Eighties Overland


Words and images by Peter Middleton

In the next months, we will serialise stories of an independent trans-Africa journey, travelling north, that is remarkable because it was undertaken in 1986/87 at the height of apartheid. SA was invading and attacking the frontline states during this period, and South Africans considered any journey beyond Malawi impossible – even suicidal. These stories reveal the lengths taken by Peter and Mandi Middleton – not always strictly legal – to break through these antagonistic borders. It is an intensely personal quest with tales drawn from their surviving daily diaries, here exposed for the first time publically.

They travelled alone in a time that was without Internet, satellite navigation, digital cameras, cell/sat phones or computers. Their only contact home was via post collected at unreliable ‘poste restante’ addresses in major towns, and the occasional phone calls from public phone offices. Services were often aggressively denied when they requested a South African number. In those cases, they had to leave town – quickly. There were no lifelines. No mechanical or medical back-up. Friends, family and others considered the planned trip foolhardy. There was no contact for months. Even fellow overlanders considered their remote routes implausible. Their only contact with the outside world was a small short-wave radio.

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