It’s been five years in the making. And now Kingsley Holgate’s long-awaited new book, a 450-page self-published work with great imagery and amazing tales, is just about done and dusted. This month Kingsley gives us a sneak peek of his latest creation.
Africa’s most famous adventurer
ALove Affair with a Continent. That’s the name of my upcoming book. A book (I hope) will become a bit of a collector’s item for travellers in Africa. We’re racing to launch it on 18 July, the centenary of Madiba’s birthday.
It’s dedicated to Mashozi, my late wife. As a family, with Ross our son and a great bunch of adventurers, we travelled Africa for over 40 years and she became the most travelled woman in Africa.
Five years in the making, this selfpublished, 450-page book has great imagery and in colourful chapters, tells the stories of our expeditions to embrace every country in Africa, including all of her island states. But fear not: we don’t take ourselves too seriously and the opening of the book carries a handwritten note (see pic on opposite page).
One of the many stories is the tale of what it was like to travel round the world by land following the Tropic of Capricorn through 10 countries. It was a crazy 18-month Land Rover odyssey with plenty of interesting characters and anecdotes along the way, especially here in Africa.
One of these was the story of ‘Jompa Jozz’ told by Senor Matais Ngonyama, an ex-Frelimo soldier who borrowed his uncle’s bicycle to guide Ross and I along ‘the invisible line’ from the flooded Limpopo River in Mozambique to the Kruger National Park fence line.
Throughout our bicycle journey, Ross and I noticed that all the footprints on the path were heading west and there were countless extinguished campfires beside the track. Somewhat sheepishly, Matais told us that we were inadvertently following the illegal Mozambican immigrants’ trail known as ‘Jompa Jozz’ (‘jump to Johannesburg’) – meaning to jump over the Kruger National Park fence to cross into South Africa and head onto the city.
We’d heard that a number of unfortunate young men who’d used this trail had been eaten by lion as they crossed the Kruger Park. Matais leaned his bicycle against a tree and explained it this way: “You see, for generations my people were encouraged to work on the South African gold mines. It became a mtethu, a sort of rite of passage. My grandfather, my father, my uncles and older brothers all worked on the mines. They became wealthy and had many wives.”
But what about the man-eating lion?” I asked. “Sure, there are many accidents,” Matais replied seriously, “but that is because the young men think they are clever and don’t listen to the sangomas.
Before you leave to ‘Jompa Jozz’, you must not have sex for five days, so that your blood will be hot. Then, you must drink the good luck medicines they give you and when you get to your first elephant footprint, you must do like this.” Matais demonstrated by making a thick circle of grass and placing it on the ground. “You put the grass around the elephant footprint and then step over it carefully. That way you will survive the lion and elephant and bring gifts home for your wives and children.”
“Have you tried it Matais?” I asked. He seemed about to answer then just laughed, picked up his bicycle and we pushed on through the sand, following the footprints west along ‘Jompa Jozz’ to the Kruger Park fence line.
We met Oom Doep at Parr’s Halt in Botswana. The Limpopo River was still in flood and the border bridge closed, so to stay true to the Capricorn line, I walked across with expedition members Mike Yelseth and Troy Wade, leaving Mashozi and Ross to take the Landies around via Groblersbrug. We
made our way towards a ramshackle old house, with the year 1902 written on the wall.
A bakkie with its bonnet up was parked in front of the mosquito-gauzed veranda and an elderly white man dressed in shorts appeared in the doorway, clearly amazed to find three people walking through the bush towards him. “Where the hell are you okes from?” he asked in a broad Afrikaans accent. “We’re following the Tropic of Capricorn round the world,” I replied. Without hesitation, he invited us in.
The veranda was packed with old junk, including a mannequin with half its face shot off – target practice, I suppose. The sitting room doubled as a bedroom, office and pub, and the dusty, patched, powder-blue ceiling sagged with age. Old man Du Plessis turned out to be a delightful old codger. “I’m only 82,” he announced proudly. His wrinkled old cook had a wizened little bushman-like face, she was a mere 97 years old.
Oom Doep had escaped from a prisonerof-war camp in Italy during World War II but Rommel’s artillery had left him a bit deaf: we had to shout at the top of our voices. I asked him about his withered hand. He pointed to the corner of the room.
“It was on that bed that it happened: I was sleeping in ‘Adam’s pyjamas’ (stark naked) and woke up screaming. A cobra had me by the bloody hand! I pulled the snake’s teeth from my finger and threw it out the window. Using an old sock, I tied a tourniquet around my upper arm, then with one hand drove my bakkie – the same one that’s parked outside – to the Limpopo border, woke up the border guards, and made it through the night to Nylstroom. I was in hospital for a long time and as you can see, I lost a finger. But the new skin that they grafted off my backside at least saved my hand.”
The old cook kept a stream of cold beers coming and then with a toothless grin, called us into the kitchen where she’d cooked up a feast of steak, boerewors, thick slices of buttered bread – and brandy. By the time Mashozi and Ross arrived, Mike, Troy and I were red-faced and rowdy. Oom ‘Dop’ called for more brandy. “You’ll need strength for your Capricorn journey,” he shouted.
Another great character was Kobus Alberts in his big, white V8 Chevy, with massive sand tyres, ropes and sand ladders, who’d offered to lead us east to west in our Landy Defenders across the gramadoelas and the high dunes of the Namib Desert. Wearing khaki shorts and veldskoene, with an honest, smiling face and pipe in his mouth, Kobus spoke English with a guttural Namibian-style Afrikaans accent and, best of all, he seemed not to take himself too seriously. He’d brought his fox terrier Roxy along for the adventure and I took an instant liking to him.
“Ag, Kingsley, it’s good to meet you at last,” said Kobus seriously. “I’ve only seen pictures of you in magazines and I must say, you really looked like a grumpy old f**k.” Ross and Mashozi fell about laughing. It made their day and for the rest of the adventure across Namibia, I was simply referred to as ‘GOF’.
The Capricorn expedition was a long, long journey that then took us over the high Andes, through the tropical jungles of Paraguay and across the Atacama of South America (driest desert on the planet), over the widest part of Australia through the Simpson (largest sand-ridged desert in the world) and the red sands of the Gibson, and then a gruelling foot-trek across Madagascar, which finally brought us back to north of Inhambane in Mozambique; a full circle from where we’d started.
Ironically, one of the biggest hassles we had was getting the Landies into Australia when the quarantine inspectors found dead insects on the radiators and some old chassis mud. Jeez, it was worse than trying to smuggle in a Bedford-load of Bin Ladens.
Kingsley Holgate is South Africa’s most famous adventurer, a renowned humanitarian and author. The 71-year-old founded the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, which aims to “save and improve lives through adventure”. He has handed out thousands of mosquito...
Opposite page: East to west across the dunes of the Namib. It was tough going in the old Defenders. Clockwise from top left: The 'Capricorn basecamp' where the line leaves the coast of Mozambique and travels across southern Africa to the coast of...