Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst
Dave Verster, a former special forces soldier and today a business owner, may be a tough guy by reputation.
But in that steely chest beats a heart that cares. A heart that wants to make a change. And now Dave’s resolve has culminated in him actually making that difference.
In the wide open spaces of the Karoo, at just over the halfway mark of the 733km Trans-Karoo Charity Hike, Dave gazes into the wild expanse around his campsite, and remembers the circumstances that led him to this forlorn place.
It started months ago. Dave, who owns a business that exports food mainly to Botswana, became increasingly aware of the suffering of children in his native West Rand.
“I drove through these areas frequently, and I realised that some of these families, and especially the children, were in desperate need of help.
“At first I started distributing food, but I soon realised that something more needed to be done. This was a bigger problem than a few bags of free food,” he said.
“I initially approached the West Rand branch of the Solidarity trade union, of which I am a member. But this branch wasn’t as active as I’d hoped it would be, so I decided to try to come up with a project of my own.
“There are many things I can’t do, but one thing I can do is walk. And walk very far. And that’s how the idea of the Trans-Karoo Charity Hike came about.”
Dave then spent weeks meeting potential corporate sponsors, many of whom promised gear for the actual hike, or a donation for every kilometre successfully covered. The Roodepoort Record, a West Rand community newspaper, ran a series of articles on Dave and his ambitious plan. In one of the articles, Dave invited interested parties who wanted to participate in the hike, to contact him.
“In the end I received 33 applications,” said Dave. “There was even a 92-year-old lady who contacted me, wanting to take part in the ‘6km walk’. She obviously misread the article, and missed the part about 733km, but the reaction from the public was amazing.”
Dave selected four hikers to join him on the month-long walk. Rob Veldman is an actor, most recognised for his role as a police captain in the Isidingo TV programme. Dave Milner is a commercial sign artist. Ria Barnard is retired, and a seasoned long-distance hiker. Jade Gillman is the youngest hiker in the group, at just 16 years old.
The hiking team was complete.
But a venture such as this requires a comprehensive back-up team. Liza Stewart, an enigmatic grandmother and hiker herself, was selected as the camp “commandant”, or the one who cracks the whip around the camp. Liza’s daughter-in-law, Monique Stewart, was to provide on-road back-up for the hikers. Her two children, Sydney and James, joined her.
Hennie Minnaar and Louis Lange were to man another back-up vehicle: a Mitsubishi Triton 3.2Di-D 4×4 double cab, provided by Mitsubishi South Africa, which would tow a heavy trailer transporting all the camping equipment. Hennie’s son, Wian, came along for the ride, courtesy of the extended school holidays during the soccer World Cup.
And Yvette Crane is the official record keeper, documenting every little detail. The plan is to produce a book about the long hike, hence the diligent record keeping. Once the book is produced, proceeds from the sales will also go to charity.
While we chat around the campfire, Camp Commandant Liza snaps away at us with her camera.
“It’s for the book,” the bubbly granny explains, taking another photograph.
Back to the team, and the road that led to a farm, 35km from a town called Van Wyksvlei.
“We used the Triton to do the initial recce of the route, in April,” says Dave. “We drove the entire route, and marked out overnight spots, normally 30km apart.”
And so, on 31 May, the hike officially got under way, kicking off at the town of Kuboes. Ahead of the team lay that 733km, starting with the rugged Richtersveld. Along the route they would visit rural villages, handing out blankets, clothes and food.
“We had some initial hiccups, of course, but we all soon settled in a groove that worked for all of us. Unfortunately Jade, our youngest hiker, decided to call it quits after completing about 100km, and went home,” says Dave.
But there was more drama on the horizon – and it had everything to do with Dave himself.
“After about 150km my feet gave up the ghost. I had blisters inside existing blisters, thanks to the wrong application of the socks I wore. One little toe is so badly damaged there are no skin left. The next level is the bone itself, which is obviously not ideal.”
He shows us his damaged feet. Nasty, real nasty.
So, with 450km of the route successfully completed, and with Dave hoping to be fit again to join the hike before the team reaches Victoria West, where the Charity Hike will end, the actual walking is left to Ria Barnard, Dave Milne and Robbie Veldman – who are clearly not bothered about the remaining kilometres.
“The worst is behind us,” says Milne.