Why it took 25 years to get to South Africa by James King


An excerpt from South Africa Diaries by James King

Shattered dreams

When I heard the news, on 11th November 1965, that Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) had declared UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) I was devastated. I had just been selected to represent the combined British tobacco companies in a party of cricketers to tour Rhodesia for six weeks. We were to be the guests of the Rhodesian tobacco farmers and would have, by all accounts, been royally accommodated and entertained. In addition the scheduled cricket matches would have been of a generally higher standard than our regular weekend encounters at club level. All expenses, including an allocation of ‘fun’ money for personal use, were to be provided by the British tobacco companies and our salaries would continue to be paid as though we were still making ‘cigarettes’. We had even been fitted for tour blazers, my bags were packed, and I nearly had one foot on the plane. Then, with one stroke of a pen, a young man’s dream of visiting Africa was shattered by a bunch of politicians on the other side of the world. [See Note 1]

Although I visited the Gambia, Kenya and Morocco between 1979 and 1983 it wasn’t until November 1990, twenty-five years after Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith made the fateful declaration which scuppered the tour, that I eventually made it to South Africa.

First stop Durban


I stepped off the plane, to a typically hot and humid Durban day. Fellow passengers must have been questioning my sanity as I was heard to say, “How come a journey that normally takes around 12 hours took a record breaking twenty-five years?”

Having waited so long I wasn’t about to waste a minute of my three month stay, especially as there was business to be done between socialising, exploring and learning as much as I could about South Africa. My business partner’s son who was already in Durban had rented an apartment on the beach front at Umhlanga Rocks, a short drive north of the City. The modern three bedroomed condo with swimming pool and sea views, soon became home for the three of us.

Out of an English winter and into a South African summer, it didn’t take long before I was frolicking in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, prior to partying in the boisterous Durban night scene. I approached swimming with caution, as the surf was big and so were the sharks. I think I took less care in the evenings and was probably in more danger of drowning in the excessive hospitality that Durban was renowned for in those days.

An exciting but hairy drive south

The first week flashed by and we drove out of Umhlanga just as the sun was rising. David and I were joined by another David on our journey south down the N2 through Kokstad via the Wild Coast towards the Transkei. We crossed the border and arrived in the town of Umtata before nightfall. Umtata was the capital of the former Homeland of Transkei and was later renamed Mthata.  [See Note 2]

South African David drove the whole way, while I absorbed the breath-taking scenery but missed the signs which said we were approaching a border post. It was late in the day and I was tired. The border crossing was uneventful, largely because I slept through it. Once I woke, I noticed a marked change in the landscape. One minute the cattle were in the fields, nicely fenced off from the road. Suddenly, they were in the road and the only fences I could see, were broken and collapsed. We were no longer in Natal, South Africa. We had crossed the invisible line and were now in the Homeland they called the Transkei.

Night was falling fast and we were still some way from our destination, Umtata. The condition of the roads had deteriorated so the combination of failing light, potholes in shadow and the occasional cow in the headlights lengthened the journey. Traveller accommodation did not exist between the towns, in the uninhabited wilderness. So ploughing on to Umtata was the only option; a period of the journey which we undertook with some trepidation and a few scary moments.

Thank heaven South African David knew these parts well, spoke fluent Xhosa and had the foresight to put a twenty-four-pack case of Castle in the boot.


 [Note 1] The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (commonly referred to as UDI) was a statement adopted by the Cabinet of Rhodesia on 11 November 1965, announcing that Rhodesia, a British territory in Southern Africa that had governed itself since 1923, now regarded itself as an independent sovereign state. The culmination of a protracted dispute between the British and Rhodesian governments regarding the terms under which the latter could become fully independent, it was the first unilateral break from the United Kingdom by one of its colonies since the United States Declaration of Independence nearly two centuries before. Britain, the Commonwealth and the United Nations all deemed Rhodesia’s UDI illegal, and economic sanctions, the first in the UN’s history, were imposed on the breakaway colony. Amid near-complete international isolation, Rhodesia continued as an unrecognised state with the assistance of South Africa and Portugal. (Source Wikipedia)

[Note 2]During the Apartheid years 10 Bantustans (Homelands), which were areas allocated to blacks, were demarked for independence. After the end of white rule in 1993 the Homelands experiment was abandoned and South African citizenship was restored to the residents and the homelands were re-integrated again with the provinces.

Written by James King


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