Despite the elementary nature of this introduction, there are a few important issues that need to be addressed.
In the interest of all current and future paddlers, please be polite to the local people. This includes always asking permission before entering reserves or private land. Although most rivers are public property, the neighbouring land belongs to someone. The same goes for areas that are controlled by local headmen. Never direct vocal abuse at the locals you meet along riverbanks; although you might get away with it, the next party might not.
An attempt on any unknown river should always be planned thoroughly. The first and most important step is to study detailed maps of the river section. With basic knowledge of topography it is possible to get a good idea of the nature of the river and pinpoint crucial spots. 1:250 000 maps give a general picture of what’s happening and show most roads passable with a vehicle, but 1:50 000 maps should be obtained to get the details. The topo-cadastral maps are available from the Government Printers and a few other map offices.
Africa is home to a variety of wild animals, and few are as intimidating as hippos and crocodiles. Although most rivers in Southern Africa are free of them (thanks to our trigger-happy ancestors), there are areas where they are alive and well. Many rivers in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, the Lowveld, and most rivers north of South Africa’s border, are inhabited by one or both these species. They normally reside in long flat sections of river, and not on most of the whitewater sections covered in the book.
Local knowledge is invaluable when dealing with crocodiles and hippos, but a few basic rules are mentioned here. Don’t swim when crocs or hippos may be around. Only medium to big size crocodiles will attack a kayak, and only big crocodiles will attack a raft. Strength lies in numbers, so stick together. When a crocodile is approaching, some noise might help to scare it away. Hippos are very territorial and more aggressive than crocodiles. Avoid them at all cost, and get away as fast as possible when they are charging.
The northeastern part of South Africa and most part of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique is malaria-infested. Take precaution when visiting these areas.