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On the (African) Road with Sihle Khumalo

Sihle Khumalo Yvette Geyer & Busi DlaminiAt the Johannesburg launch of Sihle Khumalo’s Dark Continent, My Black Arse the author shared the delights of the travels he embarked upon to celebrate his 30th birthday: he took himself on a three-month Cape-to-Cairo jaunt.

“It had always been a dream to experience Africa for myself,” said Khumalo. “It had also always been a dream to write a book.” He left his fiancée and their 18-month-old child behind and ventured on the fabled and fabulous route, travelling as a backpacker, by public transport only, spending upwards of $50 per day.

“My friends wanted to know if I’d won the lottery. They said it didn’t make sense for me to resign from my job and leave my fiancée and baby behind.”

Most of his trip was, indeed, fabulous. In particular the first half, leading up to Nairobi, where Khumalo experienced quad-biking on ancient Namibian dunes and the thrill of microliting over the Victoria Falls, and encountered the soul-searching that results after visits to historical sites where, for instance, slaves were whipped and traded.

The second half of the trip proved more trying. In particular, obtaining a visa to enter Sudan required a lengthy wait in Ethiopia. Once there, he found the bureaucratic registration processes frustrating and bewildering. “The Sudanese have a spectacular capacity to turn something that should be straightforward and simple into a complex conundrum. If one wants to take a photograph of the Nile, one needs a permit!”

In the question and answer session following his talk, Sihle criticised African governments for their ineptitude and incompetence, and threw out the challenge that travelling an equivalent distance through Europe would not have been so arduous.

“We as Africans have to stop blaming colonialism. We’ve been running this continent, in most parts, for forty years. Our leaders have messed up big time. What did they do with their own countries? Why did we allow things to go so wrong? Our leaders have a responsibility. They have let the people down.”

In a heated debate, members of the audience took issue with this attitude. Khumalo was criticised for his platitudes and generalisations, and challenged about his perception of Africa’s “beautiful” women.

With wit and charm, he deflected the questions, saying he wished to avoid political interpretations of his book. Despite his criticism of particular aspects of his trip, he said, he learned to love Africa anew. “The journey changed my life. I was welcomed as a stranger to the homes and villages of my African brothers and sisters. I will never every speak of those who come here as ‘makwerekwere’ and urge each of us here to treat visitors to South Africa with respect.”

Photo gallery

Tselane Moleba & Caitlin Blaser Zodwa Sibiya & Hakima Haither Liyanda Paswa & Lerato Josephs Babalwa Ngcangisa & Zethu Cakata Marzena Jankowski & Lize Roos Maria Mothibe, Siphiwe Madiehe & Fiona Timber Nozibele Tshobeni, Yolisa Mpupa & Nosipho Balintulo Precious

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