Visit the places that inspired
'Cry the Beloved Country' and the
early life of Alan Paton

Lost City of the Kalahari

This book, the result of finding an unpublished manuscript by Alan Paton in the Alan Paton Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, tells of an exciting journey of exploration into the Kalahari in 1956.

It shows a side of Paton that is unexpected and shows him as a warm human being enjoying the cameraderie and experiences of this trip with his companions.

He set out on June 26, 1956 with six fellow amateur adventures from the Natal Midlands, to search for the fabled lost and ancient, Mediterranean civilisation. Their mode of transport wasa very old five ton Austin truck, which they nicknamed the Kalahari Polka.

These expeditions to find the 'lost city', and Paton's was not the only one, were all fuelled by the book 'Through the Kalahari Desert:A Narrative of A Journey with Gun, Camera, and Notebook to Lake N'Gami and Back', written by Gilarmi Antonio Farani in 1886.

The narrative, as written by Paton, is explicit, humerous, and filled with the spirit of a group of adventurers, fired with enthusiasm to find that elusive "Lost City".

From the dust-jacket:

'I had in my mind a picture of the Aha Mountains as clear as if I had seen it with my own eyes. There they rose, out of a land of rock and sand, and stone, unbelievably austere, waterless, plantless, lifeless: and I saw their colour as that of yellow ochre darkened by umber, because that was the colour of them on the austere and empty map that Sailor had spread out on the floor.'

In 1956 seven amateur adventurers set off from Natal in a decrepit 5-ton truck named "Kalahari Polka", and on "the craziest expedition ever to enter the unknown". Its goal: "to make archaeological history" by locating a mythical Lost City in a remote range of mountains deep in the Kalahari Desert. Included in the party was Mr. Alan Paton, acclaimed autor of Cry, the Beloved Country, chairman of the newly-formed South African Liberal Party and a leading political voice of his time. The expedition was the inspiration of Sailor Ibbetson, a charismatic adventurer who was obsessed with G.A. Farini's 1886 book, Through the Kalahari Desert, in which the Lost City ruins were described.

Lost City of the Kalahari is Paton's hitherto unpublished account of the odd adventure. Recounted with dry, self-deprecating wit and supplemented by hand-drawn maps, provisions lists, photographs, 8mm film stills and other fascinating memorabilia from the period, this entertaining travelogue brings to life the quirky cast of characters, rough discomforts of the journey, tedium of unvarying landscape, vast desert vistas, and encounters with "wild Bushmen" and other Kalahari people. And through it all emerges Paton's own deep love for the austere landscape that "one can never have too much of because it is like breathing".

Mafavuke House

Home of the Alan Paton Will Trust

Location map

The Alan Paton Centre
University of KwaZulu-Natal
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Pietermaritzburg and
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