10 000km, 250 000 meals delivered: we joined Holgate on his latest Land Rover expedition
MOOLMANSHOEK, FREE STATE - You get people who think they are celebrities or influencers, you get real celebrities and influencers in popular culture and then there's Kingsley Holgate.
Neither an influencer nor a celebrity in the modern meaning of the word, but the easily recognisable, tall, bearded man who has done so much good work over the years and has been instrumental in keeping the Land Rover off-road ethos.
When the Covid pandemic put a no entry sign on borders all around the world it would have been difficult for an explorer like Holgate and his son Ross to comprehend. There they were with brand new Land Rover Defenders and pretty much locked in.
But as with many things, adversity brings out the best in some and so the Holgate foundation along with Land Rover embarked on a trip that would circumnavigate the land borders of South Africa and in the process more than 250 000 meals would have been distributed and thousands of South Africans assisted during some of the darkest times we've experienced.
The Defender Mzansi Expedition covered 10 000km and when they dropped anchor they would have been on the road for 70 days.
We joined the team flying into Bloemfontein to drive parts of the Eastern Free State, as they kept as close as possible to the Lesotho border, to spend time with the new Defender and also take part in some of the humanitarian work the foundation along with Land Rover was doing.
I have been fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time in the Defender and have done some serious off-roading with it but it continues to impress with its ability both on tar and the dirt where we spent most of our time.
My driving companion who likes a rival Japanese brand, was equally impressed and I couldn't agree more with his sentiments that the air suspension fitted to the Defender 110 was the best yet experienced in any vehicle as it took gravel surfaces, potholes and corrugated surfaces in its stride.
We were behind the wheel of the D240 for the first two days which is fitted with a two litre turbo-diesel engine that's good for 177kW and 430Nm of torque and more than ample for its application.
As part of the route and to test its ability properly we drove a bit of the Moolmanshoek 4x4 route which would also be our overnight stop.
There were some very steep rock ascents and descents which fully put the 291mm ground clearance and 500mm of suspension articulation to the test thanks to the brilliant second-generation Terrain Response system easily activated via the touchscreen.
Day two would see us first stop at a one-teacher, one classroom mixed-aged primary school in the mountains against the Lesotho border. The children were given instant sorghum porridge with all the nutrients a growing child needs, soap, masks and educational material.
We followed dirt roads towards Clarence with the chorus of the kids still in our ears to hand over the bulk of the food we were carrying to Bana ba Hlokang (Children in need).
Before that though we stopped at the As River where Holgate would throw in a thimble of water into a calabash, a tradition he has kept alive throughout all his epic travels as he crosses countries and their rivers and on completion gets poured out either into the sea or a river mouth as a symbolic gesture.
Bana ba Hlokang is part of Combined Churches in Action where more than 200 orphans and vulnerable children are fed a good meal Monday to Friday and receive a wide range of educational programmes, computer skills, art classes, language training, choir, maths and indoor and outdoor sport.
We handed out 150 bags of food as the children sang, danced and thanked us. It was enough for 15 000 meals and will last a couple of months and while the day was indeed very humbling and made you appreciate what you have, I couldn't help but leave with a tinge of sadness.
This was one facility in one town looking after 250 children that the community is aware of. What's happening in other cities, towns and villages across the country? What happens to those orphans and vulnerable little ones that aren't so lucky?
I doubt the first school we visited has ever seen an inspector from the Department of Basic Education. The children have to walk kilometres to get there because the transport system is wholly dysfunctional.
And remember when government decreed that all assistance to those in need during Covid had to be centralised? You think those children would have received anything?
Our mortality rate would have rocketed, not because of Covid-related deaths but by easily preventative malnutrition and starvation.
So yet again it falls on private citizens, NGOs and corporate South Africa to show empathy and caring while those ostensibly in charge enrich themselves with PPE tenders and police us about when we can travel, what we can eat, drink, wear or who we can visit.
Where is the outrage, moral indignation, marches and hashtags from political organisations across the spectrum showing their support and contributions to the marginalized?
Anyway, those were my musings and rants as we headed along dirt roads to our hosts Simon and Cheryl Blackburn at the splendid Three Tree Hill Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal and our final night.
It's a stone's throw from Spioenkop where the famous battle took place during the Anglo Boer war. Interestingly, General Louis Botha, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill all played a part during the two day skirmish.
When we left to fly back from Pietermaritzburg we were behind the wheel of the Defender P400, a straight six-cylinder turbo-charged petrol mill with mild hybrid technology that delivers a sweet 294kW and 550Nm and sounds throaty to boot.
Throttle response is obviously a lot quicker than the diesel and it's quick off the mark should you want to give it a hard right foot, but the underpinnings are the same and the ride quality remains superb as does the look and feel of the interior.
So, after three days what do you take home?
My opinion of the Defender still hasn't changed. It's supremely good off-road (probably the best stock standard off the showroom floor) it's immensely comfortable to drive and a worthy replacement for the icon that everyone loves or loves to hate.
Government can't or won't take care of the vulnerable and those struggling to improve their lives, especially in rural areas. That's up to citizen SA .
Exploration within our own boundaries is limitless. We have a truly beautiful country. Make the effort to get to know it better.
Kingsley Holgate is a legend, just like the Defender. He will keep you regaled with stories that will make you shake your head, belly laugh and even shed a tear, but most of all he is a mensch.
Oh, and Land Rover also announced some new derivatives for 2021
A plug-in hybrid, P400e, with a 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine combined with an electric motor producing 297kW and providing 43km of electric driving range.
I reckon the D300, powered by a 3.0 litre straight-six turbo-diesel engine that produces 221kW and 650Nm of torque will be the pick of the bunch when it arrives.
The short wheel base Defender 90 also goes on sale next year.