Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Mother Africa - 1 June 2004
Don t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes, is the warning to 100 British soldiers desperately fighting off an attack by 4000 Zulu warriors.
Fresh from a massive victory against British forces a few miles away they come. The young warriors, eager to wash their spears in blood to win the right to marry, deflect bullets by tilting their hardened cowskin shields.
The British hear the Zulu war chant behind an adjacent hill. The Zulu prince appears on the skyline and he cries out. The hill turns black with bodies and so starts the twelve hour marathon of bravery on both sides.
It was 22 January 1879 at Rorkes Drift in present day South Africa. The small force was guarding a massive supply depot and a hospital. It was the first day of fighting after King Cetshwayo ignored the British ultimatum to disband his expanding Zulu army.
The hospital falls to the attackers. Smashing through internal mud walls patients and soldiers beat a fighting retreat through the building. A daredevil rescue through dead man s land of spears and bullets brings them to the makeshift fortress of corn meal sacks and biscuit boxes. It is hell. Black bodies pile up four deep. The Martini Henry rifles in non stop use burn hands. The Zulu retreat left the British with just 600 rounds of ammunition from an initial 20,000. Eleven Victoria Cross medals were awarded by Britain, the most for any one battle. The same if not more would have been won by the Zulus.
A group of 15 tourists were sat listening to the battle being recounted by David Rattray in the shade of the church built on the site of the former store house. David, internationally known for his battlefield tours and winner of the Royal Geographical Society Ness Award in 1999, invited me to join the tour. I spend a few nights at his palacial lodge (www.fugitives-drift-lodge.com) and experience the battles through David s life breathing enactments. It was my great great Uncle who served with the Ninth Lancers and died at Rorkes Drift, according to family history, which brought me to this place. The IXL ranch in Wyoming USA was named after him. David consulted his library and told me that there was no Milward at Rorkes Drift and the Ninth Lancers were never here! Sorry Milwards.
I left Argentina with a farewell to the many friends I had made, in particular Jeremias Cifarelli who had me as a house guest a lot longer than he bargained for! I will wait for you in Europe Jeremias. US$900 all in got me to Capetown with Malaysia Airlines, at about half price, and South Africa customs waived all import charges.
South Africa has eleven official languages, one of which is English, another Afrikaans and the rest are indigenous languages. For the next few months at least I shall be in countries where English is well understood.
I spend a week in Capetown, at a backpackers in Long Street then with Greg Perkins and family who runs the Ulysses Motorcycle Club. They are over 40 year old riders growing old disgracefully . We organize a hasty presentation for the group at a motorcycle clubhouse, they take me for a ride round the Cape and help with a few bike preparations. Someone told me my bike is looking tired, but not as much as me after my walk down Table Mountain! I think my bike will make it home, after all there is only the length of Africa to go. I don t know about my teeth though, I plugged a gap left by a filling which fell out with epoxy glue, feeling unable to face a dentist at this moment.
I ride up the beautiful Garden Route on the Indian Ocean coast and stop in East London to meet the Ulysses chapter where I stay with Rodney Hiles. He cracked a shoulder bone by falling off at a race day, where I rode a lap of the Grand Prix circuit. It was a good test for new shock absorbers and cush drive plate, sorted out by the Terrence and his workshop at Ranger.
The Ranger (www.rangerlifecycle.com) is a motorcycle and sidecar outfit available in several forms. It can be used by development workers as an ambulance, a media and education unit, for a range of agricultural jobs, for medical outreach and immunization and by police and the fire service. Local government has just ordered a batch of 20 units.
Further inland I visit the small country of Losotho, the Kingdom in the Sky. The Basothos are much more confident than the blacks in South Africa, probably because they never lived under the apartied system. Thaba Bosiu (Mountain of the Night), is where Chief Moshoeshoe fended off attacks by Zulus and whites from 1824. There are substantial remains of the King s dwellings and the royal cemetery of Lesotho. The views from here extend far and wide and I chat with a two visiting Bishops. Later I ride past the Highlands Water Project which supplies much of South Africa and Lesotho with water and cross the middle of the country, the mountain passes reminding me of remote Peru. I ride down Sani Pass back to South Africa just before the border is closed. I have to ride ride up and down again, and up and down once more. Not just for fun, but to retrieve my gel seat cover, which has been very dear to me since the USA. I fall off to avoid a collision with a slow moving minibus full of buddhist monks. With passport already stamped I manage to get through the two locked gates and accept a night of hospitality from the posh from Sani Pass Hotel.
Democracy is only 10 years old following the demise of apartied, under which racist beliefs were enshrined in law for 50 years. I feel the buzz. There is a newness and expectancy among the blacks. The people, both blacks and whites, have great respect for Nelson Mandela. I stood in his cell on Robben Island, a few km offshore at Capetown, where he was incarcerated for 18 years. Many whites say they wish the change had come 20 years earlier, few have expressed open racism. Whites are now unemployable in the traditional sense and have become self employed. Thousands upon thousands of blacks still live in shanty towns, and although government is building economic housing, the housing situation still appears very severe. I wrote to Mandela s foundation but he was too busy to meet me!
Crime is the number one complaint of South Africans. Of course it comes from poverty. Poverty also breeds HIV/AIDS, with women turning to commercial sex after husbands die of the disease. Swaziland, where I am emailing from, is now the world leader in AIDS cases. Swaziland, the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, is proud of maintaining their ancient customs and culture. It managed to win back full independence after fending off Zulu attacks, shrewdly siding with the British and not the Boers, the white South Africans, nor the Portuguese in nearby Mozambique.
Africa is animals. I ve seen hippos, giraffes and zebras. One night at a campsite near the beach the ground was moving with mini crabs or some other creepy crawly flip flops are not the thing for Africa obviously. I have had biting snakes in my arms and a cobra with head turned up ready to spit venom stopped our little convoy at Rorkes Drft.
African music is very rhythmic with a beautiful soft beat. We are came from Africans originally, and I feel mother Africa is opening up her arms to welcome me on my final continent. Morocco here we come.
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle. Supporting Doctors Without Borders, Motorcycle Outreach and democracy.
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