Book Review - The Bengu Years
Reviewer: Pete Moscardi

The Bengu Years is an eclectic tale of trans-African travels and deeds of derring-do, and, in its second part, the hair-raising adventures of promoting professional boxing in the then Rhodesia. It manages to relate to both subjects without there being any connection between the two.

Had I not played a bit-role cameo in one of the eventful chapters in the life of the author, Dave Wellings, I would have serious doubts as to the veracity and the detail of this incredible story. I was, however, part of the adventure when it unfolded into its story of promoting professional boxing in Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe).

Many a reader would consider that Wellings’ story-telling assumes an almost Jack London mantle. For starters, it is not every day that the modern adventurer sets out from the north of London on a 250cc Greeves trail bike with a view to driving across Africa and with the final destination being Salisbury. But this was the bold
intention of Wellings and his close pal, Steve Mattey, when they commenced their journey on a freezing winter’s morning in March 1974.

Africa is an unforgiving continent. To quote the well-worn saying: ‘Africa is not for sissies’. It took fortitude to continue with this journey on foot after their mechanical means of transport had given up the ghost soon after their arrival on the African continent.

The motorcycles did not make it – but Wellings and Mattey did, eventually arriving on Salisbury after having endured hardships and harrowing moments in their trans-Africa crossing. The second chapter in the eventful life of the author was about to commence.

His two day jobs consisted of a period as a snail catcher for a government medical research institute in Salisbury and a period of script writing and film production for the then Ministry of Information. But every waking and sleeping moment of Dave Wellings’ life was taken up in the promotion of professional boxing and, later, in professional wrestling. For four years I was a partner in the activities of Action Promotions, which had a close connection with South African fighters of the day. The late Bill Bosch was Action Promotions’ South African agent and fighters such as Peet Bothma, Eddie and Hardy Mileham, Harold Volbrecht, Jan Kies and Anthony ‘Blue Jaguar’ Morodi among others fought in our tournaments in Rhodesia.

The second part of this intriguing yarn focuses on Action Promotions activities until its closure post independence. The story also manages to encompass a poignant description of the very soul and nature of the unique way of life and of the country - which today are but distant past memories. The Zimbabwe of today bears no resemblance to the halcyon days of the former Rhodesia, and anyone fortunate enough to have experienced those times was indeed privileged.

Although the base for Wellings’ boxing operations was Salisbury, he took his fighters to other parts of Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia – with the latter playing a major role in the careers of several Rhodesian fighters.

The author immigrated to Australia following Rhodesia’s independence where he trained his Zimbabwean fighter, Flash Chisango who notched up six wins in nine fights. Wellings also edited the now defunct Fighter magazine. He is today a domiciled Australian and lives in Queensland’s backwater town of Clifton with his Kiwi wife and still takes a keen interest in boxing.

This (self-published) book displays the absence of a publisher’s sharp-eyed proof reader. But a reader will find the existing solecisms forgivable as the telling of the story makes up for any of the glitches.