This time it’s a super treat. On-theme, but not about either me, packing or visas for a change. Sihle Khumalo, who was kind enough to phone me the other week, was even kind enough to do a mini-interview on questions Cape to Cairo related. For those who don’t remember, Sihle Khumalo is the author of Dark Continent, my Black Arse – the book that initially inspired the idea, now manifested, of travelling Cape to Cairo on public transport. He was also the person that I most dearly wanted to ask questions about his journey, since much of my intended route will go along a similar path. So, without further ado, I give you an interview with Sihle:

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I was born in Nqutu, a small rural town in KZN. Completed my matric at a boarding school in Pietermaritzburg before furthering my education at Natal Technikon. I worked for Transnet for more almsot 11 years before joining the Anglo American’s Exploration Division. I am 34 years old (born in June 1975) and i am married with two kids aged 5 years and 4 months.

What motivated you originally to travel from Cape to Cairo, and later to Central Africa. What made you decide to undertake such a large challenge at all, and to settle on Cape to Cairo over any other possibilities?

I had always been fascinated by Mother Africa. As a young boy I knew that one day I will do a massive African trip. In 2005, with my 30th birthday approaching I decided to take the plunge and do the Cape to Cairo because
I knew that after turning 30, I was going to ‘settle down’. At school I learnt about Cecil John Rhodes and his Cape to Cairo dream, and I thought why not see what was this big deal about the Cape to Cairo. There was really no other option but the Cape to Cairo. It was only natural that after doing the Cape to Cairo that I explore the heart of Africa (Central Africa). It is an open secret that my next adventure will be in North West Africa.

I also thought that anything north of the Limpopo river is dark and dangerous. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.

How were your experiences from Cape Town to Cairo different from any expectations you had before you left?

As to expected of a South African, I also thought that anything north of the Limpopo river is dark and dangerous. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. I actually felt much safer in other African countries than I
feel here in SA.

Which were your favourite and least favourite countries to travel through?

I liked Malawi (becauseof the Lake) and Ethiopia as well Egypt because of the history. Notwithstanding the humility of the Sudanese, I hated that country because of bureaucracy.

Are there any particular memories from the trip which, in retrospect, make you laugh or feel saddened more than any others?

Sitting on the back of an old battered open bakkie [pickup]  in Sudan during the storm was the worst day (but in retrospect I am glad it happened – I have more stories to tell). The economic suffering, especially of young kids got to me. It is a sure sign that Africa still has huge challenges facing her.

Do you think that the perceived danger of traveling through Africa, particularly on public transport, is overstated?

Definitely. Any openminded person can do the Cape to Cairo.

While there is a fair amount of detail when researching on the Internet for many of the transport links, traveling from Nairobi to Addis Ababa and from the Ethiopia/Sudan border at Gallabat to Khartoum has precious little information on the available transport. Do you have any advice for travelers going through those areas?

Read the book by Sihle Khumalo. On a more serious note, there is limited transport from Nairobi to the Ethiopian border. From Gondar (northern Ethiopia) there are buses that leave in morning to Sudan border. From there you take a ride on the back of the bakkie to Gedaref and then connect to Khartoum. From Gondar to Khartoum as well as a train from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa are the two difficult sections of the trip.

What general advice would you have for others hoping to do similar journeys? Is there anything, looking back now, that you wish anyone had told you before you left?

If possible get the Sudanese visa before leaving SA. The wait in Addis is not worth it. Besides there is no guarantee you can get it.

On a more practical note, do you remember (more or less) what your average daily costs were during your trip?

Approximately USD 60 a day if you are backpacking. However, as it will happen, other cities have limited backpackers. Thus you will end up in a hotel which then messes up your budget…

Finally, having traveled from Cape Town to Cairo and more recently through Central Africa, where do you see yourself going next?

North West Africa and I will be done with Africa… but then there is Europe, the Americas, Asia and not to mention space. The sky, these days, is no longer the limit

North West Africa and I will be done with Africa... but then there is
Europe, the Americas, Asia and not to mention space. The sky, these days,
is no longer the limit
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  • Natasha

    What I found whilst reading Dark Continent My Black Arse is that Sihle did not give any credit for what white people did for the development of Africa. He only talks about how bad the whites are. He was very subjective in his book.

  • vukile

    I have read both books: Dark Continent…& Heart of Africa. I think we all owe Africa a visit. I’m sure all this xenophobia would end very quickly if we stepped outside our stoeps. As someone who knows Sihle personally I enjoyed his work and I felt challenged to do something big like a “Township Tour around S.A.”

  • Alice Strittmatter

    I loved that book because travel writing by an African writer is indeed so rare. Sihle’s book encouraged me also to travel Zambia by bus. First I was a bit reluctant because it was the rainy season but Sihle in mind I did the plunge and I enjoyed every minute. I have been involved with Zambia for more than 30 years and that trip once more showed me how much I like Zambian people’s sense of humor and their patience. I am planning already my next trip by public transport which will cover all the countries South of Zambia. Thank you Shile.
    Alice from Berlin/Germany.

  • Ngetitm

    Dear Natasha, But he did acknowledge the role of the Boers for the infrastructural development in South Africa which he says sets S.A far ahead of the rest of Africa (page 219)

  • Thank you for your email. I am currently in Uganda and the DR Congo with limited access to email, but will respond as soon as I am able to.

    Richard Stupart
    Freelance Photojournalist
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