Ben Oostdam story # 289


In January, 1978, we left Kuwait: Mercia, Bennie and Erika flew to South Africa so the kids could go to school there, and I went on a tour around the World to collect beach samples. We were briefly together in South Africa in March, at which time we decided to drive along the scenic Garden Route from Capetown along the Indian Ocean shore to Durban.

But that was just the plan. It went fine till we left our motelroom in Peddie [km 13703] and drove through King William Town to East London, where we sampled some beaches and found some tar. Next, we headed north to Umtata, the capital of Transkei, on the other bank of the Kei River.

At that time, "Apartheid" still
ruled South Africa, and it had
been divided into a main body of
land primarily for Whites and a
series of disjointed "Homelands",
a.k.a. "Bantustans" for the Blacks.

When we arrived at the border with Transkei, we were stopped by the S.A. Border Police, who politely asked for our passports.
I immediately showed my U.S. passport, but Mercia said that she was a South African citizen and did not need a passport; in fact, she had left it at home.
The Policeman told her that she did, in fact need one, upon which she answered that she hoped he could let her get out of S.A. and that she thought she could convince the Transkei Border man to let her through with her husband and kids on this brief transit to Durban.
He laughed and told her that the man on the other side of the border was another South African, so she certainly would not be able to talk him around.
I tried to mention some political facts a.o. that the borders had not been recognized by several countries including the USA, but the man stood his ground, and we reluctantly turned the car to go back...

But we were not to be caught that
simply and decided to drive around
both the new Transkei and the old
Basutoland - now Lesotho -
and that way get to Durban.
We would turn it into a race.
First came a sandroad to Komga,
and next Stutterheim, where
we loaded up on gingerbeer.
Then Cathcart and Queenstown -

(please click
to enlarge)

We now approached Aliwal North
and were almost out of gas.
So I did not use the brake and
was coasting along when we were
suddenly overtaken by a S.A.
Police who told me I was driving
111 km/hr in a 90 km/hr zone,
an offence worth a court appearance
. . . next week!"
"But Officer, I am scheduled to
depart on April 1 for Mauritius!"
This time we were more lucky
and he kindly allowed us to go on
our way - which "made my day!"-
and saved the usual R 150 fine!
We drove on through Jamestown and
a luscious sunset at Reddersburg
till we reached Bloemfontein [km 14459]
where we stayed overnight
at Roberta Hotel for R 7.50 p.p.

The next morning, March 25, 1978, we left early and drove through Winburg, Senekal, and Bethlehem, then through the lovely mountains - Harrismith, NATAL where we slowly passed a wedding party with its own marching band, next Ladysmith and Pieter Marizburg and finally, just before 18:00 our "target", Durban! [km 15140]

Here another funny incident occurred: my parents had written me that Lony, my former fiancee, had moved to Durban, so I decided to call her.
Problem: I did not know her married name ! . . . Then I suddenly remembered that my father had made a joking reference to her "wild" sons, calling them "Little Vandals".
So I searched the telephone book and found the name "van Dalen" - but the call was answered by a nice British lady who denied being my former fiancee.

Anyhow, though for years later I have thought of this detour as being more than a thousand kilometers, now that I just looked it up , I found:

travel distances South Africa:
From: To: Kilometers Miles
East London Durban 670 416
East London Bloemfontein 575 307
Bloemfontein Durban 670 (sic!) 416

that it was only a detour of 575 km, making my exaggeration factor just under 2.

Another interesting surprise struck me:
Although the whole border incident is very clear in my memory, my diary actually only dedicates four short lines to it:

"See a train and some cute little sisters.
Then on again to Transkei, Umtata.
Beautiful scenery. At the border, trouble!
I am the only one with a passport.
Argument about Mercia and children and foreign policy, etc.
Thus I turn back angry.
Decide to drive around Transkei and Lesotho, a race!"

FOOTNOTE: After the joyful February 11, 1990 release from prison of Nelson Mandela - who was born near Umtata, Transkei in 1918 - and his election as President on May 10, 1994, the Bantustans reverted to their original status.
But the name "Bantustan" caught on and has been used in later years, e.g. in Kosovo and Westbank/ Palestine.

BLO fecit 20070523/4 - stories