Go and see Africa, urges SA adventurer Holgate

2008-07-21 00:00

Cape Town - Get with it! Get African! This was the strong message from the world-famous explorer and adventurer, Kingsley Holgate, when he returned from his latest journey this weekend.

Holgate, who travelled 62 000 km and distributed mosquito nets in 33 countries in a world-first circumnavigation of the outside edge of Africa, called on South Africans to be more pan-African in their approach to life.

Why is it, he asked, that when he visits privileged schools and asks how many kids have been skiing, a whole lot of hands go up, but only three have been to Victoria Falls?

''We live on the most incredible continent. We should explore it,'' he said.

Holgate's main mission on the trip was to distribute more than 240 000 mosquito nets to some of the most remote corners of the continent, as part of his ''One Net One Life'' malaria prevention campaign. He also distributed educational material on malaria as part of his Teaching on the Edge campaign, while his wife Jill handed out spectacles to people in need as part of her own Right to Sight programme.

Holgate, who left on April 27 last year, carried a scroll of peace and goodwill, which was signed by Nobel prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, as well as by thousands of others, including presidents, priests, chiefs, officials and well-wishers along the way.

During his 449-day trip, which, at times included his seven-year-old grandson Tristan, Holgate and his crew drove the entire coast of Namibia, before moving into Angola. With him were his wife, his son Ross and his girlfriend Anna Muller, as well as other team members.

They went through Congo and Gabon and then into Togo and Benin, where they met the voodoo king.

In Cameroon, Holgate said, ''rain is measured in metres'' - and, after being in Lagos, Nigeria, he assured South Africans that they need never ever complain about traffic congestion in Jo'burg or our other cities.

In Cote d'Ivoire, they came up against ''a bit of remaining tension'' from the recently ended civil war and lots of roadblocks and automatic weapons.

In Liberia they met more friendly people and a devastated infrastructure. Holgate's advice to would be travellers: ''Give it a while.''

They found that Sierra Leone, in spite of its blood diamond past, is recovering well.

In Guinea, the humidity was ''as thick as golden syrup'' - while Senegal was very French, cosmopolitan, hospitable and full of wonderful music. Mauritania, the continent's most sparsely populated country, definitely requires a 4 by 4 to get through, and, in Algeria, it's too dangerous to travel without a heavily armed escort because the Islamic fundamentalists don't like tourists.

Libya was fascinating, but it cost Holgate and his team an arm and a leg to take their vehicles into the country, and alcohol was out of the question.

In war-torn Eritrea, they spent time with the Afar people, who, historically used to castrate their enemies and wear their dried out genitalia around their necks.

Holgate and his team crossed into South Africa from Mozambique on June 24 for the last leg of their journey along the country's east coast.

One thing that Holgate and his team learnt was that, no matter what, there is always a way forward in life.

Judging by some of the rough, muddy terrain they had to negotiate, that is quite a conclusion.

Addressing the crowds who welcomed them back at the Cape Town castle, Holgate said it would take a little adjustment to get back to normal life. ''We've been sitting around campfires for the past 449 nights,'' he said.

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