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The First Seventy Years: 44 – First-hand Experiences

....We spent two fascinating days in Mikumi Game Park. Our night under canvas did not provide much comfort for us during our attempts to get to sleep amongst the sounds of African wildlife ringing in our ears. Despite our sleepless night the experience of seeing so many animals in their natural habitat was magical.
Watching a pride of lions laze around under the shade of a tree was one of the highlights of my whole African experience....

Eric Biddulph goes exploring in Africa.

To read earlier chapters of Eric’s life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_first_seventy_years/

I had become much influenced by Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania. His view on the future for African nations stood in marked contrast to those of President Banda. The animosity between the two leaders was so great that the border between the two countries was closed. A journey through Northern Zambia was necessary in order to gain entry into Tanzania at Tunduma.

We spent two fascinating days in Mikumi Game Park. Our night under canvas did not provide much comfort for us during our attempts to get to sleep amongst the sounds of African wildlife ringing in our ears. Despite our sleepless night the experience of seeing so many animals in their natural habitat was magical.
Watching a pride of lions laze around under the shade of a tree was one of the highlights of my whole African experience.

The capital, Dar es Salaam, was unique. A major seaport on the Indian Ocean, it was used as the gateway for goods entering and leaving the landlocked nations of east and central Africa.

Zambia in particular placed great importance on it because of its stance on apartheid in South Africa. The fear of its southern exit routes for its copper exports being closed off had persuaded it to seek an outlet in the east. The Chinese Government had become involved in the project to build a railway linking Tanzania with Zambia. This was under construction at the time of our visit.

A reminder of the earlier colonial history of the country was amply displayed in a series of photographs and relics in the museum depicting the era of German East Africa which existed from the late nineteenth century until 1918.

A visit to the Great Ruaha National Park exposed us to even more of the natural environment of wildlife. Owing to the location of the Park, relatively few visitors were seen. The animals displayed the characteristics one would expect of them when

humans are conspicuous by their absence.

Tanzania possesses perhaps the greatest collection of African wildlife on the continent. Lake Manyara Game Park, which adjoins the Ngorogoro Crater was, a year later to provide us with memorable moments, much of which was captured on film but which sadly was never seen owing to the theft of my film and camera.

By Easter 1973 our time in Africa was coming to an end. A deterioration had developed in our ability to travel safely in a southerly direction. I was, however, somewhat inclined to see this as something to be welcomed. It was a sure sign that the racist regimes in the region were finding that Prime Minister Harold McMillan's famous pronouncement made in 1960, 'The wind of change is blowing through this continent', was beginning to have a ring of truth.

I wanted, nevertheless, to experience first-hand the nature of apartheid in South Africa. It had become almost impossible to drive across Mozambique into Rhodesia owing to guerrilla activity. The only option was to catch the train to Beira on the Mozambique coast. The train was heavily guarded as soon as we had left Malawi. The famous bridge across the Zambezi was heavily defended. Offloading the car, we drove into Rhodesia and subsequently down to the border with South Africa at Beit Bridge on the Limpopo River.

I had read a great deal about apartheid but first-hand experience was always going to have a greater impact. Separate counters for immigration and customs clearance for whites and non-whites was my first encounter with the system that had become the hallmark of racial segregation around the world. The toilet facilities had also been designated in accordance with apartheid. I decided to 'make a mistake' by entering the non-white toilet facilities. The comparison with the white facilities was stark. So much for the 'separate but equal' doctrine.

Heading south we came to the small town of Pietersburg. Stopping off to cash a travellers cheque at a bank, I dutifully showed my passport as is customary on these occasions. It was not until we reached Natal Province several days later that I woke up to the fact that I was not in possession of my passport. An urgent telephone call to the branch was made and much to my relief received confirmation that I had indeed left it on the counter.

Early on in our tour of South Africa we camped on a municipal site on the edge of a medium sized town in the north of the Transvaal. At nine o'clock in the evening a siren was set off. This was the signal for all non-white people to vacate the town unless in possession of a valid pass. Our first experience of the 'pass law' in operation.

Pretoria was the first major city visited, the heart of Afrikaanerdom, where the lingo-franca was Afrikaans. English was clearly in second place. I had reason to make a telephone call. The female respondent answering my call said, "Will you not speak in English." The Vortrekker Monument commemorating the Great Trek of the Afrikaaner people in the late 1830s out of Cape Province sits proudly overlooking the city.

Some sixty kilometres to the south lay Johannesburg, the commercial and industrial heart of the nation. The township of Soweto lies some twenty kilometres away, another symbol of apartheid. We skirted past this urban jungle, Heilbron, Bethlehem, Harrismith, Ladysmith were all given a cursory glance as we headed for the Royal Natal National Park.

Setting up camp for a few days, we were able to explore the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains which form the border with Lesotho. A notice at the entrance to the campsite told us that non-whites were only permitted access on a limited number of days each month. Heading north through Ermelo and Lydenburg we passed through the J.G Strijdom Tunnel to return to Pietersburg and recover my passport.

Now able to cross national boundaries again we re-entered Rhodesia and made our way back to Malawi. Although there was very little by way of new information revealed by the trip nevertheless, first-hand observation had the effect of reinforcing my abhorrence of apartheid.

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