DAY 1 (Friday, 28 July 2023)
My name is James Botha, the eldest son of Pastor Attie Botha, one of the much-loved pioneer members of the Zimbabwe Pensioners Support Fund (ZPSF) and brother to founder, Hannes Botha and this Friday I was rather ‘bang’. Considering the pedigree of these men, it was with a lot of trepidation that I at last agreed to follow in my dad’s road tracks as co-driver with Johan Schultz, my cousin, Linda’s hubby, for my first Zim trip. These are trips that my dad cherished with all his heart and soul, cementing an already astounding legacy. But I was never sure if I was ready or ever would be to tackle this pilgrimage, for want of a better word, and follow in the footprints of the big shoes he left to fill around greater Zimbabwe and meet so many of the people that knew him and hear their stories. This was the country where we were both born, where he worked and played, fell in love with my mother and became father to his first two kids; a country I left as a 3-year-old lighty and last visited 3 decades ago.
Now settled in Freds (Frelimo) country, Mozambique, it was with bated breath and sense of foreboding that I took my taxi to catch the bus in Maputo on a chilly, windy Friday morning. My fears were realised when we were informed that the bus had broken down (before actually arriving) and would be delayed indefinitely; in fact, so indefinitely that the staff brought their own chairs out for us to sit out on the pavement. I was not feeling well, and it felt like half my luggage was filled with enough muti to stock a small pharmacy in Harare. But I was reminded how my dad had to be airlifted out of Zims on his final trip, dedicated to the last, so I hauled my sorry ass onto the bus heading for the Ressano Garcia/Lebombo border at Komatipoort, en route to Malelane where Linda and Johan were expecting me.
Arriving at the border I had got to know so well over so many years I realised some things never change. The Moz side would be smooth and the SA side an exercise in extreme patience and self-control. Not without its drama, and my misgivings with this trip coming at me from all directions, including a much-damaged rear tyre on the bus, we limped into Malelane on a flat rear wheel. Relieved to see my cousins, they immediately carted me off to our local hangout spot for some wine to calm my nerves and motivate me for the long adventure ahead.
DAY 2: (Saturday, 29 July 2023)
Each one of us has a passion and heart for a cause of some kind, a need to help another human or living creature and make life just that bit better. For me it has always been the youth and animals; for the angels who live and work for ZPSP, it is the golden oldies. This trip was to be a litmus test for me to see if that heart for the oldies part of me was too. And so, our journey began.
At 08:30, after some last-minute retail therapy for some basic ‘padkos’ for the endlessly long stretches of winding roads, Johan and I left Malelane to head for Musina, 550km down a very long drag. Thankfully, the road was generally quiet and uneventful with the Bushbuckridge settlement teeming with local rural activity including what seemed to be hordes of people heading for a traditional festival dressed in tribal regalia. Then through the Hoedspruit area where we were lucky to see some warthogs, black & white impala and sable in some of the private breeding game reserves.
A quick drive through Tzaneen and Modjajiskloof brought back many memories. This was where my parents headed their small congregation and started their work with ZPSF. I fondly remembered my mom tying a big yellow ribbon around the front door patio pillar as a welcome back for my returning father after a long trip to Zimbabwe. Despite the border challenges, the endless driving stretches from town to town and back-breaking physical slogging, their love for Zimbabwe and its forgotten pensioners motivated them to bring those big, bright smiles and much-needed parcels filled with supplies that make living bearable for another month or two.
At around 5pm we made it to Aunty Hester Joubert in Musina, who with her husband, Uncle Joe, were very active in assisting the fund. Uncle Joe joined my dad on several trips and their home has regularly been an overnight stop to or from the border. Here we enjoyed a comforting home-cooked meal and got some much-needed rest before the border crossing the next morning.
Day 3 (Sunday, 30 July 2023)
On Sunday morning, just after 7am, we headed out to the busiest border in Africa, Beitbridge, for my first border crossing since when I was 17. Back in the day, getting across the border entailed days of waiting (including sleeping under the trucks) and navigating the challenges of miles of beaurocratic red tape for the ZPSF drivers. I remember how many stories of unforgettable border escapades were regaled to me by my dad, and even my mom, Liz, who joined him from time to time.
Obviously A LOT had changed, and thankfully, it was a relatively quiet day as far as border crossings go without any hanna hannas. I was suitably impressed by how modernized the process had become, especially on the Zimbabwean side, with efficient systems and technology streamlining the process. What was also great to see is how much positive attention the new truck signage attracted from truck drivers and border officials, always inquisitive about the work that the fund does. After around 5 hours we headed out of the border on our way to the city of Bulawayo, another place of great signicance to me and my family.
The road to Bulawayo is a long winding road, at times so badly potholed, that crawling along at 10km/h is the best you can do, with some bundu-bashing included. One can see that it is the middle of winter, with the dry, scrub bush prevalent along with parched, empty riverbeds. After several police roadblocks and passing through some smaller towns, we finally arrived in the place where I drew my first breath, Bulawayo (aka Skies). Here we drove to the warehouse where Angela Engelbrecht and her sister, Liz, were waiting for us to tuck the ZPSF truck into her warehouse bed after a long tar haul of 343kms. Once that was done, we were off to my cousin, Caroline, and her family’s home for a much anticipated and delicious pasta by her hubby, Willem, a hot bath, a catch-up on the Formula 1 racing and then a good night’s rest.
DAY 4: (Monday, 31 July 2023)
Monday was reserved for loading the hundreds of ‘goodie’ boxes into the truck. While an arduous and laborious task, it is an integral one to the success of every trip. Firstly, all the boxes are stacked in order of the homes that will be visited, with each box meticulously marked with the recipient’s name and home. They are then loaded onto the truck in this specific order to facilitate the timeous offloading at each home, starting from the rear of the truck. Mistakes here can be time and labour-consuming and it is with the efficiency of Angela and the warehouse crew that they are avoided.
After the loading of the truck, it was time to do a bit of a trip down memory lane with a drive through the town with Caroline, pointing out some of the old landmarks, with the Mater Dei Hospital especially being poignant as the place of my birth. The old, curved lampposts from back in the seventies still stood majestically in the centre of the city reminding me of happy childhood memories when they were lit up with twinkling Christmas lights.
DAY 5: (Tuesday, 1 August 2023)
At the crack of dawn, heading into the sunrise at around 6am, we jived out of Bulawayo for Gweru with the mellows of ABBA , a tradition that would start off every day for the rest of the trip. This would be my first drop off at a home and meet & greet with the golden oldies. The road was uneventful, but as we drove I was reminded that this was the town where both Hannes and my dad were born. We passed the signpost of Somabhula, the boarding school they attended while Johan and I chatted about the childhood stories of the shenanigans these guys that were pillars of the ZPSF got up to. For the first time this trip, a lump grew in my throat and silent tears welled in my eyes. We had just left the city that I was born in behind to head into the town that my dad was born in…
The first home we stopped by at in Gweru was The Boggies Trust where Bruce Chillcot was waiting at the gate. I mentioned earlier that my mom, Liz, had at times joined my dad on trips and for this trip she had sent me THE LIST. Now when one’s mom gives you A LIST, you had best do everything you can to fulfil said LIST. THE LIST consisted of several people that were near and dear to her and my dad that were involved in the trips as either beneficiaries or benefactors. I was to try and meet them all, send them her fondest, with first prize being a selfie. So far so good, with Angela from the warehouse ticked off and now Bruce. But back to the oldies…
There were several of them waiting, buzzing around catching up on the latest gossip from the last few days while the boxes were offloaded for the home. I had fun informal chats with several of them and although the pensioners were in general good spirits and health, their eyes were filled with quiet desperation tempered with immense gratitude. It’s a scary thing getting old for all of us, but it’s downright terrifying getting old with nothing.
Then we were off to Huisvergesig where we quickly offloaded the parcels for the home and Gweru outsiders and then off to Hubert Lee Cottages in Redcliff. Here we were warmly greeted by a rainbow of eager faces and a very flirty Cheryl, who I immediately connected with. The gratitude here was effusive with several handing us sweet, beautifully handwritten thank you letters. These letters were to feature at every home visited, some written on folded plain paper and others in colourful, decorated envelopes, but none less or sweeter and more sincere than the other.
Next on our list was Lyn Brook Homes in Kwekwe where we were welcomed with open arms by a dancing Dee, an elegant Margot and spoilt with freshly baked banana bread and blackberry Mazoe. It was good to take a moment to chill and chat under the tree and catch up on the latest election gossip and how the pensioners were doing. It seems that many are getting older and frailer with less and less able to meet the truck. I found this sad as I was really enjoying the personal interactions with the golden oldies.
Our last stop for the day and where we were to spend the night was Westview Homes in Kadoma. We arrived around 2pm and as the oldies were being treated to a local school production of Shrek, we quickly offloaded the boxes for the home and outsiders, hauled out our kit and settled into our spacious accommodation at the home. While having a quick zizz I was awoken by the loud cheerful voice of Del Parkin and friends as they had arrived back from the play. This was Del of the chilli pasta fame that Johan had experienced on his last trip. Once again, I was struck by how cheerful these vintages were despite the challenging circumstances, they found themselves in. After a lot of flirtatious banter with the ladies which I was becoming accustomed to, we headed to Clive and Estelle Riley, another couple on THE LIST. Estelle shares the exact same birthdate as my mother, and it was great to meet them and exchange each other’s warm regards. We then retired to our room and for a fitful night’s rest.
DAY 6: Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Wednesday early morning brought chilly weather and saw us leave Kadoma to ‘agitate the gravel’ for Chegutu and the Greenways Trust. With a necessary change of itinerary, we could only do an early morning drop off instead of the planned tea party. However, there were some committed oldies who braved the cold to say hi with effusive thanks and soon we were on our way again, this time to Chinhoyi. Here Johan Haasbroek was waiting for us at the Sunningdale Trust home, another person on THE LIST. He and I quickly took to each other with playful banter. Once again we saw few residents and it became clear that the cold front that had entered the country was keeping the oldies inside, warm and snug where they belonged.
Leaving Chinhoyi, our next destination was the capital city herself, which I was looking forward to seeing. Our drop off in Harare was a quick one where a large consignment of care parcels was delivered to John and Leonie Herbst’s home where they are faithfully redistributed to pensioners in their homes and displaced farmers. After completing we headed to Vic from Concrete Structure to refuel, a long-time benefactor, regularly providing the fuel to enable the trips to happen. (Thanks so much Vic! Your generosity makes the world of difference.) After refuelling, it was Marondera’s turn for a very quick drop-off before heading to Rusape where we would spend the night.
The road to Rusape was one of the most scenic we had driven so far, and I recognized the big boulder outcrops towering over the African savanna. However, the cold front had intensified, and we arrived at Rest Haven in Rusape under the cover of dark foreboding clouds and a snappy chill in the air. Luckily, we were in for a treat. Rest Haven was one of my dad’s favourite stops and out came THE LIST where Sheila Foulis was the person to seek out. Johan and Roy, our host, got the braai going with sweet Liz Prinsloo (Dolly) and colourful, feisty Linda joining us for a night of great nyama, my first Zambezi chibulis and lots of laughter! Something that struck me is how generous and giving these old folks are, even when they themselves have so little and was reminded that is always more blessed to give than to receive. Then it was off to one of our regular favourite hangout spots….bed and dreamland.
DAY 7: (Thursday, 3 August 2023)
At around 8am we left behind the friendly folks of Rest Haven and headed out to the border town of Mutare. The road was becoming more and more scenic and after a short drive we arrived at Des Bekker’s business premises. This is a major distribution point and a large contingent of care parcels were offloaded here to be distributed to various homes and outsiders in the district. These include Eastern Highlands Trust, Murambi Cottages, Park Cottages, S.O.A.P. Mutare and Strickland Lodge. Unfortunately, Des and Sally could not meet us but it would be remiss of me not to sing the praises of their mooshie staff who were the happiest, strongest and efficient team I have seen in a very long time. Some of them remembered my dad and were delighted to meet me, as I them. I look forward to seeing their broad smiling faces and exchanging warm handshakes in the future.
With that we were off on a longer trek to Masvingo where we were to spend the night. Although the road was helluva bumpy (with my kidneys not very impressed), it was still a stunningly scenic drive and I wish I had a few days just to linger longer and photograph the many peaceful, picturesque rural vistas. These included the majestic rocky outcrops and mountains, the individually unique giant Baobabs, hordes of happy, unfettered school kids waving with big smiles alongside the road, donkey carts trotting piled high with firewood, thatch-hutted kraals, and last, buy certainly not least, the iconic Birchenough Bridge of Manicaland, where we saw local fisherman cast their wide nets into the Save River.
We arrived at Pioneer Trust in Masvingo at around 4pm where we were welcomed by a bubbly Cindy, an ever-laughing Johnny Nel, the local pastor and an invitation to an early graze with the frail care oldies. The best part of dinner was tasty rice pudding with custard and then the ladies requested I entertain them on the piano and sing. This is always fun and I’m sure we sent them to bed with sweet dreams. Our accommodation for the night had me in the most comfortable bed of the whole trip and the luxury of a deep, hot soothing bath for my tired muscles and sore kidneys which I wallowed in until my palms and soles were wrinkled.
DAY 8: (Friday, 4 August 2023)
An earlier morning than the rest, with the alarm sounding just after 5am and hitting the road to Zvishavane at around 6am. After passing on the boxes for Mimosa Cottages to Mike roadside, our first and hopefully, only challenge took shape. Johan had noticed that the steering wheel was pulling to the side for a little while, but it got worse quite rapidly. At closer inspection, it looked like the tag axle had shifted considerably on the back right-hand side with the rear most tyre wearing quite seriously, and we were concerned about a blowout. However, our last boxes to deliver were just down the drag at Shurugwi where the poor folks of Muus Lodge were waiting. This is one of the poorest homes and a stark reminder of the reason for the long road trips, the early mornings, back-breaking graft, meticulous planning and coordination, and tired, aching bones & muscles. For most of these golden oldies, this was their only source of food, toiletries, meds, a few treats and most importantly, a reminder that they still matter. One thing I was happy to take note of throughout the trip was the diversity of beneficiaries – all walks of life, all colours, all faiths and basically, all over. After more outpouring of gratitude from the pensioners and heartfelt hugs which are appreciated as much, if not more, than the parcels, we were on our way to JP in Gweru where we would take a closer look at the tag axle situation.
On arrival in Gweru, it became more and more obvious that the elections were around the corner with multiple roadblocks and a proliferation of election posters. With the same hope of Zimbabweans hoping for the best outcome, irrespective of party affiliation, we entered JP’s workshop and yard (where all Land Rovers seemed to have come to die and maybe reincarnated). Alas, our hopes were dashed as it became clear that the dire conditions of many of the roads we travelled had once again taken their toll on the truck, with a destroyed centre pin on the tag axle and possibly on the other, wreaking havoc with all 8 tyres at the rear. After chaining up the tag axle and the rear wheels in the air, thanks to JP and his awesome team, we were off to Bulawayo, trusting to get all the way home in one piece.
Driving on the way back to Bulawayo, my mind wandered into how important every cog of every gear facilitates the machinations of the machine that is the Zimbabwe Pensioner Support Fund. How thankful we are to all our donors and sponsors and to remind them and ourselves that their invaluable contributions support a myriad of costs including staff, warehousing, administration costs, transport and maintenance, and of course, most importantly, the care parcels themselves. That each parcel means for another few weeks a golden oldie can close their eyes at night and wake up in the morning with that much more peace of mind. This especially became meaningful when I realized how important the truck maintenance is and how much costs can accumulate simply due to road conditions, circumstances that are beyond any driver’s control.
Approaching Bulawayo, Johan had the inspired idea to get our faithful benefactors, Colbro Transport, to assist with a fuel top-up and ask whether they would be willing for their mechanics to inspect the tag axle and advise us accordingly. On arrival at Colbro we were ushered to the workshop pits by a friendly Max, where they conducted a full undercarriage inspection. Thankfully they were able to determine that the wheel alignment was still good, and we would comfortably be able to mission back to Malelane without any major hassle with the rear wheels in the air. Huge thanks must be given to Max, Tinashe and Nicky at Colbro Transport for assisting us and really going the EXTRA mile. Reading through past trip reports that night, I found that my dad and Hannes had experienced the exact same challenge and resolved it in the same way back in 2011!
A short drive later we were back at the warehouse in Bulawayo where Angela and her team would sort out the empty boxes. An hour later we were lucky to be hosted by Cousin Caroline and hubby Willem again, this time at the restaurant at the bowling club. Caroline had cooked up a maningi nice nosh and a couple of toots later we were back at their house for a nightcap and the first morning sleep-in in 2 weeks.
DAY 9: (Saturday, 5 August 2023)
On Saturday we had more of a laid-back day to defrag from the long trip and to rest up for the long haul back to Malelane. While Johan made sure all his admin was taken care of, I worked on what you are reading right now, the trip report. This responsibility had intimidated me in the beginning as there is a long history of reports and this would be my first one. Luckily Linda and Johan helped ease my mind by reminding that this was a recounting of my personal experience and perspective, and I decided to do it as I went along. Mom also sent me quite a few of the past reports by dad and herself, as well as other drivers, including Hannes for me to ready through. These were very enlightening as to how many similar experiences we had as well as how certain things had changed over the course of the years. After a delicious braai we were off to bed early to for an early departure to the border.
DAY 10: (Sunday, 6 August 2023)
As the sun rose we set off on the dreaded return route from Bulawayo to Beitbridge; the same road that we suspected had begun all our tag axle indabas. It’s a long haul with practically undrivable sections with potholes where I’m sure whole troops of baboons hid in and where speed has to be reduced to below 10km/h. Speaking of baboons, there were a prolific amount of troops all the way from Bulawayo, at the border and right through to our stop-over in Louis Trichardt, which Johan remarked was quite unusual. It was great to have a quick stop at the entrance to Chipangali, the wildlife sanctuary, another place with many fond childhood memories.
We departed Zims once again on a Sunday, as we had entered, with a quiet border crossing. With that it was a stop at the nearest garage where I could buy my much-missed pies, something I was advised to avoid in Zimbabwe, much to my dismay. With a belly full of pastry and calories, it was off to Louis Trichardt, with both driver and truck relieved to be on decent roads again. Once there, we completed a long, exhausting day with some scrumptious nosh and a great nights rest.
DAY 11: (Monday, 7 August 2023)
At 6:30am we left Louis Trichardt for the final leg of this adventure where Linda was waiting eagerly for Johan who had as much anticipation of their reunion. These two work tirelessly as a couple to enable the mechanisms of this invaluable service for the pensioners of Zimbabwe and they miss each other something sterek when apart, so I could feel the slight change in urgency in the driving, the ever-so heavier foot on the pedal and the tangible anticipation on this homeward bound stretch. I also was missing my beautiful Maputo, my little home and my friends, as well as some time and space to process the last 10 days which had opened my eyes to so many different perspectives on humanity, myself and life in general.
Although second in length only to our first leg, the kilometres and towns sped by quickly with a quick roadside stop just outside Tzaneen to buy some fresh farm fruit, a sighting of golden wildebeest just before Hoedspruit and then…a silent wish came true. On the road from Hoedspruit to Bushbuckridge are many game farms and I quietly hoped for a giraffe sighting, my favourite wild animal. Struze fact, just outside Hoedspruit Johan pointed out a lone giraffe standing right at the fence in beautiful clear view, and just like that, I received the perfect ending to this special adventure.
By 2pm we had parked the truck outside the warehouse in Malelane and Linda whisked us off once again to our local hangout for a toot and some debriefing. It felt amazing to be back and by Wednesday I would be back in Maputo.
Over the course of this first-time adventure and mission I came to the following realisations:
- Driving for 10 days in a truck will teach one driving patience. Sometimes we rush off too quickly and drive recklessly with the ease of a normal motorcar. A truck dispels those expectations and I was able to really take in each moment.
- I really wish I had done this trip with my dad when he was alive. Johan was the perfect fundi of note on everything and anything related to the trip, but there were times I wished I could have heard stories and facts in my dad’s voice and sat beside him in the truck or stood beside him taking in an awesome view.
- These golden oldies are in dire need but have so much pride, they do their best to hide it. I related so much to this in so many personal ways.
- Reading trip reports from the earlier days I was pleasantly surprised at how the attitude from the Zimbabwean authorities had changed towards the fund, especially at the border and roadblocks. On occasion we were thanked and lauded by policemen for the work of the fund, where in the past they had tried so often to derail and agitate admin and drivers alike.
- Zimbabwe is a very poor country stuck in a time warp of neglect and lack of progress. Municipalities either have no will or no funds to replace simple signage and infrastructure that has been there since I was a kid. Now imagine how much less will there is to take care of pensioners. I rest my case.
THANKS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
- First and foremost, huge thanks to cousin-in-law, buddy and captain of the cruiser, Johan. I don’t have enough words for how easy you made this daunting trip and turned it into the road trip of a lifetime. I have watched you and Linda through every step of the process of making this happen and am always reminding and awed by how much heart, soul and body you both invest into the ZPSF.
- Every benefactor from donators of monetary funds, fuel, supplies, places to stay, meals…the list goes on. You are all winged humans with halos. Having seen in real time how it all comes together, even when things don’t go according to plan, I am humbled and deeply moved.
- Each pensioner fighting through unenviable daily struggles ranging from poverty, loneliness, illness and neglect, yet welcoming us with the greatest, warmest smiles and hugs to remind us to be thankful for everything we have and to do likewise in the face of adversity.
- Last, but not least, my mom…for THE LIST that gave me incredible crib notes on people, places and inside info, for sending me past trip reports and for her prayers for safe passage.
JAMES BOTHA (CO-DRIVER) – JULY/AUGUST 2023 TRIP
TOTAL KILOMETRES: 3425
Head office South Africa contact details:
Linda Schultz – email@example.com – (C) 079 6082676 (T) 013 7900934
Johan Schultz – firstname.lastname@example.org – 082 4979328
Section 21 Co Reg. 2007/034036/08; NPO Number 096733; Section 18A PBO No 930031642