As CAA Press Officer,
John Roger talked about de Havilland Beavers
landing in Mankoya in 1961. He said that Mankoya was on the
This was the Caption below his photo
a delightful place situated on the banks of the Zambesi River.
Below, if needed, is the proof that he was wrong about the
whereabouts of the great River.
Following is a newspaper article from the
Bulawayo Chronicle, kindly sent to David Whitehead by
Robin Clay, which describes the first trip by a convoy
of motor-cars from Lusaka to Mongu, Barotseland, by way
of the recently-completed road.
LUSAKA TO MONGU IN THREE DAYS
FIRST TRIP BY NEWLY-COMPLETED ROAD VIA MUMBWA
SANDY BUT INTERESTING ROUTE
This article also appears in David Whitehead’s book
“Inspired by the Zambezi” due out in 2014. A ten
page article describing how difficult it was to get to
Barotseland before 1937, will appear before the Book in
Aeroletters Number 106 entitled “Early Days of
Flying to Barotseland” due out in Sept / Oct 2013.
The trip, which was made by the Chief
Road Engineer, took three days as compared with three
hours by air and three weeks by barge along the Zambezi
We accomplished what we set out to do, in
spite of a good deal of pessimism, which was to get to
Mongu, Barotseland, from Lusaka in three days by road.
The bugbear of this journey was
We started off with the Paramount Chief's car, which was
accompanying us, and reached Mumbwa in 4½ running hours.
Here we had lunch and filled up with petrol, as this was
the last filling station we should touch until our
return. All the petrol for the remainder of the trip was
carried on a big lorry.
The first portion of the road to the
Kafue River is a new one, and has only been traversed by
one or two cars since July. The last 40 miles were
pretty rough going, over tree holes, through rocks and
round ant heaps. The road runs through pleasant forest
country which is flat except for sudden outcrops of
enormous rocky mounds and hillocks.
At mile thirty we entered the game
reserve, and as if by instinct the animals sense their
protection, they were all round us. and we might have
been driving through an over-populated Whipsnade. The
first indication of game we saw was a herd of buffalo
which suddenly rushed up from nowhere. and ran beside
the car for some yards. In the fraction of a second,
they had changed their minds. turned at right angles,
and charged straight for us. The car was brought to a
standstill just in time to avoid them dashing into us.
Fortunately, they continued straight across the road;
with heads down, and tails up they panicked off into the
forest, regardless of what stood in their way, grazing
large trees, scattering ant heaps, and taking all bushes
in their stride.
It took us a moment to collect our
scattered senses before we proceeded, but we had not
gone more than a quarter of a mile when we saw another
herd of about a hundred standing quite close on our
right. Much to our relief they started to move off
slowly. Two or three of them turned and snorted rather
threateningly at us, and for one awful moment it looked
as if they were going to give the signal for the whole
herd to turn and charge us. However, they fortunately
thought better of it as they quite abruptly kicked up
the dust and disappeared into the dusk. I felt I'd seen
quite enough for one evening's entertainment.
The next sight was a beautiful one of
eight sable antelope standing beneath large spreading
trees. They were quite unconcerned, and incursions. As
we continued our journey every dambo had herds of
wildebeest, hartebeest, bushbuck and waterbuck, grazing
or returning from their evening drinks at the
waterholes. Birds were very scarce, and in some areas
might have been non-existent.
All this area is uninhabited by human
beings, and filled with tsetse fly, which seem to bite
through the thickest breeches. They are especially fond
of your scalp, or the tender flesh behind your ears. As
dark was now falling the lights of the car, as we went
along, lit up many strange unknown eyes in the bush.
We eventually reached our camp on the
Kafue River, and the end of the first stage of our
journey, at 6:40 p.m. Here we met our three other fellow
travellers, who had come so far on lorries. A large
camp-fire greeted us cheerfully, and we soon had our
beds up, and a three-course dinner on the way. We all
retired to bed very early as it was arranged to make a
start at 4 a.m. to get the four cars across the pontoon
before the daily wind arose. After 9 a.m. it is inclined
to be too rough to risk the crossing on a laden canoe
The night was bitterly cold, but was only disturbed by a
wandering hyena. We were a stir by 4 a.m. The first
lorry (a bright flashing scarlet one, which was to prove
the delight of all the natives we met) was safely over
by 4.30. All the cars and lorries had to be unloaded
before doing the crossing, and each return journey took
about an hour, as the river is half a mile wide at this
point. So it was 9 a.m. before we were all ready to
start on the second stage of our trip.
Four hippos watched our movements with great solemnity.
They kept bobbing up and down. seemingly conferring with
each other as to our doings. Fortunately they stayed at
a safe distance. While the pontoon was being built these
gentlemen were so curious that they had to be chased
away before the natives could be induced to proceed with
the work: even then they were not satisfied till they
had made two attacks on the pontoon.
The road from here onwards was rougher
than anything one could ever have imagined, and the
contact with the roof of the car became quite
monotonous. At the end of the journey I never knew I
possessed so many bones in my body to ache. Game was
most plentiful on every dambo, and standing in the
forests as we drove by.
This piece of country is strangely flat
with miles upon miles of perfectly straight road running
through forest. The surface improved further on, and in
a few places we were able to do forty with the greatest
of ease. At one part the road narrows, and the trees
change to an almost tropical growth. The ground becomes
a complete switchback and you might imagine you were
driving over the Mountains of the Moon. However, we all
cracked and groaned along at about 10 miles an hour. The
villages were very few and far between, but any human
habitation poured forth its men, women, children and
dogs to greet us, as such a sight had only been seen to
a very few of them before. The flashing scarlet lorry
put us all in the shade and gained all the attention.
[On Wednesday, the 25th of August, 1937]
we arrived at Mankoya without any mishaps about 4 p.m.
where we were most hospitably received by the District
Commissioner [Gervas Clay] and his wife [Betty]. The
Boma consists of two houses, the office, and aerodrome,
nearby which was the wreck of a plane that had come to
grief a week or so previously. The rising ground of the
Boma very pleasantly over-locks a plain, through which
one of the few largish rivers flow.
The next morning we left on the last and
most difficult lap of our journey. The road for some 40
miles is wide and straight, with a good surface, and
runs through forest country, where the game was still
plentiful. The monotony is broken by enormous grass
plains with herds of game grazing quite peacefully, as
there are no inhabitants. Some of these plains are
covered with the most amusing little ant heaps that look
like a lot of small begging dogs, others resemble
miniature castles on the Rhine.
We crossed one large river with several
largish villages on its banks, otherwise water is almost
unknown except for one or two very small streams spanned
by bush bridges.
After our halt for lunch we entered the
famous sand of Barotseland, having first deflated our
tyres to 101b. Here the vegetation gets scrubby,
pathetic, and seems to be struggling for existence. The
great secret was to keep moving, and if you had to draw
up, to do so on a place where there were leaves or tufts
of grass. Every now and again the caravan was compelled
to halt to cool off the boiling cars, and fill up with
water, of which the lorry carried a good supply for this
emergency. With a following wind and a very hot sun we
had several boilings and coolings, but eventually began
the long ascent of sand into Mongu, with the plains
stretching on either side.
This hill was the worst part of the
journey as the sand was particularly heavy, and the
grade told on the cars. However, we reached the summit
triumphantly, only to find that both the Paramount
Chief's car and the lorry had stuck half way. As all the
villagers were' most excited, and. willing to help they
were soon pushed out, and joined the triumphal entry
into the capital of Barotseland. We received a great
welcome, and much kind hospitality from the residents.
The town is built on a hill overlooking the plain on three sides. The views are very extensive and quite unique. Trees are a rarity; and gardens a problem as water has to be carried considerable distances. There are no reads, as they have never required them, but there are brick paths set in the sand leading everywhere.
Everyone possesses a precarious looking bush cart propelled on one wheel, which is very much more comfortable than it looks. If you have a baby, there is a contraption like a meat safe attached to the back of the bush cart in which your child travels very ably protected from the flies which seem to overwhelm the entire country.
Whitehead’s Bush Cart 1|
Children’s gauzed-in bush car 1|
Whitehead family Bush Cart 2|
RETURNING to LUSAKA.
After three days' pleasant stay we
started on our homeward journey. Shortly after leaving
Mongu the sand proved too much for our car, and she
developed a block in the petrol feed. While
investigating this we discovered the main leaf of the
back spring had gone in two places. This meant crawling
home over the 300 miles left of our journey. We bound it
up with wood and cowhide, which had to be tightened
every 50 miles or so. However, after a hold-up of an
hour, with the kind and able help of our fellow
passenger, we carried on, and arrived back in Mankoya
after a long, hot and tiring run.
The lorry was also beginning to make
strange noises of protest at the road's imperfections.
It was packed with native passengers, who seized the
opportunity of reaching the railway line in three days.
Chief among the passengers was a "wanted criminal," with
his armed guard.
One of our most lovely sights on the homeward journey
was a large herd of zebra which ran along beside us for
quite a long way, then shot across the front of the car.
A small foal accompanied the herd beside its mother. An
alarming sight, though exciting, was a lion sitting in
the long grass,. linking his chops, but he disappeared
so quickly that we could not pick him up again in the
protective colouring of the surrounding bush.
We arrived at the pontoon at 4 p.m. but
as the wind was still pretty high, we had to wait a
considerable time till it dropped sufficiently for us to
make a comfortably and a safe crossing.
It was not until after dark that the big
lorry was able to get to the camp on the other side.
From here to Lusaka no untoward events occurred, and
this ended the journey of the first car to make this
WHERE IS THE RIVER?
Referring to the
previous remark - refuting what John Roger said in
ORAFs, that in 1961 CAA Beavers landed at Mankoya, which
was on the Zambezi - by the way Mongu isn’t on the
Zambezi either, but at least 25 miles away.
There is a canal (5) – see map
below - linking Mongu to the Little River which runs
eventually, miles away, into the Zambezi. The map is
from Gwyn Prins’ book “The Hidden Hippopotamus”,
Cambridge University Press, 1980.
The canals and sluits (sloots) were all
dug by King Lewanika’s regiments from 1888 onwards. It
was kick started in 1987 by Adolphe GOY, a missionary,
who started widening the Sefula stream (6) for
canoes to come and go.
Canals of Bulozi © Gwyn Prins annotated by David
It was a truly monumental job by an
inspired monarch, undertaken with hand-made hoes and
wooden shovels, one could say very much like the epic
draining of the FENS by the Earl of Bedford in 17th
Please note that David’s book is currently being formatted before being printedand this article will appear in his book “Inspired by the Zambezi”.
About the book, Gavin G Barnett, who
wrote “Like a River Glorious” initially kindly
encouraged David Whitehead by saying :-
“Anyone who has grown up and lived on the
great Zambezi River will inevitably have a heritage of
beautiful and powerful memories. The river itself has
such a profoundly interesting geographical history, its
pristine beauty and startling scenery is unsurpassed.
The river in days gone by was the gateway to
Barotseland. Its influence on the Whitehead family and
the author’s own boyhood has been powerful and
memorable. All this has combined to clamour for a record
binding them together. This collection of memoirs is the
result of that clamour and of the strong urge the author
has felt to ensure it does not all fade into the mists
of time. A compelling connection is made between the
river and the life of the author”.
Please be advised that I have David’s permission to
circulate this story with ORAFs.
All text and photographs are the property of David Lisle
(Please visit our previous posts and archives)
Labels: barotse, Kafue, Lusaka, Mankoya, Mongu, Mumbwa