oa South African Journal of Cultural History - Gerry Bouwer (1899-1983) en die Kaap na Ka ro-droom

Volume 13, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1018-0745



In the 1920s the name of Gerry Bouwer was on the lips of every South African motor sport enthusiast. He became the first man to do a return trip by ordinary sedan car between Cape Town and London via Cairo. The ideal of a Cape to Cairo connection dates back to Cecil John Rhodes. In the 1920s another Rand magnate and politician, Sir Abe Bailey, again mooted the immense advantages of an all-weather route from the Cape to Cairo built through British territory. In order for Abe Bailey to fulfil his political dream, he needed someone special to conquer Africa on wheels. Gerry Bouwer's determination, combined with his experience and driving skill, made him the ideal choice for the expedition. The expedition, consisting of Bouwer and two others, left Cape Town on 8 February 1928. Starting in February meant they would travel through Africa in the rainy season. The route took them through Johannesburg, Bulawayo, Abercorn, Nairobi, Khartoum, and along the Nile to Cairo. After a 94 day journey over dreadful roads, swamps, rivers and plagued by radiator-choking grass-seed and mosquitoes for weeks on end, they reached Cairo on 15 May. Bouwer started his solo return dash from London to Cape Town on 22 August. After leaving Cairo he reported that he had discovered a stowaway in his car, whom was revealed as his wife, Elaine, upon arrival in Johannesburg. On his arrival in Cape Town - within 40 days - he confessed that had it not been for her constant urging, he would never have completed the journey. The expedition showed that Africa was not as ""dark"" as expected and it was possible to travel the continent in an ordinary sedan. The venture was probably also one of the biggest advertising campaigns of its day (Chrysler, Dunlop, Mobiloil and Pegasus petrol benefitted from it). The Wall Street Crash of 1929 thwarted the ambitious all-weather route through Africa from becoming a reality.

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