A sudden loud report, a spurt of red dust and smoke, and a four-foot strip of heavy truck tyre flies lazily through the air towards me, landing twenty yards or so in front of my hired car. Easily, I steer around it and wait for the huge articulated lorry to pull off so I can pass. I am two hours out of Johannesburg, and the roads are awful – deep jagged potholes alternating with miles of roadworks. It is one of these stretches of roadworks, single lane and lined with yellow-and-black markers, that has slowed us down. I choose not to think about the implications of a truck blow-out at speed, on these roads, in the middle of nowhere.
The morning has started at a college in Kwa Thema, a black township an hour south-east of Johannesburg; I am the first on, presenting to a Working Group and fielding questions and discussion for an hour, on my task team’s emerging proposals on the policy and legislative framework for Further Education and Training Colleges. The meeting goes on for close to four hours before we break for lunch. I grab a plate of overdone, institutional chicken and some salad before I make my getaway. Mafikeng is four hours north-west of the metropolis, deep into the dry khaki hills and plains of the highveld, and I want to be on the road by two, but it is a quarter to three before I am able to type my destination into the GPS and start the car.
The road improves eventually and I step on the gas. The light begins to cool and at times I am driving straight into the red incandescent orb of the sinking sun, enormous and surreal on the horizon. Then it is gone, and a faint purplish-red smudge of colour lingers, fading almost imperceptibly until it becomes dark. I press on to Lichtenburg, and then find I have another 60 kays to go, before Mafikeng. Somehow this is the hardest part; I am tired and impatient, and I have to force myself to remain prudent and alert.
I arrive, safe and alive in Mafikeng a few minutes after seven. Along the way, I have thought of Baden-Powell and the famous siege of Mafeking (they spelled it differently then; they Anglicised it) during the Anglo-Boer War, more than a century ago. The Empire went wild when Mafikeng was relieved, and Baden-Powell was a media rock star for a time. But I am too tired to Google him, or the Siege. I have thought too of Herman Charles Bosman, and his dry amusing stories of the Marico District – one of his collections, I seem to remember, was titled Mafeking Road (that spelling again). But again, I am too tired even to think of finding and posting a link. Tomorrow I leave at seven, for two days of college interviews, before I head home again, to Johannesburg. Enough already.
It is only when I park the rental car at the hotel, and switch off the ignition, that I realise how tired. Tired in the bone. I need food, I need drink. I take one look at the hotel restaurant after checking in and decide. Room Service.