Words & Images Andrew Middleton
Call it two parts of a perfect storm: the death of the Defender and the imminent tarring of Sani Pass. So, with the storm clouds gathering ever darker, we have joined a fulsome rattle of ancient Land Rovers as they make a final ascent up Sani Pass before it is graded and asphalted. Like the Land Rover brand, the pass is rich in history, so this oily gathering is the perfect send-off to a magnificent stretch of mountain track.
Our expedition leader, Kingsley Holgate, has a long-standing relationship with Land Rover (who support his humanitarian efforts) so it was par for the course that along the way we helped
a few folk, and even dabbled in a spot of livestock rescue.
It’s fitting that we were travelling in Land Rovers, but they weren’t the first to make it up this craggy stretch of road. That honour went to a Willys Jeep. It was only in 1952 that a gent by the name of Alwyn Bisschof bumped and bounced a Series 1 up what was then known as the pass.
Having finished his service as an aircraft technician during WWII, Alwyn studied agriculture at Potchefstroom University. Once finished, he had no real plan of action until a British Government
official singled him out while Alwyn was sitting on the steps outside the Department of Labour. The official offered Alwyn a position as a volunteer agricultural official in Lesotho, or Basutoland, as it was then known.
Having been supplied two Land Rovers for high-altitude testing, the Colonial Administration gave Alwyn one, to “see if he could break it”. He was tasked with moving the vehicle to Mokhotlong, and reporting back on the vehicle to Land Rover offices. The trouble was that no road had been built yet.
At that point, Sani Pass was signposted as a ‘bridle path’ and was a trade route used only by mules. This was the perfect test for the new Landy, and having heard that a Jeep had made it up the donkey track four years earlier, Alwyn was determined that his Land Rover would be more than adept, as it was designed to be superior in every way to the Willys Jeep.
Part Two of this story will appear next month with more on our exciting adventure through Lesotho.