Thommo Hart
Thommo Hart

Trailblazing duo value their history

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Oct 17, 2020

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Durban - Thommo Hart and Simphiwe Ngcobo have walked together in the footsteps of John Ross, to Maputo and back – Hart barefoot, in his quest to break a world record.

Now they’re going to follow cattle trails, up the Thukela River and to the Battlefields, to explore the idea of creating a tourism route offering storytelling alongside hiking.

“The idea is to map a trail and create it as a reconciliation trail,” said Hart, who this time will wear shoes.

Simphiwe Ngcobo

“Instead of cancelling history, let’s reflect on it in terms of the lessons it can teach us. From all sides, the Zulu, the English and the Boer.”

The route is from Greytown to Dundee and mostly through communal land where fences aren’t the obstacle they would be in commercial farmland.

Battle sites along the way include the gorge where the British ambushed followers of Bambatha, the chief of the Zondi clan, who led a rebellion against hut tax in 1906.

The British had introduced it to put pressure on Zulus to seek work within the Colony of Natal where businesses and farms had found it difficult to recruit labour as a result of competition from the Witwatersrand mines.

From there, Hart and Ngcobo aim to move on to Isandhlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Blood River and the battle sites around Dundee.

The Battle of Blood River, in 1838, was a clash between a Zulu impi and Voortekkers led by Andries Pretorius. Its anniversary, on December 16 became the Day of the Vow, now changed to The Day of Reconciliation.

In January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War, the British defended a mission station at Rorke’s Drift, leading to the awarding of 11 Victoria Crosses. At Isandlwana, the British suffered their worst defeat to an indigenous army with inferior military technology.

The Battle of Talana Hill was the first major clash in the Second Anglo-Boer War, in 1899. All are in the area of Dundee.

The two men, who met while studying at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, have links to the area during the time of the wars, through their own blood lines.

Ngcobo’s are more vague and he learned of them through oral history.

“My grandfathers spoke of there having been in a war at the time,” said the film producer whose family roots are “scattered far and wide, including the Eastern Cape”.

“I would like to first find out more, so I can speak about it accurately.”

Hart has letters between his great grandfather, a surgeon-general called Frank Armstrong who had been posted in what today are the eastern Cape and Lesotho, with his friend Colonel Richard Thomas Glyn, from the front at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879.

Armstrong, who was also a friend of Moshoeshoe, founder of the Basotho nation, has also written books on wars that took place in today’s Eastern Cape and Lesotho, his great-grandson said.

They plan to name the route the Buffalo Trail, after the tributary of the Thukela they will follow after its confluence with KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest river.

Ngcobo said he expected this trip to be different to their John Ross adventure through KZN, Swaziland and Mozambique in 2016 because there would be more interacting with people to hear their stories.

They also hope to encourage them to be interested in the history around them in the hope that its link to tourism could help lift them from harsh lives made more awful from the effects of Covid-19, said Ngcobo.

“This is our Soweto,” he said referring to where grassroots community tourism has become well established.

To get fit for their adventure, which is scheduled to start on October 20, Hart has taken up trail running around Pietermaritzburg and Ngcobo runs along Durban’s beachfront daily.

Hart, meanwhile, has kept up his ambition to break the barefoot world record which someone else grabbed while he was busy following John Ross’s footsteps.

Some time in the future, he and Ngcobo hope to walk from Johannesburg to Cape Town, via the Drakensberg, to beat the existing record of 2 200km in an expedition they will dub “Move A Nation”.

“We wish to promote peace, unity and sustainability by providing hope, selling inspirational stories.”

The Independent on Saturday

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