It is a curious fact that the bulk of Rhino's early business was done not in the UK & Ireland, but in South Africa. At a time when Rhino founder Tim Francis was working hard to obtain the buy-in he sought from the domestic rugby community, he was visited at the his base in Kings Nympton in Devon by Humphrey Walters, a South African businessman with a holiday home nearby who persuaded him to ship a machine to Natal, and follow it there to demonstrate its capabilities in person. The machine, which had been pre-sold to Roger Gardner and the Natal Rugby Union, arrived in Durban in March 1983 in time for Toyota Club Week the following month.
Tim “set out to go there for a week and stayed three months” during which time he covered 40,000 kilometers towing and demonstrating the machine the length and breadth of the country . Local manufacture was established with the help of Chick Henderson, a well known player and media commentator who was owner and chairman of an engineering company and the machines were manufactured at his facility in Brakpan, outside Johannesburg. Business partner Derek de Glanville followed Tim out to take up the baton for a while and at a time when UK sales were a little sluggish the business took off in South Africa with over 30 machines being sold in the years 1983 and 1984. At that point economic turmoil and a formal political State of Emergency brought the project to a standstill, with the remaining locally manufactured machines and parts being shipped back to the UK in 1985.
Tim pays tribute to the various people who helped make this South African ‘interlude’ a possibility – Chick Henderson, Gillie Butler, Tish Ord, but above Humphrey Walters and his “boundless energy, contacts and ability to make the impossible seem easy”; as he goes on to comment, however, “the venture, no, make that adventure, had come full circle and it was time once more to focus on markets closer to home”.
The sales list to South Africa in this period, shown above, makes interesting reading and given the Powerhouse's legendary durability it's no surprise that many of these machines are still to be seen dotted around the country. In fact when the Springboks held a press conference in June 2010 to unveil their purchase of a specially green liveried Rhino Dictator scrum machine, the photos released of the Springbok coaches and Os du Rand with the new machine inadvertently also showed the Rhino Powerhouse purchased by the University of Cape Town some 27 years earlier, and still in current use, in the background.