In 1992, with our years in Cape Town behind us, we put our belongings in storage in preparation for a journey. Well, actually, we filled up my mom’s spare room with boxes and dropped Bingo off with Inge. Then we hopped on a plane bound for New York via London. The next five months we spent traveling around the USA and absorbing another culture, one very different from our own. Most of the time I did not feel we even spoke the same language as the Americans! While it was eye opening to witness an efficient and confident first world society at work, I started longing for home and the charm of our African way.

On our return to Johannesburg we heard that the Mozambiquan civil war, which had lasted over twenty years, had drawn to a close. The country was as yet far from having any infrastructure, or advice for the few travellers who might be crazy enough to want to travel in it. Undaunted we set off for Maputo in our Toyota Land Cruiser, the replacement for the old Isuzu bakkie. Our travel companions were Lance Gewer, an old friend and filmmaker, from art school days, and Fatima, his Mozambiquan girlfriend. From day one we were captivated by the vast expanse of the country, so beautiful in its ever-changing landscape and never-ending beaches.
While we were in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique (erstwhile Lorenzo Marques), we stayed with Fatima’s family. They were well-off compared to the rest of the city’s population, but facilities in their house were basic, though very comfortable. There was water only between two and five in the morning, and this was not water running from a tap! Water had to be collected, in a bucket tied to a rope, by a person specifically employed for this task, from a manhole in the driveway. When bath time came round water in a bucket was placed in the bath tub. There was an electric element to warm the water, and a cup to help us wet ourselves. The warming element looked like a large version of those elements used to heat single cups of water for coffee. Another bathroom adaptation we learned was that, in order to flush the loo, one needed to fill first the cistern from yet another bucket.
The Maputo streets were full of impoverished people, busy trying to eke out an existence among the crumbling ruins of colonial splendour. Although they were very dirty and full of litter, the broad avenues were lined down their centers and on both sides with flamboyant trees, their trunks painted white. The promenade near the harbour was a far stretch from what it must have been in the Portuguese heyday, but the “Africaness” and energy of the bustling town were enthralling. I’ll never forget the bombed shells of the apartment blocks. They reached some few stories high and had no facades, but the side walls still stood. People were living in those spaces, despite the fact they would fall to their deaths if they walked off the floor of the living area.
Everyone was clearly reduced to the basics, materialistically and emotionally. The Red Cross and United Nations was there in full force, helping to resettle people and get basic services going again. Most of the returning refugees were settling along the main arterial “road” running north/south, the length of the country. This road was barely negotiable. In most places it consisted of thin edges of tar surrounding potholes deep enough to swallow up a vehicle with no trouble at all. The rusted skeletons of vehicles lay scattered along the roadside – remnants of the recent passing of war.
After a couple of days in Maputo we crossed the bay by ferry en route to Ponto do Ouro. We had intended doing a day trip, but, with the going so slow because of the state of the roads, we decided to camp at Ponto do Ouro, just north of the South African boarder. I think we had expected there to be more people amongst the shells of the old ramshackle holiday homes. The semi-deserted town had a surreal ambience. We found a place to make camp and, after a walk on the pristine beach, settled down to prepare supper on the fire. We had just started eating when a man silently approached us and sat down among us. Over his shoulder there hung an AK-47 automatic rifle, which we tactfully ignored. We handed him some food and drink, which he consumed, before, as silently as he had come, getting up and going off, leaving the rest of us quite at a loss for words.
We had been warned not to drive at night, as bandits were still robbing travellers along the road. On most evenings, again having underestimated the rate of our progress because of the bad state of the roads, we were caught in the middle of nowhere and became a little panic stricken. Often on seeing a dim flicker of light approaching us, and not wanting to stray too far from the road because of land mines, we would pull over and wait with our lights switched off. Usually it was a truck coming towards us with the driver holding a flash light out his window to light his way. Such trucks were filled to the brim with people returning to the places they had called home.
The food was delightful! Fresh fish and prawns, always with hot chips, garlic, lemon and peri-peri sauce. We would stop at filthy little kiosks, order lunch, and retreat into the warm Indian Ocean until we were called for the meal. We were always amazed by the beer being ice cold, whereas the fish first had to be caught before being cooked fresh. Perhaps space for beer in a fridge was at a higher premium than for food!
We stopped for a few days at a place called Torfinio. It was close to the deserted town of Torfu Bay. The bay itself was unspoilt beach and we chose a camping spot on a grassy hill dotted with lala palms. Between the stretches of beach were high, jagged, rocky outcrops, which provided great crayfishing spots down where the waves met the shore. Perched above our campsite was an enormous reproduction of a clenched fist celebrating Mozambique’s communist past. We climbed to the top of our ridge where we found a broken glass case – perhaps from a museum display in better days - in which there was the remains of a human skeleton! We could not help but shudder at the thoughts of what events might have unfolded right there during the civil war.
After a day or two we tried to start up the Toyota to charge its battery that was running a small fridge. As luck would have it the battery was flat, so we decided we would push the vehicle down the hill and hope it would start before rolling into the ocean about fifty meters away. Although risky, it was do-able, until the car became wedged against a thicket of lala palms. We tried to cut the car free, but could not make enough of an impression to do so. Our next option was to send Fatima and Lance off on foot to find someone to help us. Hours later they returned in a battered Isuzu bakkie (same model as our old one). The driver and owner turned out to be a taxi driver from Soweto and warmly greeted us fellow countrymen. We opened up the bonnet only to find a very bare engine, with no chance of a jumpstart, because there was no battery at all. In fact the workings of the car were so basic that a plastic container on the roof of the cab gravity-fed diesel to the engine! Eventually rescuers arrived in the form of two soldiers in a United Nations jeep. Their vehicle had no keys and was started by two wires being brought together under the dashboard. Nevertheless, they were able to tow us out and help us get our car going to continue our journey.
We were aiming north for Beira, but the going on the North Road was too slow and eventually we had to turn back at a place called Inhassoro. By then we reckoned the treat of an overnight stay in a hotel was in order. A Zimbabwean woman who ran the hotel explained that she only kept a few rooms open, as business was a tad slow. We sat down to grilled chicken for lunch and to our surprise the hotelkeeper helped us polish off the meal. We did not mind, as it was the toughest chicken ever to end up on a plate. While we were eating we noticed some small chalets between the hotel and the sea and asked whether we could not spend the night in one of “the garden chalets” rather than in the available rooms she had mentioned earlier. She agreed happily - but we should have immediately packed our bags and left when she hauled out a crowbar to open up one of the front doors! However, always game for another “last time ever” experience, we stepped into a room that had probably not been touched in many years. The beds were actually made up, but cobwebs, visible in the pale green light coming through net curtains, hung from the ceiling. It should not be necessary to say that we did not make it through the night! Cockroaches crawled incessantly over us, until we finally staggered out onto the verandah for a few hours of shut-eye.
In the sharp light of the morning we were greeted by hundreds of grinning children who must have been marvelling at us silly whities sleeping outside a perfectly good brick building. As an icebreaker we brought out a Polaroid camera and took photos of some of the kids and let them photograph us. I guess most of them had never seen a camera before, let alone one that made instant images. I know for sure that - somewhere around Inhassoro - there are photos lying around that I would dearly love to see again.
Upon our return to South Africa we started settling down in Johannesburg. In early 1993 Jurie was planning to complete his doctorate at Pretoria University and I was going to expand my healthy little textile-printing business. However, just as most good plans in our lives have had a way of being changed, we had a car accident in our Land Cruiser two blocks away from the Johannesburg cottage we had just bought. Cuts, bruises, and a broken shoulder later, enlarging my business no longer seemed like a good idea to me. I needed time to heal and come up with a better option.
We met with Tilman Ludin, Jurie’s godfather, concerning the future of the two game-farms, Gowrie and the adjacent Renosterhoop, Jurie had inherited in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin (Game Reserve). Basically, Tilman advised us to consider selling the land, which was valuable. At that time the South African political scenario was uncertain and there were concerns that the game farms may face land-reclamation if they were not developed properly. The land was held in trust, with Tilman as one of the trustees, and we needed to get a plan down on paper in order to justify to the trust why Renosterhoop and Gowrie should be developed and not sold.
As 1993 progressed we were seriously into the throes of business plans, and full of dreams for the future. The roller coaster ride of the next thirteen years was about to begin.

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Our African Way