The history of Big Bend is unique in many ways. Its isolation and the rigours of existence developed a breed of tough, often eccentric farmers and traders. The book has chapters devoted to the lives and lifestyles of these men, the most important characters and the crimes and passions which shaped the district set against the backdrop of the unique story of Swaziland itself.

Swaziland Bushveld

This is an account of the short but turbulent history of the southern lowveld of Swaziland. From the days when the Swazi kings gave land to the Voortrekkers to form a barrier against Zulu raids, to the modern day agri-businesses, the book charts the events, struggles and personalities behind the story of Big Bend, Siteki and the towns and farms strung across the bushveld.

Concessionaires at Mbekelweni 1880s

After the end of the South African War the land concessions were rationalized and in 1912 Allister Miller began to develop a ranch in the lowveld called Natalia. Set deep in the almost uninhabited malarial bushveld, it was the largest ranch in South Africa. The southern boundary of the ranch was the Usuthu River and its agricultural section was christened Big Bend. Further development took place when the government sold off large farms on the south of the Usuthu and along the Ngwavuma River to returned soldiers from World War I.

Staging Post at Bela Vista

The pioneers battled malaria, wildebeest migrations, wild dogs, locusts, tsetse fly, floods and droughts in their isolated corner of Africa. Natalia went into bankruptcy in 1929 and lay fallow until 1942 when it was bought by a syndicate led by a South African lawyer named Carl Todd and the modern era was ushered in. Sections of the ranch were acquired by a Danish multinational, by wealthy South African businessmen and by a consortium of English investors who teamed up with the South African industrialist, Hendrik van Eck, to form Ubombo Ranches. The ranchers lived in Stegi, high on the Lebombo plateau where a delightful town had risen on the grounds once occupied by outlaws and desperadoes. The altitude and cool nights afforded protection from malaria; and a quality of life very different from that on the Lowveld ranches to which they commuted by air every day.

Kudu at Mhlosinga Nature Reserve coming to drink at van Eck dam with Ubombo Sugar Mill behind

Carl Todd and his neighbours, United Plantations and Ubombo Ranches, joined forces in 1952 to build a twenty-five mile canal, the longest privately owned canal in Africa. This brought large sections of their ranch land under irrigation and paved the way for large scale rice cultivation, followed by sugar cane. Ubombo purchased a second-hand mill and made the first sugar in Swaziland in 1958. The jobs and wealth created by the successful sugar industry ensured rapid development in Big Bend, a town which only came into existence in the 1950s.

Most of the book is based on original research; it is a valuable addition to the body of literature dealing with Swaziland’s pre-colonial, colonial and post independence history.

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