FEW people can lay claim to capturing the heart and soul of Africa, but intrepid adventurer Kingsley Holgate is an exception.
His treasure trove of authentic African experiences is unmatched. After all, he’s reputed to be Africa’s most travelled man.
Holgate’s distinct footprint, and Land Rover tracks, have been etched in all 54 countries on the continent in 33 years of journeys.
Holgate and his team have not only taken in the sights and sounds of Africa, they have had an impact on the lives of millions of people through their humanitarian work and on nature with their conservation consciousness.
Some of their experiences have since been recorded in the pages of his latest book, Africa: A Love Affair with a Continent.
The book was launched in Cape Town on Nelson Mandela Day to coincide with Holgate’s latest expedition, which is a world first, as were most of his missions, from the foothills of Table Mountain to Kathmandu in Nepal.
Holgate, his team and the three Land Rovers that will carry them on the most gruelling part of the journey, rolled into Durban on Friday.
In a rendezvous at Land Rover’s premises on Somtseu Road, guests spent time with one of Africa’s most recognisable bearded men.
He whet his audience’s appetite by sharing a few of his “bush” encounters.
Later he handed them signed copies of his weighty 400-plus page book.
It’s the fifth book Holgate has penned. It took five years to compile, but he regarded “unpacking” years of experience as a labour of love.
“It’s our fifth book and we wanted self ownership of the book so that it could be a family archive.
“I was married to a wonderful woman, Gillian. She was better known by her Zulu name, Mashozi.
“We adventured together for 45 years until she died about five years ago,” said Holgate.
Gillian had an intense love of Africa and was instrumental in starting the Kingsley Holgate Foundation’s Right to Sight campaign which saw mostly elderly people around the continent receive free spectacles.
“As a family, we felt we also needed to pay tribute to her with this collectors first edition of the book.
“After she died, we went on an expedition in the footsteps of renowned East African explorer, Joseph Thomson.
“At the end, we went to the top of an escarpment named Ulululu. With all the extended wildlife of the Serengeti (in Tanzania) below us and the Masai people, who came out of their villages, singing tributes to Gillian, we let out her ashes.”
When he reads the book he wrote, Holgate says he is amazed at what he has experienced over the years.
“Child soldiers pushing AK- 47s up our noses, pygmies climbing trees to gather wild honey for us to survive, the colour and the sights.
“It’s not only about the wildlife and panoramic views. Traversing Africa is about the people and their culture. The book makes us realise how privileged we were to have had such experiences,” he said.
The work his foundation has done is also captured.
“We go to areas where kids are dying from bloodsucking mosquito bites. Educating them on how to fight malaria and handing out mosquito nets is what we do.
“Years later, when you return to the area, people tell you malaria has been drastically reduced. The appreciative look in the eyes of the elders is priceless.”
But there have been occasions when he and his team were not well-received.
“Once I was severely interrogated by armed Angolan rebels. When they eventually escorted me back to my crew, they said ‘we didn’t kill him because he was so friendly’. I’m a firm believer of a handshake, a hug and just being friendly,” said Holgate, who was raised in Eshowe valley. “We were the only white family there. We created a lot of employment for the locals, with my wife doing bead work, the movies we made and the safaris we ran.
“Zulu culture is deeply ingrained in me. That’s where my desire to see Africa stemmed from.”
Holgate is not planning to stop going on African adventures. “Africa is fantastic, but not easy all the time. I want to do it for as long as I can.
“When I die, in the bush, as I will, a pile of stones will be adequate, with a simple sign saying ‘Thank You Mama Africa’.”