The Chron­i­cle

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

BU­L­AWAYO, Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 17, 1966 — When Basil Watkinson wakes up at 4AM to set light to sev­eral acres of sugar cane, po­lice and fire fight­ers turn a blind eye.

His only con­cern is that there are no wind vari­a­tions. Then the flames leap 550 feet high and the dry leaves — the trash — crum­ble off the sturdy sticks of sugar cane. Rats, mice, lizards and even a few un­for­tu­nate birds are friz­zled as the blaze sweeps through.

Half-an-hour later, the sticks of cane stand naked and black­ened while the sun­rise blurs be­hind a screen of drift­ing smoke.

For Basil Watkinson, sec­tion man­ager of 805 acres of cane fields at the Hippo Val­ley sugar es­tates, a long and gru­el­ing, 13 hour day has just be­gun.

He is one of 19 sec­tion man­agers who share a com­mon zest for bush life in the sim­mer­ing heat of the Lowveld.

These big, bold and beefy cane farm­ers are also men of few words, with­drawn and cam­era-shy.

Basil was an elec­tri­cian with Rhode­sia Rail­ways in Gwelo and Salisbury un­til 18 months ago when he lis­tened, en­thrailed as a friend spoke of the sugar belt. His only re­gret to­day, as he sur­veys his past, is that he did not make his life in the bush 30 years ago

“Peo­ple who don’t know the Lowveld are miss­ing some­thing,” he re­marks.

His home is near the cane fields and miles from the clus­ter of bun­ga­lows built for other work­ers near the sugar mill. He has no elec­tric­ity and de­pends on paraf­fin lamps. His beers are kept cool in the paraf­fin-run re­frig­er­a­tor.

The house on a kopje is sur­rounded by bulging baobab trees. Wide and smooth green lawns crawl down to the bot­tom but snakes, es­pe­cially co­bras, are of­ten found on the grounds.

Basil and his wife used to be TV ad­dicts when they lived in the cities but do not feel cut off from the world. “We have our news­pa­pers, ra­dio and cinema, and we usu­ally go to bed at 8.30 PM.”

“It is just an­other job,” says Basil, “but my life is here and I wouldn’t change it for any­thing.”

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