Sihle Khumalo Heart of Africa

One of the loudest noises in the last few months is a campaign by a dude called Zachary Muturi Kimotho who was on a quest to propel a wheelchair to South Africa to the closest spinal injury medical facility. The campaign dubbed “Bring Zack Back”, supported by the Kenya Paraplegic Association and Safaricom was aimed at raising Kshs250 million.
The plucky wheelchairist made it to the Tanzanian border 100 kilometres South before coming back after raising Kshs73 million. We are all happy as the groundbreaking ceremony on the new spinal injury centre is upon us. The downside however is that I don’t know if the people who started this crazy campaign knew just how difficult it was going to be to go down to SA. When asked about his difficult journey Zack was quoted saying;
“It was very cold, particularly in the morning. My manual wheelchair also caused a lot of fatigue while some careless drivers did not even mind to slow down along rugged terrains,”
Sounds about right. Travelling across the African continent is not an easy task at the best of times. One of the best portrayals of moving from Kenya to South or rather the other way has to be in Heart of Africa a book by South African writer Sihle Khumalo. This book gives the story of the writer’s journey from Johannesburg in South Africa to the source of the Nile in Rwanda/Uganda. The reason it made me think of the Zack journey is that a huge part of the story tells of him making his way through Kenya as part of his trip.

Sihle Khumalo would have adviced the Zack team.
Sihle Khumalo would have adviced the Zack team.

The book starts at Park Station in Jo’burg which is kind of their Machakos Bus Station as the writer makes his way through the Beitbridge border crossing in Zimbabwe. He goes through Zimbabwe to the Victoria Falls shared by Zambia through Livingstone past Lusaka where he has a boat ride on Lake Tanganyika making it to Tanzania. He goes around Lake Victoria (which needs to be renamed Lake Nyerere or something already) through Kisumu and makes it to Rwanda where he gets traumatised by the Kigali Memorial Centre before making it to the source of the Nile and bungee-jumping.
You need to read this book with its humourous and engaging commentary about what the man sees along his journey. The guy is an African and he sees things as any African would see them which I really appreciate. My favourite part of the book weirdly enough has to be his experience of the transport brokers in Uganda. Any public transport user in Nairobi will be familiar with these guys in many termini that chill at the stage and when a matatu comes through will start yelling “twenty bob! Twenty bob!” When the vehicle fills up they will demand a commission from the matatu crew even though all they did was shout at passengers who were already boarding it. It seems that this problem is just as bad in Uganda.

The book gives a mental picture of what you are likely to encounter when you are going South to or North from SA. Which is why I would have loved it if the Bring Zack Back campaign guys had gotten a copy. The journey on public transport took Khumalo three months. How long was it likely to take a man on a wheelchair? Much longer. Definitely much longer.
And if not to see how a gruelling a journey of the sort would be organisers, of the next campaign down South should read it to learn more about the continent