to Chingola and started work on 1st June 1962. Northern Rhodesia continued in its old happy way for a further two years and four months then became (to everyone’s bewilderment) “The Republic of Zambia”.

We both climbed our respective totem pole well and by 1975 I was Mine Stores Controller. Eilonwy had reached Deputy Matron at the Mine’s 250-bed North Hospital, however our daughter, Sian, was born on the Queen’s birthday in 1970, and after that she did not return to work. Our living conditions were fantastic: we had a beautiful 4 bed-roomed villa complete with swimming pool for which I paid the kwacha equivalent of £5.7.6d a month (and that included water and electricity) my salary was £1000.0.0d (before the great inflation!) — but nevertheless life steadily deteriorated. The Zambian government was determined to bring Rhodesia’s UDI to an end and see that beautiful, fertile, prosperous, country handed over to Robert Mugabe, or his equivalent, so cut off all imports from across the Zambezi. This made life extremely difficult for the Mine which relied on all sorts of Rhodesian products, efficiently to continue production, and for us expat employees, who were expected to survive continuous shortages. Once we had to go 6 months without onions, of all things, bread supply was often very dicey, milk (and thus butter and cheese) frequently unobtainable, pork pies/bacon/ ham/sausages all became dim memories from the past.

For years we managed to keep afloat by the constant repetition of two mantras: “It cannot possibly get any worse” and “It’ll be OK once things get back to normal”. Sadly, by 1975 it became obvious that the old days were gone for ever and with heavy hearts we gave everything up and returned to Britain. Life has been kind to us. Very soon after our return I was recruited by Crown Agents, mainly because of my intimate knowledge of the importing problems of landlocked nations. I ended my career with them as Regional Manager South East Asia — based in Bangkok. We sent Sian to public school, from which she proceeded to medical training at St Thomas’s hospital, in London. She is now paediatric consultant at St Mary’s, Newport, Isle of Wight. We have been lucky — a lot of our mates were not, especially those who went to Rhodesia, or South Africa, after leaving Zambia.

We look back on our Northern Rhodesian experience with great nostalgia. We miss the lovely weather in Zambia — but not much else. The above is simply the framework of eighteen years of my life.


2nd Letter

We lived in Livingstone, Lusaka, and Chingola. All were very different places. Livingstone was rapidly developing as a tourist centre for the Falls, with excellent restaurants, clubs, and pubs. The expat community was very friendly, and laid-back. The locals were happy, friendly, well fed, and respectful. Lusaka, in 1960/62, was different. There were clubs and pubs, but much entertaining took place in peoples houses. “Capital City” NRG officers and their families were very socially restricted and pretentious, with a concentration on rank, salary, place of birth in Britain, accent, and education that did not appeal to us. Also, during our 2 years there “Politics” (a word rarely heard in Livingstone) became THE absorbing topic of conversation at work, and at dinner parties in the evening. I grew to hate the place, but Eilonwy, with a satisfying professional life at the European Hospital — where she was 2i/c of the maternity ward — was much more tolerant and relaxed.

Chingola, where we spent 13 years, became our home. Neither of us had the slightest desire to live anywhere else. Both of us had interesting, satisfying, jobs AAC were (and I believe still are) fantastic employers — they did everything to keep their workers happy and productive, including very high pay, generous leave provision, wonderful housing, and health facilities of a much higher standard than that which pertains in the dear old NHS, here. Every conceivable sport was catered for, each with its own excellent club house, fields, and staff — all either provided by the Mine, or supported by them. There were no restaurants in the town itself, which was odd, but we never missed them — there were plenty of good ones in Kitwe, 32 miles away, or Ndola, 70 miles away — and in any case we had a good circle of friends and entertained each other at home.

This idyllic life began to crack in the early ’70s. The Zambian government’s obsession with interfering in the affairs of our neighbours, coupled with a World Bank scheme to buy-out the productive expat farmers, without ensuring that the cooperatives which took over their land were capable of so doing, led to all sorts of shortages — and these did not effect only the expat Mine-employees: no one who lived through those years can ever forget the tearful, hungry, local housewives sitting by the roadside hoping for deliveries of maize flour, or bread, or cooking oil, or beef — which sadly arrived sporadically, if at all. They were accustomed all their lives to living off the fat of the land, and could not understand what had gone wrong. By 1975 I had reached 40, had a wife and a 5 year old daughter, and faced the fact that things were never going to improve, so, with a very heavy heart, decided to get out — before I became too old ever to find another job — and to return to UK rather than trying our luck elsewhere on the feckless African continent.

I had saved steadily over our years at Nchanga Mine and was able to return to Britain with about £30,000 — a small fortune by 1973/74 standards, but by 1975 inflation was raging. House prices were rising every day — clearly it was imperative to get a foot on the housing ladder before inflation priced us out of the market and, since any work I might get was likely to be in London, or London based, that meant buying in the Home Counties. By chance we identified a 4-bedroomed detached house in Twyford, Berkshire, with good communications to Paddington station, in London, and bought that for £23,000 cash (the first time the estate agent had handled a cash deal). Then, very quickly, within a month of coming home I was offered a job by Crown Agents who at that time were at 4, Millbank, opposite the Houses of Parliament. I stayed with them for 13 years basically trouble shooting all over the world, in the developing countries which they serve, and supply. We had one year in Accra, Ghana, 1977, and 6 years in Bangkok 1982 to 1988, after each of which we returned to Twyford. When we were away we were fortunate always to be able to let the house at a good rental. We sold, very sadly, in 1993 — by which time our original investment had multiplied many times over.

We have never been back to Zambia, although we are always vey nostalgic for the Northern Rhodesia we grew to love in the late ’50s, and which died a lingering death over the decade 1964 to 1974. We enjoyed a superb lifestyle in Livingstone, and for the first few years at Nchanga/Chingola. The rude awakening which came in 1975 was not too bad. It was well cushioned. We keep in touch with many old friends, especially at Christmas. Those in UK, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, seem to have settled quite happily. This is not the case with those who headed for Rhodesia, OR South Africa, or Rhodesia THEN South Africa. Many of these have passed away, others have not kept in touch. We are desperately sorry for those who remain.

I hope this is what you wanted, and not too rambling in style? My dear wife and I wish you every success with your fascinating project.
3rd letter

Once more it was good to hear from you, but your message has given rise to yet more thoughts in my mind:

One month later I was on that same SAR train, I remember the introduction to South African cuisine (bobotie and rice, etc) with its heavy concentration on nyama, the endless Karoo and its will o’ the wisps accompanying the train and the only things to watch from the widows on that endless, parched, landscape. I had been brought up at home and at school on self-satisfied tales of British Imperial grandeur, and could not believe the actuality of Mafeking, as we passed through it with only a short stop. Was this dirty, dusty, little hamlet really the place where the great Baden-Powell made his name? How could our brave soldiers have been locked up in there for weeks — without breaking out and teaching the Queen’s enemies a lesson they would never forget? Were the Londoners who caroused and danced in the street for 24 hours after its siege was broken aware of what an insignificant little dump it was ( and had remained, even 60 years later!)?

Broken Hill I knew for its lead and zinc mine, which like Nchanga was owned and operated by Anglo American Corporation. There were some personnel transfers within the group, and Copperbelt promotion panels always included members of the Broken Hill management. I remember great excitement in Livingstone when the NRP were forced to shoot a rhino wandering around the main street, and a lawyer named Colin Cunningham who practised in the town and — before Independence — became a popular Right Wing politician. Otherwise, I’m afraid we looked upon it simply as a convenient stop for food and petrol between Ndola and Lusaka.



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