I became an officer in the Rhodesian bush war and along with my team of stalwarts built a training camp on the Sebakwe river to train volunteers in the art of bush craft and tracking etc. We needed a camp attendant /come cook and to achieve this we were allocated a tall Matabele who had been security-cleared to be in a military establishment.
His name was Timoti Mlalazi. This wonderful guy who could cook steak and eggs to perfection and his own maize meal grits and that was all, suited us just fine. The words from Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din are brought to my mind when he wrote ‘Of all the black-faced crew the finest man I knew was our regimental Bhisti Gunga Din’. Those words fit precisely the man that Timoti was. He was a very strong fellow and if he tightened something by hand you could not open it without a wrench. He spoke no English, only Ndebele, his native language and a smattering of the universal Kitchen Dutch, understood and spoken by all the people of Southern Africa.
When the hostilities ended and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Timoti, now un-employed, joined my crew and ultimately became our family and safari cook and quickly became my wife Di’s favorite employee. One day we were camped on the shores of Lake Kariba with hunting clients from Florida. I had gone to Kariba village to restock the larder and on my return in the late afternoon, some few hundred yards on the track running into camp, drove by a beautiful lioness strolling toward the camp.
I joined the party which included Duff Gifford and Alan Lowe who were helping to guide the hunt and while cracking a bottle of beverage I mentioned the lioness. Hardly had I spoken when she walked into the edge of the camp and came to stop right near the 7 ton truck which was our skinning shed. She had picked up the scent of the groceries nicely salted and curing on the bed of the truck. I had a big flash light on the table which I grabbed to put light onto the cat as it was all but dark by now. The batteries were flat and so I called softly to Timoti to smartly get the 458 and some batteries by my bed.
All the while the cat stood dead still with her tail making wide swishes in the air – not a good sign. I got the rifle from Timoti. Now, remember I told you he was very strong… He was standing next to me and soon had my attention, I could see his eyes staring at the cat, mesmerised with fear and he was literally banging me in the ribs with the flash light batteries. That beautiful cat then gave a really wide sweep of her tail and I expected her to come at us but with the last swish she turned and strolled back into the night.
For a long time after I was reminded of the incident when I felt the bruises on my left side!!