jamestown

The one crop that did well on the farm, it turned out in the end, was tobacco. Not many insects cared for the taste of the poisonous leaves, so they could reach phenomenal size without being eaten, something very few other crops could manage in that subtropical region. The story of that pleasant and fruitful valley along the White River during the 1960s was the story of the arrival and gradual takeover of agri-business, with its staple, tobacco. Tobacco grows well in subtropical regions such as the southern states of the United States (where it is thought to have originated), the Transvaal Lowveld and areas to the north of it, including Rhodesia, as it was then called.

The most efficient way to harvest, cure and handle the large and delicate leaves is by hand, so an abundant supply of cheap manual labour is the best way to ensure success and profit. Well before white people arrived in South Africa, the growth of tobacco for gain got underway in Jamestown, Virginia, where it gradually supplanted hemp, which was grown for rope, fibre and smoking. The farmers of Jamestown solved the cheap manual labour problem by buying or capturing slaves. The farmers around White River solved the problem by employing children during the short seasons when they were needed, at wages that could hardly have added up to the cost of a slave, and without any of the obligations of the slave-master.

Anton smoked Luckies and Havanas from Lorenço Marques in Moçambique. He gave up smoking in the early 1960s and was, like all ex-smokers, angry with tobacco, so he resisted it as a crop until the end. Finally he planted the stuff, in big fields that ran where the orchards had been. The plants and their wide fuzzy leaves thrived, arrayed in neat curving rows across the sloping field, withstanding predators, but the tobacco mosaic virus got most of the crop in the end.

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