The Kingsley Holgate Rainbow Expedition is over

Jul 19, 2006
Author: P&S

Saving Lives on the Zambezi

Travellers by Arab dhow, Land Rover convoy and inflatable boats, Kingsley Holgate’s GRINDROD backed yearlong expedition in support of malaria prevention has finally reached Chinde at the mouth of the great Zambezi river.

In an expedition dispatch sent through to us from Gary and Nicky Nightingale from Mafambisse on the Pungwe River near Beira, we get the latest news in Kingsley’s words…

“What a river! And the beauty of the Cahorra Bassa gorge that turned Dr Livingstone back on his fateful Zambezi expedition!

In 1977 we lost an outboard engine to the rapids here so this time we’ll have to be more careful. We’re a jolly gang, supported by a willing group of Land Rover journalists and volunteers who are on the river for the week coinciding with Africa Malaria Day.

After 11 months we’re heading home, it’s a great feeling. On the Spirit of Adventure dhow, sailing back from the Somali border, we reached Ilha da Mozambique, the old southern gateway to the dhow trade.

Now after the big rains, it’s by inflatable boats down the great Zambezi. We come across some huge crocs and below the old slave trading river port of Tete we are entranced by the beauty of the Lupata Gorge and Little Mozambique Island rising like a plum pudding out of the centre of the Zambezi. The moon lights up the river, hippo are plentiful, barefoot in the sand we sit around the campfire. After nearly a year on expedition our objective still remains clear – it’s to save lives through adventure and we’re continuing to distribute tens of thousands of mosquito nets to pregnant mums and mothers with babies in remote areas where there are no regular health services. The shocking statistic is that for every minute of every day and night a baby dies from the blood sucking bite of the female Anopheles mosquito and many of the villages we get to don’t have a single mosquito net.

Overloaded with nets, the GRINDROD One Net, One Life support team follows us down the river delivering food, nets, fuel and supplies to the river craft. On Africa Malaria Day we do live radio crossings to SAfm, East Coast Radio, Cape Talk and David O’Sullivan on 702. African skimmers swoop and glide in front of the boat as we reach Mary Livingstone’s grave (the wife of the famous Victorian missionary explorer Dr David Livingstone.) Here at Chupanga on the south bank of the river we pay our respects to this brave woman by distributing nets to mums with babies at the graveside where in 1862 at the age of 41 she was killed by malaria and buried here under a baobab tree. The administrator of Chupanga endorses the expedition scroll of peace and goodwill in support of malaria prevention, in it he writes that nets we distributed here nearly a year ago are still being used and that amongst moms with babies there is a noticeable reduction of malaria in the area.

The mangrove swamps of the Zambezi delta stretch for 8000 square kilometres and malaria is rife. In a small, thatched riverbank hut, a mum with a tiny baby sits in the smoke of a small cooking fire, her husband is out fishing from a dugout canoe. She has no blanket, just a grass mat, a dented tin mug, a pot, a coconut grinder, a wooden grain stamper and NOW a brand new mosquito net. The word soon spreads and mums shout and wave from the opposite bank. After a breakfast of mud-crabs and prawns cooked on the coals we leave from Chinde, at the mouth of the Zambezi, to make our way back upstream to Marromeu. We huddle in the boats as the stinging rain pours down and the wind turns the wide river into a rough sea. Our Zambezi mission accomplished, tomorrow we’ll roll up the boats, tie them onto the Land Rover roof racks and head south through the Gorongoza woodlands to the Pungwe River for a riverboat journey down to Beira and the Indian Ocean, all part of our One Net, One Life odyssey, then its south to ancient Sofala, the Rio Save, Maputo and home.


One Net One Life volunteer Nicky Nightingale’s knuckles tighten on the pontoon rope as a massive brown green crocodile glares at us in open mouthed, ragged toothed amazement before launching himself down the wet black mud bank, to disappear with a splash into the swirling brown waters of the Pungwe.

Earlier in the day Zululander and old friend, Gary Nightingale (who with Nicky has provided a base camp at Mafambisse for the African Rainbow Expedition), waved farewell from the old Bailey bridge that spans the river some 75kms upstream from Beira. At the malaria ridden, thatched village of Pungwe we distributed mosquito nets to grateful mums with babies and to a one-legged man on crutches who, whilst pleadingly requesting a net, vigourously slapped his shoulder to indicate just how bad the mosquitoes are here on the vast Pungwe flood plain. “Was it a crocodile?” I ask, pointing to his stump. “No, a landmine!” he shouts over the roar of the Yamaha outboard as we accelerate downstream.

Heading home after a year long GRINDROD supported African Rainbow expedition from Durban to the Somali border and back, by Arab dhow, Land Rover convoy and inflatable expedition boats our One Net, One Life objective remains perfectly clear – it’s to distribute mosquito nets to mothers with babies in areas such as this, where malaria remains a deadly killer.

From a dugout canoe a fisherman throws a cast net in a perfect arc, the result is several large succulent fresh water Pungwe prawns that he holds up proudly – they make great eating!

Every Saturday over 200 orphans gather under the mango trees near Mafambisse. Called the Mango Tree Kids the Mafambisse Sugar Mill and the local community assist with food and education. The kids have been taken in by foster parents or extended family. As from today they will all sleep with mosquito nets!

Down river the good news is out as from village to village the mothers with babies shout and ululate and gather in small groups to receive nets. Bobo Cossa, our Mozambican malaria educator and expedition member does a great job in giving visual demonstrations on how best to use and treat the nets. Explanations are read from the instruction pamphlets and translated into Sena, the language of the river. The gratitude from the mums is overwhelming as Mashozi and Nicky hand out the nets. George and Bruce record G.P.S. readings and we use our paddles to push us off a sandbank – no one’s eager to jump onto the water and push - we’ve seen too many big crocs for that! The bird life is exquisite – pelican and flamingo, sacred ibis, storks (woolly necked, open and saddle billed), cormorants, spurwing geese, goliath heron by the score, pied and malachite kingfishers, blacksmith plovers, egrets and waterfowl.

Closer to the Indian Ocean the river broadens, the grasslands that once supported vast herds of buffalo become mangrove forests and we zigzag between long mud banks, our 6m rubber duck rides lighter as we give out the last of our mozzie nets and siphon the last of the boat fuel into the tanks. The Kusi trade wind blows from the South East and, burnt brown by the sun, we stop to tie down the kit and pump the large red pontoons. Across the bay the war torn ghost of Beira puts on its best face, lit clean and sparkling by the late afternoon sun. The crossing is choppy and uncomfortable – cold spray, lower backs as shock absorbers, we gun the motor and roar up the beach. Gary Nightingale is there to meet us in the long wheelbase Land Rover, we load the boat ‘Livingstone’ and the kit. The last of the setting sun glows pink on the incoming tide, there’s a feeling of accomplishment as once again we’ve used adventure to improve the lives of the people, this time along the mud banks of the swirling brown Rio Pungwe.

Countdown to the end of the yearlong Grindrod supported AFRICAN RAINBOW EXPEDITION

Day 351 - The Road To Sofala

We’ve survived the Pungwe crocodiles and now the challenge is to take our GRINDROD supported One Net One Life challenge South, to ancient Sofala, the medieval gateway to the East Coast of Africa.

And so, piled high with mosquito nets, the GRINDROD branded convoy of Land Rovers groans down the pot-holed track that runs across the vast Buzi River flood plain.

We pitch camp in the bush. Fresh meat from Beira is thrown on the coals, the sparks light up the night sky. Battered Land Rovers and tents are silhouetted against the rising moon. There’s the solitary call of a nightjar and from the dense thicket behind us comes the nocturnal scream of a bush baby.

We cut the steak into rough strips and serve it with coarse salt Zulu style, on a wooden meat platter. Thumbs and fingers are used as spoons to scoop up balls of thick maize meal porridge, the soot-blackened kettle bubbles on the fire. No fancy restaurants or hotels. Saving lives through adventure ours is a grass roots expedition. I zip my tent flap closed against the mozzies, there’s no wind tonight and the “blighters” are everywhere, my ‘bedroll’ mattress is wearing a bit soft and tonight the ground seems hard. Next to me ‘Mashozi’ switches off her head torch and wraps her old Masai blanket around her shoulders. She’s missing home a bit – our grandson and the dogs – just 14 days to go in this yearlong odyssey.

Day 352 – The Buzi Ferry

From a nearby pan, a fish eagle heralds the dawn. Early morning mugs of steaming hot coffee are held in both hands and a blanket of mist hangs over the flats. By midday it is as hot as hell, as with much shouting and hand signals our convoy of One Net One Life Landies is squeezed onto the welded metal deck of the Buzi River ferry.
Acting as our ‘Ndau’ speaking interpreter, the Captain, a jolly fellow, soon has a number of smiling mums with babies receiving nets and malaria education at the South bank ferry point.

With excited shouts the river men, warn Bobo Cosso, our Mozambican malaria educator and wonderful expedition member not to bathe in the Buzi River, it seems it’s not just the malaria that kills here, it’s also the crocodiles.

Day 353 – Malaria A Killer

Outside the Rio Buzi clinic, opposite the derelict corrugated iron remains of the colonial Buzi Company Sugar Mill, hundreds of mothers, shielding their babies from the sun with brightly coloured umbrellas, line up for mosquito nets. We learn that malaria is the biggest killer here. None of the mums present have nets and there are none for sale in the colourful market stalls, strung out under the shade of wild fig and mango trees.

Day 354 – Stricken Ox Cart

The narrow track to Sofala is beautiful. Tall coconut palms are reflected in clear ponds, studded with pale blue water lilies and surrounded by fields of yellow-brown ripening rice.
An ox cart has slipped off the track into a deep mud hole, we stop to help. One of the oxen has escaped to high ground, the other, wide-eyed and terrified is up to its chest and no amount of pushing and pulling will dislodge it from the clinging goo. With a rope around its horns we use the Land Rover to gently pull it free. Meanwhile, George in the big Land Rover truck emblazoned with the logo of an Anopheles mosquito against a red cross uses extra low gear to extract the cart. The villagers clap and cheer, it’s a great opportunity to distribute more mosquito nets. We learn that just two days ago, a baby died here from malaria.

Day 355 – Tipsy On Tontoto

Tipsy on Tontoto (traditional palm wine), Pedro, a local fisherman sweats profusely as he races alongside the Land Rovers, now slip sliding across a mud pan. Pedro leads us to a mangrove beach and shares our camp stew as we sit around a fire, sheltered from the wind by a broken piece of a dugout canoe. We explain that we are in search of the remains of the old medieval fort that once guarded the entrance to Sofala Bay.

“But first you must feed the monkeys” says Pedro, “many monkeys, they will come in the morning, there’s a shrine across the mangrove creek, we come here to pray for our forefathers, many of whom were captured as slaves here. But in order to propitiate the spirits of our ancestors we must first feed the monkeys – you will see.”

Day 356 – Monkey Offerings

Pedro was right. Through the open flap of our tent, I count more than fifty vervet monkeys, gently grabbing bits of bread and banana. Sitting amongst the tents and on the Land Rovers, chattering away with bulging cheeks of food offerings received from the expedition team.

“Now we can go,” says Pedro. The monkeys follow us across the creek like dogs. The priest gives us white cotton sarongs to cover our knees, incense is burnt, and we’re invited into a small temple and sit cross-legged on colourful mats around the shrine of a dead prophet. We talk of our One Net One Life campaign and give out nets to the priest’s immediate family. At low tide, we walk far out across the wet rippled sand to find the remains of the ancient fort of Sofala, once a great trading terminus for Karanga gold from Monomatapa, slaves, ivory and rhino horn but now just an outline of stones in the sand. We are told that the building blocks were long ago taken away by sea to build the colonial Portuguese cathedral in Beira. Walking back to camp the priest waves as we pass the shrine, he’s feeding the monkeys bits of orange. We’d made it to Sofala and later in the day at the old somewhat abandoned Portuguese hospital, we distribute bales of mosquito nets and malaria education to the mothers of the village.

Day 357 – Sick as a Dog

I feel as sick as dog and treat myself for malaria, we’re camped behind a small bush school. I have one of the worst malaria nights of my life.

Day 358 – Ironic isn’t it

Outside the tents, spirited Ndau women chant and sing as to the beat of the drum they line up for mozzie nets. I choke back a chuckle at the extreme irony of it all. Here I am in my rumpled sleeping bag, stinking of puke and outside, the One Net One Life team is saving lives by promoting malaria prevention. Sure! We use mosquito spray and sleep in mozzie proof tents, but over the years we too have suffered from countless attacks of malaria. It comes with the territory.

We have modern drugs to treat ourselves with but what about those that don’t, mothers and children whose lives could be saved by the use of a simple mosquito net.

People peer inside my tent, they shake their heads in sympathy. One of the woman offer to wash my sleeping bag. The headmaster endorses the scroll of Peace and Goodwill in support of malaria prevention that we are carrying across Africa.

Day 359 – Mouth Of The Save

By late afternoon, with my aching body feeling the pain of every pothole, we make it to the mouth of the Rio Save. Malaria is bad here but amidst much singing and dancing, we are able to distribute mosquito nets from the verandah of a small trading store.

Day 360 – Air Support

At Belene, old friend in adventure, Gary Prentice, volunteers the use of his bright yellow helicopter to fly in nets and do research in villages visited nearly a year ago, as we traveled North. How rewarding to see that the mosquito nets are still in use and that there has been a noticeably reduction in incidents of malaria amongst those mums with babies using nets.

Day 361 – Maputo City

Crisp white sheets, washed, cleaned and fed. Old friends Paul, Liz and Nigel Hallowes have allowed us to set up an expedition camp at their Blue Anchor Inn, some 50 kms north of Maputo, where they spoil us with their wonderful hospitality.

We park the Land Rover convoy at the American school, the pupils sit wide eyed through an African Rainbow Expedition video. Then there are questions and answers about the expedition and autographs to sign. It’s great to share our expedition with young up and coming adventurers.

Day 362 – Life Saving Nets

The One Net One Life helicopter drops a ceremonial bale of nets at a GRINDROD branded malaria event at Machava hospital on the outskirts of Maputo. USAID Mission Director, Jay Knott and the Mayor cut open the bale and we follow with giving out 300 life saving insecticide treated bed nets to mothers with babies. What an exciting day!

Day 363 – Just Two Days To Go

Just two days to go on our yearlong African Rainbow Expedition as our One Net One Life convoy crosses Maputo Bay on the colourful Catembe ferry. We camp in the bush and as always put the word out that tomorrow we’ll be giving out mosquito nets to mums with babies, especially pregnant mums who are most at risk.

Day 364 – The Taste Victory

Under some milkwood trees, just north of the South African border, the wind blows cold with rain. In an act of solidarity in the fight against malaria, we’ve been joined by more One Net One Life Land Rovers. Tomorrow our GRINDROD supported African Rainbow Expedition will cross the border into South Africa. We can taste victory.

Day 365 – GRINDROD Malaria Warriors return to a hero’s welcome

the arrival back home at Shakaland, near Eshowe, South Africa – journey’s end

The GRINDROD supported African Rainbow Expedition in support of malaria prevention has arrived home.

At Shakaland, Kingsley Holgate, KZN’S intrepid modern day explorer and his family team, return home to a hero’s welcome after the successful completion of a yearlong African Rainbow Expedition.

In a scene of great jubilation, the Shakaland dancers escorted the convoy of returning ‘one net one life’ Land Rovers into the cattle kraal now filled with a circle of visiting Land Rovers.

The owners of the vehicles, together with sponsors, media and friends, had turned up to welcome Kingsley and his family home. A few days later, a convoy of 30 Land Rovers escorted the African Rainbow Expedition from Lesedi cultural village to the opening of 4x4 MegaWorld’s new premises in Fourways Johannesburg. A further example of fellow adventurer’s solidarity in the fight against malaria.

Sitting around the fire, a dented mug of Captain Morgan in hand, we caught up with the story of the epic One Net One Life adventure best told in Kingsley’s own words …

‘It’s been an incredible odyssey. Durban to the Somalia border and now back home from where we left exactly one year ago.

A journey by 35 ton Arab sailing dhow aptly named THE SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE, Yamaha powered inflatable boats and a convoy of Land Rovers, following in the footsteps of the early explorers and sailing with the trade winds.

Early dhows built to the same design transported human flesh, raping the East African coast of slaves and ivory. But now, in a humanist turnabout, backed by GRINDROD, and a group of wonderful South African sponsors, our traditional dhow has succeeded in carrying tens of thousands of mosquito nets to pregnant mums and to children under five years of age, in remote areas where there are little or no regular health services.

It has been tough at times, roads that turn into goat tracks, pushing the Landies across rivers, storms out at sea, the danger of unexploded landmines and then young Bruce Leslie stabbed in the neck by a pirate, we had to airlift him out to save his life. Bruce that is, not the pirate.

Close to Somalia, the crew mutinied and we had to proceed with our own militia armed with automatic weapons.

It seems that sometimes you have to risk lives to save lives as at one time or another all the expedition members went down with malaria.

But our one net one life expedition went on regardless and off the coast of Tanzania alone, we were able to be part of a massive campaign to distribute 240,000 mosquito nets to every pregnant mother and to children under the age of five. Not to mention, a further 20,000 nets put in the hands of mums with babies in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Having reached Somalia, our dhow journey, supported by the Land Rover backup party, sailed back south to end at a One Net One Life function at historic Ilha da Mozambique.

Then with even more mosquito nets and coinciding with Africa Malaria Day we launched a 600km malaria prevention journey down the Zambezi from below Caborra Bassa Gorge to the 8000 sq km delta on the Indian Ocean.

The expedition then journeyed down the Pungwe River to Beira, south to ancient Sofala, the mouth of the Rio Save and now, finally back home.

A bit worn out and still running on adrenalin we could not have had a better home coming and the feeling of a job well done in areas where the shocking statistic is ‘Two babies dying, every minute of every day and night from the deadly blood-sucking bite of the female anopheles mosquito’.

GRINDROD can be proud to be associated with the most successful expedition ever undertaken in support of malaria prevention. CONGRATULATIONS! We could not have done it without you.

Kingsley and Gill Holgate (Mashozi) at Shakaland – mission accomplished



Muinto Obrigado, Siyabonga, Asante Sana, and thanks.



Click to go back

  - Contact Us

  - Home