John Whitaker

John Whitaker was one of the earliest contributors to the research and wrote this in 2008:

I am a 57 year old airline pilot, currently flying Boeing 747-400’s for Korean Air. My airline home base is London and we now live between a cottage in Warwickshire and our main home, in Hillcrest, South Africa. I previously flew for South African Airways for 22 years. I am a civilian trained pilot, self-sponsored and started flying in 1970.

My parents moved to Kalomo in the Southern Province, in 1956,  from Southern Rhodesia when I was five years old. They were South Africans who had gone to SR in 1948. My father was a 10th generation South African and my mother second generation.

My father was a farmer and carved a farm out of virgin bush, near Mukwela Siding, between Choma and Kalomo, erecting all the buildings and setting up the fields growing tobacco and maize and running a herd of 200 cattle. I am the eldest of four brothers. My parents returned to SA in 1970 as did all the sons.

As a young boy growing up in the bush in NR life was just wonderful – hunting, camping and fishing which I think was a healthy and happy upbringing for a boy and seemed to instil an abundance of self confidence in myself and most of the young people we knew. The ability to adapt and cope to most situations.

I made friends who remain so today, over 50 years later. Happily the internet now allows us to stay in touch much more easily. Just this last month four of us who were at primary school together 52 years ago in Mazabuka got together for the day. And as one of the guy’s said the next day “ he felt 10 years younger ” after all the fun and nonsense talked.

We also played a lot of sport and this in addition to the physical outdoors lifestyle might have contributed to a significant number of the small community’s children ending up flying for both private and professional, military and civilian pursuits. A healthy physique, self-confidence  and good motor eye, muscular coordination necessary for flying would surely have been enhanced by our background.

Our NR schooling and background also seemed to make us independent thinkers rather than someone who followed the crowd.

It was an open, transparent and happy society and upbringing amongst our white community. But we were politically oblivious to how the black community viewed us. We lived in a bubble. Quite out of touch. Looking back a bit like living in ‘La-La Land’ Not entirely grounded in reality, or permanent, but transient and a little out of contact with what was happening outside NR.  And now that I can look back at it in a more detached frame of mind, think it was really generally detrimental to a solid family and home upbringing.

Due to the farms being fairly isolated all the community’s children had to be sent to boarding school from about the age of six, in my situation. In my brothers and my case we went to primary school in Mazabuka and high school in Livingstone and then much further afield in Pietersburg, South Africa, a four day train journey away via Botswana. This was a particularly negative aspect to our growing up in NR as for a child to be sent to boarding school at the age of six is a traumatic and barbaric experience and led to an unnatural relationship with our parents as in effect we never really went home again and had a normal relationship and time with them and us as a family. All time together was telescoped in to holiday periods. And when school was completed we immediately went on to further learning and finally employment, again a long way from home. So we in effect left home at 6 years of age and now wish I had more time as a family unit with my brothers and parents.

Our parents had precious little idea as to how we were really coping at school, whether we had sufficient money and equipment, when home was a 1,000 miles away, communications were limited to slow ground mail, with telephones never being used. This put us at a disadvantage in so many ways compared to scholars who lived close to or at home where their parents were more in touch with what was going on in their children’s lives.

When we left school and higher learning we then had to make our way in a world we were really out of touch with, as our wonderful ‘ La-La Land ‘ did not really prepare us for life in the ‘ Real World ’ Hunting, shooting and camping were not really  preparation for life in the city or wider society.

We were generally round pegs in square holes in the society in which we had to earn a living and make a life, career and marriage. So many people still live in the past, they no longer belong in the NR they knew, they are not at ease in their new countries, in many ways they are stateless. The people that did manage to settle down elsewhere took years and years to do so.

In many cases, individuals who were bright and had potential to do well in life found they had had done schooling in a British system and back in South Africa , in our case, one needed a matric pass and GCE’s fell short of the authorities requirements and people who should have gone on to do well in life were hamstrung from getting into the system. Those that did manage to get into the system and get ahead, generally took longer to do so. Again because of our back ground.

I have been back twice for a holiday to Zambia since leaving Kalomo in 1970, and many times on flying visits due to my work, and while I enjoyed it I found it sad, the thriving farming community with all the associated social activities and gatherings, i.e. sport, Women’s Institute tombola/fete and produce sales, fireworks displays and pantomimes/shows put on by the community are no more. The people are generally infinitely poorer financially and worst of all, the children of my friends have also had to leave the community and Africa at an early age due to a lack of employment  opportunities only to return for the short telescoped holidays.

So it was the best of times and the worst of times.


In March 2015 he added:


My father was a 10th generation South African. It would appear that the people who have contributed so far were from the UK, worked for the Colonial Service,  and arrived either between World War 1 and 2 or shortly after WW2 and it was all a bit of a ‘jolly’ for them – hence we probably looked at Africa and our place in it differently, for better or worse, to people fresh out from the UK who then returned to the UK. We were of Africa, self-employed, and not new arrivals, the earliest members of my family arrived in South Africa in 1686.


I am now a 64 year old retiree living permanently again in South Africa! 

My wife and I spent Easter 2014 in Livingstone, attending the wedding of the daughter of an old school and childhood friend from those days I have described in my email. It was wonderful to be back, the people were so warm and relaxed without the racial tensions still playing themselves out in SA.  And I think the bride, Emma, wanted to be married in Zambia, although she and her husband, to be, lived in the UK, mostly because of her father’s happy connection with NR/Zambia. Her father, Guy and I, had started Primary School in Mazabuka 56 years prior to her wedding but he had sadly been killed in a motor accident a few years before her marriage.


Next month we are having another get together, lunch at our house – similar to the one described in my first email  of  30 January 2009 – four of us who grew up together on the farms in Kalomo. Except Guy will be missing – not forgotten, but missing – we go back 59 years! So the bonds back to our Northern Rhodesian childhood have remained strong across the years.

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