Too Many Termites in the Nkandla Woodwork

drywood_termites“The problem with the news,” Gertruida says because she knows everything,”is that you simply can’t believe it. The most believable part of any newscast is the weather report, and even that is merely an assumption. Look what happened today: they said it would be sunny and warm, and now it’s overcast and cool.”

This is true, of course. A bank of clouds suddenly formed towards late afternoon, bringing with it an unexpected chill.

“Ja, the news is as unbelievable as our politics. Look at what happened in parliament yesterday. I heard on the news that things got out of hand, the speaker left the House, and that the ANC ramrodded their report through, saying Zuma had nothing to do with the Nkandla fiasco. It’s a disgrace.”

“You must understand one thing.” Gertruida gets up to make her point. They all know: when she does this, she is deadly serious. “The ANC will desperately try to protect their own. That’s the only way they can remain in power. If they admitted their president did wrong, they’d have to face the consequences. There’d be more investigations, which would bring more corruption to the surface. Don’t think Public Works is the only department involved here. The Nkandla Project is only the tip of a very sick iceberg. Once you start unravelling the ramifications of who-did-what and who-benefitted-how, you’d probably fillet open a very corrupt carcass. Nkandla, I’ll tell you, is a symptom of a disease more deadly than Ebola – and the ANC knows that.”

“Ja, but they buried it yesterday.” Vetfaan sighs. “Now parliament has ruled on the matter – the ANC majority simply outvoted the opposition, it’s so simple – Nkandla isn’t going to be an issue any longer. They’ve hidden the controversy behind a quasi-legal barrier, allowing the president to walk away squeaky clean.”

Gertruida doesn’t get upset. Never. She doesn’t allow emotion to dictate her reason. Not ever. That’s why it’s so surprising when she flushes to a deep red, flares her nostrils and hisses at Vetfaan.

“Nkandla. Won’t. Go. Away!” Taking a deep breath, she calms down before going on. “Listen Vetfaan, only a fool will think this was the last you heard about Nkandla. Many, many presidents and ministers have tried to survive lies in the past. Nixon couldn’t do it. Clinton became an embarrassment. Look at what happened in Italy and France. No, my friends, the old saying is true: truth has faster legs than lies. You can’t lie your way out of trouble. At some stage – now, a month later, ten years later, it doesn’t matter – the truth will always overtake the lie and expose it in the harsh light of reality.

“This ANC’s effort to exonerate Zuma from any wrongdoing isn’t the end. Like Churchill said: it’s the end of the beginning. Mark my words: there are just too many termites in the woodwork. The house is still standing, but the structure is already riddled. It’s a question of time…”

download (3)“Well, we don’t have to feel too bad.” As always, Boggel tries to lift the mood in his bar. “We’re not the only country where the president’s house is an embarrassment. Casa La Palma in Mexico is also going to be the undoing of a president’s dream. It, too, boasts underground parking, elevators, a pool and gardens. And I hear it was a ‘gift’ in return for certain…favours. The termites, Gertruida, seem to be spreading..”

Servaas knits his brows together in a furious scowl. “Well, that’s it. I’ll never vote for the ANC again!”

Of course they laugh at this. It is exceedingly funny to think that Servaas ever voted for them, anyway. But the humour represents only the ears of the hippo in Servaas’s remark. He is echoing the sentiment of thousands of men and women in South Africa – men and women who stood bravely side by side in the fight for democracy. And now that this same democracy has turned into a farce, people are taking a good, hard look at the progressive failure to live up to a once-beautiful dream.

“The winds of change…” Gertruida whispers. “It’s only a breeze now. The storm will come.”

And that, they all agree, is a weather forecast you can believe. Time to close the windows and bar the doors, indeed.

Old News

bad-news2-300x225Despite the many advantages of living in Rolbos, there are a few realities the inhabitants have to face. With no TV and a rather patchy radio reception, they live in a no-news bubble – which perhaps is to their benefit, when you come to think of it. The daily cascade of disasters, the political back-stabbing, the tragedy of major court cases – these things get viewed in retrospect, when they read about last week’s news in the Upington Post which arrives with the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer.

Gertruida once said the world is in the state it’s in because the news is so immediate, making people part of the events by demanding they push personal matters aside to be up to date with who-did-what-where-and-why. She maintained that our brains are like Windows: the more programs you run, the slower the computer. This caused Servaas to draw the curtains in an effort to pay attention to what she was saying.

Despite their remoteness, some news does filter through, though. Kleinpiet whistles as he reads the article at the bottom of page 3 in the previous week’s Post.

“It says here somebody won the Powerball. Millions! 58 of them. Somebody from Brakpan. That’s obscene.” He doesn’t specify whether it’s the money or the town that upsets him.

“Shew! Imagine standing behind that person in the queue in the bank. E-one, e-two, e-three…. It’ll take forever to count out the money.”

“Get a life, Servaas. These days everything is done electronically. They push a button in Pretoria and suddenly your bank account has a lot of zeroes in it. They had to develop the technology, simply because nobody – nobody – can walk around anywhere in the country with a suitcase full of money any more. They call it redistribution of wealth. Or affirmative balancing.  Apparently it is accepted practice.”

Credit: Land Rover

Credit: Land Rover

While they chat about the problems of having so much money, a brand new Land Rover purrs down the street. Of course this caused a stir, but it’s the driver that brings about a breathless hush in the bar. The blonde, middle-twenties girl at the wheel is – and they all agree on this – absolutely gorgeous. Long-haired, wide smile, perfect skin, pert nose, full lips…the list goes on. And when she gets out in a smooth, almost feline movement, the hush turns into an admiring silence…

“It’s not possible,” Vetfaan breathes, eyeing the long legs. Can so little cover so  much?

“Breathe, Vetfaan.” Boggel shakes the big farmers shoulders. “Relax and take deep breaths.”

The skirt may well be described as miniscule. The T-shirt defies description in conventional terms. And then there is the particular way her clothing (or lack thereof) displays the person underneath the scant material.

The young lady hesitates on the sidewalk for a second, staring first up and then down Voortrekker Weg. Apparently making up her mind, she shrugs and walks over to Boggel’s Place.

“Um…I’m lost,” she says after pushing open the door to the bar. She’s met with adoring stares.

“Oh.” Boggel, as a seasoned barman, is the first to say something.

“I wonder if you gentlemen can help me?” Even her voice makes Kleinpiet drool. “You see, I’ve never travelled much before, but my circumstances suddenly allows me to see a bit of the country.” Realising the men at the bar doesn’t understand, she tries again. “I started last week, see? Drove to the Drakensberg, then had a look at Bloemfontein and that big hole in Kimberley. Now I’m on my way to the Augrabies Falls, but I don’t think I’m on the right road.” She shoots a worried glance through the window. “There isn’t a river nearby, is there?”

Vetfaan points vaguely in the direction of Upington, Servaas wishes he had his glasses here and Kleinpiet fishes a handkerchief from his pocket to clean his chin. Realising that the same hanky was used when he checked the oil in his pickup last night, he quickly returns it to his pocket.

Boggel invites the newcomer to sit down at the bar so that he can draw a map with directions. She seems oblivious of the effect her sitting down on the high chair has on the rest of the patrons. The men at the counter simply can’t avoid staring at the smooth, athletic movements. Cat-like, they’ll agree afterwards.

“Oh, thank you,” she breathes when Boggel hands her the map, smiling at him. “You mean I go back to Grootdrink and turn right there? It seems easy.” She laughs coyly. “You know, us girls from Brakpan don’t travel much. But after what happened, I decided: no more miss Smalltown for me! I’m going to see the world – maybe even go as far as Cape Town. I hear there’s a nice mountain there, somewhere. And the beach! I’d love to see the sea. It’s amazing what money can do, isn’t it?”

“Um,” Servaas manages, nodding vigorously – which is more than Kleinpiet manages as he tries to close his mouth.

“Well, I’ll be off then. Toodles!” Hopping from the chair, she waves a playful finger at Boggel when she reaches the door. “Don’t give up, guys. Dreams do come true!”

They watch the Land Rover do a three-point u-turn, the driver eventually managing to point the vehicle back to Grootdrink successfully. Then, with the purr of the powerful engine, the girl from Brakpan disappears in a cloud of dust.

“What…what did she mean…dreams do come true?”  Now that she’s gone, Kleinpiet deems it safe to wipe his chin.

“She’s the winner, dummy! I tell you: that woman won the money.”  Vetfaan finds his voice again. It’s slightly hoarse, but still… “Think about it. Brakpan, new car, money…it fits.”

***

That’s the nice thing about Rolbos. For an entire week they discussed the wonderful time when a multi-millionaire blonde beauty was there, in the bar, chatting to the mere mortals in Rolbos. Although the men were gentlemanly enough not to voice their less-than-gentlemanly thoughts, the age-old flame to overwhelm and conquer burnt brightly just below the surface.

Gertruida was disgusted, of course. Men can be so shallow and inconsiderate! Look, she asked, why on earth would a bunch of older men slobber about a beautiful girl just because she dressed in a certain way, had a new car and lots of money. Isn’t that completely absurd?

This caused a momentary lapse in the conversation  – but just long enough for Boggel to serve another round.

It was only the following week, after the Upington Post arrived, that the discussion finally died down. The article on the front page did that. Catwoman strikes again. Under the heading and an identikit picture, the article tells the readers of the daring heist.

‘This is Catwoman’s third success. This time she managed to sneak into the bank after hours, open the safe, and get away with an undisclosed amount of money, Reliable sources informed this journalist that the pretty burglar took off with a brand new Land Rover the bank repossessed that very day.  The vehicle was stored in a secure parking bay behind the building, but that didn’t deter the intrepid thief. 

How does she do it? Police are following up a few leads, but this journalist has heard a rumour. Catwoman uses her charm and beauty to seduce bank officials into telling her things they shouldn’t. She plays the role of a coy, dumb blonde to perfection. Apparently her abundant charms are irresistible to especially older men, who are only too willing to fall for her act.

Be that as it may – the burglar the press dubbed ‘Catwoman’, is a dangerous and uncouth individual. During a previous robbery, she was  surprised by a security guard. This man is still recovering after she disarmed him and shot him in the leg. Police have asked the public not to approach any suspicious young female individuals resembling the identikit picture, but to report such persons to their nearest police station

***

That’s the problem with fresh news. It takes the mystery out of life by confronting the public with too many facts. There’s simply nothing to talk about once the clever presenters on CNN or BBC have discussed, debated, argued and dissected current events. In the old days society relied on opinions and speculations – things that made us talk to each other. Then, as news slowly filtered through, people had the opportunity to adapt opinions, talk some more, and formulate new insights. Nowadays, however, we are fed on a diet of digested facts, leaving the viewers with nothing to add.

Gertruida tried to convince Bogel to get one of those satellite dishes and a TV set for the bar. This was immediately vetoed by the men.

“It’s far better to drool over a girl for a week than to report a criminal to Sersant Dreyer immediately.” Coming from the ever-so-pious Servaas, the statement made Gertruida look up in shock. “Ag come on, Gertruida! If we have to choose between News and Imagination…only a fool would go for the former. No, Gertruida: News makes you feel bad, Imagination makes you smile. It’d so much more fun if we kept the Real News on the other side of the Orange River.”

For once, Gertruida had no answer.

The fish of the Kalahari return…to stay.

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

“No thanks.” Vetfaan waves the bowl of biltong away with a dismissive hand. “I’ve become vegetarian.”

This – quite naturally – causes a shocked silence. Vetfaan, burly sheep farmer and true Afrikaner, refusing biltong? And, even more astounding, becoming a vegetarian? He of the huge apetite, who’d consume several T-bones in a single sitting, now wants to live on cabbage and potatoes? No, that can’t be.

“You not feeling well? Any mosquitoes bitten you lately? Been to West Africa or something?” Kleinpiet just can’t wrap his head around this one.

413928_121026123658_DSC_0129“No, Kleinpiet. I just think it’s wrong to consume animals. I mean, what did they do to us? And yet we go about killing them so that we can have dinner. I read up about it, you know? There are millions of people all over the world who live to ripe old age with a plant-based diet.” To emphasise his point, he grabs a handful of peanuts from the old Voortrekker Monument bowl on the counter. “Live in harmony, I say. Live and let live.”

Gertruida goes harrumph! and orders another beer. “No animal products, Vetfaan? None at all?”

“None. My sheep and my chickens are safe.”

“Let me tell you about the Kalahari, then you think again.” The light in her eyes should have warned Vetfaan. There’ll be a lecture…and a lesson.

***

Ages ago, the Kalahari used to be a large lake – fed by the Chobe, Zambezi and Okavango rivers.

“This was where cichlids evolved – you know the ancestors of today’s Tilapia? Incidentally, the Scottish Zoologist Andrew Smith latinised the Tswana word for ‘fish’ – thlape – to name the genus Tilapia in 1840

Tilapia“Well, to cut a long story short, the earth’s crust moved and the lake drained. Rivers altered their flow, causing – amongst many other things – the Victoria Falls.The fishes of that great lake now started spreading to other parts of Africa. In later years, Lake Victoria held a large population of the species.

UGANDA-NILE-PERCH-WORLD-ENVIRONMENTAL-DAY“Then, along came the British, who introduced Nile Perch to the lake in the middle of the last century. The large fish was to become a major source of protein and income for the fishermen and local population – but they also posed a great threat to the Tilapia. The poor little fish had survived movements in the earths crust, millions of year of hardship, and now face near-extinction due to man’s manipulation of its environment.

“But let’s get back to the Nile Perch, which is the point of the story.”

The Lake Victoria perch is known for it’s huge fish bladder, also called a fish maw. Initially this organ was simply thrown away when the fish was gutted, but later developed a market (where else?) in the East as a delicacy.

“Then people realised how effective these bladders were in the clarification process while making beer and wine. It’s an important component in the fining process, where impurities are removed and wine and beer is allowed to ‘settle’ – which is why you can see me through your glass. They didn’t say they were using fish bladders, of course – they called it isinglass. However, the fact remains – many beers and wines you drink, are made using the once thrown-away humble fish organ of years gone by.

“So you can call yourself a vegetarian if you like, Vetfaan, but you’ll have to give up beer and wine…they contain the residue of those poor fishes.”

***

This is so typical of Gertruida. She’ll take something that started in the Kalahari many aeons ago, weave it into the present, and leave you thinking. And she’s clever about it too, for she allows you to draw your own conclusions. In this instance, she didn’t tell Vetfaan that the ‘bladder’ under discussion, was and air bladder, used to control the depth of swimming. That would have spoilt the effect. Nor did she say that the isinglass was removed when bottling the beverage. No, she sat there, telling her story and watching Vetfaan go green about the gills with the nonchalance of somebody explaining the use of corn in flour.

Gertruida then sat back, considering the mental odds of Vetfaan finishing his beer. It was an interesting study in the psychology of survival. Once colour had returned to the farmer’s face, he pushed his beer aside with a determined look. Then Servaas arrived, hot and sweaty after driving from Upington with Boggel’s beer supply for the week.

***

“Hey Boggel! Gimme a beer man. A cold one. It’s scorching out there.” Servaas sits down with a sigh, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. When Boggel slides the bottle over the counter, he takes a long, lingering sip before smacking his lips.

“Vetfaan?” He stares in horror at the glass of water in front of the new vegetarian. “Bumped your head? You know how unhealthy that stuff is? Your body excretes the stuff, man! It makes things rust. If you inhale it, you die. And it causes more burns to the skin than petrol does, especially in its gaseous form. It carries parasites, chemicals and bacteria that can kill you. It causes short-circuits in electrical systems.  It’s the most polluted substance in the world. And…” here he holds up a triumphant finger, “…they use aluminium salts when purifying water. That, my friend has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Gertruida nods. With Servaas’s point adequately made, she doesn’t elaborate on the dangers of fluoride or the leaking of Bisphenol A, or BPA, from plastic into bottled water.  

“You mean…water is bad for me?”

“Of course! Beer contains minerals and vitamins. That’s good. It is an antioxidant, increases bone density, and enhances creativity. Water can’t do that.” Gertruida winks at Servaas, who is enjoying Vetfaan’s discomfort with a huge smile.

“And you know what the French say about wine and heart disease…” Kleinpiet chips in with his two cents worth.

“And I believe beer makes you more virile. After a few, I even think Gertruida is sexy.” Servaas earns a friendly slap for the woman who knows he’s only joking.

Poor Vetfaan. No beer? No meat? No wine? And…no water? Sometimes the choices we face simply defy logical thought…

***

Today you won’t find Talapia in the Kalahari. But maybe a little bit of fish can be found in Boggel’s Place, in the glasses and bottles in front of the group in Boggel’s Place. Vetfaan is no longer a complete vegetarian – water is out and drinking beer, he found, is impossible without chewing a piece of biltong. He maintains he believes he started a new form of vegetarianism, Vegetable Enhanced Local Cow Residue Offcuts. He hopes it sticks. As far as he’s concerned, the biltong in the bowl started off as grass, and that’s good enough.

The Many Faces of Faith

Credit: demotix.com

Credit: demotix.com

“Don’t you wonder sometimes, Oudoom, about faith?”

This startles the old pastor, who puts down his beer slowly while formulating an answer.

“No disrespect, Dominee, but the thought has been bothering me for some time.” Kleinpiet’s furrowed brow speaks volumes. “I mean, over in the Middle East you have two groups of people at each other’s throats about religious differences – and now it’s spreading to the rest of the world. Surely one group must be wrong…but who?”

“And that’s not all. In Christianity there are 41,000 different denominations, each claiming to be representing the true faith. These days it is even popular to start up your own house-church because you differ from the conventional approach to religious matters.” Vetfaan joins the conversation. He ia standing up, of course, after his recent altercation with the surprised caracal. “And then there are other beliefs, too, complicating the situation even further.”

“Well, faith is an universal thing.” Abstaining from the subject is unthinkable for Gertruida, who has specific opinions about everything. “As far as history goes back, mankind has always revered some form of deity or other. It’s as if we were wired to accept the concept of a Higher Being, but only given enough data to process the basic idea – and not the full knowledge of what, exactly, happens after death. So people have solved the problem by falling back on belief. I believe this…you believe that, that sort of thing. The Bible contains the writings of men who struggled to describe heaven, for instance. Ezekiel tried to convey the glory of heaven by telling us about wheels of fire; while St John was more practical and gave us a vision of earthly riches in Paradise. I understand Kleinpiet’s confusion, but my only point of reference remains the Bible.”

“Faith,” Oudoom says gravely, “is one of the most complicated and yet simple things we have to deal with in this life. Complicated, because we tend to dissect our beliefs to the point where we simply cannot answer the questions. Simple, because we’re not supposed to.

“You see: Gertruida is right – as usual. We can, indeed, grasp the basics of who and what God is. He’s the Creator, the Planner, the Final Judge. All religions – in varying ways and different forms – agree on that. There’s no culture on earth that doesn’t have a story of how it all began – and, not surprisingly, these stories overlap to a remarkable degree. Everybody agrees that everything was created by a Superior Being. Equally, it is common consensus that there are such concepts of Good and Evil, Sin and Salvation.

“But after that, we as humans start complicating matters by wanting to explain everything. We want to analyze the Bible, God, our faith…and explain what happens to our souls once we die. We even imagine we know what it takes to be accepted in Heaven, or rejected in Hell. Fundamental extremists hold on to the most amazing ideas concerning this, and become fanatic about their absolute impression of what they are destined or commanded to do in this world. And don’t think I’m talking about any specific religion or faith here – it’s as true for us as Christians as it is for others. Remember the mass suicide at Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978?

“So.” Oudoom sits back, satisfied that he’s made his point. “The bottom line of faith – by whatever name you call it – is Love. Loveless faith is an oxymoron. If the religion you follow isn’t characterised by Love and Kindness, I’m afraid that you are on the wrong track. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus was – or is – the epitome of loving kindness. Thats why we preach forgiveness. And moreover, our religion dictates that every word, every action, should be weighed against these two things – and that the way we interact with others, should leave reflect our faith. That’s how, in the end, our lives will be judged.

“Actually, this isn’t just about faith. It’s about common sense. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out at all: if your life is characterised by your kindness towards your fellow man, surely that leads to harmony. And harmony is the basis of Love, is it not? Harmony is the flipside of conflict, as much as Love is the opposite of hate.”

“But then, Oudoom, it means that killing each other in the name of religion is wrong? I mean, what do I do if a heathen threatens to destroy my way of life?”

“Good question. But let me ask you another. Is it right to defend your faith?”

“Gee, of course!” Kleinpiet slams down a fist. “Nobody has the right to attack me because I believe in a certain way!”

“Read your Bible, Kleinpiet. And then think about the message of Love. Take a step down from your high perch and consider why you might be a target because of your faith. If you lived a kind and forgiving life, caring for your neighbour and looking after your own – would that not avoid conflict? Does living in harmony not tell the world who you are and what you believe in?”

“That’s easy to say, Dominee.” The flush in Kleinpiet’s neck spreads to his cheeks. “But that’s all just theory. Look at what’s happening in the world? How do we forgive those that trespass against us if these trespasses involve murder and rape and wanton aggression?”

Oudoom shakes his head. “That’s why I agree with Gertruida. We don’t know everything…but we do know right from wrong. The fact that others – according to our belief – are doing wrong, doesn’t justify us going down the wrong path as well. So…we forgive. Like Jesus did. The judgment isn’t our concern. Not at all. The Bible tells us to try to talk to such people, and if we are unsuccessful, to avoid them.”

“It’s an ageless conundrum, Oudoom.” Gertruida’s voice is soft, making her seem particularly vulnerable. “The world is threatened by Evil, and only through Faith will we find everlasting joy.”

“But that’s my question: which faith? Everybody can’t be right?”

“True, Kleinpiet, But look at your faith carefully. Is it Kind? Is it Loving? I’m not talking about Mills and Boon love here – I’m talking about Love with a capital ‘L‘.  Are you a believer in harmony? Do you acknowledge God? If you can answer affirmatively, you are – at least – on the right track.”

“But that means the world is filled with men and women who aren’t.”

“Indeed, my friend. That’s the tragic reality – has been like that since the beginning of time, will be thus until the end, unless you show people another way. Your job isn’t to convert the world to the one true faith – it’s to show the world what it means to be humble and kind. You can be a president or a king or even a nobody – but if you don’t start with these simple things, the world will never change.”

“But…”

“No buts, Kleinpiet. The churches of the world have made faith wear many coats, show many faces. That’s wrong. Stick to the basics, the things we understand, the things we can do. The rest like they say, will be history.”

It’s one of those discussions that’ll never reach a satisfactory conclusion. For everything Oudoom says, Kleinpiet and the others will have an answer and even more questions. In the end, Gertruida holds up a tired hand, motioning them all to sit down. “Let’s just agree on this: in your heart of hearts you know what you believe. We believe in Christian way of life – and this means we have a responsibility to live our faith. It implies many things, some of which we find particularly hard to do. But you know what? When the final whistle blows, God isn’t going to ask us to present Him with a scoreboard. He’s going to ask us if we played the game properly, Faith isn’t about winning, It’s about loving. You’re asking the wrong question, Kleinpiet. The question is: does faith prod you towards Love or not? That, my friend, is the only answer you should concern yourself with.”

Surprisingly, her statement is met with worried stares.

Vetfaan’s Caracal

images (1)“How’s Vetfaan?” A worried frown wrinkles Kleinpiet’s brow. “It’s been…what?…three days now? Should be coming home soon, I hope.”

Boggel slides a beer over the counter with a sympathetic smile. Kleiniet hates drinking alone, and – to be honest – the atmosphere in Boggel’s Place certainly took a nosedive ever since the ambulance came to fetch the burly farmer.

“I phoned this morning, Kleinpiet. They’re sending him back today, but I don’t think he’ll be joining us for a drink for a while. His backside….”

Kleinpiet winces, nods, and swallows a mouthful of beer. “Poor chap. He shouldn’t have…”

***

The tragedy started when Vetfaan checked on his sheep two weeks ago. That’s when he found three of his best ewes missing. After a prolonged search of the area, he eventually  discovered the three carcasses close to each other with several bite marks on their necks.

“That was a lynx,” Servaas said when Vetfaan complained about it that night. “Nasty cats. they are. One of them gets amongst a flock of sheep, and they go crazy. Bite, bite, bite – that’s what they do. They don’t settle down for dinner after killing a single prey – for them it’s the joy of hunting and killing that does the trick. I know Ben Bitterbrak lost twenty sheep in a single night due to one of them.”

“Oh Servaas!” Gertruida’s irritation bubbled to the surface. “We don’t have any of the lynx species in Africa. I’ll have you know there are four subspecies of lynx: the Eurasian, Canadian, Iberian, and the North American Bobcat. Over here, we have the caracal – which is far more vicious than the lynx family. You should have known that.”

“Well, I’m going to shoot that bastard, no matter what you call it. I can’t afford to lose any more of my flock. Lamb season is almost here…” The grim expression on Vetfaan’s face hadn’t softened, despite the peach brandy.

Vetfaan returned to Boggel’s Place three days later, looking haggard and even grimmer. “That cat! Dammit, man – I wait for it here, and it kills over there. My farm is just too big for me to cover the whole area. And I can’t keep my sheep herded together every night – it’s impossible.” That, of course, is true. Farming with sheep in such an arid area means that the sheep have to graze over extensive tracts of land,

Kleinpiet then – two more rounds of peach brandy later – suggested that they establish COSATU – Caracal Observation, Strategy and Terminating Union. “We’ll all join you to eliminate that cat. We’ll start tonight.”

For the next four nights Boggel did no business – except for selling a few beers to the ladies of the town. Fortunately, the men had the foresight to stock up during the day – reminding each other of the desert chill at night. It’s not that they want to drink peach brandy during the vigil, it’s only to ward off the cold, understand?

Their strategy was simple: spreading out on the higher parts of the farm and armed with powerful spotlights and a variety of guns (Servaas insisting on the old Mauser his great-grandfather used in the war against the British), they waited. And waited. And felt the freezing wind. And partook – cautiously at first but later with considerable enthusiasm – of the peach brandy which they then dubbed ‘Antifreeze.”

Perhaps that’s why, on Night Four, Servaas accidently (so he claimed), discharged his gun, killing hundreds of completely innocent termites in a cat-shaped ant heap a hundred yards away. By then, the lack of sleep and the peach brandy had so fatigued the members of COSATU that they were reduced to mumbling idiots. The next day they discussed the issue, and created the New Union of Modern Stalking Activists – an entirely novel approach to the threat to Vetfaan’s sheep.

Perhaps a little explanation will help to understand what happened next. One must remember that the combination of peach brandy and sleep deprivation does not enhance intelligent thought. The plan formulated by the group in the bar that day, serves to emphasise that fact.

“You have to think like a caracal to catch a caracal.” Kleinpiet only slurred the words ever so slightly. “We’re thinking like real people here, and that won’t do. That cat has it’s own way – and last night he proved it by killing two more sheep while we were waiting at the wrong place.” (They had all fallen asleep, of course, but nobody thought it wise to correct Kleinpiet’s version of events.) “By now Vertfaan has lost ten sheep – if we don’t change our strategy, he’ll lose everything.

“We’ll stalk that cat. Follow it and then get rid of it. That’s the only way.”

This remark caused a lot of debate. Stalking a caracal would be impossible, Servaas observed. “So you think that cat is going to sit there, watching how a man with a gun sneaks up to it? They’re not that stupid.” He was right, they all agreed. Stalking had to be done subtly, cleverly.

And two more drinks later, it was Vetfaan who proposed The Plan.

“I’ve got it! We’ll do it the Bushman way.” He waited for everybody to fall silent before continuing. “Remember that movie by Jamie Uys? The Gods must be Crazy? In the second film he had this lady…” He couldn’t remember her name until Gertruida told him it was Lena Ferugia, who played the role of Dr. Ann Taylor. “Well, with a few bushes and a long stick, she fooled the ostriches to think she was one of them. That’s what we’ll do!”

“Okay. I get it.” Sarcasm dripped from Servaas’s remark. “We give you long ears and make you go meow, then that cat thinks you’re sexy. When he asks you out for a date, you grab him and stuff him into a bag. Hey, that’s so ingenious, can’t think why Gertruida didn’t suggest it hours ago.”

“Or maybe he’s a fast one and you get to have kittens!” Precilla asked for a tissue to wipe away the tears while she laughed.

“You can laugh if you want. I’ll show you.”

And Vetfaan did. He returned just before sunset with his sheep-suit. Well, it must be said that he made quite a good job of it. After stitching two sheep skins together, he draped it over his body and kept it in place with some webbing he still had from his army days. When he got down on all fours, he received a modest applause from the group in the bar.

“Nice job, Vetfaan.” Kleinpiet sniggered. “You’ll fool that cat, for sure. And hey, you don’t have to bother about the head at all. You look like a fine sheep just as you are.”

Vetfaan took that as a compliment, told them to wait up and drove off. No, he won’t need any help, thank you. He’s got a 9mm pistol and his camouflage. The cat was about to depart to kitty heaven…

***

“At least the caracal took off. I’ve checked on Vetfaan’s farm every day, and no more killing. He’ll be glad to hear that.”

“You can’t blame that poor cat, Kleinpiet.” Servaas has managed not to giggle every time they talk about Vetfaan’s misfortune. “Imagine his surprise?”

“Give the devil his due, Servaas. I don’ think even Vetfaan expected  that the caracal would be fooled so well. I mean, when he joined that flock in the darkness, baa-ing peacefully, he must have thought it was a long shot, too. And yet…”

“Ja, shame. And he didn’t even get a shot off, either.”

“Ag, come on, Servaas. If a vicious carnivore takes a bite out of your bum, it’s difficult to think about shooting. You only do running and screaming. You think the cat was surprised? I think his prey was completely thunderstruck!”

“Hey guys!” Precilla bumps open the door to Boggel’s Place. “The ambulance is on it’s way. Now, please, please don’t say anything about his bandages when he gets here. Let’s be nice…” She want’s to add ‘for a change’, but decides against it..

When Vetfaan limps from the ambulance, he heads straight for the bar. He is thirsty and in a bad mood. He doesn’t bat an eye when Servaas said he heard that somebody made a ewe-turn, and even ignored the time when Kleinpiet stepped aside to say ‘After ewe.”

But what gets his goat – in a manner of speaking – is when Servaas asks him about the way the caracal surprised him. “Didn’t you feel a bit sheepish”

Fortunately, the ambulance hasn’t left yet. The ambulance  man says it’s not serious; if Servaas keeps the ice-pack in place, that black eye will look much better tomorrow.

Weekly Photo Challenge: a Minimalistic Fairy Tale.

There’s a story in every picture – and sometimes even the tiniest object holds the key to a tale of hardship, adventure…or love. Take for instance, the tragically beautiful deserted town of Kolmanskop – once a thriving community in the Namib desert. When the diamonds ran out, the town died. And today, only the spirit of a time gone by remains. Take a walk into a deserted house – let’s imagine what had happened here…

IMG_3048 Who stayed here? And what dreams were dreamt in the little house next to the track? Did he whoop it up at night – or was he a quiet introvert, working hard to make a living?

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Did he stare out of this window, thinking about a special somebody far, far away?

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And if he did, why did he leave his ink pot behind…or did the desert lure him into the wilderness, where he lost his way?

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But wait – he owned a rifle, at least. He wouldn’t have gone into the arid wasteland without it. Too many dangers there. A seasoned prospector would have been able to protect himself. So…maybe he survived the perils of the dunes?

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Ah….let’s be optimistic! He came home to find somebody waiting on the porch. A very, very special somebody from far, far away.

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Of course they celebrated! But first – the luxury of a long, warm bath in this waterless region. They spent a foamy, happy hour here while he told her of his big find.

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“Let’s go,” he said, “and live a life of luxury.”

And she nodded happily, telling him to leave everything behind. “We’ve got enough now. We don’t need more than you…and me…and that wonderful gem you found.”

So they did.

IMG_3356The desert, having given up it’s riches, then took back their house. They didn’t mind at all – they lived happily ever after.

The End

The Doggy in Boggel’s Place

(Daily prompt: allow a non-verbal subject to address your audience.)

IMG_3608My name is Vrede, and I’m the guardian and pride of Rolbos. Guardian? Sure, there hasn’t been a single burglary while I’ve stayed here. (Okay, neither before, but that’s irrelevant.) I’m an ex-police dog, a sniffer who can tell drugs a mile off. I’ve also made an in depth study of human scents, which has helped me apprehend a number of criminals, including a police commissioner.

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Click to buy. Arf, arf..

I tell some of my stories in a book, so I’ll not repeat them here. Suffice to say that these stories have spread my fame all over the world, and that I’ve received fan mail from Europe, America and even Gauteng. It’s not something I brag about, mind? Just barking the breeze, understand?

I love the cushion under the counter, here in Boggel’s Place. I get to hear all the gossip first-hand, get rewarded by treats whenever I sit up and beg, and can snooze away the hours while the townsfolk dream up stupid schemes to pass the time.

Was I born and raised here? In a manner of speaking, I suppose. According to the stories on the blog, I arrived here after exposing a corrupt official in the police force. But, if I had to be honest, I wasn’t really born. Not in the usual manner. I was, however, created; which is something completely different.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, you only have to park a writer in front of a keyboard, add a bit of writer’s block, and stir in a warped imagination. Go on, do it! Voila, you’ve got a doggy of your own. You can name him – or her – anything you want. We feed on virtual bones and titbits, never embarrass our owners and are loyal forever.

See, dogs like me can’t die. We just don’t do that. Oh, it’s nice to live in the computer like I do, but once your story is in a book, you’re immortal. (Which is more than real people and dogs can say.) This makes me a perfect pet, for I’ll entertain untold generations with my wit and wisdom. And what’s a dog if he can’t curl up in your mind and make you wonder about what it means to live a virtual dog’s life?

So, to those of you who received the gift of imagination, I’d like you to create more of us. Go on, try? While the real world is becoming overcrowded, there’s no such problem in the virtual one. We don’t bark when you want to sleep. We don’t whine when we’re hungry. We don’t go about humping important guest’s legs or stuff like that. Oh, we’ll accompany you to work occasionally, and even make you smile while you’re filling in your tax returns – but we’d never, never bother you.

So there. Now you know about me. You won’t ever feel lonely again. Ever.

Bark-bark-arf. (That means goodbye for now.)

The Most Honourable Rolbos Parliament

Whenever the patrons in Boggel’s Place get bored of taklking about the drought – which is often – they love talking about less serious matters, like the parliament, for instance. It is here, they all agree, that people have fun and relax – a veritable example to the masses of hard working folks  who  have no sense of balance in their lives. Gertruida says people die of heart attacks because they bottle up stress, try to do the impossible by making ends meet and by paying their taxes regularly. This, she maintains, is a mentality of self-destruction. To live a full and happy life, one should let off steam occasionally, be transparently honest, and deserve the respect of your peers.

After Vetfaan’s experiment to generate electricity, the group in the bar reverted to parliament mode – just to show the burly farmer how much they appreciated his efforts. After all, the dream of making Rolbos independent of ESCOM’s efforts to deprive the country of lights at night (which Servaas believes is driven by the diligence of South Africa’s booming crime industry) is a honourable endeavour and something one should encourage, not to make fun of.

“I say, Honourable Vetfaan, you certainly made that fan turn at a tremendous  speed. Quite laudable, I’d reckon. A fine effort.”

Kleinpiet doesn’t address this statement to Vetfaan, of course. That would be unthinkable in a parliamentary setting. No, under these circumstances, the statement is vaguely addressed to the Speaker, who is none other than the inimitable Gertruida. Like our esteemed Speaker in the House, she knows everything.

“Thank you, Honourable Kleinpiet. Do I have a second for that motion?” Gertruida wears a powdered wig, something Boggel insisted on after following the Oscar trial. She has donned her glasses for the occasion to convey the gravity of being in charge of parliament. Servaas actually laughed out loud when she took her seat behind the counter, an effort the others agreed fitted in well with the conduct of a seasoned parliamentarian.

“Honourable Speaker, I would like to second the motion by Honourable Kleinpiet about the fantastic achievements by Honourable Vetfaan. Although his experiment failed dismally, I can think of several precedents in government that was lauded in a similar manner for similar results.”

Several grunts of ‘Aye’. ‘Yesss’ and ‘Eissh!’ followed this statement, much like the ‘hallelujahs’ during a charismatic sermon.

“I object, my Honourable Lady. When you consider the result, there wasn’t much honourable in what Honourable Vetfaan did.” It is Precilla’s turn to play the role of the opposition. She’s wearing a blue T-shirt and does a rather convincing little toyi-toyi dance to emphasise her point. “I demand a commission of inquiry to investigate the waste of money associated with the events surrounding the experiment. A fan was dismantled, a dynamo destroyed and I calculate that 40 litres of petrol was wasted. Petrol, Honourable Speaker, we have to pay for….”

She doesn’t get any  further as the Speaker rules her out of order. “Honourable Precilla! Please retract that statement!”

“May I remind you, Honourable Lady, that there is only honour amongst thieves?”

“Order! Order!!” Gertruida bangs the empty peach brandy bottle on the counter.  “Retract the statement, Honourable member.”

Kleinpiet sniggers at this, muttering that there’s nothing honourable about his member.

“Well, Honourable Speaker, then I’ll quote Socrates to you: “The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” Sooo…I’ll pretend to retract the statement, which makes me honourable.”

Getruida doesn’t even flinch. “You dare to throw quotes at me, Honourable Precilla? Well, in my position, I simply lo-o-ve the honour associated with it. Let me quote you Shakespeare:”…I love the name of honour more than I fear death.” So, my dear Honourable Precilla, you shall leave the house and return with an appropriate apology.”

To be chased out of the Rolbos parliament like this, is no disgrace. Like in the institution in Cape Town, all the words and all the posturing are merely symbolic, and designed not to humiliate, but to amuse. When Precilla returns with a freshly baked milk tart (made the old-fashioned way), she receives a standing ovation.

“I don’t feel so honourable any more,” she says, batting her eyes at Kleinpiet. “I move that we ajourn this session and get on with real life.”

“And I certainly second that.” Kleinpiet hugs the honourable member of the opposition. “We have more…pressing matters to attend to.”

***

The occasional Rolbos Parliament, just like the real one, may seem a bit chaotic if you didn’t know the protocol. In fact, concerning both these houses,  Fiodor  Dostoevsky  worded it masterfully in Crime and Punishment when he wrote “Everything which is of use to mankind is honourable.”  Gertruida reminds the group at the bar of these famous words as they finish the milk tart.

“We use our parliament for laughs, you guys, and that makes it a honourable thing. After all, your beliefs don’t tell the world who you are, your behaviour does. So, as long as those chaps in Cape Town keep us in stitches, it makes them useful. How honourable is that?”

***

Disclaimer: Boggel denies any resemblance with the REAL parliament, saying no adult would ever descend to such low levels like we find in Boggel’s Place. He’s still arguing with Gertruida as you read  this. Fortunately, they have a goodly supply of peach brandy, which will see them hugging at the end of the evening. And that, you’ll have to agree, is completely unparliamentary.

The True Value of Art

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Giacometti’s Chariot

“The world is going mad,” Servaas said quietly as he folded the Upington Post. He’s been reading the newspaper on Boggel’s veranda while they wait for the bar to open.

Of course, nobody pays attention. The concept of a sane world is, after all, as foreign to Rolbos as a thunderstorm in winter. The townsfolk are in complete agreement that the balance of reason shifted seriously south in the past few years. Take the gay issue, for instance. Why is it, Oudoom once asked, that suddenly you have same-sex parades, Gay Day, and a world-wide excitement about marriages between men (or women)…but nobody celebrates a single Straight Day? Where’s the Straight Parade, he asked? Oh, it’s wonderful that people fall in love and all that, but shouldn’t we include all relationships when we honour love?

Frustrated at not drawing attention to his remark, Servaas tries again.

ROGER~10“Somebody paid a 101 million Dollars for a tiny sculpture. Dollars! That’s a billion Rands! Look at the photograph: it looks like one of those wire-cars we built when we were small. Gee, man, I had a whole fleet of them. If I had the sense to keep them, I’d be a multibillionaire today.”

“Oh no, Servaas! That sculpture is a bronze cast by Alberto Giacometti, made in 1951. His work is pure art, I’ll tell you. Collectors buy these things as an investment, selling it a few years later at a handsome profit.” Gertruida pinches her nose, apparently thinking hard. “If I remember correctly, Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche did even better than his chariot, selling for 104 million.”

Gertruida – true to her nature – just can’t help herself when it comes to showing off her brilliant mind.

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L’Homme qui marche 2

“Alberto became famous as a Swiss sculptor, but he dabbled with all forms of art. He experimented a lot with cubism but it’s his surreal work that drew the worlds attention. See, he liked to sculpt figures the way he saw them, not the way they appeared in real life. What made his technique unique, was the way he stretched and elongated the limbs of his figures. He started off with tiny figurines, but his later works became larger and larger – and the bigger they were, the thinner they became.”

“He should have worn contacts,” Servaas decides. “Then he could have been a better artist.”

Gertruida sighs as she stares at Servaas. “Contact lenses, I’ll tell you, only received FDA approval in America in 1971, five years after Giacometti’s death. But that’s not the point: Giacometti showed people how they really are. Long legs, because we’re never happy where we are. Long arms because we’re so greedy. A thin body suggesting eternal hunger. And the heads? They’re small and somehow resemble something alien, like we imagine extraterrestrials to be these days. I think he tried to say something with that, as well. While we imagine ourselves to be exceedingly clever, our ideas and thoughts are really without substance. People live to satisfy their desires, which is really an empty way of living. Giacometti didn’t just create art – he delivered a profound statement on humanity.”

“Well, that makes him an extremely unhappy camper. You make it sound as if his surrealism is real.”

“All forms of art reflect the artist’s comment on society, Servaas. Whether you listen to Beethoven or the Beatles, read Dahl or Dickens, or visit the Louvre or the National Gallery of Art – wherever you find art, you’ll find an analysis of Life. And let me tell you: even if you don’t get it, it influences the way you think. That’s the wonder of art.”

Servaas shakes his head. No, that’s not true. He, the astute elder of Oudoom’s church, won’t ever be swayed but such trivialities. It is absurd to think that a picture or a book can make him think differently. No, it’s not possible.

“But it is, Servaas. Every word you read, every picture you see – even the songs you hear – these things worm their way to your subconscious. And don’t think those impressions just lie there, doing nothing. Your mind is a living computer, constantly sifting through data and storing information.” She glances up as Boggel approaches with the keys. “Art, my friend, makes us think. That’s why it’s so valuable.”

Boggel hesitates before unlocking the door, stares down at the newspaper and whistles softly.

“What’s that silly wire-thingy on the front page, Servaas?”

“It is, ” Servaas bunches his brows together, “an enlightened commentary of the state of the nation, Boggel. It says the gravy train has left the station and that us common folk will now have to rely on simpler forms of transport. And that, Boggel, is a metaphor for reality. Transport, in this sense, implies getting by from day to day. The thin wheels suggest the fragility of our efforts. And the fact that the  chariot is driven by an emaciated figure, is a commentary on the way the country is being governed.” He gets up slowly, massaging his creaking knees. “But I didn’t expect you to see that. Not at all. It takes a true appreciation of art to realise the value of such a sculpture. It is, in effect, priceless…”

***

Gertruida once said something about one of Oudoom’s sermons. She reckons we only hear the bits we want to hear, and ignore the rest. Well, she said at the time, that’s Life, isn’t it?

Like Giacometti, she was right, of course.

The Irony of Success

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Icarus – from abretelibro.com

Irony,” Gertruida says – because she knows so much – “is just a series of disasters held together by a string of good intentions. It happens all the time, especially when you consider ESCOM, the e-Toll fiasco and  the value of the Rand. Then, of course, there is the striking example of Blackie Swart, the white accountant working for the African Parliamentarian Association for Regional Tactics, the body to promote local, ethnic-based, entrepreneurs’ participation in various tender processes. But that leans more towards satire than irony, come to think of it.”

“Irony?” Vetfaan shrugs. “That’s part and parcel of everyday life in our country. Twenty years down the line we should all be rolling with laughter. What happened to the dreams we had when we voted for democracy in 1994? Man, everybody smiled when they drew that cross; but now that very same cross has caused more trouble that goodwill. We have become a living irony, a veritable parody of hope and despair.”

“Just like Herman Grobler.” Boggel makes them all sit up. They know the story all too well, and – out of respect – they observe a moment of silence.

***

 They all knew Herman, the fastest wing on the rugby field in the Northern Cape. Or at least, they knew about him. Only a select handful of girls could claim to really have had anything to do with the handsome boy – the rest tried to make their friends jealous by pretending they had gone out with him. We all had such ‘friends’ in school: the dashing, clever, athletic chaps that can do no wrong. They’re popular. They can pick and choose. And, almost invariably, they lose their way in later life to become one of the nothing-people nobody wants to talk to. While that devolution may be a source of immense – if secret – joy to the hardworking, average boy with pimples and holed soles, the tragedy is obvious and exceedingly sad.

This is exactly what happened to Herman…

A rugby scout spotted him in Standard 10, after which he was earmarked to play for the largest Afrikaans university south of the Orange River. He tried out, was selected, and in his very first year of studies scored the winning try in the finals. With his reputation firmly established, he went on to be the star student in his class (Applied Mathematics) and had a huge problem to select the most beautiful girl as a date every weekend.

This was no mean feat, mind you. Girls, young women and even some older ones wrote long and romantic letters, some including revealing photographs or (for the more shy) sketches or poems. On more than one occasion he’d return to his hostel to find a voluptuous surprise waiting to welcome him to her arms.

Of course his male fellow students were jealous. Of course they wanted to share his good fortune. And of course some tried to be his friend. But, between his sport and his studies, he spent the little time he had free with some beauty – which only served to distance him from his male counterparts.

Two very important things occured in his final year while studying for his Master’s degree. He met Shirley Allgood, the American exchange student…and was introduced to her father. Shirley was one of those easy-going young ladies one would expect to adorn the middle pages of a glossy magazine while covering up the barest necessities. Her father, however, was something quite different.

Harold Allgood was a engineer at American Aerospace, the first to start planning commercial flights into space. The venture was a huge success: for half-a-million Dollars you could spend 24 hours circling the globe in absolute luxury. As a prominent shareholder in the company, Harold was what us common people would call ‘stinking rich’.

imagesDue to Harold’s influence, Herman accepted a bursary from MIT, where he proceeded to finish his PhD in record time. Time Magazine ran a leading article on the new rocket propulsion system he had invented and it was rumoured that the Nobel committee was considering his contribution to science and mathematics for their next awards.

1357770822Just after he finished his studies – and before taking up a lucrative job at American Aerospace – Herman married the lovely (if empty-headed) Shirley in the Taglyan Complex – one of the most expensive and luxurious venues in Southern California. Everybody who was anybody was there – the president, a few astronauts, top golfers and tennis players…and Gertruida, who was the only South African who kept on corresponding with  Herman after he emigrated. She, in contrast to so many others, didn’t condemn his search for excellence, knowing full well that his talents would have been overlooked in a country where skin colour had become more important than ability.

And it is in the magnificent hall – after the wedding – that Herman drew Gertruida aside to tell her about his unhappiness.

“I studied myself out of the country, Tannie Gerty.” He always called her that. “I’ve become academically disabled – there’s no way I’ll find a job back home. My qualifications won’t help me there – even the university rejected my application, saying I know too much about too little to be of use to them. I am, they said, overqualified.”

To her surprise, the handsome groom fished out a white handkerchief to dab his eyes.

“How I wish I could have married in Upington and celebrated with a braai afterwards. Now I’m stuck with this.” He swept a hand towards the hall. “There’s no escape…”

***

“Ja, I suppose he did the right thing, poor chap. Quite dumb for such a clever man.” Servaas lifts his glass in a silent salute. “Blessed are they that are satisfied with enough.”

Vetfaan stares at the dry veld outside the window, where a dust devil is making it’s way slowly across the loose sand. This is my home, he thinks, the place I belong. 

Gertruida says Herman is an example of the most horrible irony of all: when an individual gets all that he dreams of. There’s nothing so unbearable as that, she says. No, according to her, the trick in life is to distinguish between your reach and your grasp…and then settle for the latter. Kleinpiet figured it out immediately, but Herman – with his many degrees and all that – is still working out what it means.