In 2000, six guys set off in three Land Rovers on an expedition we all thought of to be a one-off television production. Today, 16 years later, Johan Badenhorst and the Voetspore team are still going, but the fate of the elephants featured in that first series remains very much unchanged…
There was a new television station on the airwaves, and our expedition and programme was an attempt by M-Net to explore the possibility of targeting specific viewer groups with tailor-made programmes.In this case, it was Afrikaans-speaking viewers. The channel was called kykNET, and we produced a series for them called In die Voetspore van die Grotes (In the footsteps of the giants).
Voetspore, as the series was immediately referred to, is an adventure documentary series onn exploring the great outdoors in Southern Africa. We had a theme to our journey loosely we followed the traditional migration routes of elephants.Professor Rudi van Aarde, elephant expert for the University of Pretoria, told me that if you link all the conservation areas in Southern Africa with elephant tracks, these massive beasts would be able to go from one protected area to the next within a day, with the exception of the link between Khaudum and Etosha.
All the other protected areas are within one-day walking distance for elephants. By linking the Kaokoland to Etosha, the Kaudom, Okavango Pipe steel, The Delta, Hwange, Tuli, the Limpopo Valley, Kruger and the Maputo Elephant Reserve, this half-moon across Africa could form the largest Transfrontier Park in the world. The elephant would be the ambassadors to this protected area. Of this novel idea, little has happened since. Perhaps it is the political will that is lacking. Yet it became the theme of our journey, 16 years ago.
In die Voetspore van die Grotes struck just the right chord for South African viewers. We did what many South Africans do during their holidays. We drove our 4×4s up Van Zyl’s Pass, through Etosha and the sand tracks of Kaudom. We got stuck in the mud for two days in Chobe, bungee jumped at Vic Falls, camped under the stars in the Limpopo Valley, enjoyed terrific game viewing in the Kruger, discovered the rich environmental heritage of Swaziland and searched in vain for the giants of the Maputo Elephant Reserve. Every day was a new adventure.
The series was so successful, kykNET commissioned us to do a follow-up. This was called Voetspore op die Strand (Footsteps on the beach), travelling from lighthouse to lighthouse along the coast of Southern Africa, all the way from Ponta do Ouro to Cape Cross in Namibia. Thereafter came Van die Kaap tot Kilimanjaro, Kili tot Kairo, Gansbaai tot Gaboen, Casablanca tot die Kaap, Agulhas tot Alexandria, Voetspore op die Ewenaar, Voetspore in die Groot Skeurvallei and last year, Voetspore in Madagaskar.
All and all – 10 series. Now it’s time for a reunion. Throughout the series we followed the same recipe – six men, three vehicles, three months. Every year we came back with thousands of hours of footage, all edited down to 13 hours of broadcast material. The crew over the years varied little. At first there was myself, Gideon Swart, Rey van Rensburg, Lourens Human, Daan Hamman and Charles Sijaji. Of this team, only Gideon and I remained. Daan since passed away after suffering from a stroke. Lourens called it quits after the Casablanca series, saying that one shouldn’t continue if you don’t wake up every morning with an enthusiastic feeling of what the day may hold.
Rey continued until the fifth series, then started his own television show, and continued to do his own Voetspore in the Richtersveld and Kaokoland. Charles continues with his work in the television industry. But those who fell by the wayside were replaced with others. Francois Marais made a brief visit in the second series when we travelled through the Namib. By series three he became part and parcel of the Voetspore team. By the same series, my son Streicher, then only nine years old, joined us. So too did Stefan Sonnekus as cameraman. Stephan was later replaced with Pierre van Heerden and then William Warren. William also became the full-time editor of the series.
Others joined in. People like Deo Magoye, expert guide from Tanzania; and Simon Wearne from Namibia. So too, Andre Bester from Victoria West in the Karoo. A dozen guys did Voetspore across the African continent over the past 16 years, completing 10 expeditions, travelling close to 250 000km. Over the years we have changed. We became older, wiser and more patient. We became more and more aware of the plight of the continent. Rhino poaching is now a serious problem. The culling of elephants in the Kruger and Etosha has stopped, causing other environmental concerns. In Etosha where there used to be an elephant abattoir, now there is a rest camp. So, not only did we change, so did the terrain over which we have travelled.
In the greater scheme of things, 16 years is a very short period yet it is a period in which we all became critically aware of climate change and the human’s inability to stop it. Doing Voetspore has brought us much closer to nature and the realisation of the effect we humans have on our planet. Therein lies the beauty of our journeys. Getting out of the concrete jungle into the real jungle makes you aware of our responsibility to Mother Nature. If we inspired anyone to do what we do, long may it continue.
Africa is a fantastic continent with enormous resources, breathtaking beauty and wonderful people. Leaving your footprints in the dust of this continent will not only provide you with many days and weeks of enjoyment with family and friends, but also make you aware of our responsibility. I, and I believe the other guys too, cannot wait for another campfire, somewhere in Kaokoland, or a visit to one of the fantastic game reserves on the subcontinent or driving the new Voetspore Land Cruisers through yet another obstacle. After 10 journeys and 16 years it is time to reflect. It is time for a reunion.