Press Centre

Slow Train Through Africa with Griff Rhys Jones

  • Episode: 

    5 of 5

  • Title: 

    South Africa
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 08 May 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 19 2015 : Sat 02 May - Fri 08 May
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

    Last in series
The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 28 April 2015.
“Africa.  There’s nowhere else quite like it. A billion people speaking thousands of languages and a paradise of wild animals and natural wonders. I’m going to take it on in an unhurried manner aboard Africa’s railways. It’s the ideal way to meet its people and to experience its beauty.”  Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones explores Africa the unhurried way, as he takes to the continent’s railways to immerse himself in the joy and sometimes the frustration of travelling through a beautiful and beguiling continent, using the most romantic method of transportation. Travelling a total of 7000 miles over five journeys, he explores fascinating landscapes, encounters unforgettable wildlife and meets extraordinary people.
Stunning aerial photography combines with observational travelogue to produce a fresh portrait of Africa through Griff’s experiences on and off the train. On each epic trip across five episodes, he discovers how the railway reveals a great deal about the places he travels through.  Griff uses the train to get to unexpected places in deserts and forests, villages and cities, learning stories of their past and finding out how they are used today.
Griff travels through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, Kenya and Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. He experiences the extraordinary diversity of Africa, on and off the railways, drawing together a rich and entertaining narrative. 
In episode five, the last of Griff’s epic adventures through Africa by train, he crosses a thousand miles of South Africa, reaching the most southerly passenger railway station on the continent. 
Griff begins in Pretoria, catching Africa’s most modern train on a short journey south, to Johannesburg. On board he almost finds himself in trouble with the security guards for attempting to eat his breakfast, which is against the strict train rules, which also include no singing.
Johannesburg is home to over four million people across a vast, sprawling city that grew because of the amounts of gold found underground. The goldmines needed workers and railways were built to transport them. 
Griff says: “This is a city that was made by gold. A hundred and thirty years ago there was absolutely nothing here! And now we’re surrounded, on all sides, by huge offices, which are the offices of the great mining corporations of the world. The goldfields that we’re standing on here stretch for 300 miles. It’s not actually terribly good ore. You have to dig out a ton in order to get three grams. And yet, nearly half of the entire gold in the entire world has been dug from these fields.”
An old miners’ tradition called Swenking is kept alive in a district of the city, and Griff travels by local train to meet the Swenkas. On the way he bumps into a gospel choir rehearsing as they wait for a bus.
The Swenkas are young men who every so often hold a competition to judge which of them is the swankiest, parading in their best suits, bizarrely in front of a toilet block. Showing off is an art form here, and Griff does his best to reach their impressive standards, despite having left his cuffllinks at home.
From there Griff travels southwest to Kimberley, site of the diamond mines that also contributed to South Africa’s wealth and the largest hole dug by hand anywhere on Earth. 
Griff says: “This huge hole in the ground quickly became the most productive diamond mine the world had ever seen. By the time that they’d finished they’d extracted 22 million tonnes of rock and earth and they’d got hold of 3 tonnes of diamonds. And all this meant that they needed thousands and thousands of people. So the mine owners started to work out a system of regulations and taxes and permissions which kept the black workers in their place, digging. It was the beginning of segregation.”
140 miles from Kimberley is the railway junction town of De Aar, where Griff explores an unusual and very long train, one that has been converted into a hospital with several clinics. It travels the country getting healthcare to places that would otherwise lack any. Hundreds of people are being treated, with the optician proving especially busy. Glasses are made on the spot, on the day, giving some patients the ability to see clearly for the first time.
Griff says: “What an inspired simple idea. This massive train can get to places which no hospital service could. It's estimated one doctor for every five thousand people. In Britain, there's a doctor for every three hundred and seventy people.”
Further south and west, the stunning countryside opens up and Griff takes to the skies in a light aircraft to get a breath-taking bird’s eye view of one of South Africa’s biggest ostrich farms. Later, feathers are plucked and Griff attempts to scramble an ostrich egg. 
He says: “This is all because some diva in a karaoke bar can’t go down the Rio carnival without 4 or 5 plumes out the top of her hat!”
A hundred miles from the farm Griff catches one of the most luxurious trains in the world, The Pride of Africa, on a seven-hour journey to Cape Town. He has to work for his passage, serving drinks to thirsty Australian tourists. But there is one perk to the job, a hot bath, on a train that is travelling at 70mph.
Griff says: “There we are, that’s the nature of South African trains. Built by dreamers. Somebody thought, what the hell, let’s have a bath on the train. I salute that person!”
Cape Town isn’t the end of the line, and so Griff continues on to the little coastal settlement of Simon’s Town, on the edge of the Atlantic. It is the most Southerly passenger station in Africa and Griff surveys the coast from the very tip of the African Continent, Cape Point, as his African adventure comes to an end.