The drought that has bitten so fiercely into the heart of southern Africa over the past year has meant yet another massive effort by aid agencies to stave off the starvation of millions of people. Stephen Williams, who witnessed the logistical nightmare of the drought in 1992 while reporting for the magazine Truck and Driver, describes how the same unsung heroes of the last relief effort are back on the road - Africa's aid-hauling truckers.
Love them or loath them, trucks play an important role in both industry and commerce worldwide, and Africa is no exception. I had been covering trucking stories in Africa, ranging from urban beer deliveries to militarily convoys through war ravaged Mozambique, when in 1992, the biggest story of all emerged from drought stricken southern Africa. Ships were delivering a staggering 11.6 metric tonnes of grain to ports to alleviate food shortages, and the battle was on to distribute the aid in time to save countless lives. At the front line of the struggle was the region's haulage industry, tasked with getting the aid from ports and railheads to the starving.
One such haulage company was GDC, operating out of Harare Zimbabwe. Teaming up with one of the company's drivers, Thomas Kamzunguze, the next few days were spent accompanying him in his International truck pulling drought aid from home base to Zambia. This involved a journey that crossed National Parks, home to great herds of elephant, and also the mighty Zambezi River.
As scenic as the journey was, what was truly fascinating was to hear his experiences over 15 odd years of African trucking. As a teenager he had been lured away from schooling to join the liberation forces fighting for independence in Smith's Rhodesia. He had been sent for training in the Soviet Union but on his return to Zimbabwe joined the new nation's army.
The next few years were spent in the forces as a truck driver hauling chilled food stuffs around the country's barracks, and on discharge he continued this vocation. He had trucked all over the region, hauling machinery and tobacco, copper and clothing from points as far as Zaire to the RSA and Malawi to Botswana. Like most truck-drivers he loved the work, took pride in his vehicle, and displayed all the skills that a driver requires, from home cooking at the side of the road to running repairs. He was also profoundly grateful that he could help in combating the drought afflicting his country.
The southern African region has always...