Africa has a way of stirring deep, existential emotions both within the hearts of those who call it home and those who long to visit.
But if you’ve ever wanted to know exactly where the heart of Africa is, geographically speaking, you can now head to the vibrant rainforests of the Congo to find a beacon firmly planted to mark the spot.
All thanks to the legendary explorer Kingsley Holgate.
Thirty-nine days ago, Holgate and his team set off from Gauteng’s Lesedi Cultural Village, in a fleet of Land Rovers, on a unique humanitarian expedition to find the beating heart of the African continent. The exact co-ordinates were scientifically determined by the Department of Environmental and Geographic Science at the University of Cape Town.
But the journey was not without its challenges. Despite having the luxury of specially outfitted Land Rovers, the last section of the forest trek required the team to park their vehicles and proceed on foot.
Adding even more authenticity to the experience, Holgate and his team were aided by 14 Ba’aka pygmies for the last part of the trek, bringing their great knowledge of the forests they call home to the expedition.
Yet, with the help of the expedition’s interpreter, Nazaire, the team discovered that the pygmy porters had never travelled beyond their familiar forest routes. So what lay ahead was completely unknown for everyone.
Relying on ancient Ba’aka knowledge of extracting nourishment from the jungle, the team survived on fresh water extracted from vines; tree roots as potatoes; and honey from wild bee hives, which they carefully smoked.
“After 9 000 kilometres in our Landies, across six countries, it’s the last 17 kilometres that nearly killed us,” said Holgate.
“It became a physical and emotional nightmare of endurance, and the longest seven days of my life. A whole week of grabbing roots to drag us along our bellies, digging through deep mud, and crafting our own pole bridges.”
With worn bodies and weary minds, many team members relied on potent antibiotics to stave off infections. At the same time, the Ba’aka realised that they may have bitten off more than they could chew, and started turning back.
Lacking the translational skills of Nazaire, who was recovering at a basecamp, Ross Holgate – Kingsley’s son – took the lead and motivated the remaining members. Former rugby player and now Holgate expeditioneer, Deon Schurmann, used his best French to convince the Ba’aka to continue on with the team.
Sensing the determination in the explorers, the pygmies agreed. Seven hours and 1.7 kilometres later all three GPS units read “17.05291°E, 2.07035°N” – the exact co-ordinates as supplied by the University of Cape Town, and verified by the International Geographic Union.
Filled with emotion, the expedition crew and Ba’aka teamed up to screw the Heart of Africa beacon into the roots of an old tree. Greybeard unscrewed the traditional African gourd, containing symbolic waters from the Cradle of Humankind, and poured its contents onto the site.
“We hope this pristine bit of Mama Afrika is protected and treasured for generations to come.”