Part 2 Triangle After MacDougall
A. THE SUGAR INDUSTRY BOARD
In spite of the very wide horizons envisaged in the Act, it is certain that the real intention of those that mattered in high places was to administer the development of the Triangle Sugar Estate as a pilot scheme, to determine the economics of sugar cane production under irrigation in the lowveld, and to develop the Estate as a viable entity for disposal to private enterprise.
ROBBIE TAKES OVER
A research programme was instituted, and the soil survey was extended, together with an assessment of the irrigation requirements and potential. It was concluded that about 2 500 acres of land suitable for cane could be commanded by enlargement and extension of MacDougall's canal, to a total length of 18 miles. A further seven mile extension would bring in an additional 2 500 acres.
As it was assumed owing to the seepage and evaporation losses in the long canal, that 1 cubic foot of water per second (cusec) would be required for 35 acres irrigated, it was decided to limit the irrigation scheme to one serving 2 500 acres. This involved enlarging the canal in its upper reaches to render it capable of passing, when lined, up to 75 cusecs, the limit authorised by the Water Court for diversion of normal How from the Mtilikwe River. Additional water storage works were required to tide the Estate over periods of low river flow, and a suitable dam site was located 5 miles upstream of the Jatala Weir. Here the Esquelingwe Dam, capable of storing 2 800 acre feet, or 700 million gallons, was completed by the government by the end of 1946. Enlargement and extension of the canal was completed in 1948, but it was found that the old original section leaked so badly under higher low rates, that it was considered unsafe to pass more that 35 cusecs down the old earthen canal without lining it with concrete, a project which would have been beyond the Board's resources. This fact, and theoccurrence of disastrous droughts in the 1946/47 and 1948/49 seasons, caused the Board to decide to limit further the initial pilot scheme to 1 500 acres of cane.
The area planted was extended from 418 acres in 1945 to 1 173 acres in 1953, and all the while new cane varieties, and water and fertiliser treatments, were under assessment at the experimental section, with slow but constant benefit to the Estate in the shape of increased cane yields and higher sucrose levels.
The original second hand mill was still not complete when the Board took over in 1944, and spares and replacements were difficult to obtain immediately after the second world war. Finance was tight, and Treasury largely unsympathetic to the necessary demands for an increase in the loan capital on which the Board depended. Government refused the Chairman's request for permission to raise capital in the open market. Robertson and his fellow members were subject to much ill-informed criticism and sniping. Robbie had retired from the Civil Service in 1946, but agreed to continue as Chairman of the Sugar Industry Board. He must sometimes have wondered whether all the responsibility and harassment he bore as Chairman was worth the £300 per annum which he received from the Government, but his unswerving faith and remarkable patience and wisdom sustained him throughout the trials and tribulations of nursing Government's "ugly baby".
Governor of Southern Rhodesia
TWO KEY FIGURES IN TRIANGLE'S HISTORY
Vast fields of cane shimmering in the Lowveld heat. Ancient Baobabs left standing like sentinels.
In 1948, when the whole project was in jeopardy due to the setbacks of smut and drought, the Government called for an independent enquiry by two experts who fortunately reported favourably, and one of whom, Dr. H. H. Dodds, Robertson lost no time in engaging as a consultant. Things slowly improved, and by 1950 private enterprise was interested,though the price offered was unacceptably low. Robertson's insistence on good records and accurate accounting produced a sound assessment of the cost of the sugar the estate was now producing, and it is interesting to quote his figures for 1952:
Costs per ton of cane milled
Planting costs (proportionally)
£0 3s 2d
£0 13s 8
£0 3s 5d
£0 4s 8d
Agriculture £1 4s 11d
£0 18s 6d
£ 1 2s 2d
Total cost per ton of cane £3 5s 7d
Cost per ton of sugar produced (at 10:1 cane: sugar ration)
£32 16s 0d
PROFITABILITY AT LAST
In 1953 the estate showed its first real profit, in spite of a disastrous frost and an unexpected delay in delivery of new milling equipment, and renewed interest by private enterprise was manifest. Robertson had been in the habit of sending his old friend MacDougall reports on the progress, and in 1954 sent him a copy of the ninth annual report, to which the original master of the estate responded by writing as follows:
Kind regards to you both.
The people in Natal did more than think about Triangle, and in 1954 Triangle was purchased by a syndicate of Natal farmers, and the Chairman of the Sugar Industry Board, his mission accomplished after a difficult decade, tendered his resignation to the Minister, The Hon. Geoffrey Ellman-Brown, who replied:
"Dear Mr. Robertson,
. . . It is with the greatest reluctance that I accept your resignation and in so doing, / should like to place on record myGovernment's sincere appreciation of the outstanding services which you have rendered not only to Government but to the country as a whole during your term of office.
I think the steps which have been taken to pioneer the development of sugar in the Sabi have effectively paved the way for the establishment of a major industry which will be of immeasurable value to the future economy of the country and the Federation as a whole.
At all times the operations of the Board under your chairmanship have been of the highest order and have always- reflected an excellent standard of efficiency and enterprise.
Once again may I convey to you my most sincere thanks for the frank and friendly manner in which you have resolved your problems, both with the Departments and myself, and to say that now on the termination of your services your presence and goodwill will be very much missed by us all.
Let us now look closely at Cecil Robertson. He was that rarecombination of efficient administrator and warm human being. Hecorresponded regularly with colleagues and ex-employees of the Board, and scrutiny of the surviving correspondence by permission of his widow shows that he was regarded with enormous affection and respect by all. One of the secretaries, R. P. Deary, wrote "As a Chairman you are a Secretary's nightmare, as a chief you arc an inspiration, and I am proud to have had the privilege of working with you." Ken Sinclair and Ben McWilliams, both Managers of Triangle under the Board, wrote to their Chairman in terms which can only have arisen as a result of great confidence and trust in him, and a fellow Board member, Mr. V. Dankwerts, wrote to his Chairman at the termination of his membership:
'I think ex Board members owe you a great debt for the lessons you taught all of us while we had the privilege of serving under you shall never forget your unfailing tact, tenacity and courage in dealing with what sometimes seemed insuperable difficulties. At the same time you never failed to treat all your problem children on the staff in such a human way. It often made me feel quite humble and unchristian.
It will be interesting watching Triangle from the touch line "
In writing of Robertson, too, another fellow Board member, D. E. McLoughlin, was moved to express the classic quotation "A prophet is not without honour save in his own country". Robbie's widow felt similarly about the lack of official recognition of her husband's outstanding contribution to his country, a conviction deepened by the Cabinet's refusal to meet the unanimous request of all the I.C.A. committees in congress, conveyed through the chairman of the Natural Resources Board, that the new Kyle Dam, the construction of which Robertson had planned and encouraged for many years in his many overlapping capacities, should be named after him. It is of interest that in 1977 the water impounded by the new Darwendale Dam near Salisbury was named Lake C. L. Robertson, a belated but worthy tribute.
After Robbie's passing, the Rhodesian Institution of Engineers inaugurated the C. L. Robertson Memorial Lectures, and the initial delivery by Roy Roberts, O.B.E., was a moving tribute to a former chief. It is quoted in full in the belief that it is a record and a tribute which deserves wider circulation than can be achieved in the annals of the Institution:
"It is an honour and a privilege that / greatly value that I have been asked to introduce the series of C. L. Robertson Memorial Lectures' which begin this evening.
It is a fitting thing indeed that the Council of our Rhodesian Institution of Engineers should have thought to commemorate in this appropriate fashion its first President, and an outstanding and greatly loved member of our profession.
C. L. Robertson has established not one reputation, but a number, in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. He will live in our memories as an engineer, a scientist, a public administrator, a man of public affairs, and finally — as a man — a man of outstanding character and lovable qualities, of whom it can perhaps with truth be said he had no enemies.
As an engineer, he pioneered water conservation and soil conservation, so that his name is unshakably linked with the great movement that has made Southern Rhodesia the best conserved country in Africa. His name is joined to many of the great engineering achievements in this country since World War 1 I need mention only Triangle and Kariba.
As a scientist, lie initiated work of great value. In his early days in the irrigation branch, as it was then known, he began the regular gauging and computation of river flow that gained many valuable years for the present hydrological branch of that department — it was his foresight that set up systematic gauging of the Zambesi River at Livingstone in 1925 that bore fruit thirty years later in helping to make possible the Kariba scheme. About the same time he greatly improved the beginnings of the meteorological services, and started Noel Sellick on a course which led to most valuable results. In other directions, also, such as his membership of the Rhodesian Scientific Association, and in his interest in pest control after his retirement, he did much for science.
As a public administrator, despite a deceptively gentle manner, his qualities were well known and deeply respected. He had a gift of seeing quickly to the core of a question, and of disregarding the inessential. I served under him when he was Director of Irrigation and later Secretary for Agriculture and Lands, for more than 20 years, and I can claim to know him well.
Then as a man of public affairs. He served on innumerable public bodies, committees and councils. I will mention only a few. He was a keen Rotarian and was elected to its highest post in Africa, in which capacity he visited the United States. He was Chairman of the Sugar Industries Board, and despite all difficulties and much ill-informed criticism he succeeded in proving the economics of an industry which is blooming vigorously today. But perhaps his greatest achievement was in his work for our natural resources, beginning in the far off days in the 1920's when I was a junior member of a team that began it all, and ending with his chairmanship for a number of years of the Natural Resources Board that he had done so much to create.
And lastly, as a man. And here, I think, he shines more clearly even than in his more specific roles. As I have already said, it is difficult to imagine that he had any real enemies.
He was loved and respected by all. But let it not be thought that he was gentle and ineffectual. He could be most pugnacious and aggressive, showing the greatest perseverance and determination in all matters of principle which he would never desert.
Ana so we honour him today — a great Rhodesian. I will now ask you to rise in silence for a few moments in memory of Robbie.
This was Cecil Robertson, O.B.E., under whose chairmanship of the Natural Resources Board the number of I.C.A. committees had increased from 15 to 88.
This was "Robbie", one time ally of MacDougall who had made a six-day trip by mule cart from Fort Victoria to Triangle for their initial meeting, had shared his vision, inherited his troubles, and striven mightily to see the potential of Triangle materialise. He had served his country well in many fields, not least in his chairmanship of the Sugar Industry Board, in which he had achieved his appointed tasks of developing Triangle as a pilot scheme, determining the economics of sugar production in the lowveld, and developing the estate as a viable entity for disposal to private enterprise.
Judge C. L. Robertson and his colleagues only from what they achieved, and the wretched reputation accorded the Board by history to date is seen to be ephemeral and unsubstantial, as are so many wrong judgements and tarnished reputations, which, though engendered by personal jealousies and uninformed comment, and lacking any substance, nevertheless persist and are magnified. Certainly there were grave shortcomings and inefficiencies to be found on close scrutiny, much of it due to the difficulty of obtaining anything but a handful of first class staff who were prepared to work in the harsh climate of Triangle for the wages the government was prepared to offer. But on balance the Chairman and his dedicated few undoubtedly achieved their appointed objective. May the nonsense about the Sugar Board now forever disappear from our heritage.
Honour the memory of C. L. Robertson at Triangle.
B. THE NATAL SYNDICATE
Ownership of Triangle by a syndicate of Natal cane farmers introduced another dimension to the lowveld, the concept of settler farmers.
On a visit to Rhodesia in 1954, Nainby Starling became aware that the Sugar Industry Board was interested in disposing of its Triangle interests to private enterprise. He was impressed by the potential, and passed the news on to a number of prominent sugar farmers who formed themselves into what is known as "The Natal Syndicate", which, after negotiating with the Board and the Minister of Irrigation in the Southern Rhodesia Government, entered into an agreement with the Minister on the 4th June, 1954.
The Natal Syndicate was not the only organisation interested in the acquisition of Triangle, and it is on record that the Board actually opted for sale to a group of Hollanders, with interests in the East Indies, who made a rival bid. The one factor influencing Government to sell to the syndicate was the intention, propounded by the syndicate and enthusiastically supported by the Government, that a major settlement scheme, involving immigration of young farmers from Natal, should be responsible for production of the bulk of the cane to be milled at Triangle when adequate irrigation water for large-scale development became available.
In terms of the agreement the syndicate purchased, for just more than the estate had cost government, 12 000 acres of Triangle Ranch, and certain plant, machinery, equipment, vehicles, livestock, and standing crops. Furthermore the syndicate leased with the option of purchase the remaining extent of Triangle Ranch of approximately 80 000 acres.
In order ultimately to implement its undertaking to government to establish a major settlement scheme, the syndicate, which now operated as a company under the designation of Triangle Limited, decided to place three "guinea-pig" or experimental settlers on the land with a view to investigating the economic requirements of such a scheme in general and of individual holdings in particular.
The Board of the company at that time consisted of G. W. Hammond (Chairman), M. G. Howson, K. H. Edmonds, E. K. L. de Bufanos, M. N. Starling, O. W. M. Pearce, H. Simpson, and J. R. Camp,
(who was the only Rhodesian). M. Nainby Starling was appointed General Manager, and J. H. R. Eastwood, a partner in the accounting firm of Allan and Harsant, was appointed as a trustee during the formation of the company.
THE FIRST PLANTERS
The company had decided that the three selected guinea-pig planters should inter alia have the following respective individual qualifications:
(a) One with considerable knowledge of and experience in the growing of sugar cane. (M. N. Starling).
(b) One who was in possession of sufficient private means to be in a position to finance and develop the establishment of his farm with minimum assistance from the company. (W. H. Hingeston).
(c) A Rhodesian citizen, (J. H. R. Eastwood).
Nainby starling thus relinquished his position as General Manager and he and W. H. (Peter) Hingeston took up their farms towards the end of May 1955, and Ritz Eastwood approximately a year later. Rupert Taylor, a retired Group Captain in the R.A.F., who had been appointed Secretary to the company, became General Manager, and C. A. Gibbs was recruited as Secretary.
The acreage under cane was increased from 1 100 acres in 1954 to 1 400 in 1957, and the amount of sugar produced increased from 1 600 tons in 1954 to 4 500 tons in 1957, but in spite of this progress the company ran into financial difficulties. A number of factors were responsible for this state of affairs, among which were a gross underestimate of initial capital requirements, low cane yields due to a number of agronomic factors and greatly aggravated by that old bugbear excessive flowering of the cane in 1955, and an old and inefficient mill and factory plagued by breakdowns and unavailability of spares.
There was also a stalling problem, and turnover was high, which was most disruptive. Several of the artisans in the mill were enticed to stay with promises of favoured consideration for settler farms as and when the company developed this aspect further, but still the company was bedevilled with personnel problems.
The three pioneer planters were great characters in their own right, and added their own personal touch of interest and colour to the embryo lowveld community. It tends to be overlooked that those early days saw a life-style which was rough, uncomfortable, and isolated, and a far cry from the comparative case and luxury which later success brought. A shared trip to "town" (Fort Victoria) once a month demanded a drive along 55 miles of an atrocious corrugated road providing choking dust in the dry months and clinging slippery mud in the wet. demanding the opening and shutting of nine farm gates (twice each), and quite impassable when the Mtilikwe and Tokwe Rivers flooded the low level bridges in summer. What bliss it was to emerge swearing, dirty and bothered from the lowveld track at Ngundu and glide onto the luxury of the old strip road to Fort Victoria.
At home the settlers lived in a variety of temporary buildings, bathed in an old tin tub, and required a fair amount of initiative and hard work in carving their homes and attendant creature comforts from the virgin bush.
Nainby Starling was a charming fellow, coming from a well-known Natal family, a provincial cricketer and keen sportsman, superb host, who ultimately sold his farm and went to live in Salisbury. Ritz Eastwood, accountant-turned-farmer, was innovative and imaginative in his farming lay-out, another keen cricketer and a man of great charm, but whose wife was never really happy in the bush, and he was the first of the "guinea-pigs" to sell up and leave.
Peter Hingeston, still farming on his beloved "Stonehenge" at the time of writing, is the undoubted doyen of the sugar farmers. A military man with a distinguished career first as an aviator in such romantic old aeroplanes as the Avro 504K, SE 5 single seater fighter and Wapiti, then later in Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mosquitoes, he was Senior Air Officer (Administration) in the Middle East in the 1939-45 war. He then became Adjutant General and was the youngest Brigadier in the Union Defence Force, and was promoted to O.C. Wits Command and O.C. Natal Command, from which post he retired and came to Rhodesia. His ingrained military precision is still evident in the disciplined layout and management of his farm, and it is a privileged person who shares his crystal-clear reminiscences of that age on Triangle Ranch.
In spite of steady improvements in all aspects of the varied problems besetting the syndicate, the financial position steadily deteriorated, and in 1957 the Board faced major problems which were aggravated by a lack of confidence between the syndicate and the General Manager. Rupert Taylor's resignation was accepted during the latter portion of 1956, and W. H. Hingeston was persuaded by the Board to assume the responsibility of General Manager in addition to running his own farm. Cedric Gibbs remained as Secretary.
A rapid reorganisation of the Fields Department resulted in greatly improved cane yields, but the die was cast, and many members of the Board, faced with the need for greater expenditure, had lost confidence, resulting in them initiating negotiations with Guy Hulett, known to all of them and having access to the far larger amounts of capital necessary to restore Triangle's financial health.
In the meantime, in order to avoid a complete financial collapse,the Board of Directors of the syndicate had arranged a loan of £100000 from the African and Overseas Ranching Company, and decided to dispose of its herd of 2 000 head of stock, which raised approximately £20 000. Prior to this, however, the lack of ready cash had made it necessary for Hingeston and Gibbs to pay all company salaries out of their own pockets for two months.
Towards the end of 1957 agreement was reached between the Board and Guy Hulett whereby the latter acquired 99% of the shareholding of Triangle Limited on the payment of £2 per £1 Ordinary Share.
With the passing of the Natal Syndicate from the scene was closed another chapter of the Triangle Story, although many of the characters and their works endure to this day.
C. ENTER GUY HULETT
If MacDougall's vision and dogged determination first kindled the spark of the irrigation development of the Lowveld, and the SugarIndustry Board and Natal Syndicate nurtured the flame, then the advent of Guy Hulett on the scene really set it alight.
The grandson of Sir Liege Hulett, the founder of the long established Natal firm of Sir J. L. Hulett & Sons Limited, Guy Hulett was General Manager of the company when his father Mr. A. S. L. (Albert) Hulett died shortly before the Managing Director Mr. W. E. R. (Reggie) Edwards in 1948. After deliberations by the Board of Directors as to the advisability of one man holding dual office, it was nevertheless unanimously agreed that Mr. Guy Hulett be appointed Chairman and Managing Director.
Like his grandfather, Guy Hulett was a man of vision and tenacity of purpose. He soon demonstrated that he was also a man of drive whowas determined to advance the fortunes of the company for which he had a fierce loyalty.
At the time of his appointments, Huletts owned three sugar mills at Darnall, Amatikulu and Felixton, two mill sites at Tinley Manor and Entumeni, a tea estate and factory and fairly substantial cane lands at Darnall, Umhlali, Kearsney, Felixton, Mtunzini and Gingindhlovu. In consideration of the greater return on cane farming. Guy agreed to plough out the tea estates and planted the land to cane. One of the people participating in this venture was a young overseer named T. Goss whose first job under Hulett was to see to the planting under cane of the previous tea estates.
Guy Hulett was anxious to expand the company s interests outside of South Africa and although he negotiated the acquisition of Zululand Sugar Millers and Planters Limited in 1957, he found little room for further expansion in South Africa and accordingly focussed his interest further afield. At this stage he had already received a tentative approach to acquire Triangle from the Natal Syndicate.
He went on to form a company to grow and mill sugar on the Mhlume Estate in Swaziland, and offered 30% of the shares to the Colonial Development Corporation. He also embarked on an ambitious and exciting venture to develop a sugar industry at Kilomberu in Tanganyika. Negotiations with the government of that country reached an advanced stage, and Guy had stationed on the embryo estate Watson-Paul, a surveyor responsible for field lay-out, and D. de Ruyter, an able sugar chemist with experience in the industry in the Dutch East Indies. The project appeared most promising, and trials conducted by Hulett's men were in an advanced state when the government reneged on a previously given undertaking to construct a railway line on which the viability of the scheme depended.
Guy Hulett unsuccessfully sued the government, as a result of which he was locally discredited, and he was forced to pull out of Tanganyika. On his way back to South Africa, he met Nainby Starling of the Natal Syndicate, who for the second time endeavoured to interest him in the acquisition of Triangle, and this time he had a quick look, made a snap decision, and directed his Tanganyika-destined capital to Rhodesia in a move which was to change the face of the lowveld.
Some of the people who had invested in the Natal Syndicate were finding their participation in the venture to be something of a financial embarrassment, and so there was a certain amount of relief experienced when Guy Hulett made his definite interest known. Furthermore, in one of those unexpected developments which characterise all our doings, it so happened that among the persons to whom the Huletts purchase of Triangle brought much needed relief were one or two who had been outspoken critics of the Huletts organisation and their milling policy and capacity in Natal. Thus it was that in taking over Triangle, Guy Hulett bought a company and as a bonus earned somewhat begrudging gratitude from a number of erstwhile critics
He sent his cousin Jack Hulett, currently General Manager at Darnall, to Triangle as General Manager, and took over most of the remaining staff of the syndicate, among whom were John Edmonds, who had an agricultural diploma but was helping out as a welder, and Don Rawson, a Section Manager, at the time of writing both still working for Triangle as Field Manager and Section Manager respectively. At first Guy Hulett was adamant that Cedric Gibbs should be replaced as company secretary by one of his own men, but Hingeston talked him into giving him a chance, and Hulett subsequently became a great admirer of the integrity and administrative ability of C. A. Gibbs. There soon followed the first transfer of members of Huletts staff to Triangle, a practice which over the years has proved of inestimable benefit in providing experience and expertise to a new industry in this country. Bob Udal, Brian Mahon and Jasper Pons were transferred as Section Managers, and Watson-Paul and de Ruyter came down from Tanganyika as Field Manager and Factory Manager.
Guy was anxious to initiate major development, and appointed to his Board Eric Hockey and Eric Palmer of Salisbury, both well-known businessmen, and from Rome he recruited as Managing Director for his new estate Tom Threlkeld, who had been working for the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.
At that time Triangle's fields comprised only the North and South fields near the original mill, and the Jiri, Gungwa and Makari fields to the South lower down Mac's canal, and to advise on further development Guy engaged Colonel Hopwood, recently retired Director of Irrigation in South Africa. He quickly saw that the potential for gravity feed on the old canal system was almost exhausted, and recommended a scheme to pump the water and irrigate by overhead spray. Dr. Graham Shuker, a young agronomist, was sent up from Natal to conduct a soil survey on a large block of land destined for development.
MacDougall's unlined canal leaked very badly, and while it carried 75 cusecs of water at Jatala Weir, by the time it reached Makari it only held about one third of that volume, the rest having gradually seeped out and made its way back to the nearby river. A scheme was therefore devised to install a major pump station (PI) on Selby's Pools in the Mtilikwe River to pump water back to replenish the canal, and then at the canal's end another and larger pump station (P2) was planned to irrigate the new cane fields. Four Rolls-Royce diesel engine pumps were installed at PI, and a further nine at P2.
The new spray irrigation block, some 3 600 acres in extent, was in process of being cleared by the Government C.M.E.D. on contract and planted by the field staff, and it was at this stage, in November 1958, that Guy Hulett sent to Triangle as Field Manager, T. E. S. Goss, who had shown a flair for development projects of this nature, and was to leave his mark indelibly on Triangle.
Goss soon terminated the C.M.E.D. contract and bought mechanical equipment for the company, and the planting of cane on the new sections, already well under way, proceeded apace, in what was to be the world's biggest single-pump-station overhead irrigation block, named Sections 1 to 6. Bauer equipment from Austria was installed to spray the growing cane.
When Terry Goss first came to Triangle from Mhlume, Guy Hulett had said to him "Watch out, because this place Triangle will always fight you back", and the warning was to come true almost immediately. On 23rd December 1958, in an exceptionally hot summer, four and a half inches of rain fell in two hours on the new Section 4 fields, and a raging torrent engulfed the fine new P2 pump station. Only the nine diesel filters proudly embossed "RR" were sticking out of the water when Goss visited the pump station in the grey light of dawn. This was a disaster, as irrigation of the new cane was completely dependent on the pumps, and at Christmas time it was unlikely that a normal repair service would be available. But there is nothing normal about Rolls Royce service, and with splendid cooperation the agents journeyed from Bulawayo to Triangle over Christmas, stripped the engines and pumps down, and removed them to Bulawayo for the complete overhaul which was necessary after their immersion.
The new young cane in the world's largest spray block was now completely at the mercy of the elements, but mercifully it rained on several occasions just at it seemed that the stressed and wilting cane would wither and die. The pumps and motors were returned in the nick of time. No one knew anything about the overhead irrigation of cane at that stage, and although the scheme appeared successful, it was admittedly inefficient and governed by guesswork. Nevertheless, the old mill produced 11 000 tons of sugar in 1959.
THE KYLE AGREEMENT
No further expansion was possible with the water available, but Guy Hulett had from the outset set his mind on a much larger scheme at Triangle, for which vast quantities of water would be required, and negotiations with the Minister of Irrigation, Mr. Geoffrey Ellman-Brown, were now finalised.
An enormous amount of work had been done on planning the construction of the huge Kyle Dam where the Shagashe River joined the Mtilikwe near Fort Victoria, where MacDougall and Gifford had sat and dreamed so many years previously. Robertson and his colleagues and successors in the Irrigation Department, later the Ministry of Water Development, had planned the whole operation to the finest detail, but the government would not construct the dam until it had negotiated a firm commitment by a user to purchase the water.
And so an historic agreement was concluded between the Minister and Guy Hulett, the salient features of which were as follows:
Government: (i) Agreed to construct the Kyle Dam and the Kyle Canal.
(ii) Agreed to allocate the water from the Kyle Dam in the following order of priorities:
The first 6 cusecs to the Municipality of Fort Victoria;
the next 160 cusecs to Triangle Limited;
the next 40 cusecs to Hippo Valley Estates;
the next 4 cusecs for minor consumers at the Minister's discretion;
any remaining water to be allocated in the ratio 4 parts to Triangle and 1 part to Hippo Valley.
Guy Hulett: (i) Agreed to pay for the Kyle water whether or not it was used.
(ii) Agreed to surrender Triangle's water rights to 75 cusecs from Esquilingwe.
(iii) Agreed to purchase land at Triangle.
(iv) Agreed to contribute £300 000 towards the cost of the dam.
(v) Agreed to contribute £25 000 towards the cost of a road from Triangle to the railhead at Mbizi.
(vi) Undertook to have a further 6 000 acres under cane at a cost of £750 000 within three years.
It may thus be seen that Kyle Dam was constructed specifically to irrigate Triangle Sugar Estates, and that Guy Hulett contracted to pay for the water, even if he did not use it, at a rate calculated to amortise the capital cost, plus interest and administrative costs, over an agreed period. Guy Hulett regarded Triangle as his "baby", and he had absolute confidence in the future of the lowveld irrigation scheme. He had no hesitation in committing his company to massive investment in the enterprise and to that effect the company's current debentures were raised to finance Triangle.
The governments irrigation department and its contractors consolidated their proud record in the feverish activity which attended the construction of the graceful great arched dam wall at Kyle, and the huge canal which snaked its concrete way from the off-take point as Esquelingwe Dam down to nearby Triangle.
Guy Hulett had set his sights on 15 000 acres of cane at Triangle, the sugar from which he calculated would supply the whole of the
If MacDougall's vision and dogged determination first kindled the spark of the irrigation development of the Lowveld, and the Sugar Industry Board and Natal Syndicate nurtured the flame, then the advent of Guy Hulett on the scene really set it alight.
EXPANDING THE MILL
Meanwhile much planning and thought went into the milling capacity necessary to mill the cane from the new fields. A new mill nearer the new fields was required some twelve miles south of the existing mill, and for this a whole new milling train and factory would be required. Meanwhile Mac's mill could not cope with the total cane from the old fields and the new spray block Sections 1 to 6 now in full production, and so Huletts devised a daring plan to solve the problem in a succession of moves.
A second hand 66 inch milling train, destined for the new mill, was purchased from the Zululand Sugar Millers in Empangeni, and this ZSM Mill was transported to Triangle and was erected in tandem with Mac's mill for just one season. In the closed season Hulett planned to take the whole complex down and transfer it to the new mill site. Everybody thought him mad, but with his team from Natal aiding local stalwarts Andrew Stoddart (Mill Manager), Ken Guthrie (Chief Engineer) and Dolf de Ruyter (Factory Manager), the job was accomplished in the
nick of time.
Mention of the old mill brings to mind an anecdote that illustrates the character and ingenuity of Guy Hulett and his men: an agreement was being negotiated with the refineries to take all Triangle's raw sugar, and Guy Hulett had agreed in principle to forego the right to make white sugar. Things were not to his satisfaction at some stage of his negotiations with the refineries, and he threatened defiantly that he would manufacture white sugar. The refinery management laughed, knowing that there was no sophisticated refining equipment at Triangle, but Hulett told de Ruyter to produce ten tons of white sugar for sale, which he did, and it was sold properly packaged, as plantation sugar in the Fort Victoria district. (The single packet—1 lb., l/7d.—on display in the museum is to our knowledge the sole surviving example of this spirited production drive.) Point made apparently, and the Triangle-Refineries negotiations presumably proceeded more realistically.
As Triangle developed, Guy Hulett threw himself wholeheartedly into fostering its welfare. He was a tireless man, a veritable human dynamo, who led by example in working like a slave, and expecting his employees to do the same. He suffered fools badly, and never permitted his subordinates to become familiar. Terry Goss relates that Guy used to leave Durban by car on a Friday morning, drive all the way to Triangle, and arrive at about noon on Saturday. Never pausing for the niceties of greeting his senior employees or announcing his arrival, he would drive straight to the mill, park his car outside and walk straight inside. Gibbs and Goss had to keep their eyes peeled for his arrival, and then hurry to catch up with him as he bustled into the mill, firing searching questions. Cedric Gibbs was the Company Secretary, and Terry Goss Field Manager, later a director, but to Hulett they were "Gibbs" and "Goss", and he was "Mr. Hulett", none of this first name familiarity.
The Huletts chairman had two mottoes — "Do It Now", and "Bhuka ne Mehio" (See With Your Own Eyes), and these stood him in good stead in his days of dynamic development. He used to spend the Saturday afternoon of his Triangle trip going through the books, and woe betide Cedric Gibbs if there were any errors or unexplaineditems. One of the matters which constantly it him was the legacy of the old Triangle debt to African and Overseas Ranchers, its remnant now converted into a minority shareholding option. He could not abide the thought that anybody else had a stake in his empire, or that he was beholden to anybody.
He had similar views concerning the settlement scheme, and tried everything possible to shed the three guinea-pig settlers he had inherited. He had from the start refused to take over Triangle under the previous concept of a large scale settlement farm project, and the government had no option but to drop this idea or he would not have proceeded with his bid for Triangle, but in the end he somewhat reluctantly agreed to retain, and honour Triangle's obligations to, the three original planters.
RIVAL INTERESTS EMERGE
Although Guy Hulett had the immense satisfaction of seeing Triangle developing at a gratifying rate, not everything was rosy. Like MacDougall he was not really very friendly with R. O. Stockil, who, following Triangle's lead, had started with small scale development on the neighbouring Hippo Valley Estates, and relationships between the two concerns were not typical of good neighbourliness. On one occasion the road through Triangle fields to Hippo Valley Estates, which was the shortest available route but was not a declared public thoroughfare, was being considered for declaration as a public road. Guy Hulett and his men without further ado ploughed up the road and planted it to cane on the grounds that it unnecessarily split a field in two and was more valuable as agricultural land.
Following on the reputation earned by MacDougall's grapefruit in the Fort Victoria area in particular, Stockil had started a fine citrus estate near MacDougall's old camping site at Bendezi on the Lundi. However, he soon saw the great potential of his neighbour's sugar project across the fence, and resolved to follow suit.
As will have been noted. Hippo Valley Estates had a very small allocation, bottom priority of available water, from Kyle Dam, and to supply the new estate the government agreed to build Bangala Dam lower down the Mtilikwe River from Kyle. Guy Hulett foolishly opposed the construction of this dam, and in the ensuing court case he was over-ruled and lost a certain amount of face. He stoutly maintained that the reason for his opposition was a fear that the use of this dam, utilising the same Kyle Canal, would interfere with Triangle's irrigation scheme. His opponents, on the other hand, were equally convinced that his opposition was based on the desire to retain a monopoly on sugar in the lowveld for himself.
Bangala was an obvious dam for the government to construct to serve the rich potential of the Hippo Valley Estates, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Hulett was motivated by purely selfish notions in his opposition to the scheme.
There were even darker storm clouds on the horizon for Guy Hulett in Natal.
There had been prolonged rumblings in the Natal sugar industry, where there had long been an excess capacity for milling, and millers were competing rather over-vigorously and irrationally for planters' cane. In addition, the sugar refining capacity was already "over- machined" to the extent of approximately 20% in 1962 when The Natal Estates at Mount Edgecombe committed themselves to spending million on a new refining house.
What follows now is quoted from "The Take Over of Huletts", by R. G. T. Watson, which appeared in the Tongaat house journal "The Condenser" in December 1962.
"Clearly The Natal Estates' intention was to consolidate its position as a refiner by improving the quality of its product, to compete in the refining field, and to fill its re-melt house by attracting supplies of raw sugar from other plantation mills. Thus the seeds of conflict with established refining interests were sown.
In the opinion of the writer the decision of The Natal Estates to terminate its agreement with Hulsar (Huletts South African Refineries) with effect from June, 1962, and to appoint C. G. Smith & Company Limited as its selling agents, was the Sarajevo shot that sparked off the war.
At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16th 1962, Mr. Guy Hulett, Chairman of Sir J. L. Hulett & Sons Limited, called on Mr. W. B. Collier, Chairman of The Natal Estates Limited, and informed him that Huletts had made a take-over oiler of 400 cents for each fully-paid R2 ordinary share in The Natal Estates Limited. As was generally known throughout the industry, discussions had been taking place between The Natal Estates and Tongaat with a view to exploring the possibilities of a merger, which would be of mutual benefit to both concerns. Consequently, on receiving Mr. Hulett's announcement of the take-over bid, the Chairman of The Natal Estates at once got into touch with Tongaat, inviting representatives of that company to attend a meeting of The Natal Estates board called for the following day. On Wednesday, October 17th, the Tongaat representatives met the Natal Estates' board of directors, and ways and means of helping The Natal Estates in their predicament were discussed. On the same day Mr. G. Vernon Crookes, the Chairman of Reynolds Bros. Limited, acting as spokesman for the C. G. Smith Group, informed The Tongaat Sugar Company that his group of companies would give full support to Tongaat in any action they might take to protect The Natal Estates. Tongaat welcomed and accepted this offer, and in this way a consortium came into being composed of the following companies: The Tongaat Sugar Company, Limited, Crookes Bros. Limited, The Gledhow-Chaka's Kraal Sugar Company Limited, Pongola Sugar Milling Company Limited, Reynolds Bros. Limited, C. G. Smith & Company Limited, and Umzimkulu Sugar Company Limited. The C. G. Smith group was fully represented during the negotiations which followed.
On Thursday, October 18th. Mr. C. J. Saunders, the Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of the Tongaat Sugar Company, informed the Chairman of the Natal Estates that Tongaat and the six companies of the C. G. Smith Group had decided to make a counter-offer for Natal Estates shares, the terms of which would be communicated to the Natal Estates shareholders before October 31st, that is before the closing date of the Hulett offer. On the same day the Standard Bank of South Africa Limited informed Tongaat that it would stand behind it in respect of any bridging finance which might be required in connection with the counter-offer. Mr. Hulett was not available for comment at that stage but subsequently announced through the Press that 'shareholders of Natal Estates will be well advised to hold their hand until the other offer is made. . . We will consider the consortium's offer and in the light of that will reconsider our offer to the Natal Estates shareholders."
At 1 p.m. on Friday, October 26th, Mr. W. B. Collier announced that the consortium had made a counter-bid of 500 cents for each fully paid R2 Natal Estates share, conditional upon 90 per cent acceptance, but the conclusion had already been reached by those conducting the consortium that to continue competing for Natal Estates shares against any further bids which Sir J. L. Hulett & Sons Limited might make, or any attempt to try to purchase in the open market, would fail. The principal reason for this assumption was that since Mr. Hulett's announcement that shareholders should wait for the consortium's counter-offer, it was apparent that a market operation was being conducted by Sir J. L. Hulett & Sons Limited for the Natal Estates shares. In fact, the market price of Natal Estates shares had touched 575 cents on October 25th.
At 3 p.m. on Friday, October 26th, Mr. Guy M. Hulett held a press conference at which he announced that his company had acquired control of The Natal Estates Limited. Mr. Hulett had achieved his first objective.
The consortium's main objective, namely, the rationalisation of the sugar milling industry by the re-grouping of operations, could now only be achieved by a major change of strategy in the struggle for control between Huletts and the consortium. For the consortium to succeed in its objective which it believed would be of general benefit to all, and most important, to the country as a whole, the struggle was thus directed against Huletts itself. Consequently, on Friday. October 26th, exactly one hour after the Hulett press conference, representatives of the consortium called on Mr. Hulett and informed him that the consortium had decided to make an offer to the shareholders of Sir J. L. Hulett & Sons Limited, the terms of which were as follows:
To holders of the 7J per cent Cumulative Preference shares of Rl-R.1,50 in cash for every share held. This offer was conditional on the offer to ordinary shareholders being successful.
To holders of ordinary shares of R1 each — R4 per share in cash for 50 per cent of the shares owned by each holder. In addition, ordinary shareholders who accepted the offer were invited to tender all or part of the balance of their holding for sale to the consortium at the same price of R4 per share. Such additional shares would be accepted by the consortium to the extent that acceptances of the main offer fell short of the consortium's requirement of 50 per cent of the total ordinary share capital.
The offer to ordinary shareholders was conditional on the consortium acquiring 50 per cent of the issued ordinary share capital. At the consortium press conference which took place at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of October 26th, at which the offer was disclosed, it was emphasized that the purpose in not bidding for more than 50 per cent of the ordinary share capital was to enable existing shareholders to retain an interest in their company and thereby to share the benefits that it was expected would accrue from the regrouping of operations. The consortium had no intention of forming a monopoly in the industry and in the event of the offer to Hulett shareholders being successful the companies concerned would continue to operate as independent entities.
The meeting between Mr. Hulett and the consortium representative was conducted with dignity. Mr. Hulett summed up by saying that he thought the offer rather low, but that he would investigate it, and after consultation with his board, approach the consortium again. Unfortunately he flew to Cape Town where he enlisted the aid of two insurance companies who said that they would support the market at over 400 cents. This sparked off the market operation. Mr. Hulett did approach the consortium again on Tuesday, November 6th, but the point of no return had then been reached, for while he was suggesting a compromise, the control of Huletts had passed into the hands of the consortium.
At noon on Wednesday, November 7th the consortium announced that it had acquired 51 per cent of Hulett's shares. Thus the fight for the take-over of Huletts, and the opportunity it would give of rationalising the sugar milling industry, ended."
The inevitable had happened, and Guy Hulett suddenly found himself out of office and the proud firm had been taken over by the consortium.
Cane Cutter at work in cane previously burnt to remove foliage.
Bundled cane being loaded into a Hilo (high loading trailer) for transport to the Mill.
Triangle Mill and Bulk Sugar Store as it is today.
The Prime Minister, The Hon. Ian Douglas Smith, I.D., M.P., and Mr. T. E. S. Goss, Managing Director, at the opening of the new Agricultural Training Centre which characterised an era of unprecedented progress for Triangle Ltd. and its people.
This was a bitter blow to Guy Hulett, and although he had no ambitions in respect to his personal wealth, he resignedly retired to the comparative obscurity of his farm at Compensation.
One thing is certain: After MacDougall, Guy Hulett was more responsible than any other person for changing the face of the hot and sleepy lowveld into one of bustling agricultural development, and the people of this country owe him an eternal debt for his confidence and dynamic approach to what he recognised was an enterprise worthy of massive capital investment.
D. THE CONSORTIUM AND TRIANGLE
In far-away Natal a mighty battle between rival giants of the sugar world drew to its close, and Guy Hulett, tough maestro of an empire and of Triangle, was finally ousted on the 7th of November 1962, his control to be replaced by that of a consortium of interests, principally represented by the Tongaat Sugar Company and the extensive Crookes-Reynolds-C. G. Smith conglomerate.
Master-minding the financia infighting which led to the take-over was Christopher J. Saunders, a young graduate of the Universities of Cape Town and Oxford and heir to his father's power at historic Tongaat, and his wisdom and vision and deep humanity were to have a profound influence on the people of Triangle when he succeeded to the Chairmanship in later years.
Chris Saunders drew great encouragement and support from the colourful character Fred "Chaka" Gillatt of Gledhow, who had always loved Rhodesia, and believed in its vast potential. He was probably more responsible than any other person for persuading the C. G. Smith interests in the consortium to invest in Triangle in the days ahead, for it was well-known that G. V. Crookes was initially far more interested in the Swaziland sector of the external interests.
Chris Saunders was also fortunate in the support and cooperation he enjoyed from the courteous, dignified and charming George Vernon Crookes, the quiet but undoubted boss of the C. G. Smith Group, for while Vernon Crookes could muster considerable economic muscle, it was not his disposition to make the running in the boardroom of the new masters of Huletts and Triangle, but rather to lend his powerful backing and experience to the new deal.
In a masterpiece of personnel selection the consortium invited to be its Chairman one Ross S. Armstrong, a great man, modest and capable, widely respected and liked by all parties concerned in the new Consortium. Ross Armstrong was a sugar grower, and as a former Chairman of Huletts S.A. Refineries had considerable experience in the sugar industry, besides being a powerful figure on the boards of a diversity of leading commercial and financial houses in Natal.
There could not have been a better choice to weld together into a meaningful force the potentially disharmonious styles and philosophies of two great sugar producers, who were now united in a consortium conceived to counter a take-over threat by Guy Hulett, and thereby to implement a much-needed rationalisation of the sugar industry in Natal.
Fortunately in the person of J. Morton Taylor emerged the man to introduce the sound financial reorganisation to create an acceptable order out of the mess. Huletts was in a potentially disastrous situation immediately after the take-over, and was then timorously blessed with g00d fortune, and good weather.
At this time the Rhodesian operation at Triangle was poised for a spectacular leap forward, and the huge finance required was raised by selling the Swaziland interests at Mhlume to the Colonial Development Corporation. This in itself was not simple, as Guy Hulett had managed to engender a mutual dislike in his company's dealings with the C.D.C. in Swaziland, and just before the take-over, relations were severely strained. The C.D.C. were not over-friendly towards Huletts management, and this was undoubtedly a factor influencing the consortium to divest itself of Swaziland and concentrate its external efforts on Triangle.
At Triangle, the stall watched the take-over battle from afar, and with a little apprehension, for they were Guy Hulett men. For three months after their leader fell, they heard little, but wisely decided to press on as before, whatever the outcome.
Eventually a six-man delegation of agriculturalists, economists, and sugar technologists arrived at Triangle, their mission one of assessment for the new owners, and fortunately they found the estate in top gear, spick and span. They were impressed, and reported accordingly. As a result, the consortium under Ross Armstrong gave Triangle as strong a commitment as had MacDougall and Hulett, and again it was "all systems go".
The new mill had crushed its first sugar on 20th October 1962 , and under Mill Manager Harry Fotheringham the necessary further milling expansion was planned and implemented. MacDougall's mill was installed in tandem with the 66 inch milling train, and from Chaka's Kraal in Natal another 48 inch mill was purchased and also installed to create a total milling capacity of 270 tons of cane per hour.
This time it was T. E. S. Goss who persuaded Ross Armstrong that "Gibbo" was a loyal and valuable servant, and he was accordingly retained as Secretary, and then rapidly became Business Manager and a member of the Board, to which Terry Goss was appointed just before him.
AN ERA OF SPECTACULAR DEVELOPMENT
The sugar price was climbing to a breath-taking new high, and the pace of dynamic development intensified, as further lowveld bush was cleared and planted to cane. To spearhead their field development the company could not have had a better man than Goss, dynamic, authoritative, and very highly motivated. He loved the pace and excitement of that era, and at his side was a remarkable hydrological engineer, an Italian named Renato Toti, who had come to Triangle under Guy Hulett just before Goss, and now really came into his own. Brilliantly perceptive, impetuous and utterly confident, Toti thrived on the hectic scene attending the devising, designing and installation of a massive irrigation scheme in virgin bush. He brought water in rapid time, this time under overhead irrigation, to the new schemes of the "twenties and fifties" sections, after sections 7-20 had been put to flood irrigation.
All over the lowveld, feverish activity was taking place. The land adjacent to Triangle on the west bank of the Mtilikwe was part of the great Nuanetsi Ranch, a subsidiary of the giant Imperial Cold Storage Company, whose Chairman was the experienced and influential Ivan Wentzel. Armstrong, Saunders and Taylor saw the mutual advantages of a partnership with Wentzel and his organisation, and accordingly Gibbs was instructed to negotiate the formalities of a land deal with its neighbours whereby Triangle Limited and the Imperial Cold Storage Company, Nuanetsi's owners, formed two subsidiaries, the Mtilikwe Sugar Company and the Tokwe Development Company, to irrigate the rich soils west of the Mtilikwe and south of the Lundi Rivers. Triangle held 51% and Nuanetsi 49% of the shares in these companies, and large weirs were designed and built under Toti's direction on the Mtilikwe and Tokwe Rivers to irrigate these properties, although the long-term intention was to utilise water from the huge proposed Tokwe-Mukorsi dam to bring the scheme to full fruition. This will assuredly yet come about.
The new owners of Triangle honoured the agreement and interests of the three original settlers, and in a move which was widely acclaimed settled six of its section managers around lands which MacDougall had originally developed north of the old mill. These six — Bob Alderton, Mike Botha, Barry Gutridge, Jon Morgan, Duncan Starling and Bob Udal — had served" the company well as section managers and had opted to branch out independently as cane planters on their own when the opportunity was offered.
OPENING OF THE NEW MILL
Murray MacDougall. to whom Guy Hulett and the consortium had brought due acknowledgement and honour when others were pressing their own claims as "pioneers of the lowveld", died aged 83 on 30th May 1964, just before the official opening of the new mill.
The mill was officially opened on 21st June 1964. It was a glittering occasion. A vast assembly of guests gathered in the picturesquely bedecked sugar store, and the inaugural showing of a magnificent promotional and historic film of the development of Triangle brought a touch of the momentous to the gathering. The London Daily Sugar Price was climbing steadily towards the magical figure of £100-0-0 per ton, and it was a time of euphoria. Among the distinguished guests were the Hon. Sir Humphrey Gibbs, Governor of Southern Rhodesia, and the Hon. Mr. D. C. H. Uys, Minister of Agriculture in South Africa.
In a characteristic address, Ross Armstrong suggested that the Rhodesian Lowveld sugar industry was the seventh wonder of the country, following the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Ruins, Wankie National Park, Lake Kariba, the Tobacco Industry, and the Umtali Oil Pipeline He announced the inauguration of the Murray MacDougall Scholarship scheme, the creation of the Murray MacDougall Museum at Mac's old house, and the immediate presentation to all guests of a prestigious brochure on Triangle, specially commissioned for the occasion. He drew to the attention of his assembled throng that, but a thousand days before the country had imported 50 000 tons of sugar annually, and yet in the past year the lowveld sugar harvest had been 140 000 tons, with 62 000 tons exported to Britain, the United States and Canada.
Reaffirming the confidence of the company, Armstrong declared in ringing tones "we shall build here a place of health and happiness for all peoples of the lowveld and Rhodesia."
It was a time of tribute, and also a time of sadness, for Mac's chair was pointedly empty.
It was also a time for reflection, and Prime Minister Ian Smith spelt out the Government's investment in the lowveld irrigation scheme at £5.6 million, and that of the big companies at £10.8 million, of which Triangle's was by far the major share. He painted a rosy future for the whole vast canvas of the lowveld..
There was also the hint of future resolution required, and perhaps the P.M. gave a subtle chilling hint of the proposed political moves ahead when he said in his opening speech "I hope I have brought home to you the vastness of the lowveld potential — this is typical of what is available to us throughout this country, but to make this potential bear fruit we need, in addition to vast sums of money, the will to go forward, and the preparedness to assume the risks involved — and both of these require great confidence in our future here."
Hot on the heels of the gala opening of the mill followed another historic event, the ceremonial opening of the railway line from Mbizi on 28th September 1964. The Railways Road Motor Service had performed manfully in moving lowveld sugar by heavy truck along the road which Guy Hulett had helped to build, and in the one year ended June 1964 had moved 238 000 tons of goods between Mbizi and Triangle. The long-planned railway line was distinguished by two great new railway bridges, those over the Lundi (1 389 feet) and Mtilikwe (1 097 feet), by far the longest railway bridges in the country.
In a charming ceremony which was both dignified and jolly, Sir Humphrey Gibbs performed the opening honours and invited the assembled guests to accompany him on an historic train trip from Mbizi to Triangle, during which they were wined and dined with the proud splendour of the dining cars of that vintage.
Ross Armstrong, his job in settling the consortium on a coordinated path well and truly performed, retired at his own wish on 9th December 1964, and he was succeeded as Chairman by C. J. Saunders. Apart from anything else, Armstrong deserves credit for his efforts to reconcile the undoubted hostility between Triangle and its neighbour Hippo Valley, between whom there was a lot of suspicion, little joint consultation, and generally a rather pointless feud.
SETBACKS AND DIVERSIFICATION
These were heady days, but within a few months Triangle was dealt two staggering blows: the world sugar price, long noted for its erratic pattern, fell to an all-time low of £12-0-0 per ton, and the Government's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965 brought in its wake international sanctions and automatic forfeiture of international sugar contracts, which were already entrenched and held the promise of spectacular advance.
This was the time when it was really brought home to the management of Triangle what good friends they had in the parent company in South Africa. Apart from the problems afflicting Triangle, the cane belt in Natal experienced catastrophic droughts, and soon the wonders of Triangle became the headaches of Huletts. Morty Taylor, Managing Director of the Huletts Corporation, strove heroically to stave off financial disaster, and in this he was assisted by two happy choices he had made to participate in his Head Office management team —R. Addison and R. K. Ridgway. Morty Taylor and Huletts supported Triangle to the hilt, asking only that great efforts be made to cut the anticipated operating losses to a minimum, but the strain of those trying times undoubtedly had a serious effect on Taylor's health, and soon it became obvious that he was not at all well.
The company management's answer to its many problems was to tighten its belt where possible, to reaffirm its continued confidence in public, and to turn its attention more feverishly to a diversification programme on which it had already embarked.
A start had previously been made on the manufacture of stockfeeds from milling residues, and the subsidiary T.A.F. (Triangle Animal Feeds) was expanded and modernised. The company's own cattle project, on its extensive tracts of bush not irrigated, was strengthened, and a policy of intensive feedlots and breedlots was developed.
Winter wheat appeared on the estate for the first time since the quelea had played havoc with MacDougall's crops, the successive emerald green and then golden hue of a vast chequer board of wheat fields contrasting strongly with the massive acreages of cane. Bananas and pawpaws were grown intensively at Mpapa on the Tokwe-Lundi junction, and experiments with soya beans, rice, and tropical fruits were intensified at the company's own Guy Hulett Research Station.
Triangle struggled but survived, shrugging off the unprofitable years as inevitable dips in the fortunes of a great company.
Soon a further grievous blow was delivered in the shape of a crippling illness to "Gibbo", Cedric Gibbs, now Managing Director, and for whom the new high level road bridge over the Mtilikwe River had been named. Gibbo was flown to Johannesburg for an operation, but he never recovered from a post-operative complication, and the lowveld mourned his passing. His funeral, attended by many hundreds of people of all races, was a moving tribute to a man who was the complete company servant.
Childless, C. A. Gibbs had treated Triangle as his baby, and each morning before dawn journeyed from his home near the Old Mill to tour the mill, check the sugar production, attend to his office, and then go home for breakfast, only to return with the office staff at the regular time. He identified completely with his company, worked tirelessly, and with T. E. S. Goss formed an excellent team. He had been responsible for all the coordination of development in the frantic developing years, and shouldered all the company's administration with a minimum staff, delegating very little. We shall not see his like again.
THE YEARS OF CONSOLIDATION
From Durban to sit in Gibbo's chair was sent the young R. K. Ridgway, appointed as General Manager, while Terry Goss remained as Resident Director (Agriculture). Dick Ridgway had been personal assistant to J. Morton Taylor, and a staunch supporter of Triangle. Ridgway soon became Managing Director, and joined Frank Davidson, chairman of a large forwarding and shipping organisation in Salisbury, as fellow Rhodesian Directors with the long-serving Terry Goss, Eric Hockey, and Eric Palmer.
It was at about this time that Triangle was introduced to another man in the parent company, a person who was to take over from J. M. Taylor as Managing Director of the parent company in Natal, and who was to have an enormous and beneficial effect on Triangle's development. Dr. C. W. van der Pol had been recruited by Jack Hulett and Chris Saunders from Big Bend in Swaziland to join the Hulett organisation. He had had experience at Doornkop and prior to that had been with the Sugar Milling Research Institute both in Durban and Australia. He had obtained a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering and apart from his technical ability he was to show a tremendous flair for administration and management leadership.
THE GOLDEN YEARS
But one would not expect a great company to be daunted or deterred by these setbacks.
There is possibly no more arduous manual labour than cutting and stacking cane, and more particularly in the fierce summer heat of Triangle. The company's management and Board of Directors have for a number of years been deeply conscious of the fact that though Triangle's success owes much to its soils and irrigation water, the inspiration of MacDougall, the confidence of Guy Hulett, and the skill and initiative of its management and technical staff, all these would have amounted to nothing in the absence of the sustained and industrious efforts of a labour force which has literally carved a great enterprise out of virgin bush by the toil of its muscles and the sweat of its brow.
Accordingly when once the profitability of the company had been established and the funds were available, the company committed itself to an intensive programme to improve the living and working conditions of its African employees in particular. A massive on-going housing construction project, a commitment to increase workers' wages at an accelerated rate, the recognition of merit as the only criterion for advancement, and an enlightened system of employee representation and industrial negotiation — all these confirmed Triangle's position as leader of the lowveld and a highly significant national entity.
It was here that the true worth of Dr. van der Pol to the Triangle scene was really manifest. Kees van der Pol has a hard-headed but visionary perceptive quality in the business world, and he was particularly concerned in the field of human relations. He was the dynamic force in Huletts philosophy of managing for change, in Rhodesia as much as in South Africa, and there is no doubt that he has been an enormously strong ally of Terry Goss, who had been entrusted with putting philosophical thoughts into meaningful practice in the strained climate of a siege economy brought about by sanctions and national political turmoil. It is a remarkable tribute to Goss that having come all the way up the ladder, and having been largely responsible for creating the green cane oasis of modern Triangle from virgin bush, he was now able to assume and wear so successfully the highest administrative mantle of his organisation.
The agricultural side of the company had always been largely directed and run by local staff, and with Terry Goss becoming Managing Director following the departure of Dick Ridgway, on promotion to Durban, his mantle as fields boss for so many years fell on the shoulders of J. M. Burton, graduate of Natal University, and Estate Agronomist since 1963, now Agricultural Director. Terry Goss was appointed Executive Chairman of Triangle in 1977.
On Dick Ridgway's departure to higher things in Durban, the quiet and unassuming Cedric Theuma became Triangle's right-hand man in the business field, but he was tragically taken from the company by a fatal illness at a young age on the threshold of his career. With Triangle becoming more financially independent, the administrative reins are now held by Dennis Sargeant, the company's first Financial Director, an able and efficient administrator recruited from South Africa. After hours Sargeant's financial wizardry gives way to more unorthodox performances, for he is a noted magician and member of The Magic Circle.
The milling side, for the management of which the company has relied heavily on staff seconded from Natal, among whom Bruno van der Riet and Don Webster in recent years have performed nobly, reveals a remarkable success story. Triangle mill is a curious hybrid of the old MacDougall, ZSM and Chaka's Kraal mills, modified and added to times without number, and yet by technical skill, motivation and attention to detail the mill staff have consistently outshone their competitors.
Here let no-one underestimate the enormous advantage enjoyed by Triangle in being in a position to call on the assistance of the technical services expertise of Huletts in South Africa. In the absence of such advice this story would have been a completely different one.
Outside the mill door and in the villages a scheme of beautification by means of spacious green lawns and well laid-out gardens, tended so lovingly by that great character Bob Stirrup, endowed outdoor Triangle with a cool and restful atmosphere, complimented by a system of superb outdoor sporting amenities for the more energetic members of the community.
Perhaps the best-known components of these sporting amenities are the Gibbo Football Stadium, the Alan Kennedy Polo Field (named for a Wright Rain Irrigation engineer and friend of Triangle who was tragically killed in an air crash), and of course the magnificent golf course, groomed and trimmed and manicured by that charming gentleman Charles Brockway, an ex-professional cricketer who has lavished as much care on this massive expanse of irrigated turf as ever he did on the twenty-two yards of his native Dorset cricket pitches.
Huletts Group profits emanating from Triangle, and for the second successive year the mill recorded the highest overall sucrose recovery in Southern Africa. '
A major milestone in the company's history occurred on 1st November 1974, when Hippo Valley and Triangle in 50-50 partnership bid successfully for the Mkwasine Estate, which the Sabi-Limpopo Authority had rescued from the Nandi debacle in 1965. Under the drive and energy of Chairman H. J. Quinton the Authority had successfully initiated a stirring scheme to put the new estate under a 16 000 acreage of wheat and cotton, but it had always been intended that the scheme irrigated from Lake MacDougall, should be taken over by private enterprise.
And all the while the company has steadily pursued its policy of advancement and betterment of its staff. At the time of writing the largest agricultural organisation in the country, and second only to the Railways as employers of labour in one organisation, the green oasis of Triangle must be a prized emerald in the crown of whoever rules the country. It is perhaps here that Triangle faces its newest and greatest challenge — always steering away from involvement in political controversy, the company has steadfastly plotted its own course of advancement on merit and non-racialism, refusing to be stampeded by political events or outside pressures, in the belief that what is best for Triangle is what is best for all its people — shareholders, management and employees
As I write, the terrorist forces of an alien philosophy threaten the estate. Section employees sleep behind barbed wire fences, protected by security systems, and normal nocturnal and social activity is curtailed But the spirit of Triangle and its inherent wealth of resources and people will surely surmount this threat as it has others before.
At (he Triangle Sugar Mill Opening in June 1964, The Hon. G. Ellman-Brown, Chairman of the Rhodesia Sugar Association and a Director of Hippo Valley Estates, said:
"Mr. Chairman, you have rightly paid tribute to the memory of MacDougall, and made reference to the foresight of Guy Hulett but, I suppose in modesty, you have said very little about the part Triangle has played and indeed is playing in developing this new industry.
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, whilst a lot of publicity has been given to the development of the neighbouring estate, Hippo Valley, I am sure they will be the first to acknowledge that the impetus not only in the development of the industry but also in laying the foundations of an export potential, was started and indeed led by Triangle.
It was Triangle who proved that sugar cane could be grown on large acreages at a cost that would compete in world markets. I go even further and say that it was Triangle who proved that, in spite of violent fluctuations in the world market price of sugar, the investments over a balanced period could yield a reasonable return to shareholders and also provide a surplus for development.
THE MURRAY MACDOUGALL MUSEUM
By 1963 the historic MacDougall homestead atop Mac's Hill, successively used by General Managers and then ordinary employees of Triangle, had begun to show unmistakeably signs of wear and deterioration, despite its fundamentally sound construction.
In that year, Mrs. Nan Goss, recognising its aesthetic and historical values, approached Mr. Ross Armstrong, Chairman of the board of directors, with the suggestion that the buildings should be restored and made into a museum. Consent and cooperation from the board was readily forthcoming, and a committee was formed to implement the proposal.
The complex of buildings consisted of the main living room with wide verandahs, two bathrooms, and a store room, with a kitchen appended at the rear, a thatched two-roomed bedroom-study block, and four rondavels. two of which dated to 1923, the others being added later.
Once cleaning and restoration was complete, the main living room was adorned with MacDougall relics donated largely by Mac and his wife, and a collection of historic photographs and documents was put on display in a number of carefully compiled albums. Mrs. Ethelwyn Strover contributed an enormousamount of work in gathering, collating and mounting a remarkable collection.
Regrettably it soon became clear that handling of the albums by the public was rapidly leading to unacceptable deterioration, and a need was felt to expand the scope of the museum. Expert advice was sought, and the company was fortunate that Dr. Reay H. N. Smithers, O.B.E., D.Sc., Director of Museums and Monuments, agreed readily to come to Triangle to assess the situation. He subsequently arranged visits by Mr. E. E. Burke, O.L.M., Director of the National Archives, and Mr. C. K. Cooke, then Curator of Monuments. These three gentlemen produced a composite plan, the broad outline of which was as follows:
(i) MacDougall's living room to be restored as authentically as possible as a period pioneer residence. Fortunately photographs of the interior at the time of Mac's occupation were available.
(ii) One rondavel to be restored as Mac's sleeping quarters.
(iii) A story of MacDougall the man to be portrayed in the thatched double-room block.
(iv) A new building to be constructed, so as to harmonise with the aesthetic qualities of the site, and to feature an ongoing story of Triangle from earliest times to date.
The company gave its enthusiastic blessing to the scheme, and the requisite finance was made available. It is a pleasure to record Triangle's gratitude to the three originators of the new proposals. Mr. Burke has subsequently been a tower of strength in the provision of historic material, and a public appeal for suitable relics for the restoration was met with a generous response by many Rhodesians
Reconstruction was complete by March 1976, when the museum was formally opened by Mr. C. J. Saunders, Chairman of the board, with many visitors and dignitaries attending an appropriate ceremony in front of the stone where MacDougall's ashes lie.
The whole complex on Mac's Hill was declared a National Monument on 31st January 1975 by Rhodesia Government Notice No. 86/1975, and in terms of the agreement with the Trustees of Museums and Monuments, the company provides all necessary care and maintenance of this complex. In an improvement programme initiated in 1977, Mrs. Terry Donnelly, Senior Staff Artist of the Museums and Monuments administration, has kindly contributed invaluable flair and advice to add to the greatly appreciated efforts of a number of company employees who have given readily of their time and ideas to create a unique feature of which the company is justifiably proud.
MURRAY MACDOUGALL SCHOOL
Prior to 1961 the handful of European children on the Estate were schooled by their parents, taking advantage of the Government's correspondence schooling scheme, or were sent away to boarding school. With the large development of the Guy Hulett era, the numbers of children requiring primary school education started to increase, and Triangle's first school was planned and approved by the Ministry of Education.
The first Murray MacDougall School duly opened for the first term of the 1961 school year, housed in MacDougall's old workshop/wagon shed behind the homestead on the hill, and now marked by a concrete slab near the museum gate. Mrs. Johanna Swart, wife of one of the Section Managers, was the first Head and only teacher, and the fourteen founder pupils were Andrew Baker, Victor, Vivienne, and Gerald Bester, Lesley Dunn, Gary Goss, Kerry Gutridge] Daniel Jacobs, Patti Lewis, Robin Mortlock, Ronnie Mullin, Angela and Cheryl Pollard, and Cheryl White.
The following year, 1962, the school was moved into a new house just completed in Stanley Cooke Road, the house at present occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Mellett. Mrs. Swart, as Headmistress, was joined by Mrs. Elsalou Hingeston as an additional teacher, and there were fifty-one children to teach.
The company had negotiated with the Ministry an agreement whereby Triangle Limited would construct a new school, to be leased, staffed and operated as a Government primary school by the Ministry of Education, and in the third term of 1962 pupils and staff moved into the third home of the Murray MacDougall School, a complex of new classrooms forming the nucleus of the present school.
The splendid new buildings stood in an area of lowveld bush below the new club building, and on 29th March 1963 the Hon. Secretary of the School Council wrote to the company's Business Manager, C. A. Gibbs, pointing out that:
"At a recent school council meeting the Headmistress reported that several snakes had been found in the school playground. It would, therefore, be very much appreciated if the company could permit the use of the Bulldozer for one morning to clear the grounds around the school."
With typical generosity the Business Manager and the Field Manager (T. E. S. Goss) immediately set in motion arrangements which culminated in the creation of the magnificent green irrigated sporting amenity subsequently named the Gibbs Field.
A formal opening ceremony on 6th September 1962 was attended by Mr. and Mrs. MacDougall, Mr. Threlkeld, Managing Director of Triangle, Mr. H. E. Pegg. Regional Director of Education, and the School Council/P.T.A. comprised of Messrs. K. Guthrie, J. Jacobs and B. Warren, and Mesdames N. Bcster, B. Dunn. G. Guthrie, and T. Lewis.
From those pioneering days the school has gone from strength to strength, the efforts of the children and staff handsomely justifying the school motto "ENDEAVOUR". Quite a tale surronds the search for a suitable school motto, and the assistance of Mr. Pegg, Regional Director of Education, and Mr. Les Sharp, Headmaster of Fort Victoria High School, was sought. Many enterprising suggestions were forthcoming from these eminent scholars. Mr. Sharp suggested AGE QUOD AGIS (whatever you do, carry it through), or DISCE PRODESSE (learn to be one of us)' and finally E OFORTIBUS DULCEDO or alternatively FORTITUDINE DULCEDO or FORTITUDINE SUAVITAS, all being accepted Latin translations of the classic quotation "Out of the strong came forth Sweetness from Judges XIV verse 14 with its interesting connotations for Triangles history. Mr. Pegg suggested CARPE DIEM (seize the opportunity) or PELLE MORAS (Don't delay), and being asked what the highland MacDougall clans motto BUAIDH NO BAS meant, and whether it would be suitable, obligingly researched the matter and advised that the translation "Victory or Death" was stirring but hardly suitable for an infant school!" (sic). "ENDEAVOUR" seemed highly appropriate for the context of Triangle as an exhortation to its young citizens, and so it was adopted.
The parents of the school have made notable efforts to assist the school and as a result of their fund-raising efforts the school now boasts a magnificent hall (with generous assistance from the company's board of directors and the Lions Club of Triangle), a fine swimming pool (with $2 per $1 from the State Lotteries Trustees) and more recently a school library and craft room again with the aid of the Lions and the ever-generous company.
THE MURRAY MACDOUGALL SCHOLARSHIPS
At the opening ceremony of the new mill in 1964, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Ross Armstrong, announced the inauguration of two scholarships worth £300 each per annum for two Rhodesian high school pupils to attend university. The company considered this would be a worthy endowment commemorating its founder, and contributing to the country's future by sponsoring higher education for some of its outstanding young men and women.
The scholarships are awarded by a committee comprised of representatives of both the company and the Ministry of Education, and currently each award is worth $1 200 per annum for four years.
To date the details of the fortunate scholars are as follows, showing school attended, university and degree.
R. P. Fynn
Southampton and National College of Agric. Engineering, Silsoe, Bedford, M.Sc.
A. M. McKeag
Churchill, U.C. Rhodesia, MB., Ch.B.
C. W. Shcrwcll
Prince Edward, U.C. Rhodesia, B.Sc.
B. McLeod (Miss) Fort Victoria, Rhodes, B.A.
T. P. Whaley Prince Edward, Cape Town, M.B., Ch.B(curriculum not completed).
H. Viljoen (Miss) Umtali Girls High, Cape Town, B.A.
P. B. Hassell Churchill, Cape Town, B.A.
N. E. Morris Peterhouse, Dublin, Ph.D.
J. Tapson (Miss) Nagle House Convent, Umtali Girls High, Cape Town, B.Sc.
S. D. Levin Hamilton High, U.C. Rhodesia, MB., Ch.B.
M. B. Rouse (Miss) Salisbury Girls High, Cape Town, B.Sc.
J. I. Micklem (Miss) Oriel Girls High, Queen Elizabeth, U.C. Rhodesia and Royal College of Music, Ldn., B.A.
E. Baillie (Miss) Queen Elizabeth, Canterbury, London, B.A.
I. Kalvaria Milton, U.C. Rhodesia, MB., Ch.B.
M. J. Abrahamson Milton, Cape Town, MB., Ch.B.
R. G. Mitchell Northlea, U.C. Rhodesia, B.Sc.
T. S. Harris Milton, Cape Town, B.Comm (Hons.)
M. E. Bacon (Miss) Salisbury Girls High, Cape Town, MB., Ch.B.
H. G. Cracknell (Miss) Salisbury Girls High, Cape Town, B.Sc.
L. Robinson (Miss) Queen Elizabeth, Cape Town, B.Sc.
M. Mavros (Miss) Arundel School, Edinburgh, B.A.
L. Lowe (Miss) Chikore Sec. School, Umtali Girls High, U.C. Rhodesia, MB.Ch.B.
N. J. H. Bashall Milton, Cambridge, LL.B.
B. M. Conacher (Miss) Oriel Girls High, Cape Town, MB., Ch.B.
C. A. Michie Oriel Boys High, Cambridge, MB., Ch.B.
D. Peters (Miss) Eveline Girls High, Natal (Pietermaritzburg), B.Sc.Agric.
End of Book
Sincere thanks to Colin Saunders and family for their approval to digitise Colins bookRecompilation completed by Eddy Norris, for no or intended financial gain but rather as a ORAFs initiative to record the memories of Rhodesia and its people for future generations.
APPROVAL TO USE
You have my permission to proceed with your circulation of my history of MacDougall and Triangle.Best regards
Colin Saunders (Sqn Ldr , Medical VR)
Book was made available to ORAFs by Neill Jackson, thank you Neill.
Thanks to my son, Paul Norris, Paul Mroz for their assistance and special thanks to Robb Ellis for his on going support.
Eddy Norris can be contacted on email@example.com