Francistown, Botswana to Jane Furse, South Africa
Botswana and South Africa
“Africa’s large problems are largely large Africans”
There can be few pleasures greater than driving at sunset across the surreal emptiness of a Botswanan saltpan. As far as the eye can see in every direction is nothing, nothing but blushing sand to the curving horizon. Even more fun, however, is belting golf balls from the roof of the Land Rover, blasting them recklessly high and wide into the great oblivion.
It was a welcome break from the road. Beneath shooting stars’ silent
endeavours we slept close to the steady warmth and eerie flickering of our
campfire, comforted by the light yet aware that it made the vast darkness
all around even more impenetrable. At first light I sneak quietly away from
the glowing embers, careful not to wake Ziggy and Arno so that I can
greedily hoard the sunrise all to myself. I sit hunched on the cool grey
sand eagerly awaiting the sun which, ever the showman, seems to delay his
arrival on stage for as long as possible. A roaring Humphreys sneeze rips
through the aura of mystical silence. Time for some breakfast.
Back on the road and alone once again I award Botswana the title of ‘Most
Boring Country I Have Ever Cycled Through’. Still, I don’t suppose Botswana
wins many awards for anything so she should be grateful for the recognition.
Nothing but flat, unchanging bush for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.
The flat terrain had its advantages – my bike no longer has any brakes at all
and I am only able to change gear using a toothbrush.
Nothing but a ranting headwind for company. That’s like calling a migraine
‘company’. Day after day the sky sat deep and heavy with rolling fat, grey
harbingers of inclemency (clouds!). What should have been a gentle four day
triumphal procession into South Africa turned into a ghastly five day long
beasting thanks to the wind. There was a nice symmetry to this ordeal (which
consoled me not one bit): my arrival in Africa all those miles ago in Egypt
was in identically miserable circumstances to my approach to the final
country of the continent [see Final Middle Eastern Report].
But if you can hold on for long enough you’ll get there in the end. And so
eventually I found myself crossing the Limpopo River into South Africa. It
was a great (and greasy grey-green) moment! It has been six years since I left
South Africa at the end of my Gap year and it felt very, very good to be
back. For almost a year I had been looking forward to this moment and the
anticlimax was inevitable: no cheering crowds of hysterical blondes to
welcome me, no gentle sunlit freewheel all the way down to Cape Town. It was
just bloody windy. On top of that I had no money for the next three days and
only two loaves of dry bread to eat. Does that make my salvaging of two
abandoned gravel-covered marshmallows from the roadside any more excusable?
I fear not!
The Afrikaaner stronghold of Potgietersrus reminded me once again of what an
odd country this is. Large men in long socks and Under-13’s sized rugby
shorts. Amusing haircuts and large moustaches. Thriving First World
alongside struggling Third World. The weird, weird, juxtaposition of genuine
warmth, hospitality, kindness, Christianity and yet an invariable propensity
for beginning sentences with “I’m not a racist but…” My ride through South
Africa will be a fascinating yet upsetting one.
I was heading for Jane Furse, the small town where I had taught for a year
between school and University. I looked around eagerly, wondering what I
would remember, looking forward to recognising people and places for the
first time in a whole year, looking forward to not having to ask directions.
Jane Furse lies in the heart of Lebowa, one of the scrubby, barren Homelands
where black people were dumped to make even more room for the white
population in the fertile parts of the country. Life in Lebowa is hard, very
hard, even in these post-Apartheid days. You rarely see a white face in
Lebowa. And even though I was more at home here than anywhere in the rest of
Africa I was more afraid to bush-camp here than ever before. The blacks in
South Africa have been abused so grotesquely that I felt I could scarcely
hold a grudge against anyone who decided to kill me and steal all my stuff.
I hid very well that first night. Yet, like nearly everywhere else in
Africa, I encountered nothing but laughter and warmth riding through the
Arriving at my old school was wonderful; to meet old friends once more and
wander around memory lane. It was also intriguing for me to see how my
perceptions have changed from being an 18 year old single-handedly saving
the world to a cynical old 25 year old who has almost cycled the length of
Only a couple of thousand kilometres to go now! Cape Town awaits!