Memoir #4: Robert M. Martin; African Safari, 1963; Part 3

(African Safari, Tanzania, et al.; December, 1963)

What good luck, the next morning after breakfast, I was out along side the tarmac and later model sporty looking car stopped and the gent inside asked, “Where are you going?” The direction was the briefest and most succinct answer I could give. The man said, “Hope in, I’m going to Cape Town.” “That was just fine for this Continent”, I thought.

George was an interesting person. He was a British expatriate, mining engineer by profession, working in the Belgian Congo, later Zaire, for an international diamond consortium. He had leave time due and he was going to use it to the fullest.

He was teaming up with some buddies and lady friends in Cape Town for a luxury tour to South America, making a few stops before Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. From there, he would enplane back to the Congo, and a couple of his friends would pick up his car at the Cape and drive, tourist it north, meeting him on the job. I told him that it sounded like a great way to have a holiday.

We were making good time, 60+mph for much of the drive. Ten minutes or so north of Bulawayo we began to encounter patches of light rain. We just kept going, not varying our speed. Ahead, there was an unusual road situation.

The road raised up to meet a railroad bed as the highway was inclining toward the railway tracks. The angle was more than our car could hand on an already slippery road surface. We veered off of the road away from the bend in the road; hit a berm at the road’s edge, which intensified the spin we were just beginning, turning the spin into a roll.

George was glued to his steering wheel, trying frantically to get some control over the car, but the laws of physics trumped his efforts. As we began our second roll I recall glancing back and seeing luggage, food, broken glass floating and tumbling in the air as in a tumbler dryer machine.

I counted three and a half rollovers before we stopped, up side down. George shouted, “Get out, the car catch fire!” We both scrambled out and just looked back at the car. But nothing happened.

There was no steaming, nor smoking, no flames, no explosion. We must have been in a state of shock, because we didn’t seem to be concerned. We just went up to the totally destroyed vehicle and pulled out our luggage.

“I liked that machine,” George commented. We both turned back to the railway crossing and saw an older car come up and over the same crossing. Driving slower than we had, they hit the berm and their spin turned into two complete roll overs, landing in an upright position, and without a broken window. The farmer hopped out of his car, looked at it for a long moment, then walked over to us and said, “We are all very lucky.”

An ambulance arrived and checked us over. George was the only one to have any visible cuts. The wounds were cleaned and dressed and the paramedic asked George to return to the dispensary with them for a closer check.

The farmer insisted that he was fine, everyone waited until he got his car running again. He offered me a ride. I didn’t refuse, tossed my backpack into the rear seat and climbed aboard the sturdy late 1940s black Morris. We thanked the staff, I wished George good luck in catching his cruise ship, and rode into downtown Bulawayo.

After the crowds, traffic, well-stocked department stores, abundant holiday displays, Bulawayo was quaint and comfortable, but still more urbanized than my host country. I made a point to make the rest of the day a leisurely one.

Rivers define Zimbabwe’s northern and southern boarders, the Zambezi in the North and the Limpopo in the South. It was convenient to take the train across the Limpopo into South Africa.

I sat next to an Afrikaner who seemed quite normal until our train arrived into the South African river border crossing. He burst into joy as he pointed out the “White” “Non White” public toilets and said, “Thank God for segregated toilets.” When I asked, “What’s the big deal?” He didn’t answer and clammed up for the rest of the journey.

The English in South Africa had a somewhat different idea about segregation than did that Afrikaner. They summed it up as an 18th and 19th century unenlightened Dutch Reform church precept lingering into the 20th century that promotes the idea that Blacks are condemned to hell and Whites have an inside track to heaven.

It sounded like a passé belief in the post World War II period. The pity of it all is that so much beneficial human relations and contact among people of various racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds must be lost because of ill thought out precepts.

Traveling south of the Limpopo there is a gradual and definite landscape change from the dry, semi arid bush-savanna to surroundings with recognizable Mediterranean flora. The closer I came to the Tropic of Capricorn and then beyond the more I saw plant species I was familiar with from other Mediterranean zone around the world.

Some of the farming areas were situated on pastures of land green grassy rolling hills, with evergreen and deciduous trees and farming community with red barns and metal silos, tractors and other farm equipment, much of it like I would see in Europe or North America. To a person then living in East Africa, it seemed like I was visiting another continent.

I was in the midst of farming country when I decided to try my luck on the road again. My first possibility was a sedan with four people, men and women laughing and clowning. That was not a problem for me, but when I came over to the driver to ask about where the group was going there was a strong reeking of alcohol.

I don’t recall which town the driver was going, but I excused myself; saying that I was going to wait a bit longer, maybe take a few more photos before I traveled further south.

The people in the back seat squeezed together showing me how much room there was for me and held up a bottle in a bag. “No,” and I thanked them again.

The driver smiled, waved, and drove off. It was one ride that I never felt any regrets about refusing. A senior fellow stopped, said he was driving to a town near Pretoria where I could catch a train into the city.

He was a salesman and knew this part of South Africa quite well, having had to travel from community to community to sell his products, clothing. When I mentioned that I was a teacher in Tanganyika he asked if I knew the Bata shoe story. “No,” I answered and he proceeded to tell me.

The company had made an audit of its East African Bata sales and saw that they could be much better so they sent a team of staff people to the area and analyzed the situation. After three months the team submitted their findings.

Their conclusion was that shoe sales in East Africa were not going well “because most people didn’t wear shoes.” That was 1948. Twelve years later another team of researchers made a survey of the Bata territory. This time it was lead by a high-powered very successful mid level outside company executive.

His groups submitted their report concluding that there was excellent potential for expanding shoe sales in East Africa for the same reason that was given for the opposite conclusion twelve earlier, because most people didn’t wear shoes.

When I asked him about the unusual tarmac road strips I had seen in the north of the country, he said that is exactly what they are “strip roads”. They still existed in a number of communities throughout the country in the early 1960s when I traveled there. They were vestiges of the Great Depression.

During the 1930’s the government wanted to give more of the country all weather roads but lacked the funding necessary to do it as completely as was necessary. The compromise solution was to lay down two strips of asphalt for the traffic traveling in both directions.

When on coming vehicles met each other, both vehicles simply moved over more on their passenger side of the road and had their tires on one strip only. After they passed each other, each vehicle returned to driving on both strips of tarmac again. The idea was workable and helped link up communities that had foul weather transportation problems.

Of the metropolitan centers, two are noted for splitting major governmental functions, Cape Town is the Legislative Capital and Pretoria the Administrative Capital. History helps to explain why the two urban centers have a shared power base in the republic’s government.

The Dutch East Indian Company established a permanent settlement in Cape Town in 1652 when Holland was one of the dominant commercial powers in Europe. By the early 19th Century England was a dominant naval, commercial, a political power in the world, and the Cape of Good Hope Province was of increasing importance to England because of its Asian interest, especially its increasing valuable British East Indian investments in India.

The festering troubles between Great Britain and the Cape Province Dutch “Boers”, farmers, growing since the late 18th Century pressured the Boers out of the Cape Province, lock, stock, and barrel in 1836 to a new chose land.

One of the major problems was the fact that the African Zulu kingdom was already living where the Boers intended to move; and, by coincidence, the Zulu kingdom under King Shaka was expanding. War was inevitable by politics of the period.

The less technologically advanced Zulu were defeated at the Battle of Blood River in 1838 but were still a major power and influence in the territory for the next 40 years. Great Britain relentlessly absorbed more Boer areas beginning with the formal control of the Cape Province in 1841, annexing Natal Province in 1843.

The remaining Boer areas of Orange Free State and the Transvaal stood until Gold was discovered in the Transvaal in 1886 and diamonds in the Orange Free State in 1887. Like in California’s 1849 gold rush the influx of miner, adventurers, and entrepreneurs upset the settled order.

In the case of South Africa, the Boers rebelled, first in 1881-82 and later in 1899-1902. The final military victory went to Great Britain, but politically, both contesting parties shared concessions, Cape Town becoming the legislative capital and Pretoria becoming the administrative capital for the entire nation was among them.

Each of the metropolitan areas I visited; such as, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town had a touch of Anglo-Dutch flair with a rainbow of Southern African tribal customs, languages, clothing, and life styles.

The tribal Homelands Act of 1959 was yet another stick of kindling on the combustible heap of racial laws, restrictions, and provocations intended to ghettoize the Black community in the White Government’s Apartheid racial policies.

Like the American Indian reservations, the homelands were to restrict the Black to the poorest lands in the least visible locations. But in South Africa the Blacks should be close enough to urban areas to work in the White factories, on their farms and homes to keep the White society running smoothly.

It took years, but by 1989-1990 apartheid began to be dismantled. In 1991 South African President De Klerk, Mandela of the ANC, African National Congress, Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom party, and some 20 smaller antiapartheid groups signed an accord to end factional violence, DeKlerk proposed a new constitution that provided a new government with universal suffrage and a two chamber parliament open to all races, and by May 1996 South Africa had completed the transition to democracy by establishing a strong central government, creating a Bill of Rights, and an independent judiciary.

African Safari, Part 4.

Copyright © R. M. Martin, Peace Corps, Tanganyika III, Traveling South, 1963.

Memoirs Directory for Robert M. Martin.