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Notes on the Geography of Malawi: Limbe

Since 1956, Limbe has been part of the Blantyre municipality, and the few miles between them are entirely urban. Still, the name Limbe survives. In 1945 Limbe was actually larger than Blantyre, with 7,000 residents compared to Blantyre's 4,500. Each town had about 300 Europeans and twice that many Indians.

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Malawi: Limbe picture 1

Limbe was the gift of the Shire Highlands Railway, which limps along as part of the Central East African Railways. Limbe was the site of the railroad's main yard, and the station also relied on freight to and from Imperial Tobacco.

Malawi: Limbe picture 2

If the loco seems like a toy, the railroad's freight statistics play along: total freight carried in 1945 was 104,000 tons. Most freight trains in the U.S. today carry about 10,000 tons. (Statistic from Handbook of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, p. 342).

Malawi: Limbe picture 3

The headquarters of Imperial Tobacco, now secured by a heavy fence.

Malawi: Limbe picture 4

And transformed into another operation entirely.

Malawi: Limbe picture 5

Across the street: what could it be?

Malawi: Limbe picture 6

Now a nursery, though once perhaps a manager's bungalow. The Imperial Tobacco Syndicate began buying tobacco in Nyasaland in 1908, the year the railroad arrived. The crop had been grown here since 1889, when it was established by the Buchanan Brothers. (Buchanan was also the second British consul, just before Harry Johnston.) By 1905 there were a hundred growers, and they were exporting tobacco to South Africa, presumably by cart. By 1958, 73,000 African growers in Nyasaland produced 25 million pounds, compared to 9 million grown on European-owned estates.

Malawi: Limbe picture 7

The railroad brought a hotel, the Shire Highlands Hotel, built by Nyasaland Hotels and Breweries.

Malawi: Limbe picture 8

Nothing fancy.

Malawi: Limbe picture 9

Except a rare patch of lawn.

Malawi: Limbe picture 10

The serious business of Limbe today is its extensive commercial area.

Malawi: Limbe picture 11

Again, nothing fancy but serving the southern half of the country.

Malawi: Limbe picture 12

Plenty of electronics.

Malawi: Limbe picture 13

Asian ownership is common.

Malawi: Limbe picture 14

Basics.


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