How Karoi Began

Taken from “This is our land” by Frank Clements
How Karoi Began

KAROI IS NOW  one of the greatest tobacco- growing areas in the Rhodesias (This article was written before Zimbabwe’s Independence), but for very many years it was regarded as being outside the range of settlement. The two farming pioneers of the area were the brothers Leroux, who settled on a farm they called Karoi (after the nearby river) during the mica boom which made Miami a flourishing settlement in 1921. These brothers were remarkable men; and many are the stories told about them. Carl Leroux, when he knew he was stricken with a fatal disease, ordered his brothers to dig his grave, and calmly sent. into Sinoia for his coffin. After Carl’s death, the farm was abandoned in 1928.

It was ten years later that C.P., better known as “Robble” Robertson, was attracted to the area. A descendant of the 1820 settlers, he settled in Rhodesia and learnt his tobacco growing, alongside the former Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Field, while working for 0. C. Rawson. He was at first refused a land grant on the grounds that the area was too ridden with tsetse fly to be suitable for settlement, but, as was the old Rhodesian custom, he sat In the Minister’s office, until . . . although not in so many words . . . he was told to push off and help himself.

He set the boundaries of his own farm, next to the Leroux’s original property and called it Buffalo Downs. Although game then abounded, the name came from his favourite of three dogs, called Jumbo, Hippo and Buffalo. “Robbie” Robertson planted his first crop of 100 acres of tobacco in 1939, and his crop in 1940 caused such a sensation that it was mentioned in Parliamentary debates. His yield was over 1,000 Ibs. to the acre-almost double the then normal-and sold for the price of 8d. a lb. over average.

Apart from a wry comment by the then Minister of Finance that a special supertax should be introduced for that sort of thing, the authorities were quick to see how this pioneering effort could be turned to the national advantage. A few other farmers were granted land during the war years, and the whole area previously believed as being too unhealthy an area for farming was surveyed.

Karoi came to be one of the most successful land settlement areas immediately after the war and its real opening up began in 1947. First known as the Urungwe Area, it appropriately became called Karoi, after the Leroux’s original farm, which, also appropriately, “Robble” Robertson later added to his own property, as a result of an accidental meeting in a bar with Leroux’s executor.

Were it not for the pioneering example of the two old Leroux brothers, and the persistance and immediate success of the man who followed them, Karoi with its over three hundred successful farmers might still be one of the undeveloped instead of one of the most prosperous and enterprising areas.