George Bernard Shaw got about on a Lea-Francis, and his good friend Lawrence of Arabia killed himself on a Brough Superior. Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, George Orwell, King Hussein of Jordan, Howard Hughes, Bob Dylan, King George VI, Sammy Davis Jnr, Billy Idol, Mark Knopfler, Liam Neeson, Keanu Reeves, Buddy Holly, Lauren Hutton, kings Albert I and II of Belgium, George Clooney — the list of famous motorcyclists is endless, but none is as revered as Che Guevara.

In January 1952, long before he became a Marxist revolutionary and got himself executed by irate Bolivian troops, Che, a penniless medical student, hopped astride a 1939 500cc Norton with a friend and embarked on an eight-month journey across South America. He even wrote a book about his exploits, called The Motorcycle Diaries, which was made into a movie in 2004. Today his likeness can be seen on T-shirts moulded to countless female bosoms across the world. What a way to be remembered!

Reading about all this on the internet, I decided I too could write a bestseller and get my face plastered across boobs, if I could only find a famous revolutionary icon to accompany me on an epic ride. Having slept right through the struggle, I unfortunately didn’t know any of its heroes. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt! Bob Mugabe lives virtually next door, and he’s probably due for a break!

I affectionately think of the Zimbabwean president as a pen pal, because a couple of years ago, after a couple of brandies, I found Zanu-PF’s website on the internet and, figuring the old boy was probably feeling a little unloved, started daily forwarding all my unsolicited incoming emails to him. He never replied, but I reckon that was probably because most of them offered Viagra and penis-enlargement therapy; Bob was probably too embarrassed to admit there was a problem. C’mon Bob — you’re 82 now!

Having made my decision, it took just a couple of minutes to dash off a note to my potential travelling companion:

—– Original Message —–
From: Gavin Foster
To: [email protected]
Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 9:04 PM
Subject: Att: His Excellency Robert Mugabe

Dear Bob — I hope you don’t mind the informality, but after my previous correspondence offering help with your personal problems, and my land claim on your Scottish estate, I feel like we’re old pals. I couldn’t help but notice that you never wrote back offering to return my ancestral plot that’s now registered in your name, but I realise your hands have been pretty full, what with the slight dip in the Zim dollar, that dolt Morgan, and the defamation suit against Tony.

I’ve been reading up on the exploits of that other great revolutionary, Che Guevara, before he foolishly went out and got himself shot in Bolivia. He really should have stuck with the cushy number he’d organised as minister of industries in Cuba! Anyway, Che and his friend, Alberta Granada, rode across South America two-up on a Norton motorcycle in 1952, and Che wrote a book about their journey called The Motorcycle Diaries. The book sold well, and was even made into a film 52 years later!

I have a proposition for you. You are a famous revolutionary, and I’m a … well, I’m a writer. Why don’t we combine your fame with my talent and embark on a pilgrimage to commemorate Che’s great adventure? We could leave in October next year, on the 40th anniversary of Che’s unfortunate run-in with the firing squad, and have you back in your office in the appropriately named Rotten Row for your 84th birthday celebrations on February 21 2008. Pity you weren’t born a week earlier, on Valentine’s Day, hey? That would have helped your image no end!

During his adventure Che, who was a student doctor, devoted much time to treating lepers. I don’t know of any colonies in Southern Africa, but perhaps we could dispense some African potatoes, beetroot, and garlic among the locals as we go. That would get us some brownie points down south, and guarantee us exposure on the SABC.

Anyway, back to the nitty-gritty! I’m sure you have loads of questions, so I’ll try to answer them beforehand:

Yes, we already have a motorcycle — not a 1939 500cc Norton, but a 2003 Triumph 955. Norton went out of business years ago. The Triumph is, regrettably, British, but if it breaks down it’ll simply give you another arrow to use against that Blair chap.
No, you do not need to get a driver’s licence — I have one, and the bike is insured for me as the sole rider. You can sit on the back with the camera and the map.

No, there will be no trouble obtaining petrol, once we’re out of Zimbabwe.

No, I don’t think you’ll have problems with travel documentation, but if we’re going to pass through any of the former British colonies I suggest you have your Department of Home Affairs issue you with a passport under another name — Trebor Ebagum is easy to remember, and makes you sound like an expatriate Yorkshireman.

We won’t have much room for luggage on the bike, so I suggest that you use your presidential credit card rather than try to squeeze all that silly paper money into the back-up Isuzu. The Greyhound can follow with the bodyguards — I’d hate you to go the way of Che! We can tally up all the fuel and campground slips at the end and I’ll refund my half, less the cost of the wear and tear on my bike.

Oh, I’m looking so forward to sitting around the fire with a brandy or two, just you, me, the bodyguards and the film crew, discussing international affairs!

I realise that simply clinging to power probably takes up most of your time these days, but I urge you to take a break from it all — Zim can’t, after all, do much worse with you out of harness for a while. Besides, I understand your international travel opportunities have been severely curtailed of late.

I don’t expect an answer straight away — you can’t sit at a keyboard and watch your back at the same time — so I’ll just carry on with the arrangements till I hear from you.

Yours affectionately,

Gavin Foster

Imagine my disappointment when I received an email straight back from somebody called Mailer Daemon, saying that the address still given on the Zanu-PF website was no longer valid. I don’t believe in giving up easily, though, so I forwarded my message, with a brief explanation, to If Tony can’t put me in touch with Bob, I’ll look elsewhere. Come to think of it, Blair’s recently retired — perhaps he needs a little adventure…


Gavin Foster

Gavin Foster

Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and...

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