Breathing Passion into the Embers of a Fire, Meeting with Kingsley Holgate.
“Our imagination is touched by the tales and myths of people who have changed the world around them through the power of their own wisdom and love” Unknown
As a young boy I recall sitting behind the wheel of the old 2 Series Land Rover Defender on a family friends Game Farm and “Driving” it off road for the first time, this formed part of the spark which fuelled a love and fascination for the African Bush and the Environment.
I don’t know what it is about a Land Rover Defender but no matter where you see one it always seems to be yearning for a dust road or for an adventure. Their drivers only but smile and wave at one another and seem to have all the time in the world. Though believe it or not when you get behind the wheel of a Defender you feel as if you are on holiday even if you are stuck in peak hour traffic on the N1 and you also never forget the first time you drive in one.
This is not about my first drive in a Defender or the feeling of a Defender in traffic, I want to share the story of me meeting with the man that gathered a 300 strong convoy of Land Rovers to escort his family out of Cape Town on their Expedition. From Cape to Cairo on the water ways of Africa, along her Outer Edge and down her Eastern coast on an ancient slave ship, Kingsley Holgate has travelled to every country on the African Continent… Not to mention the families circumnavigation of the globe along the Capricorn line in two old and trusted Land Rover Defenders. All these Expedition, Decades of Travel, Thousands of people met and many lives saved through the Unite Against Malaria, One net One Life campaign has made it possible to meet Kingsley Holgate in Cape Town.
After receiving his first book “Following the Invisible Line, Capricorn” as a gift from my father I was soon hooked and absorbed in his journal entries, buying many a copy for friends of mine becoming lost in Africa and her stories scribed by the black tip pen in the leather bound journals of a man that followed the footsteps of Livingston. No amount of reading could have prepared me for the humbling experience of listening to him.
As Kingsley entered Cape Union Mart Store I could not help but smile, wearing his old orange Expedition Series K-Way rain jacket, a well-worn canvas satchel over the shoulder and smoothing over his iconic beard the man himself walked in with a smile shaking everyone’s hands and greeting them with a smile in his eyes. As I took Kinsley’s hand for the first time I could not help but smile, not because I was finally able to shake the hand of a man I have respected for many years. I smiled because I could not help but think that it is said, “A blind man can tell the character of a man by the texture of his hand”. So I imagined the people who have taken the same hand I was and the wisdom it has held. From Nobel Peace Prize winner Mr Nelson Mandela, Business men, African Dictators, Rebel Forces, African Mothers, little children playing soccer and those sick and dying of Malaria in their homes, on the streets and in make shift field clinics all across our beautiful continent.
The evening was spent around a proverbial campfire in the heart of the Kalahari with the all too familiar enamel kettle, burned black and stored in the wooden grub box being removed from the fire and with Kingsley’s hat as the mugs are lined up and the Renoster Koffies are poured for all to share. Well the stories of adventure, fun and laughter fill the air as we wait for the old no14 three legged potjie as it bubbles over the coals… Though we are in no rush and the stories keep coming until we hear the cry of the magnificent black manes of the Kalahari, those Lions of the largest vegetated desert in the world. A tense silence falls over the camp and a few eager “ZZZZIIIIIPPPPPSSSSS” are heard as some retire to their beds. Though the stories go on and the coals of the fire flicker and glow as the sparks dance onto the night sky. What an evening, what a special space with the heavens above. The camp falls silent, not the silence when no one has something to say but the silence depicting the presence of someone or something unwanted, as lions moves into the fire light.
The night goes on and here in Cape Town the rains start dancing harder on the roof of the store almost as if to rejoice that so many of us have come to listen to the stories of Mamma Africa, from her very own Nondwayiza (African Jacana), Greybeard. Kingsley’s stories captivate us and time seems to stand still and probably would if the rhythmic dancing of the rain did not remind us that we were in fact not in the Kalahari but near the southern tip of Africa. Beard waving, hands explaining and eyes telling, Kingsley turns us north into Africa’s Great Rift Valley, some discovered by Count Teleki and Dr Livingston. From the Jade Sea to the greatest bird show on earth and the gathering of the great elephants down to the lake of stars, each one with something special to add to the beauty of Africa.
Though for all her beauty there is genuine concern…
The Holgate Families latest expedition the “Izintaba Lobombo Expedition” was aimed at not only promoting awareness and education for the plight of Rhino in Southern Africa but also to deliver “Mashozi” the Landy donated to Project Rhino KZN for rhino anti-poaching work by Land Rover SA. What an incredible journey, from little children saying “we need to respect our Rhino like we respect Tata Madiba!” to children sharing stories of family members being killed in the Rhino Wars! The scary reality is that the Rhino tragedy is not only a Natural Tragedy, but also a HUMAN TRAGIDY! A3 pictures were coloured in in villages and communities along the route and these will be taken to Vietnam, to raise the voices of children in the chambers of men. What a vision.
The evening end with Kingsley signing books and chatting with various members of the public, I was fortunate to conduct an interview with this dynamic and humble man, who’s passionate voice is like a soft breeze blowing on the embers of a fire slowly fuelling it and captivating and kindling the fire as its flames grow and begin to dance against the night sky.
We discussed the importance of culture in Africa, with Kingsley sharing that his love for the peoples rhythm, dance, song and spirit of the continent has fuelled his adventures. With a particular fondness for the nomadic tribes of Africa, the last truly wild Africans that seem to be un-spoiled by our western ways. The harsh truth is that the western ways seem to catch up with them all eventually and I asked Kingsley his feeling towards this, with sadness in his eyes he nodded but joyously replied that their next expedition was a 3 year project working towards this very question. Though being named by National Geographic and Getaway as one of the greatest explorers of the modern world and one of the most travelled men in Africa, I had to know that one place that Kingsley simply cannot get enough of. For me it is Namibia and the Kalahari, though for Kingsley smiling ear to ear it is the East Coast of Africa with a particular love and fondness for the Masai people and Tanzania’s open grass planes. Though despite all the beauty the facts still remain that we are killing Rhino by the hundreds and our land locked neighbours Swaziland have lost less than 5 in two decades. Our conversation turned to the importance of education and having the youth understand why Rhino need to be protected, before asking Kingsley the final question: Through all your travels what would be the one essential lesson learned or item of knowledge which you would find imperative to pass along. Patting me on the back and stroking his beard while gazing with his humble and kind eyes he seemed to be searching over all his travels before answering me with one word, UBUNTU. It was that simple Ubuntu, to believe in the inherent kindness and good will of all humans, to share love, compassion and humility with them at all costs. This is what is important in Africa….. UBUNTU.
Though as much as I would have loved to be able to share this interview with you I can upload a 10 minute clip of utter silence as the camera did not record any sound! To my great disappointment! Though even though I am unable to share the amazing conversation we had with you, I am trying my best to track Kingsley down before he leaves Cape Town to ask him for a few minutes of his time once more to be interviewed. I hope he will be accommodating as I know he has a busy schedule when he travels.
Though if I am not able to interview him again while he is in Cape Town I am sure that we might meet up somewhere someday again, possible sharing another campfire hopefully a real one as we pour another Renoster Koffie and watch the sparks dance into the night sky as Kingsley speaks life into the embers of the hearts of all adventurers and explorers he meets, fuelled by his love and passion for Africa and her People.
Kingsley I thank you for kindling my embers by sharing your passion and for greeting me with the warmth and love of Africa in your hand shake quite literally.