The (real) iron man
In a new series, designed to find out what makes legends of adventure tick, we interview gritty, hard core people who live life to the max. Our first victim is one of South Africa’s most decorated soldiers, turned trainspotter, turned 4×4 overland tour guide: 75-year old Koos Moorcroft.
Koos Moorcroft’s army career started straight after school, once he matriculated in Florida, Roodepoort. He started his military sojourn in the artillery, but soon moved on to 1 Parachute Battalion.
As a career soldier, Moorcroft travelled to Britain for a nuclear and biological warfare course, and soon afterwards, in 1970, he was one of the founding members of the country’s first special forces unit: 1 Reconnaissance Commando. By then a staff sergeant, Moorcroft completed 35 000 feet parachute jumps and he was also an attack diver.
In 1978, he joined 5 Recce as regimental sergeant major (RSM) – a post he filled until 1991. Two years later he was appointed sergeant major of the SA Army and served on the General Staff until his retirement from the force in 2001. During his recce years he obviously saw plenty of action, and he has more decorations and medals than the average cabinet minister has bodyguards.
In his days he dined with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and shared a casual joke with Prince Charles, to drop just a few big names.
He is also a sportsman extraordinaire, and has represented SA at the World Parachute Championships and has completed five ultra ironman races. Right, so let’s talk cars and adventure with this legend.
Question: Where and with what did you learn to drive?
A Massey Ferguson tractor on my family’s farm in the Kalahari.
Question: What was your first car?
An Austin-Healey Sprite. It was an exciting sports car for a young corporal in the paratrooper regiment who thought he was bulletproof.
Question: And the favourite vehicle you’ve owned over the years?
Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 Pickup… I still have it.
Question: What was your favourite vehicle in the army?
Land Rover Saber (a Landy with armour plates and a 7.62mm machine gun used primarily by the special forces).
Question: And post-army? What did you do?
I was employed by Nokia Southern Africa as director of security, and the owner, Mr Mole, tasked me to travel to Mozambique and Angola to search for derelict steam locomotives for his collection.
Together with an old recce friend, Amicar Queiroz, we chartered aircraft and flew over old sugar plantations and known railway lines and marked spots where we sighted locomotives. The next part of the adventure was to locate the old trains by following the waypoints overland, which in some cases posed huge challenges.
When we found suitable units we would buy them and then somehow had to get the old trains to ports like Luanda, to be shipped to Durban, to finally be transported by road to Sandstone Estates (Ficksburg).
There they were refurbished and made to look like new.
Question: And how did the 4×4 safaris happen?
During my trainspotting days I obviously got to know areas of Southern Africa – especially Angola – very well and I thought a safari tour business would be right up my alley. But it was a chance meeting on Sani Pass in 2006 that really got it off the ground.
I happened to meet David Bristow, former editor of Getaway magazine, and over dinner we chatted about what we do. I mentioned my idea about taking tour groups to Angola that, at the time, was still very much a no-go area for tourists.
Back home I received a call from David, saying he wants to do an article on the route I had talked about in Angola. And he wanted to do it soon. Well, I had no option but to get my ducks in a row. I decided to do a recce of the route first, along with two of my ex-army colleagues who speak Portuguese.
It was one tough trip, a real adventure, and we also conquered the now famous ‘doodsakker’. In July 2007, I took my first group of 12 vehicles on that trip. Since then, I’ve guided a total of 14 tours through Angola.
Question: And you also trained people how to survive in the bush?
Yes, and we specialised in aircrew survival methods. A former air force pilot handled cockpit survival techniques, my son Sean, who is also an ex-paratrooper and a clinical psychologist, taught the crew members how to handle panic and fear and I, along with an ex-recce colleague, handled bush survival methods.
We taught everything, from the obvious ‘making a fire’ to how to identify threatening behaviour in wild animals.
Question: And what are you up to nowadays?
I’ve been working with Chute Systems a company that offers expert Military training to governments of African countries, since 2010. And I’m again living my dream to work with soldiers and passing on experience and staying in the bush.
We also train rangers of the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism in anti-poaching tactics and how to work and patrol in smaller teams to be proactive against poachers, a growing menace in Namibia.
I still enjoy scuba diving and my favourite dive site is Lake Guinas near Tsumeb, in Namibia.
Question: Let’s talk practical tips. What are the Top Five things any adventurer should take along on an overland trip?
Counting down, I would say sufficient water, a grab bag with a basic survival kit, a GPS unit and compass, maps of the area you intend to visit and, most importantly, proper planning and preparation.
Question: What defines an adventurer?
Someone who lives his dream, but who does it with proper planning and preparation.
Question: What advice would you give someone who has never been on an overland adventure, but who is dreaming about it?
Do some research on the trips in 4×4 magazines. Ideally you could also join a 4×4 club or community – people who’ve done it before always have some good tips. Get your better half interested too – if he or she doesn’t mind the idea of camping, your battle is just about won. The first overland trip with your other half is the most important one. You should ideally be in the company of experienced camping families or couples who can assist with advice or that spatula that you completely forgot to pack.
Question: Let’s conclude it with another motoring question. If money wasn’t a factor, what vehicle would be parked in your driveway?
A Toyota Land Cruiser 4.5 Pickup, all the way soldier.
In a (favourite) nutshell:
Food: Curry mince and rice
Drink: Windhoek lager
Television show: JAG
Movie: Saving Private Ryan
Band/Singer: Neil Diamond
Place on earth: Africa
Camping site: Nambwa, next to the Kwando River (Caprivi)