If this wasn’t a true story it should have been
About forty kilometers north of Seshekeke there used to be a rustic fishing camp on the edge of the Zambezi River, run by an Afrikaans-speaking man from Namibia called Danie (not his real name). During his time in Zambia he became something of a legend among the people of Sesheke.
Attacks on humans by crocodiles are common along all African river banks, the Zambezi River being no exception, and if an unfortunate villager is taken or attacked by a crocodile in Zambia national parks rangers are called to hunt and destroy the perpetrator.
Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) – sunning itself on the banks of the Zambezi River
Danie was an honorary ranger and often he would be the person to respond to these calls. After shooting the crocodile, national parks take the skin – the Nile Crocodile being a protected species – and Danie would take the meat as payment. According to Danie some local people believe that crocodile meat has magical powers, rendering the consumer immune to attacks by crocodiles – some even believe that eating crocodile fat can protect you from AIDS.
While the local people avoid going into the water – most do not have the means to obtain crocodile meat to eat for protection – Danie often used to swim in the river as it gets very hot in that part of the World. To the local villagers, the fact that a crocodile had never attacked him meant that he had indeed acquired supernatural powers by eating crocodile meat.
Danie was a wonderful story-teller, his broken English, peppered with the odd Afrikaans word when he couldn’t find the correct term added spice and humour to every tale. He was also quite fond of Brandy and if his stories were told late at night there was often more Afrikaans than English spoken, but I could always get the gist.
The first time we stayed with him at his camp we were all settled on the deck in front of a crackling fire one evening, relaxing after a day’s fishing in the boat. The sun was setting, the beer was cold and the aroma of meat cooking on the braai was mouth-watering.
“Did I ever tell you about the time the bus drove into the Zambezi?” Danie was partly deaf, so shouted most of the time but now he had to shout even louder, the constant roar of the Zambezi rushing over the rapids drowned out most other sounds.
None of us had heard the story then (although it was to be repeated many times after that – and it never got old), so we settled down to listen.
“Ag, it must have been three years ago when I got a call from the police station at Sesheke. The guy told me that a bus had parked next to the river while the passengers all got off to go and do some shopping. Even the driver got out but he forgot to put on the hand brake. Jeez! Can you believe it?
“So of course the bus rolled down the hill and into the river. The whole thing was under the water and, because they think I have super-powers that protect me from crocodiles, they wanted me to come and help them pull the bus out.” Danie paused to take a long pull on his brandy.
“I tried to get out of it. There are lots of crocs in that river, I tell you! And those crocs haven’t been told about my magic powers. But the guy went on and on and begged and pleaded and eventually I had to go and have a look. When I arrived there must have been two hundred people, come from the villages near by, all standing around with their goats and their mombies (cattle) and their children, waiting for me. When I got out of my bakkie (pickup truck) I heard them all saying muzungu! muzungu! (white man! white man!).
“Still trying to get out of this job, I made a phone call to my son. I spoke in English so that the people could hear what I was saying; I hoped they might take pity on this old muzungu and make another plan to get the bus out. I told him about the bus in the water, that there are lots of crocodiles and so I was phoning him to say ‘goodbye’, in case one of the crocs got me and I died.” He shook his head, and took another long sip.
Is it a log? Or is it a crocodile?
“But this plan didn’t work and the policeman handed me a long piece of chain. He wanted me to swim down to the bus and attach the chain to the axle so that the bus could be pulled out with a tractor. I put on my goggles and flippers, said a small prayer and dived into the water. It’s dark and muddy down there but I found the bus and saw that it was suspended in the water with it’s nose down and that there was some air trapped inside at the back of the bus. I opened a window but before I could get into the air pocket I ran out of breath and had to return to the surface.
“By that time my son had arrived; he was worried about his old-man. I saw him standing on the bank and shouted across the water to him in Afrikaans, telling him about the air pocket and not to worry if I didn’t come up for a long time, before diving back down again.
“I was down there a long time attaching that bliksemse chain. Maybe half an hour. Of course all the other people watching from the bank hadn’t understood what I had said to my son and he later told me that they became more and more worried. They all shuffled closer and closer to the water, muttering about crocodiles and how were they going to get the bus out now that the bwana (boss) was dead.
“While I was working on that chain, swimming backwards and forwards through the window for air, I thought about what those people would be thinking and an idea came to me.” Danie was chuckling now as he got up to pour himself another brandy and Coke.
“Once I had attached the chain, I grabbed the other end, took one last big gulp of air and swam under water right up to the edge of the shore, where I could see the shapes of the people all staring out at the water. They couldn’t see me coming because the water is so dirty and when I got really close I burst out of the water, holding the chain high above my head and shouted ‘daar’s hy!’ (‘there it is!’)”. By now Danie was laughing so hard it was difficult to understand what he was saying. Between deep belly laughs he continued:
“Man! You should have seen the chaos. They thought I was a ghost! The people yelled. Women dropped their children and ran. They screamed and they ran, and they kept on running, up to the road at the top of the bank and towards their villages. The goats and the mombies ran. Even the policeman ran!
“The further I walked out of the water the further the people ran, while my son tried to calm everyone down – calling them back and trying to tell them about the pocket of air. No-one would listen and if they did listen they didn’t believe him. It took me a very long time to persuade the policeman to come and take the chain from me, which he did very carefully and reluctantly and with a very long arm, quickly stepping away from me once he had the chain. I think they all still believe I’m a ghost.”