Words and photos by Villiers Steyn and Tabby Mittins. (With thanks to Manie, Danie, Aldrich and Kobus)

’n Boer maak ’n plan – Bush fix-its

’n Boer maak ’n plan’ loosely translates to ‘a South African man makes a plan’. There’s a reason the expression exists. The average South African man, especially one equipped with cable ties, wire, or duct tape, generally has no shortage of plans when problems crop up out in the middle of nowhere, something I’ve been grateful for on more than one occasion. The most recent of these was not so long ago in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

Fortunately we were able to recycle most of the dripping fuel.

The Hyena (Villiers’s Toyota Hilux, so called for her fully-loaded lower rear end) has seen her fair share of long roads, back roads, and awful roads.  She’s our home away from home for so much of the year that we’ve come to take her sturdy reliability for granted, but even the best cars falter sooner or later.

Kobus de Wet makes a plan to stop the ‘thunks’ when we drive on rough roads.

It was the third day of our trip, and the first day of our week-long stay at two of the remotest campsites in Hwange National Park (Murphy, of the notorious Murphy’s law, must have been paying close attention). The unmistakeable smell of petrol brought us down to ground level to check out the Hyena’s underbelly, and sure enough, a hole in the main fuel tank was dripping steadily into the fine dust of the parking lot.

The Hyena with her backside low to the ground.

A fuel leak isn’t the worst thing to happen in the middle of the African bush – even I know about the sunlight soap putty quick fix – but watching the liquid gold that is your ticket home drain into the earth in the time it takes to formulate a plan isn’t at all pleasant.  Thankfully, I wasn’t in on the plan-making, otherwise we would’ve lost a whole lot more. In fact, this was one of the very few times we had company, friends willing to brave the Zimbabwean wilderness for their annual holiday.  More importantly, friends with cable ties, wire and duct tape.

Our makeshift workshop at Masuma Dam.

Four South African men making plans to fix a petrol leak is something to behold.  Tools came out, ideas bounced back and forth and took shape, and all thoughts of game drives and sighting – and in fact the world beyond the Hyena’s underside were forgotten in the face of the challenge.

Who ever knew that the bakkie’s foot mats would come in so handy?!

Beyond the fact that Toyota has done a fine job of ensuring the petrol in their tanks is impossible to siphon out through the inlet, I won’t pretend to understand what went on under that poor car. From ‘old broken leaf spring’ and ‘the bracket’s been stamping through’ (all spoken through fume-roughened voices) I pieced together a story of an old accident and the subsequent problems with alignment, including the hole in the petrol tank (apparently, even a heavy bakkie should never go ‘thunk’, and ours had been for a while). Once this had been established, things started getting interesting.

Villiers and his beloved Hyena.

Once the fuel had been drained to below the level of the leak and the hole had been plugged (steel putty, not soap), the tricky part was preventing the skewed bracket that caused the original leak from punching through again on Hwange’s bumpy roads. A tug from a tow rope attached to a Toyota Fortuner started things off and two rubber floor mats and about a dozen cable ties finished the job.  This is one of those times where a picture says a thousand words.

The Hyena in action on a stunning African two-track.

In the end we lost about ten litres of fuel, but made it all the way home with a patched up tank and a roughly-modified Hilux that we can no longer call the Hyena since her rear end doesn’t droop at all, and is in fact a lot more comfortable to drive in.

For this, and for turning a disaster into just another adventure, we owe all our gratitude to our company of ‘boere’ and their ingenious plans.