LIKE a curse, the Dorsland Trek, even today. First of these treks started in 1874 continuing sporadically until 1905. Families from the Groot Marico and Rustenburg districts suffered unbearable hardship as they trekked through the Kalahari, leaving dead people, dead animals and dead dreams all along the way.
Most were headed to Angola, first across Botswana, then through northern Namibia, across the KuneneRiver and onwards to Humpata in south-western Angola.
Tourist information sites will tell you that Humpata lies on the edge of the Angolan planalto – a highland area that suddenly rises more than 1000m on the back of sheer cliffs creating deluxe photographic opportunities. But during the Dorsland Trek no one was thinking much about the scenery.
These were people with a litany of political woes and most of all they wanted to be left alone to run their lives – both their political life in this world and their anticipation of life in the next. After travelling so far and losing so many of their number to thirst and disease they eventually reached their destination and settled in Humpata. But when Angola’s then Portugese colonial masters tried converting them to Catholicism, many decided it was time to go and a number trekked back to Namibia’s remote northern regions.
Depending on your perspective you might consider them deranged extremists with a death wish, or pathfinders for 21st century 4 x 4 adventure seekers, or historically interesting figures, maybe even from your family genealogy. And if you wanted to follow their wagon tracks – well surely a niche tourist outfit could provide just the information you needed.
That, in fact, was exactly how Jan Hendrik Joubert came to be driving his Stellenbosch-registered white double-cab bakkie in the Omaheke region of northern Namibia in late June 2006. His bakkie was crammed with equipment, some of it in a steel trunk: laptop, GPS, various other electronic devices, cameras, jerry cans of petrol, crates of food and water, camping gear.
On June 20 he met Myrtle Tjozongoro, a health worker, handing out polio vaccine. They chatted and he told her he was a tour operator, mapping the route of the Dorsland Trek.
Next day Tjozongoro gave polio drops to two men at a distant cattle outpost, Steve Kaseraera and Muuamuhona Karirao. Then, driving on, she saw Joubert with his double cab in a riverbed and told him to take the drops as well.
Little did she know that soon afterwards Kaseraera and Karirao would murder Joubert. As he drove up to a gate near where they were watching, unobserved, the bakkie stuck in the soft sand. He let some air out of the tyres, then opened the gate. As he walked back to his vehicle Kaseraera shot him in the chest.
The two quickly checked his pockets and took the little cash he had – they would later use this to buy dagga. But first they dumped his body in the bushes, then drove the bakkie to the place where they were staying. All the equipment from Joubert’s expedition they hastily off-loaded and hid; some they buried. Next, to confuse searchers even more, Karirao drove the bakkie 100 km and left it in the veld, before catching several rides home.
By then however the police had both in their sights. Joubert’s body was found quickly and the company that supplied his vehicle’s GPS tracking device was able to pin point its movements. Thus the police knew where the device had last operated, and that’s where they started looking.
Soon they had all the evidence they needed to charge the pair. Kaseraera pleaded guilty; Karirao claimed he had been forced to participate. Dismissing this defence, the court sentenced him to an effective 50 years: 30 for murder and 20 for robbery with aggravating circumstances.
This was reduced slightly on appeal and part of the robbery sentence will now run concurrently with the murder sentence.
In its judgment, delivered last month, the appeal court noted that Joubert had been mapping out the route taken by ‘a group of people’ who migrated through southern Africa before settling in Angola during the late 1800s. ‘Their epic trek took them though some of the most desolated and arid parts of southern Africa, hence the name “Dorsland (Thirstland) Trek”.’
Perhaps modern adventure-seekers eyeing the Dorsland trek route should pause to consider: not even state of the art gadgets and equipment can guarantee they will return safely from this tough and ‘most desolate’ part of the world.