13,650 km, 11 countries - How Durbanite Sthembiso Mthembu lived his dream and toured Africa on his bike

Sthembiso Mthembu with a member of the Maasai people of Kenya during his motorcycle tour of Africa. Picture: Supplied

Sthembiso Mthembu with a member of the Maasai people of Kenya during his motorcycle tour of Africa. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 19, 2024


Touring a country on a motorcycle is a dream many bike enthusiasts share, maybe with a group of friends or a loved one, but in some cases, a lone wolf ventures out into the wilderness in search of himself.

Touring a continent, such as beautiful as Africa, that’s a dream few achieve, and a dream even fewer have the guts to achieve.

But after Sthembiso Mthembu from Durban got onto his Honda CB400N for the first time in 1997, the four-stroke, air-cooled twin-cylinder engine spoke to him and told him to go on tour.

At the time, Mthembu was not aware of how far a journey he would make, inspiring those around him in the process, including his two teenage sons.

Sthembiso Mthembu’s BMW R 1250 GS parked alongside a road in Tanzania. Picture: Supplied

“It is a feeling I wouldn't describe in words; it has been one of my biggest dreams to ride across other African countries,” the Durbanite said.

Working in construction, prioritising finances over your children and daily needs takes precedence, Mthembu said, and thus he had to save up for a while before he took the journey from KwaZulu-Natal to Kenya.

The Amanzimtoti resident sold his Yamaha R1 for something more suitable for the journey and was in the market for some time before coming across a bike he never once thought he’d see himself on.

Sthembiso Mthembu and his BMW R 1250 GS Touring Bike, which he bought from Supertech in Pinetown in October 2023. Picture: Supplied

The BMW R 1250 GS.

Coming from a superbike, the R 1250 GS is a completely different riding style, which offers a more comfortable and relaxed riding experience as opposed to the race-like feel you would get from a R1.

“I knew I was going to buy a touring bike, but I just didn’t know which. Then I came across one at BMW in Pinetown.

“I spoke to the salesman for quite a while, and he explained everything to me in detail. I told him I wanted the bike to go on this journey, and he suggested the R 1250 GS to me.

“At first, I was hesitant, but after riding the bike home on the first day, I called him back and said, ‘This is the one’,” Mthembu told IOL.

The R 1250 GS parked outside the entrance to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Picture: Supplied

IOL confirmed with Supertech Motorrad in Pinetown the purchase of the pre-owned BMW R 1250 GS bike, which was made in October 2023. It had around 4,000 km on the clock at the time of sale.

After securing his bike, the Durban Knight member had to arrange his finances for the trip.

“I was saving for a long time, and then I got an opportunity to go, and I knew I wasn’t going to get another for a long time. I budgeted around R130,000 for the entire trip, which covered my fuel, visa documents, carbon fuel tax, and all of those charges you have to pay when driving in another country.

“I did not keep track of how much I spent on fuel, but I can tell you the price of fuel fluctuated a lot, and I even paid in dollars,” Mthembu explained.

The biggest hiccup along the journey happened in Burundi, as Mthembu was unable to ride his motorcycle through the mud-riddled roads of a village and had to get off and push it in the rain.

Mounds of mud made it extremely difficult for Mthembu to drive through a village in Burundi, and he had to be helped by locals to push the bike more than 2 km to the nearest gravel road. Picture: Supplied

“Luckily, these locals helped me and told me that the road gets bad during the rainy season, so I took it easy after that. We pushed the bike for around 2 km until we found a gravel road.

“I had to stop and wait for the rain to pass.

“I didn’t really have a plan about which hotels I was going to stay at or where I was going to stop. I just rode and kept going until the next town and then stayed over,” Mthembu said.

A group of children in Burundi admire Mthembu’s bike. Picture: Supplied

The fuel efficiency of the R 1250 GS came to his aid in Burundi as the entire country did not have fuel, Mthembu recalls, forcing him to make the journey from Burundi to Rwanda on one tank of petrol.

The vast planes of the African continent, picturesque landscapes, and the warmth of the African people made the journey even more memorable, Mthembu recalls.

IOL asked him which country had the best roads of the African nations he visited, including South Africa.

“Rwanda impressed me the most. Nobody drives more than 60 km/h. Every few kilometres, you will find cameras.

“The city that I went to was so clean; you won't find a piece of litter or even a cigarette stompie (cigarette butt) on the road.

Mthembu’s bike parked next to a local’s bike, which is used for transporting goods. Picture: Supplied

“When I got to the border crossing from Burundi to Rwanda, from the border into the City of Kigali, it was about 170 km to the town; there were street lights all along the way, and there was not a single pothole on the road. That impressed me,” Mthembu said.

Spanning just over 13,650 km, Mthembu and his R 1250 GS rode from Durban to Nata, Botswana. Nata to Lusaka, Zambia. Lusaka to Geita,Tanzania.

Geita to Bunjumbura, Burundi; Bujumbura to Kigali, Rwanda. Kigali to Kampala, Uganda.

Kampala to Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi to Mwanza,Tanzania. Mwanza to Mzuzu, Malawi. Mzuzu to Tete, Mozambique.

Tete to Harare, Zimbabwe. Harare to Musina, South Africa. Musina back to Durban.

Mthembu in Tanzania. Picture: Supplied

Mthembu posted notes about his journey on social media so his motorcycle club members and family could keep track of him.

When he got back to Durban Mthembu’s sons, Lungisani, 17 and Aphelele, were proud of him and what their father had accomplished.

“They were so happy and proud of what I did. Every time we go somewhere and people ask about it, or if they see people talking about it on social media, they come and show me. They were really happy about it,” Mthembu concluded.

A stop in Botswana. Picture: Supplied