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  • Michael Chalk

The Rhodesian coloured community

During the colonial years of Rhodesia, the population was neatly packaged into clearly defined primary groups: whites, blacks, and coloureds. Various secondary groupings also existed, typically based on tribal affiliation, country of birth, or religion.

For no particular reason—apologies to Forrest Gump—I was recently reflecting on the incredibly colourful language and humour used by the coloured community.

Two stories come to mind, but before I share these, for readers who may not be familiar with Rhodesian customs of that time, the term "coloured" was used to define anyone of mixed race. Yes, it was a very blunt definition, but from the 1950s to 1970s, little attempt was made to avoid offending anyone. If you happened to be different from any particular stereotype, you were going to be ridiculed. That was just the way it was!

Anyway, back to the stories. There was an occasion during my time of national service when I was in charge of a military convoy traveling from the Chimanimani area back to Umtali (now Mutare). The convoy must have consisted of about a dozen vehicles of various shapes and sizes. I was in the second vehicle. We were in a particularly hazardous part of the journey when I received a radio message from the coloured driver of a vehicle near the rear of the column. I recall that he was a corporal. He requested me to halt the convoy. Annoyed at his stupidity, I asked him why. He replied that he needed to "put some sky in his rounds." I had no idea what he meant and asked him to explain. He then proceeded to tell me that one of the tyres on his vehicle was flat, and he needed to pump it up!

Another story, which may have been more mythical than truthful, concerned the unit known as Guard Force. You will recall that many coloured personnel found their way into Guard Force. Now, before I continue with the story, I need to remind readers of a Canadian band that was popular in the mid-1970s called Bachman-Turner Overdrive. One of their hits was a song called "You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet."

Back to the story. Apparently, a chain of OPs (observation posts) had been set up in a particular part of the country. Part of the daily routine was for the commander to radio the various OPs towards the end of the day to get a sitrep (situation report). The standard response was “nothing to report.” However, the accepted radio protocol was to use the initials of the three words but say them using the NATO phonetic alphabet. So, the standard response was “November Tango Romeo.”

On one particular day, one of the OPs was being manned by a Guard Force unit. When the leader of the unit gave his report, he said, “Bravo Tango Oscar.” Confused, the commander asked for clarification. Back came the response, “Bachman-Turner Overdrive.” Still confused, the commander asked for further clarification, to which came the response, “Ain’t seen nothing yet!”


There are, of course, many stories of their colourful language and slang terms. How about sharing some of your own?

photo of the band Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Bachman-Turner Overdrive


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