SIAFU – THE TIM BAILY STORY
AS TOLD TO ROBERT LEADER
CHAPTER TWO: AFRICAN AFRICA
Zambia was the last of the East African countries to achieve independence, an event which had occurred only a few weeks prior to our arrival, and so we entered the country with some trepidation. We were pleasantly surprised to find the Zambian customs officials polite and friendly. Independence had meant their all round promotion and they were quite happy to bang their rubber stamps on any passport set before them. At that stage even South African passports were getting through.
We spent our first night in independent Africa camped by the Kafue River and were disturbed only once when a bunch of hippo ambled up to inspect us briefly. These five ton vegetarians wander far from their river haunts munching tit bits at night, and their monstrous round and elongated faces looming up out of the darkness were quite startling. Their proportionately small eyes and ears blinked and bristled respectively but they paused only to express grunted indignation at our presence and moved on. As they could have trampled us flat we were quite relieved.
The nest day we drove into Lusaka to the office of the District Commissioner where we battled our way through the forms and permits for our firearms. Then to the Immigration Office to register as aliens and get our visas extended beyond the one week which was all they could allow us at the border. Despite the frustrations and delays I was impressed by the friendliness of the Zambian officials.
Lusaka was just a small outback city, although it was the last place of civilization we were to see before Nairobi. There was nothing to detain us and so we climbed into the Rover and drove on towards Broken Hill, a small mining town on the copper belt. Here we looked up a friend and stayed at the local Zambian Youth Service Camp, a government institution for training young Africans into a trade.
At the camp we met our first political refugee, Mr Japh M. Chirwa; a former Minister of Information and M.P. Designate from Malawi. Japh’s views were communist with only a hazy interpretation of what Communism really meant and he was an extremely confused man. He was a strong supporter of a party violently opposed to Doctor Hastings Banda, the then Prime Minister of Malawi, and had fled the country under a threat of death with vague plans for meeting other rebel ministers in Tanzania to regroup and overthrow the Banda regime by force. The movement has since been crushed by Banda, and presumably our friend Japh is still in hiding somewhere to escape the death sentence. It was a story which with different actors and different settings was to become typical of the new Africa.
We spent four days at the youth camp, living on African food and getting to know the Africans.Again I was impressed by their hospitality and friendliness, but I was disturbed to find Zambian government publications of strong anti-white propaganda.
As we moved further north we found that the reception of Radio Peking was excellent, and stories from other travelers moving down from Tanzania told us that worse was to come. It seemed that the Tanzanian authorities thought nothing of handing out indiscriminate imprisonment and rough treatment to white men, especially if they were suspected of having come from South Africa. Ever since the takeover of Zanzibar and the massacre of the Zanzibar Arabs in 1963 the Chinese Communists had been a huge influence in Tanzania, and their main concern seemed to be to teach the Africans to hate everything western and white.
On my way south from Kenya I had encountered delays and hostility at Tunduma, the main Tanzanian border post leading into Zambia, and so on this trip we decided to try our luck at the most little-used border crossing we could find. Consequently we headed north towards Abercorn and the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika.
As we drove north the roads slowly deteriorated, from good gravel to deepening ruts through thickening bush. This must have been one of the most desolate areas of Africa, just miles upon miles of semi-forest with no signs of any game whatever. Also it was the rainy season and the regular downpours turned the crude road into a river of mud. It took us three days to reach Abercorn, a two-horse frontier town where eggs and bread could only be bought in the local grog shop. From here a very wild and rocky road dropped three thousand feet in the mere twenty miles to Mpulungu, a delightful little port nestling among high mountains on the edge of Lake Tanganyika.
We spent two days there, swimming, fishing and skin diving in the clear blue waters of the lake, the second deepest in the world. After the rest and relaxation we felt fit to tackle the border into Tanzania.
We ran into an immediate hitch. The Zambian border guard was unhappy about our guns and he had never seen a firearm permit before. We finally had to bring him back to the nearby Kawimbe Mission Leper Colony where he could telephone Abercorn for advice. The colony was run and financed by the United Church of England and staffed by three Europeans; an elderly woman of sixty, a young man of thirty, and an attractive young Scots nurse. They were doing a fine job, running the colony under tribal customs, farming to supplement the lack of funds, and training the African lepers in leatherwork and handicrafts. We eventually stayed with them over the weekend and they earned both our admiration and respect. On the Sunday evening we accompanied them to church in Abercorn where Peter unwittingly told the local magistrate all about our poaching methods.
On the Monday morning we tried again. The firearms permits were now satisfactory and we exited Zambia with a friendly wave. Eight miles further up the road came Mosi, the Tanzanian customs post, a white brick building with the Tanzanian flag flapping limply in the sweltering air. I stopped the Rover and stepped down on to the road, uncertainly and with a slight hollow feeling in my stomach. We knew that all South African products were totally banned in Tanzania and unfortunately most of our food and equipment was of South African origin. If the Rover was searched then we were in trouble and our aim was to try and confuse the customs officer and stop him from searching. If we failed then we hoped that at least they couldn’t arrest us until we were actually inside the country and that all they would be able to do would be to turn us back.
The only person in sight was an African dressed in a heavy green uniform topped by a badly battered slouch hat adorned with guinea fowl feathers. He was barefoot and idly drawing patterns in the dust with his big toe. I asked him in Swahili who was in charge.
We were in luck for the customs officer when he arrived was not the arrogant, racialist African for whom we had been prepared. Instead he was a polite and friendly Indian. He was dressed in baggy cotton trousers and an ill-fitting shirt with the tails hanging out and seemed quite surprised to see two Europeans in his area.
The formalities took over two hours, sitting in his hot office filling in forms and answering questions. He was a little perturbed as to why we had chosen this isolated crossing point but we convinced him that we had come this way only to see Lake Tanganyika and because we had been assured that there was a large amount of game to be seen along this route. We would have to get permits from Sumbawanga, he told us, and in any case we would have to report there within twenty-four hours as it was their job to deal with immigration.
This was very bad news for we had hoped to be over the worst once we had crossed the border. There were rumours of a supply line for Communist arms running through this area from Dar Es Salam to the rebel simbas in the Congo and all strangers were treated with the gravest suspicion as possible spies. Once we had crossed the border there could be no turning back, and although we had hoped that then we would be able to avoid any further encounters with authority and go our harmless way it now seemed that we had been far too optimistic.
Even now it was too late to retrace our steps. Our passports had been stamped and already we had paid over the £10 import duty which the Indian Customs Officer had worked out as being payable on our cameras, tape recorder and radio. He seemed satisfied with our customs declaration and we were almost through, and then he smiled and said casually:
“Everything is fine – now we will just inspect your vehicle and then you may go.”
Slowly we gathered up our papers and then accompanied him out into the hot glare of the compound. We dawdled and employed enough conversational delaying tactics to aquire the address of his sister whom he had asked us to visit on our journey further north, but none of this deterred him from inspecting the Land Rover. The first food tins he saw he tapped with his pen.
“Please, what do you have in these tins?”
“Oh, that’s just our Pro-Nutro. It’s a type of bran which they have discovered in South Africa. It’s used to combat malnutrition and we find it useful as a staple diet. It has plenty of vitamins and stuff.” Peter reeled of this information affably and with every appearance of innocence.”
He regarded us gravely and I could only stand there with a weak smile on my face.
“You do realize that South African products are banned in this country?”
I wasn’t sure whether to offer him an honest “yes,” or a surprised “no,” but then mercifully he smiled.
“I do not want to stop you, but please, for my sake eat up all your South African food quickly. If it is found you will be in great trouble, and so will I for letting you through.”
We thanked him warmly, feeling a little ashamed of our earlier maneuverings, and considering ourselves lucky set of down the Sumbawanga road. We soon discovered why they were never very busy at Mosi for the surface was so badly washed out by the rains that it was like following a cattle track. The road plunged straight into the bush, never bothering to avoid a rock or a gulley. The first bridge we came to at Mtwamba was down, forcing us to detour along the bank to find a ford. Fortunately the river was low and the Land Rover splashed through in four wheel drive.
We had hoped to cover the one hundred miles to Sumbawanga before nightfall. However, the road frequently divided into two or three barely visible paths where previous vehicles had taken the line of least resistance and at one point lost itself altogether, so we eventually had to make camp only half way. A small crowd of Africans promptly emerged out of the darkness to watch and we were relieved to find that they were as curious and friendly as camp-watchers anywhere. There was a large full moon and we could hear the constant throbbing of drums adding to the mystery of the African night. However, it was a mystery soon resolved. Some of our new friends spoke a smattering of Swahili and informed me that the drums were used to keep the wild animals out of their mealie fields, each member of each family taking his or her turn at drumming throughout the night.
When the Africans had left we turned into our sleeping bags. The drums continued but what really disturbed our sleep was the mosquitoes. In Africa by day you are pestered by flies and at night the mosquitoes take over like eager workers flocking on to the night shift. Tonight they must have planned a major battle campaign. They came zooming into our tent in massed squadrons, heading hungrily for any exposed piece of human flesh.
I was soon up and heading for the Land Rover on a futile hunt for insect repellent and while I searched the bloody-hungry little brutes gleefully made the most of this juice white delicacy. Mosquitoes need human blood as an extra source of protein when they are breeding and it seemed obvious that this little lot were heading for another type of orgy as soon as they had drained me dry. I scrambled back into my sleeping bag and there put up a desperate losing battle for the rest of the night. I lit up endless cigarettes to act as a smokescreen, slapped and slaughtered to the point of exhaustion, but still they buzzed in with renewed fury.
During all this time the contented face of Peter slept on without blinking and I marveled at his fortitude and powers of resistance. The next day I found that he had been up before me to smother himself with the missing insect repellent, and that he had thoughtfully brought the bottle back and stood it within easy reach of his camp bed.
The African camp-watchers who returned at dawn added the helpful information that the mosquitoes only attacked us because we were white and they could see our pale skins in the night. The African answer to the problem was to light a fire in a mud hut with six or seven people inside. The smoke kept most of the mosquitoes out and those who did get in were unable to find the black-skinned Africans in the dark.
Our friends had gathered in a circle round the open front of the tent so once again we were obliged to go through the reverse striptease routine. Then, to restore my dignity, I went out to do my limited best for the sick and injured they had brought along.
In the early days the bush African attributed a magical power of healing to any white man he met and even a dab of toothpaste on a tongue would work miraculous faith-healing cures. Today with hospitals and medical facilities more widespread the old faith only remains in the really remote areas, but all too often on our journey we were expected to act as doctors. Mostly we dispensed aspirins, creams and bandages – and hoped. One of the worst cases I can remember was a woman brought to us with a three inch, razor-sharp Acasia thorn deeply embedded in her right eye. Obviously a branch had slapped back in her face as she made her way through the bush. There was no hospital within reach and all that we could do was to extract the thorn with a pair of tweezers and bandage her up. She uttered no sound and was certainly left blind in that eye, but returned resignedly to her hut and her fields.
Thankfully there was nothing so drastic to deal with this morning and an issue of aspirins was enough. We packed up camp to a chorus of exclamations of wonderment at how it all folded up and fitted into the Land Rover, and then drove off amid a cloud of dust and excited, waving children.
The road was a continuing bush track, fit only for Land Rovers, for the rest of the way into Sumbawanga. The district capital was a small African township which had sprung up in the traditional way, from a market meeting place around which small shanty shops had appeared. These were mostly run by a variety of Indian and Arab traders, the latter with their beards, turbans and veiled wives bringing a distinctly Eastern touch to the African scene. While we explored we accumulated the usual large following of assorted children and their shaggy, under-fed dogs. Six times in less than an hour I was approached with what was to become a sadly repetitive request throughout Tanzania.
“Na taka kazi, Bwana.” -- “I want work, sir.”
It seemed that there was terrible unemployment in the county and looking around I was shocked by the number of beggars and people in the advanced stages of malnutrition. I am not a politically-minded person for to try and understand African politics would be a life-time study. However, I could not help comparing these people to the Bantu in much-maligned South Africa who at least had work and decent living standards. It seemed that Independence was all very fine for the well-dressed, well-fed African politician in the cities, but nor for his remote cousins in the bush. They were a source of embarrassment best forgotten and another reason why tourists who get off the beaten track are not welcome. We found that in many small townships the taking of photographs was forbidden.
Before we left Sumbawanga we reported to the police, which meant a two-hour interrogation by the District Prosecutor. He was a very angry man when we arrived, for we had forgotten to advance our watches at the border and were two hours late for our appointment. Then he saw that out British passports had been renewed in Durban and became convinced that we were both South Africans, in which he was half right. “All South Africans,” he informed us, “were fascists fighting in the Congo for Tshombe who was a traitor to the African people.”
We managed to persuade him that we were not South Africans and that we had never been in the Congo, and by emphasizing a deep tone of disgust whenever we mentioned South Africa we gradually began to win him over. We finally tipped the balance in our own favour by showing him a letter of introduction from Japh M. Chirwa which was impressively addressed to the Honourable Minister of Justice, care of the Honourable External Affairs Minister for Dar Es Salam.
The District Prosecutor became almost friendly and in his confusion stamped both our passports on the observation page. He regretted that he could not issue us with permits for our firearms and that for those we would have to see the police at Tabora.
With sighs of relief we left, but one hundred and sixty miles down the road at Mpanda we ran into officialdom once more. We stopped to buy petrol only to be told curtly that we must first obtain police permission.
Our hopes of getting through Mpanda and into the bush with no further trouble were dashed and reluctantly we went in search of a policeman. We eventually found the Chief Inspector idly strolling on his parade ground and he seemed quite surprised that we needed his permission to buy petrol. Later we learned that the District Commissioner had issued the order so that he could keep track of any strangers in the area. The Chief Inspector was cordial enough and gave us the necessary permission, but on principle he made an inspection of our passports.
We hurried back to the petrol pump to fill up the Rover’s tank, and because we had two hundred miles of treacherous bush roads with no water or human habitation before Tabora we also had to delay to fill up our water containers. That short delay cost us another two hours of weary interrogation.
A saloon car drew up before we could depart and out stepped a tall African with deep, shrewd eyes and a protruding chin. He demanded our passports and only when we pressed the question did he trouble to introduce himself as the District Secretary. He inspected our passports for the second time in ten minutes and then slipped them into his pocket and suggested that we would be well advised to accompany him to see the District Commissioner.
It was difficult to restrain our tempers but politeness and diplomacy was our only way. We insisted on having our passports returned but we had no choice in the matter of following him to the District Commissioner’s bungalow.
“It was the same old routine: “Were we South Africans? – Why had we been to South Africa? – Had we ever been in the Congo? – Why were we in Tanzania? – Why were we taking this particular road? –Why had we been to South Africa? – over and over again. By this time Peter and I had worked out our own routine of responses and if either of us was stuck for an answer to any particular question then a gentle kick under the table would prompt the other to take over.
When at last we were allowed to leave we were glad to be able to escape into the bush and leave all the signs of civilization behind us. African officialdom can be exasperating and infuriating but Africa always makes amends: sometimes with sunset as vivid as though the whole of the western sky has become a sea of inverted fiery lava; or a doomed river leaping over a jungle waterfall into a white cauldron of spray. Tonight, just before we camped, Africa revealed to us one more such fantastic sight. On either side of the road for over a hundred yards, millions upon millions of fireflies had gathered, turning the bush into a miniature city lit with a blaze of phosphorescent flashes. It was a beautiful sight to remember, one of the priceless gifts of Africa.
We were getting into game country now and in the darkness our headlights reflected the glitter of numerous eyes. Those that shone bright and white were the antelope and their kin, while those that burned dull and red were the big cats and lesser hunters. Beyond the range of our fire that night we heard ominous grunts and roars woven into the climax of the insect orchestra, the deep bass note of a lion, the tenor cackle of a hyena, and somewhere a roving leopard sounding like a blunt saw on a rough log.
The following afternoon we spotted a herd of elephant.
Pete slammed on the brakes and quickly I checked over the heavy rifle while he sorted out the lens on his camera. Despite the terrific heat we had sealed ourselves into the cab to escape the masses of tetse fly that had been pestering us all day, and now the tetse were delighted that their skin-packaged blood fest had at last come out into the open. However, now we were oblivious to their attacks as we began to stalk the elephant.
It was a fine herd of about fifty of the great beasts, browsing quietly in a clearing in the bush about one hundred and fifty yards from the road. We covered half the distance towards them and stopped to watch. We wanted to get in good camera range but first I wanted to be sure that I had established the exact location of every bull in the herd. Nearest to us was a big grey bull with a moderate pair of tusks, tearing tit-bits from a succulent tangle of green bush with his trunk.
“We can get closer,” I whispered to Pete. “The wind is right, but remember to stand still if he looks this way.”
Pete nodded and we moved up quietly. This was the first time that Peter had seen an elephant but he was quite cool. I had stalked them on foot before but I still treated them with a healthy respect. Elephant are docile and friendly until attacked or annoyed, and then in an instant they can become vicious and very dangerous.
We froze as the great bull’s head abruptly turned our way. We were then about sixty feet from him. He stopped grazing and peered intently in our direction with his weak eyes. I knew that he could not see us but his acute senses of hearing and smell would make up for his lack of vision. The golden rules were silence and ensure that your scent was being blown away from him.
He tested the air with his trunk, seeking any suspicious smell. He was perfectly still for what seemed an age and then he turned back to his feeding.
I looked to Peter who was now a little white around the lips, and indicated that I would try to get a little closer so that he could include me in his photographs. Pete nodded and as quietly as possible I started to move forward again. I had only taken four or five paces when the elephant turned once more.
This time I was close enough for him to see me. He swung completely round to face me, pawed at the dusty earth with his massive foot and extended his huge ears so that their width seemed to block out the sky. Abruptly he started trotting towards me, not yet decided on a course of action. I began to walk back to cover as quickly as I could without breaking into a run. I was watching him over my shoulder when he gave an angry squeal and broke into a full run, ears flapping, trunk down and sending up great clouds of dust as he hurtled towards me.
I ran frantically for the edge of the clearing. There my mind snapped out of its first rush of panic. I had not wanted to kill the elephant but now I realized that this was a damn-fool way of getting myself killed instead. I swung round, bringing up the rifle to my shoulder and slipping off the safety catch.
I expected to see the enraged bull bearing down hard on my heels with just seconds left to fire. Instead it was an anti-climax. The elephant had been as startled by my sudden burst of activity as I had been by his and now he was fast vanishing with his great backside swaying violently to and fro through a retreating cloud of dust. Occasionally he glanced over his shoulder to see if he was being followed.
I lowered the rifle, laughed nervously to ease the tension, and wished him god-speed.