In the Southern Africa early history the Great Trek (Groot Trek) and the ‘Dorsland trek’ feature quit prominently. The Voortrekker Monument a well-known landmark in Pretoria was erected to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854. Most of us grew up with this through history lessons or listening to the ‘folk lore’ about their endeavours. We took it for granted.
During our excursions into our neighbouring countries we however have learnt that the ‘Great Trek Spirit’ still exists as we have come across various South Africans farming in Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and recently even as far as the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville)
During this adventure we ventured north into the ‘unknown’ ‘off the beaten track’ to the Republic of Congo. This had many an eyebrow lifted as, as the route passes through the far north of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cabinda and the Republic of Congo. Destinations that do not see many a ‘tourist’ other than people that would fly in or live in these areas, working typically in the oil industry. They would live close to the major towns and in leisure time join organised trips offered by a few companies seeing local destinations.
Apart from the Voetspore team which crossed through Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Pointe Noire on the way to Gabon, there are but a few reports of individuals or groups that ventured on ‘self-drive’ adventures into these territories. The main drawback/obstacle apart from the long distances, bad roads and the lack of information regarding destinations in these countries is reportedly the threat of dealing with corrupt officials and the effort involved of obtaining Visas.
In our experience – the Visas were pretty normal as far as Africa is concerned – one has to apply for visas for each of Angola, DRC and Congo Brazzaville (unlike for instance Europe or East Africa where a single visa would allow access to various countries. This in itself took some time and effort. Being as it may – this proved to be not as bad as expected and should not deter one. On the ‘corrupt officials’ side – we did not experience this to be an issue. Should one be prepared with all the required paperwork there is not much they could use against you.
This did not stop us and finally after 2 weeks of an amazing 4×4 adventure varying from some of the worst roads ever to brand new highways through beautiful country-side, we ended up at our most Northern destination, the Niare valley North of Dolisie, (some 50km short of Gabon border) visiting the group of South African farmers that settled in this area, farming in an area comprising of 80 000 ha allocated for this project.. To date they have managed to clear 3500 ha of virgin land cultivating maize. This they have achieved in a period of only three years. We were pleasantly surprised with what they have achieved in this short period. We had received various negative reports about their ventures in the South African press but what we have found and experienced was short of a miracle – seeing what they have achieved in such a short period.
The original 80 000 ha formerly controlled by Congo Agriculture has now officially been divided into two parts of 40 000 ha each, one part under the administration of Todi River Farms, and the other under the administration of AgriSA. (Congo Farmers association). Afgri’s continued confidence in the Congo farmers over the past three seasons is starting to pay off. With a potentially excellent harvest on the fields, a conservative production of 6 000 to 8 000 tons of maize is expected, but it can easily be more. This figure will increase drastically over the coming seasons, as production problems have been solved and increasingly more land is being cleared and planted. The farmers have familiarized themselves with climatic and soil conditions which will lessen the possibilities of a failed crop.
The Niara river forms one of the borders of the concession area and Makabana is set right on the banks of the Niara River. Although largely neglected, it is easy to imagine how beautiful and active the town must have been with all the facilities (swimming pools, gymnasium, tennis courts etc) Makabana used to be in the centre of the Mont-Bélo to M’Binda branch line, which connects to the RoC rail network that terminates at the port of Pointe Noire on the Atlantic Ocean. Makabana was the service centre for the rolling stock used on this railroad. The Mont-Bélo to M’Binda Branch Line was constructed in 1962 to haul manganese ore from Gabon to Pointe Noire. Manganese ore haulage ceased in 1991 when Gabon built its own railway. The old diesel locomotives and carriages left in disuse offer amazing photo opportunities.
The most northern turning point was the sawmills at Foralac where we were amazed and saddened by the huge tree trunks that are awaiting the mills. We spent three nights at Belle Terre, Wynand du Toit’s farm, before we had to start our journey onward in search of the Western Lowland Gorilla’s and the turning back to the RSA and Namibia respectively. In true URI fashion we obviously did have a braai, treating all the Malolo farmers to Namibian Cuisine.
We also used the opportunity to visit the local Chief at Malolo village and the Mayor of Makabana making their acquaintance as well as presenting them with soccer balls, writing materials for the school and French bibles, contributed by friends and members of the group.
The Mayor proudly took us to a new Internet cafe and library they set up in Makabana for the community.
Where many a motorist buy a (SUV) 4×4 today as a ‘family car’ or ‘mom’s taxi’ and to embark occasionally on an outdoor trip they normally would rate the Nissan’s Patrol as being a socially and environmentally irresponsible choices for mainly urban use– but out in the ‘bundus’ and as a heavy-duty tow vehicle, you’ll have to go a long way to get better as the Patrol to me it more than favourably compares high up with the best in the business.
Off the beaten track it becomes a truck, albeit a pretty civilised, comfortable one. And on this, let’s call it an extreme adventure, into the Congo’sit proved to be just that. The 4.8-litre engine matched to a five-speed auto drivetrain gives outstanding performance and flexibility giving one the ability to tackle the ‘unknown’. Being fitted with EFS heavy-duty suspension it was ideal for the off-road conditions whilst towing a heavy load. It is truly ‘unstoppable’ in rough country
Our Patrol a ‘Adventurer 60’ special edition came with an aftermarket bull-bar, IPF spotlights, a snorkel and Yokohama AT/S tyres (285 75 R17) all of which passed the test on this rugged, adventure.
Wynand du Toit was a South African Special Forces operative who had been captured in the Angolan conflict near Cabinda,he was imprisoned for a period and later released in a prisoner exchange. Wynand is in the Congo at the request of the President heading up the farming project and restoring the land and buildings to there former state.