Nearly forty years ago, Richard White, a Cardiff graduate travelled with three other students, two of whom were also from the University, to Johannesburg. They called themselves the Cardiff University TransAfrica Expedition. Richard recalls their remarkable adventure below.
In 1968, after completing our studies at Cardiff University, a group of us wished to travel before starting a job. We envisaged ten of us going round the world. These ambitions were reduced, and four "survivors" eventually left England on Tuesday 11th February 1969, aiming to drive to South Africa.
Colin Such, had done a lot of the preparatory work. Dave Dunn, whose hobby as a radio ham provided us with a project involving a new type of aerial, was a mechanical engineer as was David Cocks. These two had created a "new" lorry made up of a four wheel drive ex-army Commer, fitted with an additional Dodge cab, so that everyone could travel up front. It naturally became nicknamed "Codger". My role was to look after medical matters and negotiate when problems arose.
Sponsorship was obtained from several companies (including Duckham's Oil and Dunlop) and the University. The short wave radio transceiver to be used in the project was the most expensive item.
Problems arose on arrival in France. The temperature dropped to -20F and fuel consumption was much higher than anticipated. Drastic measures were taken as we used paraffin, as part of the fuel supply. It helped that petrol cost two shillings and ten pence (15p) per gallon in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco.
The radio eventually created problems; fears of spies seemed common and the project had to be abandoned. We posted the radio to Nairobi and, inevitably, we did not see it again.
In Egypt, we obtained permission to drive down the road through the Eastern Desert to the Sudan, as the lorry was "too long, too wide" to take on the Nile steamer. The fact that no such road existed did not prevent us obtaining a permit from the highest official in Egyptian security. The desert crossing involved hiring an Arab guide and an army escort of four soldiers and an army jeep. This journey started with a drive through the Russian missile camp at Aswan, our permit, with its significant signature, acting as our passport.
At Wadi Halfa, (27th April) we were told that we would have to put the lorry on the train. We left, illegally, on 9th May with two other groups who had joined us. Following the railway track through the desert, the three vehicles arrived at Abu Hamed after 14 hours.
The other groups had to go to court in Atbara for illegal driving; we were not to be punished as we had permission to drive - even if in a completely different part of the country. They were fined one pound each and then taken, with members of our group, for a wonderful meal with the judge and military officials. Apparently the judge wanted reassurance that the punishment had not been too severe! After that we were given tremendous hospitality at army camps throughout Sudan.
The Sudan/Ethiopia border was reached on 21st May. After stamping our passports to enter Ethiopia we were informed the road was closed because of bandits. Careful negotiations meant that we obtained permission to drive. We saw no bandits and the British Embassy laid on a reception for us on our arrival in Addis Ababa.
Financing the trip was a problem. We took on paying passengers, often called Mike. One told us he was going to Rhodesia to inherit a fortune. He offered to pay our hotel accommodation in Lusaka. After one night in the hotel, July 1st, we discovered Mike was a conman. He disappeared when challenged and the rest of us ended up signing a form saying we could not pay the bill.
Rhodesia refused us admission (7th July). We returned to Zambia taking a ferry across the Zambezi, to enter Botswana. Later, Colin obtained a job in the South African goldmines. The rest of us took up teaching posts in Botswana. We sold the lorry to a safari company on Sunday 21st July, the last day of the expedition and, the day the first man landed on the moon.
I want to congratulate the University on its first 125 years and wish it the best for the next 125. The University is diverse, welcoming and liberating and I hope that it continues to thrive. In October 2008, we held a reunion - Cardiff University continues to influence our lives.