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The big beard of Africa

24 May 2016

  • hese days Kingsley drives a Land Rover Disco 4 – a great deal more omfortable than the old Series and Defender models he used to drive.

It’s impossible to live in South Africa and not know who Kingsley Holgate is, even if you’ve been living under  a rock for the last 50 years. But if you had, chances are Kingsley’s probably driven over that rock at some point, on one of his many, many adventures.

As you’d imagine, Kingsley Holgate has many stories to tell. And boy can he tell them. We can’t remember ever being anywhere near bored in his company. It’s not just the content, but the way he tells a story that’s so remarkably powerful.

He’s also a charitable man. Communities all over Africa know the Kingsley Holgate Foundation for its simplistic, yet life-changing donations. These include donating mosquito nets, reading glasses and LifeStraws, a device that purifies water as it flows through the body of the straw. He’s a passionate Land Rover enthusiast, but he doesn’t give up when the road ends. That much we know thanks to his most recent adventure to find the beating Heart of Africa.

Kingsley and his team departed Johannes-burg late last year to find the geographical heart of Africa, as determined by expert organisations. They drove 9 000km across six countries, but had to give up the cars to travel the last 17km. They started in Land Rovers and ended up “grabbing roots to drag us along our bellies”. Kingsley and the team endured, however, and found the Heart of Africa. To celebrate the occasion, Kingsley poured water (collected at the Cradle of Humankind on the day they set off on the journey) onto the geographical heart of Africa. With that in mind, we recently talked to Kingsley to get a deeper insight into what he does. It also proved a prime opportunity to ask him about the business of cars, Africa and a life of adventure.

Kingsley administers an eye test for the Right to Sight campaign. This seemingly insignificant gesture has changed thousands of lives.

In a (favourite) nutshell:
Food: Nyama  Drink: Plenty  Place on Earth: Mama Africa Television show: Don’t get around to TV. And a TV is just a bushfire risk. Movie: See above  Band/singer: Any good travelling music Camping site: Fig Tree Camp on the southern shore of Lake Bogoria, Kenya.

When and where did you first get a licence?
Zululand, a long time ago – it was pretty easy back then.

What car did you have back then and how long did it last?
I had a Land Rover Series 1 and yes, it lasted. It was a little yellow Landy and it was replaced with a Series 2 and later a Series 3.

What is your favourite car out of the numerous Land Rovers you’ve driven?
It’s hard to say, but there’s something about the 130 workhorses that carry all the support equipment. They often end up looking like Mad Max cars, thanks to stuff being bolted and welded on.

Are they always named?
Yes, they have all had names. The name usually links to the expedition, but a few have been named after famous early explorers, like Livingstone. Giving it a name helps to personify the car. You want to see it complete the journey.

How did you get into a life of adventure?
It was a natural progression. I’m the youngest of three boys and my parents were very adventurous. They took us all over the place in a 1946 Chevy.

Of your many adventures, which is the one that has stayed with you over the years?
I suppose it might be because it was the most recent, which means I recall it the most clearly, but the Heart of Africa expedition was very tough. All of them have been tough, most  notably the Outline of Africa and the Tropic of Capricorn expedition. The Landys took us to within 17km of the spot we identified as the Heart of  Africa, but from there we had to complete the journey on foot, or scraping along on our stomachs. We had to forage for food and cope with insect bites.

If it weren’t for the Ba’aka pygmies, we would never have made it. They scampered up the trees to the canopy to find food and check the route ahead.
The Land Rovers made it back and the Defender we used is still being used as
a support vehicle.

Will your humanitarian efforts always be part of the expeditions?
Yes, it’s embedded by now. We receive great support from Land Rover globally and we’ll definitely keep going. It’s always a great thing to reflect on whenever I’m in doubt – all of the mothers and young babies we helped and Project Right to Sight, which enabled us to give away 126 000 pairs of glasses.  I always think back to a one-legged man I met in Lesotho. He lost his leg and became a cobbler, but as his eyesight degraded, he had to give it up and rely on the support of his family. He told me his story and we tested him immediately, after which we gave him the correct spectacles.

He immediately called his grandson, who brought the last pair of shoes he was working on and he started fixing them right then and there. There are many things that are special about these kinds of adventures – the sunsets, food, culture and off-roading, but the humanitarian aspect is my favourite. We use adventure to improve lives.

Kingsley and party pose with the Ba’aka Pygmies who provided much needed support in finding the Heart of Africa.

How do you keep everyone motivated, especially on a harsh trip like the Heart of Africa expedition?
It all boils down to team spirit, optimism, humour and having the same objective. We don’t allow any negatives. Even when it’s going really badly, you try and remember the good things. On the recent Heart of Africa expedition, I was having a rough day. I was tired and bleeding and sat down underneath this 1 000-year-old tree, ready to die. I remember thinking at least it was a beautiful spot to die.

What was your scariest moment?
There have been numerous and from people, not animals. I’ve been taken by rebels and have had run-ins with child soldiers. It’s all about having the right people with you when something like that happens. There have been far more happy moments than scary ones.

What was your happiest moment?
There are too many to mention. I find that you have to be open to the beauty of Africa; in other words, you have to be open to receiving all the wonderful moments.

What defines an adventurer?
A person who accepts risks and the fact that there are no guarantees.

What makes Africa such a special continent?
It remains one of the last great frontiers  for explorers.

Any advice to adventurers out there?
Tread lightly and with respect. Tune into the rhythm of Africa. The Swiss may
have invented the clock, but Mama Africa owns time.

If money wasn’t a factor, what car would be in your driveway?
A Land Rover. (Were you expecting any-thing else?)