The Old Diocesan Issue5 Mar2020 - Page 63

Laurel and Hardy, and Tom
Clancy’s Jack Ryan.
Construction on the Benguela
Railway was begun at the turn of
the 20th century by Portuguese
colonists in order to connect the
mineral-rich region of the Congo
Free State (now part of the DRC)
to the port of Lobito. The railway
was a vital component of trade
in the region, and by the 1970s
was transporting millions of tons
of cargo every year. The war that
followed Angola’s independence
in 1975 lead to the disintegration
of the railway until, by the early
2000s, only 34km of the original
1,300km of rail were functional.
Beginning in 2006, the Benguela
Railway was rebuilt by the China
Railway Construction Corporation,
and by 2015 the route from the
coast to the Angolan border with
the DRC was open again.
In 2017, sensing another
opportunity to explore the age
of rail and steam in southern
Africa, Rohan embarked on
an exploratory journey, partly
by rail trolley. While not quite the
silent movie comedy it sounds, the
trolley survey is an exposed and
rudimentary way to travel by rail.
With the route largely secure,
a further obstacle was organising
visas for travellers from all over
the world to progress through
the DRC and into Angola. After
meetings with various fixers,
government ministers, and a
last-minute clock-stopping flight,
Rovos Rail embarked on its new
ocean-to-ocean adventure. On
board was a woman taking her
57th journey with Rovos Rail,
testament to the entrancing effect
the train has on its passengers.
When I speak to Rohan about the
first official trip, his enthusiasm is
palpable. “At every stop, there was
a welcoming party. Villagers came
out to see us. There was music and
singing. It was incredible.” Angola
is still in recovery after decades of
conflict. The oil industry generates
billions of dollars, but there is
tremendous poverty, and the
benefit of those oil profits is
not making its way deep into
the interior of the country.
The train demonstrates the
potential growth in the tourism
sector outside of the coastal cities
and the diamond fields of the
north-east. More than that, the
railway itself is, in Rohan’s words,
“a development desperately needed
to help the people rehabilitate a
really fertile and beautiful land”.
With his new adventures
successfully completed, the
network of Rovos Rail journeys
offers travellers unparalleled
experiences of touring through
southern Africa. Looking at the
photo of Rohan at the launch of
his first train in 1989, it is striking
that his smile hasn’t changed. If
anything, it is now slightly broader.
Ian-Malcolm Rijsdijk (1991B)
lectures on film studies at the
University of Cape Town.
Above: Rohan smiling broadly at a station in Angola during Rovos Rail’s
inaugural east-to-west journey. Left: The Bishops youngster who would
become a train mogul. Opposite, clockwise from left: The newly launched
Rovos route (in yellow) is a 15-day journey between Dar es Salaam and
Lobito; chugging through Angola; a locomotive firebox, ready to rumble.

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