Flight from Johannesburg to Accra via Leopoldville (Kinshasa)
Friday 12 August 1960
Miles 2844 (to Leopoldville) and 2050 = 4904 or nearly 5000 to Ghana.
Called at 5:30 a.m. and to the air terminal by taxi at 6 a.m. General fuddle – no passenger list and leaned on counter for over half an hour. They wanted £16.18.6 for excess baggage over 40 lbs (no 60 lbs for overseas travellers as in Australia. Sent one case to Kano air cargo(freight) for use in Nigeria and didn’t see it again until I got to London plane! Paid £10.16.6 excess after all - £4.5 of this for the superfluous case previously left in Pretoria. Took care to change all South African cash into Nigerian but couldn’t get Ghanan.
Flight left 8 a.m. At 8:30 was told breakfast just coming, but it didn’t come until 10!!! – raw ham with egg and a tale of a frying pan which wouldn’t work. Accessories in complicated paper packages were a sticky bun and a long glass of orange juice.
Across the sun bleached continent – completely circular under the cloudless dome of the sky. Flew at 13,000 ft, but clear enough for a very good view, though kraals too well camouflaged to see. First big lake and green patchwork of irrigation scheme in contrast to surrounding bleached yellow grass and brown earth dotted with trees. Savannah getting progressively sparser as we moved North West out of the Transvaal Mountains and valleys towards the Kalahari Desert and Bechuanaland beyond the Limpopo River. Very dry but still shrub dotted except for vast irregular dry sandy lake bed with lots of islands. Huge dust storm on part of this sand, clouds of dust being whisked up into billowing lean-based funnels and moving from east to west in great clouds. No vegetation over many square miles of lake bed – probably saline.
Across the North West corner of Southern Rhodesia and right over Victoria Falls – very dwarfed far below the chasm full of transient rainbows. Bush got thicker across Northern Rhodesia, as we left Lusaka far on the right, until the ground was quite dense, dark green, then it thinned out towards the North West. Apparently completely devoid of settlement, even native cultivation patches. Then into riverine country near the Angola border. Narrow winding strips of deep green forest marking the river system with a vast assemblage of ox-bow lakes, natural drainage basin lakes and pools, tributaries and loops – all with water in them. Here were frequent patches of native agriculture but no irrigation – a patchwork of irregularly demarcated stubble fields, not usually very near the main bodies of water – probably because of malaria and cholera. Must be springs in between.
On Angola border – pre Portuguese West Africa trouble was vast crop of pimples in flat land. Though at first these were round hollows where water had lain but their surface was too irregular. Probably large anthills (of Kafue), outlined with circles of clean yellow sand where lapping water or wading animals (of Kafue) had cleared the algae scum? And/or other dark vegetation which covered the flat parts between. No settlement here. Water probably transient. Very little water across the border in the dry yellow savannah of East and North East Angola. A long, seemingly endless sand track led in an undeviating straight line across the land taking wet and dry river valleys in its stride.
... A toy train crept along the straight railway line which, with a more devious road, followed a river nearly at right angles to our course. This was the main line from the Belgian Congo to the Angola coast. It went East North East from Lobito and Benguela on the Atlantic coast to Elizabethville, then bent south through the Rhodesian copper belt to Livingstone, Bulawayo and across the Kalahari to the Karoo desert and Cape Town.
... Along murky brown tributary of Congo River which forms the border for some way as far north as Popokabaka – which makes one think of a paternal chief. This bit more mountainous – then we ran into grey and white bumpy, billowy clouds over Congo. Order, “Fasten Safety Belts.” Passed over several sub-cities and suburbs outside Leopoldville. Saw natives carrying bamboos in country, females doing laundry by river, but the city streets were practically deserted except for U.N. vehicles.
Circled over River Congo – a broad sultry stretch of water with many subsidiary channels and flat islands. Masses of floating vegetation – looked like Salvia – others of more uneven appearance possibly Salvinia mats colonised ... Vegetation very green some way back from river and including tall forest with a lot of palms. Landed.
Got photo of Congo plane, from which the “Belge” had already been removed, and control tower whilst being chased several hundred yards in several languages by a black U.N. in plane blue forage cap – whole airport full of them – many of them in tin hats. One guard on all balconies and at doors. In restaurant where, black, brown and yellow officers were eating together at small tables but the men lunched outside filling their oblong mess tins with porridge like meal ladled from a vessel on the back of a truck. Mostly blacks - Ghanans etc. But also Swedes from Aden. Talked to two just out of hospital and very grieved because they couldn’t accompany their regiment, which had left a few hours before with Hammarskjöld, U.N. chief, for Katanga. They were at a loose end - said there would be fighting and they wanted to be with their pals or failing that back in Egypt out of this grey humanity. Told us of the fight when many bullet holes which we saw in the ceiling and the broken windows had been caused. This was when the Belgian paratroops were landing on the airfield. A thousand female and child refugees were then in the airport buildings waiting for lifts out when the Congolese came and took over manning the upstairs balconies to shoot at the ‘invaders’. Presumably Belgium bullets from outside had done the damage.
Native curio sellers still making hay while the sun shone, but the place had an air of desertion – waste paper lying around and few civilians, with a very skeleton airport staff. Went out front for photo of frangipani and golden shower – Army vehicles whizzing by beyond. Twice refused exit to the airfield. Refugees of many colours getting on to planes (Only on some days did Pan American land – a few days after they were missing out.) The day before Lumumba had had his face pushed in hereabouts but he seemed to carry on with few ill effects. A particularly exciting period.
... Off at 3:10 after an hour in airport during which I bought a 13/- ivory bracelet with a Nigerian pound note and got South African silver for change. Drink on Pan American Airlines. We only saw the Congo River and Brazzaville on the French Congo side of it before being swallowed up in an extensive flat-bottomed white mist. Not turbulent cloud as before, but probably the inevitable sea mist where the equatorial land air meets that of the ocean – which is probably stiff affected here by the cold Benguela current. Effectively blotted out everything so my two crossings of the equator have been all sea and all sky respectively.
The flat mist layer, with a sprinkling of cirrus above changed to the billowing top of cotton wool cumulus beneath an empty blue void. When a gap finally appeared it revealed a blue void below, with few tell tale white flecks to indicate that this was ocean. At 6:10 we entered into a zone of turbulence where a white fog shrouded the upper firmament and tall pillars of cumulus reached across the void to meet it. Bright sunshine filtered through vents in the shroud, although it was dark in Johannesburg at this time yesterday. But that was about 4,000 miles away and in another hemisphere, where winter reigns, albeit not a very wintry one and where I was earthbound instead of viewing the sun from 13,000 ft. Still bright and sunny at 7 p.m. but the mist below got progressively darker whilst the sun still shone at 13,000 ft. Soon out again above a wrinkled floor of cotton wool.
It was not yet night when we landed at 8 p.m. and it was only then that I discovered that it was only 6pm here – Ghana time – we had been chasing the sun westwards!