African Rainbow Expedition sets off by road and dhow

Jun 7, 2005
Author: Terry Hutson

Heading off into Africa on an year-long adventure is old hat for explorer Kingsley Holgate and his family.

The Holgate exploits are legendry, having come into our homes courtesy of National Geographic and in the pages of Holgate’s several books. As a result the 59-year old Kingsley Holgate’s flowing grey hair and bushy beard is instantly recognisable to television audiences the world over. He is in every sense the modern day equivalent of an explorer from a previous era – his personal hero David Livingstone, or Speke, Burton, Baker or Henry Morton Stanley.

But what makes Holgate truly unique in this age of cheque book comfort is that he is fiercely African, born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal, with values that derive from a deep abiding respect and love for this continent, values that are obviously shared by wife Jill and son Ross and immediate circle.

Kingsley Holgate, posing for Ports & Ships in front of one of the vehicles moments before setting off on the latest great adventure – picture by Terry Hutson

Holgate is the son of a missionary who introduced to his family a taste for travel by taking them on long journeys in the family’s 1947 Chevy to far off Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and the Belgian Congo.

Yet it took many years before Holgate began his own life of exploration in the early 1990s, but from then on it has been one adventure after another, including following an imaginary line around the world along the Tropic of Capricorn, across Africa from Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, crossing the continent of South America and then doing the same across Australia and Madagascar.

Where there was no road or path, they walked.

Other explorations saw the family circumnavigating Lake Turkana, and likewise the dried up lake of Makgadigadi by land yacht. He has travelled the waterways from Cape Town to Cairo, and followed in the footsteps of personal heroes, including the two faithful companions of David Livingstone, Chuma and Susi, who displayed unparalleled dedication by carrying the dead missionary’s body through swamp and jungle and across open savannah from present day Zambia all the way to Bagamoyo on the Tanzanian coast, so that Livingstone’s body could be taken home for burial.

His latest journey is as much a mission of mercy as of adventure, which traces the African east coast from Zululand in South Africa to the Kenya-Somali border. With the support of sponsors, and particularly that of Grindrod, South Africa’s leading shipping and logistics company, Holgate’s party set off by Land Rover from Shakaland outside Eshowe early on the morning of Saturday, 4 June, to begin the African Rainbow Expedition.

The purpose of this latest odyssey is to highlight the battle against malaria, Africa’s largest killer, and is a journey that will take them by road to northern Mozambique and then by Arab dhow up the East African Coast as far as the Somali border.

Along the way they will visit remote villages to spread the word that malaria can be beaten, that it does not need to be a death sentence. And although the 10,000 mosquito nets they will distribute are, as Holgate acknowledges, but a drop in the ocean, the example being set will hopefully inspire others to reach out and do more to counter this scourge.

His vision goes beyond simply handling out nets and repellents. “My dream is that a team of doctors will follow in our footsteps, offering their services on a mercy mission to some of these remote places – imagine the difference they could make even if only for limited periods.”

Holgate’s malaria-fighting African Rainbow odyssey encapsulates Grindrod’s maritime roots in Africa, roots that can be traced back into the 19th Century, bringing to life the excitement, dangers, horrors and beauty of the ancient dhow trade.

Which is why Grindrod was so keen to become involved, says managing director Ivan Clark.

“It’s a tragedy that a person should die every minute from something avoidable. I strongly feel that we need to do our best to help turn the tide on a disease dubbed Africa’s silent killer, that affects the most vulnerable, the women and babies.”

Clark said that Grindrod, a shipping and logistics company that carries over 20 million tonnes of cargo on board a hundred ships, has not forgotten its social responsibility.

“While we are striving ahead with plans to grow our business with a R2 Billion fleet and a R1 Bn expansion of land-based operations, we are ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to giving back to society.”

The first part of the African Rainbow Expedition involved travelling by Land Rover to Pemba in northern Mozambique, where a hand-built sailing dhow of ancient design, of the kind that still carry trade goods and once carried ivory and slaves, awaits them. Once in Pemba the expedition team will prepare the dhow for the great adventure that lies ahead, an adventure that may take up to a year.

the journey begins – Kingsley Holgate’s Land Rover departs from Shakaland in Zululand, South Africa on 4 June 2005. Picture Terry Hutson

With the help of Swahili-speaking sailors this ancient craft will take them to remote villages along the coast where they will give out educational material and distribute life-saving anti-mosquito impregnated nets and other preventative measures.

The expedition will also travel along some of the many rivers by way of inflatable boats to reach otherwise inaccessible villages.

Holgate says that in remote places like the Rufiji delta fishermen have to paddle for days by dugout to reach the nearest clinic. He recalls that while circumnavigating Lake Victoria on an earlier expedition he was shocked by the number of deaths caused by malaria, with babies crying out for help and mothers not knowing what to do.

He has personal experience of malaria and knows what the disease can do. “After 38 attacks I’ve learnt my lesson – I now sleep under mosquito nets and when infected treat immediately or risk death somewhere out in the African bush.”

Holgate also hopes to sail a dhow around Lake Victoria distributing the same material.

Through the courtesy of Grindrod, which is in regular contact with Kingsley Holgate, Ports & Ships will keep readers informed of their progress throughout this mission of adventure and mercy.



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