Tag Archives: politics

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.

Our Fathers Broke the Rainbow…

x35Last Sunday – after Oudoom’s sermon on The Sins of the Fathers, Gertruida said that Life is an endless circle. What has been, will be again. Vetfaan said that’s true; he remembered Frikkie, the son of Fists Fourie, who also was jailed after his wife walked into the door once too often. Vetfaan reckons those men should have been much more circumspect in choosing their wives. And Kleinpiet agreed about the Sinning Father Syndrome, reminding them that Innocent Tshabalala became a lawyer, just like his dad..

Still, it was a sobering thought. Precilla said it isn’t fair that a great-grandson should bear the burden of punishment for somebody he didn’t even know, whereupon Servaas said we all suffer because of our president. And – he asked – who in town actually knew the man?  The fact that the president is still around while his sins are visited upon us, he said, must say something. “Maybe his wrongs are so great and so many, that waiting for a few generations is out of the question, hey?” Of course everybody laughed at that, but it wasn’t the laughing you’d usually hear in Boggel’s Place: it sounded too harsh, too hollow.

The sermon also had another effect on the townsfolk: they wanted to find out what their great-grandfathers did – hoping to discover pious and upright citizens of the first order (Servaas’s words). To their utter and collective dismay, this turned out to be a false hope. Gertruida knew, of course, that her family history contained a bootlegger, a diamond smuggler and a cattle thief. Vetfaan checked out the inscriptions on the first pages of the old family bible noting with concern the description of a forebear as ‘a rascal not worthy of our name‘. In Kleinpiet’s case the situation was even worse. In the carefully annotated diary his mother used to keep, she wrote about ‘Oupa Piet’, the candidate for the National Party in the fifties.

“Well, I have no such worries,” Boggel announced. “As an orphan I don’t have a family – hence I have nothing to worry about.”

“Oh no, Boggel. You can’t get off so easily. Unless you were hatched from an egg, you had a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.” Servaas ignored Kleinpiet’s remark that chickens had daddies too, and continued. “You’re just like us. We’ve all got to take what’s coming to us, I’m afraid.”

***

Of course Oudoom helped them to understand that it’s not so simple. If, he said, generations persist in sinning, it is only natural to think that the sins  – which originated earlier in the family – would be continuously punished. “If grandpa taught his children to do something wrong: why then, you can’t just punish grandpa, can you? Go read Ezekiel. He made it abundantly clear.”

“So you say that we can’t blame previous generations for the mess we’re in?”

“Don’t be simplistic, Servaas. But your remark does touch on an important issue: the ‘sins of the father’ does not necessarily imply a family connotation. ‘Fathers’ can also be seen as ‘Leaders’  and ‘children’ as ‘followers’. We talk about ‘the founding fathers’ and in Africa we use ‘father’ as a form of respect. So, as much as we apply the term to families, we may also use it to refer to society at large.”

“You’re talking about the National Party again?” It is well known that Oudoom frequently laments the decision of the Synod in 1957.

“Oh no, Servaas. Not at all. I’m looking ahead, not to the past. The past is history, we can’t do anything about that. But the future? It rests on the present. And when I look at the leadership in the country, I see problems. What have they done to strengthen the moral fibre in the land? They’re sooo big on human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights – you can go on and on. But what, I ask you, did they do to God’s rights? I mean, those are the most important of all, aren’t they?

“I’ll tell you: they legalised Satanism. Banned prayer in schools. Opened the parliament with an imbongi. When elections come about, they attend church services to get votes – but once the results are in, do we see the TV cameras focus on a politician  on any given Sunday?

“So, maybe we should consider our ‘fathers’ in South Africa very carefully. If you were to look down from heaven – would you have been proud?”

***

Boggel maintains it is sometimes better to be an orphan: being fatherless isn’t so bad when you are given a clean slate to start off with. Gertruida reckons that was the dream in 1994, but it all went horribly wrong afterwards.

“We talk about the Rainbow Nation because it’s such a nice term. But remember: the rainbow, according to the Bible, is a symbol of a covenant God made with mankind. In Revelations, it is said that a rainbow around the Throne. The rainbow, it seems, signifies peace and forgiveness.”

Gertruida sometimes says things that make people think. And occasionally, her knowledge of everything is quite astounding, like when she reminds them that the human eye can see no black, white or brown in the rainbow,

“But what has that to do with sinning fathers, Gertruida?”

“Everything, Servaas. We’re big on symbols and words, but small in action. To talk about peace and tolerance is one thing, to live it is quite a different matter. We need leaders whose aim is to guide the country to a honest, respectful place where life and property mean something. We need fathers who are true to the oldest guidelines we know. Ask Oudoom, he’ll tell you.”

And he does, by quoting two verses.

  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
  • As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

Oudoom says a true father to the nation should encourage compassionate discipline. According to him, that’s the way to add colours to the rainbow. And, he says, that’s the only way to repair that symbol we so love to talk about while it is disappearing from our skies…

Nero’s Nkandla

 Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also known as  Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus   Dec. 15, 37 —June 9, 68

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also known as
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Dec. 15, 37 —June 9, 68

“The ancient Greeks were an interesting lot,” Gertruida says – because she knows everything. “They gave us myths and stories, developed mathematics and invented democracy. The world would have been so much poorer without them. After them came the Romans, of course.”

Servaas gathers his brows together, shaking his head. As one of the few hippy-elders of the world, he feels he has to respond.

“But they had tyrants – like Nero. He didn’t like Christians much, setting a bad example for today’s extremists, like ISIS.”

“Ah, yes – the much maligned Nero. Yes, you’re right about the Christians – but he wasn’t a tyrant. A tyrant, according to Plato, is “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics—against his own people as well as others”  This description, quite clearly, doesn’t fit Nero. He was extremely popular at the time, the masses loved him, and he stuck to the law. At least, he used the law to solidify his position as ruler. Clever, no?

“But he wasn’t a nice man. His stepfather – Claudius – had another son, Britannicus, a few years younger than the adopted Nero. Some wanted Britannicus to be the emperor after Claudius’s death –  who incidentally died after eating some mushrooms. Poor Britannicus also died after ingesting poison on the day before he would have been proclaimed an adult. which would have strengthened his claim to the throne. The list of murders in which Nero was supposedly involved, is a lengthy one. If you dared cross him, you were simply removed from the scene. Even his mother didn’t escape his wrath.

“Despite all this, he was also rather popular with the ladies. He married three times – taking women from higher and lower in social standing – and is rumoured to have had a number of willing lassies waiting for his call. Isn’t it strange how women gravitate toward men in power? No matter what the man does or how he conducts his affairs, some ladies simply can’t resist sucking up to them, if you’ll excuse the pun.

tumblr_mdfrgfMYc61ryfivao1_1280“And then there was the Great Fire in Rome in 64 AD. Many historians blame Nero for the fire, but the debate on the cause still goes on. What is known, is that Nero certainly didn’t play a fiddle while Rome burnt – the fiddle would only be invented almost a thousand years later. But he may well have played a lyre, which may have been the granddaddy of the violin. Anyway, he wasn’t in Rome when the fire started, according to Tacitus, he was in Antium. But…of course he wouldn’t have run through Rome with a box of matches himself, he was the Emperor, for goodness’ sakes! A man like that had many servants, not so? If you’re the ruler, you’re supposed to be distanced from any criminal activity. It’s just like the Arms Deal: you have to make sure you have enough other officials to blame in order to make yourself look good.

“Anyway, Nero knew that popular support was important to anybody who wanted to stay in power. So, after the fire, he set about doing charitable deeds. He had Rome rebuilt, providing his subjects with brick houses to replace the shanties they had lived in before. While he was keeping the populace happy with their fine, new, one-roomed dwellings, he quietly had his architects design a new palace for him: the Domus Aurea or Golden House. This was  – quite coincidentally – situated on a piece of ground recently bared by the fire.

e2133 Domus aurea print1

Domus Aurea

“Now this palace was something else! Situated on a hillside, the grounds sloped down through an amazing garden which bordered the man-made lake. It had 300 rooms, and the main dining room had a revolving ceiling, resembling the movements of heaven! Other ceilings were covered in mosaic and there was a large statue of Nero, himself. And oh! The decorations! There were paintings and frescoes and and ivory and marble – every conceivable luxury of the time was displayed to emphasise the importance of the man we know as Nero, the Tyrant.

“In the end, Nero committed a sort-of suicide four years after the Fire of Rome. There were several reasons for this, notably the way he started taxing the rich and influential people of the day. Italy simply couldn’t sustain the extravagance of their emperor any longer. A revolt started, causing Nero to flee Rome. He later returned to the palace but found his loyal supporters had all left. The Senate convened, declared him a public enemy, and sentenced him to death. Upon hearing this, Nero sought refuge at some friend’s house, where he forced his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to stab him to death.”

“A fitting end to a man who caused so much hardship.” Servaas nods. “What ye sow…”

“And his palace?” Vetfaan has to know.

“It became an embarrassment to his successors. The ivory and gold were stripped, but the edifice remained. Then they filled up the entire area, covering the palace with ground. The Baths of Titus were first built, followed by an amphitheatre and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Within 40 years the palace was buried beneath the soil.”

“Surely the people rejoiced at all this?”

“Some did, Precilla, but not all. The lower classes still held Nero in great esteem, revering his memory. It was only the people who understood what he had been doing who had reason to feel relieved. Still, it took a number of years for things to settle – a situation like that doesn’t end when the tyrant goes.

“And don’t think it’s an isolated case in the history of mankind. Rulers and kings have stayed in power by being supported by the people they reign over. It’s only when popular dissent grows from a grumble to a scream that things change. Rulers understand that. Remember: logic whispers, money shouts? That’s why President Zuma could say with so much confidence: “….only very clever and bright people care about…Nkandla.” He implied that his support came from the poor and disadvantaged part of society. It was true in Nero’s time, it’s still true today..”

“But the palace…the palace started the slide in his career, didn’t it?” The pleading note in Servaas’s voice is unmistakable.

“Back then, yes.” Gertruida sighs. “Who knows? Maybe history does keep on repeating itself, after all…”

The Father of Our Tragedies

Aeschylus_Bust

Bust of Aeschylus

“When an elephant gets angry at you, he settles the score by resting his head on your chest. Really hard and really long – after he pinned you to the ground. That’s what I heard, at least.”

Vetfaan shudders at the thought. It’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place, and the conversation slewed to the many different ways in which life may end – or dying, to be more specific. With the political scene constantly moving south, this seemed to be a very natural thing to do.

“Ag, Vetfaan, being crushed by an elephant may be an apt metaphor when you think about it. We small people don’t really feature in the greater scheme of things. If Zuma builds a new home, takes a new wife or buys eight nuclear power stations…what can we do? Death, taxes and silly governmental decisions – those are inevitable. We might as well stop worrying about it.” Shrugging her shoulders, Precilla orders another beer.

“There is the story of Aeschylus, of course…,” Gertruida says with an appropriate pause at the end. She knows they’ll want to know what she’s talking about. They don’t disappoint her.

“Well, he lived about 500 years before Christ. He was a writer.” Again the tantalising silence as she sips her beer. Kleinpiet rolls his eyes and stares at her with pleading eyes.

“Oh, come on! You guys should know all about that famous Greek? He was the father of soapies.”

When Servaas slaps her playfully, softly, on her cheek, she smiles and relents by telling the story.

“Aeschilus was a playwright, you see? Before he appeared on the scene, the Greeks certainly staged plays, but they had a single actor on stage, backed up with a chorus. It was more – as I understand it – a way of musical story-telling. Then Aeschilus changed all that. He brought in the concept of tragedy by placing two actors in a conflict situation. The chorus wasn’t so important anymore – the actors acted out the story. And of course, there had to be a winner and a loser, hence the tragedy. He wrote plays which enthralled the audience so much that – according to an old book, The Life of Aeschilus  – ‘they caused young children to faint, patriarchs to urinate, and pregnant women to go into labour.’

“In those days trilogies became popular, with tragic episodes following each other; much like the Americans do with their TV programs. And, in contrast to preceding efforts, his actors had to dress up and be made up to look like the character they portrayed: like Zeus or Achilles and so on.

“Anyway, today we honour him as the Father of Tragedy, the one who introduced mankind to the reality of everyday life – on stage. He was hugely successful in his time, but I think only seven of his plays survived.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “What has that to do with unusual deaths, Gertruida? That’s what we were talking about.”

“Oh that?” She smiles enigmatically. “Of course. You see, he heard a prohesy about his death. It was said that something would fall on his head, killing him instantly. So he solved the problem by staying outside, never venturing into buildings and cities. He thought he was safe.”

“So he died of old age?”

“Nope. According to Pliny in Naturalis Historiæ and an earlier writer, Valerius Maximus, an eagle  carried a tortoise high into the air, looking for a suitable rock to dash it on. Mistaking Aeschilus’s head for a rock, the eagle dropped the tortoise on target, killing the playwright.”

“So the father of tragedy died as a result of a flying tortoise?”

“Indeed. You see, if you are destined to die on a certain day in a certain manner, that’s the way it’ll be. You can’t escape fate.”

Oudoom clears his throat. He doesn’t like this type of argument.

“Don’t worry, Oudoom, we all know that such old tales are often fables and bits of oral history that get distorted over time, And, remember, those stories were written up long before Christ, which must make us look at them in context.”

With Oudoom suitably placated, a comfortable silence settles in Boggel’s Place while they mull over the life and times of that old Greek.

Credit: Independent Newspapers. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

Credit: Independent Newspapers. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

“Yes,” Servaas says suddenly. “Tragic trilogies. Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma. Today our modern playwright is the Parliament and let’s agree – they certainly dress up according to the drama they depict. They still use a chorus, though, when they protest.”

“Aeschilus all over again?” Vetfaan raises an eyebrow. “So we wait for a flying tortoise to bring sense back to our politics?”

He gets a slow nod from Gertruida. “Something slow is going to happen really fast one day. You’ll see, it’ll happen. Already the press and the media are baying for the head of our beloved President. It’s almost as if they know something we don’t. Or perhaps they are busy preparing the nation for a change. But, in the end, we have to agree that a tortoise can be as deadly as an elephant. It’s surprising how effective they can be under the right circumstances.”

“Falling tortoises and waning support…you may be right, Gertruida.”

Gertruida merely smiles that  smile again. She’s wondering who will be the eagle, and what form the tortoise will take. The tragedy, she thinks, is that the play on our political stage is so well written, that – like Aeschilus proved in his plays and with his demise – the end will come as  a surprise to everybody.

One of the main actors may be sacrificed, but the play will go on – and it can never be a comedy. Yes, she thinks, we’re doing Aeschilus proud…

The Danger beneath the Lace

IMG_2725During one of his rare visits to Upington, Servaas stops to stare at a large shop window. Now, one must remember that he and Siena had been married for five decades and that the intricate mystery of the female body isn’t a complete enigma to the old man; but for a moment he is breathless.

Siena, that wonderful and sensible lady who had been mother to Servaasie, used to be very practical. Coming from the impoverished background like they both did, it was only natural for them to be careful how they spent their money. A thing had to last, see? And, like with cutlery and linen, so with clothes. These had to be sensible and durable. Especially sensible. Extremely sensible.

In their marriage, clothing had to cover the necessary bits, be warm in winter and cool during the day. During the colder winter months, Siena made sure that everything was snugly tucked in beneath layers of cotton and wool – she believed that kept colds and flu away. She also made sure she never had to visit a gynaecologist.

It is understandable, then, that Servaas eyes the mannequin in the window with such incredulous eyes. Is it possible to fit everything into that tiny…thing?

Of course, if he had the guts he could ask Gertruida – but that kite just won’t fly. There is no way he could phrase a question like that! It would be totally embarrassing and completely unacceptable for the head elder of the church to admit he knew anything about such things. Or that he looked at it. Or even thought about it. No, this is something that he must keep away from the little society of Rolbos. He is a man they respect for his steadfast conservatism,  Even if he never finds out how ladies do it, he’ll never, ever discuss the subject with anybody.

***

Back in Boggel’s Place, Servaas is unusually quiet while the group at the bar discuss the way Germany thumped the rest of the world in soccer.

“If only we could get Bafana Bafana to focus. You know, we have the players and the talent; but somehow the team just doesn’t gel. Maybe it’s a question of national pride…or the lack of it.” Gertruida is the only one in Rolbos who knows something about soccer. The rest are ardent rugby fans who can’t understand why you have to kick the ball all the time. Why do men have two hands, after all? Kleinpiet says it’s like having ears but insisting on using sign language.

“It’s like everything else, Gertruida.”  Having seen what the overseas players are paid, Vetfaan feels he must say something. “Money. The Germans made it to the top because they initiated a program to identify young boys with special talents. Then they put them in an academy, all expenses paid – and see what they managed after that? No, our government must wake up. If they don’t spend money on people, they’ll slowly destroy what little national pride we still have.”

“True.” Kleinpiet nods. He’s made it abundantly clear – over the past few months – that the government must invest in sport as a way to motivate the nation. “But you know how it is, Vetfaan. The ministers live in luxury. The president has…” He pasues, scratching his head. “How many wives? Six? And more than twenty children? Now give them all homes, schooling and a medical aid – as well as spending money, security guards and cars – and you realise we’ll never have a sporting academy of any sort. There isn’t enough money to go around, that’s all.”

“Oh, and don’t forget the ten traditional kings we have in the country. The Zulu king alone cost the tax payers more than R65-million over the last two years, I’d hate to know how many wives and children these guys have to support.” Tapping at the calculator in front of him, Boggel wonders if the mint will ever be able to print enough notes to fill all those wallets. “Talk about the legacy of Apartheid? Sure, that’s horrible and nobody defends that system – but what about the legacy of tribalism? Is there any logic in maintaining a system of headmen, chiefs, leaders, traditional healers and kings? Are we stuck in Dark Africa, or have we moved on?”

“Now don’t you go tampering with that, Boggel!” Gertruida is suddenly very serious. “Our people have traditions. They have a background in a certain way of living. Culture and tradition aren’t things you change by issuing laws the population cannot understand.  If you go tampering with the way rural people live, you’ll destabilize the whole country. We, my friends,” and here Gertruida adopts her lecturing tone again, “have inherited a country with all kinds of idiosyncrasies. The West meets Africa here. Cultures and languages differ remarkably. What is sauce for the goose, doesn’t cover the gander. And it is here, in our beloved country, that we’ll have to learn to live together. We’ll have to get to the point where we understand what is going on in the minds of our countrymen. If we don’t, we’ll destroy ourselves.”

“Nice lecture, Gertruida. But what about the subject under discussion?”

“What, sports academies? Soccer? The parliamentarians’ salaries? Tribalism? All of the above?”

This is when, in a stroke of genius, Kleinpiet changes the subject to talk about the drought. This, after all, is something they all understand.

***

It is also at this point that Servaas starts to grasp the significance of the tiny garment that shocked him so in Upington. Some things you can dress up. Some things you can squeeze into any shape you want. But then again. no matter how you cover some things, there’s no mistaking the dynamite hidden underneath.

Sniggering to himself, he gets up, thumps Vetfaan on the shoulder and smiles benignly at Gertruida.

“We need more women in government, Gertruida. At least they make a little go a long, long way. Just my opinion. Don’t quote me, though. But after what I’ve seen in Upington, I realise that lingerie and our economy have a lot in common. The smaller the garment, the more and more need to be covered by less and less. And therein, my friends, lies the rub…and not only in the way Shakespeare meant it.”

He’s still sniggering when he leaves them.

Waiting…The State of the Nation

Credit: toothless.co.zz

Credit: toothless.co.zz

“Is he still there?”

Vetfaan sits down with a contented sigh as Boggel pushes his beer over the counter. It’s been a long, hot day in Upington, where he picked up the new gasket for the Massey Ferguson at the station. As usual, the train was late, causing him to spend two endless hours in the dingy café around the corner.

“Yep. Still there, sitting on that old bench on the platform. Nothing has changed.”

“It’s sad, isn’t it. Being blind and deaf since that accident in the mine. I wonder if he’ll ever know he’ll never recover? I mean, it’s been almost thirty years now. Surely the penny must have dropped?”

“Well, if it did,” the cynical smile on Kleinpiet’s face is completely without humour, “he wouldn’t have heard or seen it. Poor bugger.”

They all know the story of Dark Dan, the deaf and blind man. He used to be a foreman in a gold mine, but after the stick of dynamite exploded while he was inserting it into the hole he had just drilled, his life was changed forever. The mine did pay him a modest amount every month – far too little to support his family, according to gossip – and he survived on the meagre bit of money he collected in his upturned hat on the platform.

Although everybody knows about Dark Dan and the tragedy of his life, they all agree that he isn’t somebody to pity. He is far, far too proud to accept sympathy. Dressed in his old shabby suit, he insists on wearing a tie. He’ll sit there, ramrod-straight, staring with his unseeing eyes at the distant horizon; only moving his head when a friendly hand touches his shoulder. That’s the only way to tell him you’ve dropped a coin in his hat, see? And then his lips would curl up momentarily when he nods to show his appreciation. 

“I wonder what he thinks about all day? I mean – he can’t say anything and he can’t communicate at all. Can’t hear, can’t see. And when he tries to talk, his words are warped and warbled at such an unnatural pitch, nobody can understand him.” Vetfaan shakes his head. “It must be hell.”

“True. His vocal chords got blown away as well, I think. He’s just a shell with thoughts he can’t express. No input, no output. And nobody can help him. Such a pity.” 

***

 The way Life treats all of us, can hardly be described as fair. Gertruida often says this, and then usually adds she’s not talking about the inability of the local government or even the rate at which the country is being run into the ground. No, she says, it’s a general remark about the way things turn out. Lovers quarrel. Tractors break down. The rains stay away for too long. That sort of thing – the stuff we have to put up every day.

Just the other day, when yet another dust storm swept over the small town of Rolbos, the only telephone link t the outside world was broken when the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer lost its way and struck one of the poles that kept the wire aloft. Now, one must understand that the inhabitants of the small town aren’t in the habit of calling friends all day long. This may be due to the fact that they have very few friends, but still: the thought that they were suddenly completely cut off, caused a considerable amount of discomfort. What would happen, for instance, if Oudoom had a stroke? Or if the next delivery of beer was delayed? Such calamities could completely disrupt their way of living in the Kalahari.

“Now we’re just like Dark Dan,” Precilla noted as the thick dust clouds made Boggel light some candles on the counter, “nobody can hear us and we can’t see.”

“You shoulnd’t say that, Precilla. It’s not fair. We, at least, know this storm won’t last. Poor Dan’s storm will never pass.”

“He’s a strange cat.” Signalling for another beer, Vetfaan turns to Kleinpiet. “In the time Dan has sat there, the entire country changed. The Nationalists were defeated, Madiba became president and we won the Rugby World Cup. After that, nothing much good has happened. Some members of the ruling party got rich and many more common citizens became poor. Maintenance of roads and hospitals and schools ground to a complete standstill, Mbeki was ousted and now Zuma is being fired in the most gentle way.

“And through this all, Dark Dan just sat there, hoping somebody would drop a coin in his hat. His world has become a bench on a deserted platform.” Reflecting n the thought, Gertruida adds: “Just like us, I suppose.”

“It would be nice if we could do something about his situation.” As always, Precilla is the one with the soft heart. “He does have a family and they see to it that he is dressed and gets to the station every day, but that’s about it. What else do we know?”

Of course, like in so many such cases, Dark Dan’s circumstances were pure speculation. The group in the bar shrugs in unison. No, they don’t know. Don’t know about his family, whether he has a wife, nothing about children. Nothing. His support structure – they all agree he must have people caring for him – is totally unknown.

“That’s not right.” By now, Precilla is upset. “We know he’s there, but nothing more. Over the years people – us – have simply accepted he’s there; a lonely old miner, begging on that platform. We should have done something about it years ago.”

***

It’s Gertruida (who else?) who finds out about Dark Dan when she visits the humble shack in the township.

“You’re the first – the very first – person to come and ask these questions. In all these years nobody bothered about Danny. He was my responsibility and that’s where it ended. Nobody cared.”

Bit by bit, over the flask tea and cookies Gertruida brought along, Dark Dan’s sister Sarah tells the story of how Danny (as she calls him) got married on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so many years ago.

“It was a beautiful ceremony. A real preacher and a real cake – not a fake one so many people use. His wife, Rebecca, looked stunning in the wedding dress her grandmother had worn when she got married. Now, in those days, there was no question of a honeymoon. Where would a black person go?” Sarah pauses and looks up as if she expects an answer, then shrugs at the futility of it all. “He had to be back at the mine on Monday.”

They had one evening and one day to celebrate their wedding. Dan was ecstatic. They spent the time in her shack in the township – Rebecca told a neighbour the next morning how happy they were in those moments.

“But, later on Monday morning, the secret police arrested Rebecca because she had distributed pamphlets in the location a month or so before.

“You know, Missus Gertruida, such news travelled fast in those days. The neighbour told a friend. The friend spoke to some people. Within an hour, everybody knew – including the miners, even those underground. That’s when Danny heard about it. He was setting a charge when one of the men whispered to him what had happened.” Sarah sighs as she stares at the folded hands on her lap. “The rest, Missus Gertruida, you know already.”

“And Rebecca?” Gertruida has to know.

Sarah looks up while a tear streaks down her cheek. Her only answer is a shake of the head. “He’s at the station, Missus. All dressed up, tie and all. He’s still waiting for her.”

***

“Maybe it would have been better if Gertruida stayed at home.” Precilla hesitates before she continues packing the tinned food in the basket. “Now we’re involved. We are, in a manner of speaking, responsible.”

“For the past?” Boggels voice conveys his dismay.

“No, Boggel. For his future. That man is on the station, waiting for somebody who’ll never get off the next train. Or the next. Or the next. It’s so incredibly sad.”

Gertruida puts down the newspaper, hiding the banner headline. She’s been reading about President Zuma’s ‘fatigue’ that forced him out of politics lately.

“Deaf. Dumb. Blind.” She holds up three fingers. “Complete ignorance, complete isolation… Poor man, he’s in the dark all the time, without a clue of reality. Living in a world of his own.  Like us, he’s waiting…waiting for brighter future that’ll always be a day away.” She stops in mid-sentence, suddenly struck with a thought. “Oh my! I’ve just delivered the President’s State of the Nation Address…”

The Terrible Reality of being a Hybrid Society

adam-and-eve-24 (2)“The original sin,” Oudoom tells the group at the bar, “wasn’t something stupid like eating an apple.” He waits until Servaas stops shaking his head before going on. “It was defiance. There were rules and the First Man, Number One, decided to challenge them. That, my friends was the start of all sin: the intent to break the rules. It began when Number One thought those laws applied to everybody else – but not him.”

The patrons in Boggel’s Place shift around uncomfortably. Oudoom is right, of course…it’s the implication of what he’s saying that worries them. Thoughts are private things, after all, and do they not – all of them – sometimes think thoughts they are not proud of? Gertruida is quick to change the subject.

“There’s a legend about the apes that used to live in the Kalahari, It’s an old story, but it ties in with Oudoom’s statement. And it says something about the result of sin as well…”

***

A long, long time ago, in a cave near an oasis in the desert, a group of apes lived happily together. They’d share food, groom each other, and watch the children play. They lived a simple life, never quarrelled and slept soundly at night.

One day, because it was winter and the cold wind forced them to remain in the  cave, they were faced with a problem. The small ones were hungry while the adults huddled close. At last – not being able to listen to the whimpering of the hungry children any longer – one ape stood up and said they had to do something about it.

“Look,” he said, “we can’t listen to this wailing all day. One of us must go to fetch some roots and berries for the children to eat.”

“Who are you to tell us such a thing?” One of the females scowled at the One Who Had Spoken First. “If one of us must go, we all must go.”

“Think about it,” the One Who Had Spoken First said, “the rest of us will remain warm in here while only one will suffer a bit. We can, of course, reward the one who fetches the food with an extra portion. That way, it will be worthwhile to face the cold and everybody will be happy.” 

“Then you should go. It was your idea.” 

“No, I can’t.” He held up a perfectly healthy foot. “I sprained my ankle, see? One of you will have to go.”

They all knew he was lying, of course. But, because they didn’t want to confront him with the lie, they all remained silent.

“Then we’ll have to choose one to go,” the female said eventually. Even in those times, they thought elections were the way to solve issues. Somehow this idea still persists to this day, even though everybody knows it only causes more problems.

And that’s how the first elections took place. Yes, they all agreed, the One Who Had Spoken First should go. He grumbled, declared they were all unfair, and sulked in the corner. The rest of the tribe wouldn’t have any of that and said they’d all go out .

“We’ll gather enough food for all of us and come back. But…you won’t get anything. If you don’t want to share in the work, you can’t expect us to feed you.”

And so it happened that the shivering troupe of apes went out in the freezing wind to fetch food for the little ones and for themselves. During their search, they came upon another cave, a bigger one, much better protected and warmer than their old home.

“I’ll go fetch the children,” the Female Who Had Answered the One Who Had Spoken First said. “We’ll stay here. It is nearer to the water and there is enough berries around to feed us all through the winter.”

And this she did. When she got to their old cave, the One Who Had Spoken First was glad to get rid of the wailing children. He also thought it was a trick to get him working as well, and refused to go along. He stayed behind in their old cave.

***

“Now, one must be very careful with good fortune. There’s no such thing as a free lunch – we all know that.” Gertruida sighs. “But those apes didn’t. They couldn’t believe their good luck. They moved into that new cave, without The One Who Had Spoken First , celebrating with the berries they had found.”

***

However, there was a very good reason why that cave was uninhabited – or at least seemed empty. Far back in the dark recesses of the cave lived a huge python. It was his cave, And any traveller or animal that sought shelter there, was sure to end up as the python’s next meal.

The python couldn’t believe his good luck. He was also very clever. No, he decided. he won’t eat them all at the same time. He’d slither out of his hiding place late at night, and swallow one of the apes every time the moon turns dark. The apes were upset, but they never realised what – exactly – was happening. All they knew, was that every so often, one of them would disappear. 

Then, one day when there were only a few left, the apes decided to return to their old cave. They discussed moving the next morning, not realising the python was listening to everything they said. So, that evening, the python set about swallowing the rest of the apes. One by one he’d slither up to a sleeping figure and do what he did best – first strangulating his victim before gorging himself.

***

“Well, you can imagine the scene: slowly, relentlessly, that snake devoured every single member of that clan. By the time he reached the last ape, the python was so full, he could hardly move. His movements became sluggish and slow. Exhausted by his efforts, the snake tried to wrap himself around the last ape’s neck.” 

Gertruida’s story has them all hanging onto every word. Here and there a hand went up to a throat, while an involuntary shiver ran down quite a few spines.

***

The remaining ape woke up with a start. He saw the snake. He looked around. And he screamed like no ape had done ever before. The python, however, would not be denied, and although he was very slow about it, he eventually silenced the ape by swallowing him as well.

The One Who Had Spoken First, heard those terrible screams during the night. Not daring to venture out in the dark, he waited until dawn to investigate. He came upon that cave where the huge python lay with the massively bloated stomach. His fright at finding that such a horrible thing had happened, was complete. Regret about his selfishness and unwillingness to help his family, mixed with the realisation that he was responsible for the demise of the clan, made him stand there, mouth agape, unable to move.

***

7“He’s still there, on the other side of Bokkop, if you cared to look, you’ll find the place where he’s still standing. Over the years he has turned to stone as a reminder of the terrible destruction one causes when the intention to lie becomes a way of life. Anyway, that’s why we have no apes here in Rolbos.” Gertruida finishes her story so suddenly, that the group in the bar lets out a collective groan.

“Magtag, Gertruida! That’s a terrible story.” Servaas pulls at the collar of his black suit. “Whatever has that to do with Oudoom’s statement. You know? The fact that the original sin wasn’t eating the apple, but the intention to do so?”

“You should have a look at that boulder, Servaas. It is both ape and rock. It’s a hybrid, you see? Just like we are hybrids:  we mix lies and truth. We love and we hate. We have the capacity to laugh and to cry. In the end, we’re composites of quite a number of conflicting abilities and emotions. Most of all, we manage to mingle good and evil into our daily lives so delicately, we don’t even notice it any more.

“Think about the ape who spoke first – he was just lazy. Then he told a little lie about his foot. and that, my friend, caused the destruction of the whole clan. One individual, their Number One, wasn’t truthful about a small thing. What happened?” Gertruida pauses a while, letting her words sink in. “Number One destroyed their happy way of life, that’s what. That stone on Bokkop is a monument of the horror he had caused by his intention to make the others do all the work.”

Oudoom shrugs. “Ja, Gertruida. Our Number One will do the same. Already we have many monuments to attest to his intentions. Schools without books. Hospitals with no back-up generators. Corruption. Crime. Rape. Murder. Our beloved country is a hybrid of beauty and horror.The python is swallowing the country, while we sleep on blissfully.” He leans over to pat Servaas’ slumped shoulders. “Maybe that’s our biggest sin…”

“You mean, it’s goodbye Paradise for us, Dominee?”

“We left Paradise a long time ago, Servaas, when we became hybrids.  A very long time ago, when lies stole our purity  and we got swallowed by the python called politics…”

The Remarkably Freudian Servaas

images (71)

The remarkable similarity between Sigmund Freud and Old Servaas

“There’s a new doctor in Upington.”

Gertruida just loves doing something like this. She’ll mention something of major importance – but only part of it. She wants the rest of the patrons at the bar to sit up, think about it, and ask questions. That way (Servaas says so, at least) she gets an opportunity to display her superior knowledge.

But this time the Rolbossers refuse to play along. Last week she predicted that the ANC would be voted back into power, and she was right of course. Servaas reckoned it was time for Gertruida to start predicting other results for the election. Can’t you give a few million votes the other way for a change, he said; but even though Gertruida laughed and said okay, she’d try, the ANC still won.

“I’m not going to ask you anything, Gertruida. Look what happened last week.” Straightening his black jacket, Servaas turns his back on her.

“Oh, come on, Servaas! The election result wasn’t my fault.” She winks at Boggel to order a cold beer. It has been another particularly hot day, making the trip from Upington most uncomfortable. “It’s a psychiatrist.”

Now, it is wrong to think that the people of Rolbos do not know anything about psychiatry. No, they do. Some time ago Gertruida told them about Freud and how everything they did reflected on their upbringing, the way their mothers explained life, and sexuality. It was the last bit that upset Servaas so much that he took to wearing his black suit again. Or maybe it was the election – it’s sometimes impossible to say what scratched his veneer.

“Ja, the morals of the country is going down the drain,” Vetfaan feels he has to respond. “Imagine having somebody like that around in the Northern Cape? We may be sparsely populated, but we certainly don’t  need advice on procreation. Over here, we still do it in the old way. I, for one, won’t have to see that man. I think Fanny will agree to that.”

Smiling dutifully, Fanny says, no, Vetfaan is a natural stud.

“No, man! People consult a psychiatrist when they’re stressed, Vetfaan. And, may I add, he’s a she. A lady doctor. Doctor Veronica Ramsbottom. And I hear she’s quite a looker. The Upington Post says she trained in Amsterdam.”

Like psychiatry, so with Amsterdam. The patrons at the bar know about Amsterdam. Kleinpiet for instance, imagines a scantily-dressed young lady, consulting stressed men in a shop window. Maybe, he thought, it’s worthwhile to go and have a look? Then again, if Precilla knew what he was thinking, he’d be in a huge amount of trouble. He composes himself and wipes the smile from his face.

“That’s bad,” he says out loud, “it just shows you.”

In Kalahari-speak, that’s supposed to mean the end of the conversation. When you say it just shows you, there’s not much else left to say. Showing you tells everybody the subject is closed, it’s time to talk about important stuff, like the drought or the way the pothole in Voortrekker Weg ripped the tyre of Kalahari Vervoer’s lorry.

“There’s no need to shy away from the subject, Kleinpiet. We all need a little help sometimes, you know? It’s not something to be ashamed of. In fact, when a man says he needs help, he needs to be respected. Bottling things up inside is very bad for you.”

Everybody knows old Servaas has been bottling up for years now. Ever since Siena died, he’s not been near a woman again. They turn to the old man, nodding sympathetically. Gertruida may be right. If Servaas can unbottle a bit, he might just put that black suit into mothballs again.

“You mean…” Vetfaan doesn’t have to finish the sentence: his look at Servaas says everything.

“Oh?” For a moment Gertruida is caught off guard, then she smiles. “Yes, well, maybe.”

***

And so it happens that Servaas – black suit and all – gets bundled into Oudoom’s Packard the next week, to see Dr Ramsbottom. He protested most vehemently, of course, but the townsfolk have had their fill of his long face and the black suit. It was only after the second bottle of Cactus Jack was finished that he agreed to the venture the previous evening.

Too hung-over to protest any longer, Servaas is deposited in front of a rather austere building next to the Wimpy in Upington.

“Now remember, Servaas, tell her everything. She really needs to know your deepest thoughts to understand you. You’ll see – you’ll feel like a new man.”

The Wimpy – fortunately – sells beer, so the little entourage settles down to wait for Servaas. Gertruida has the smug look of a politician who won an election, but Oudoom still has doubts.

“If Servaas tells that woman everything that happened in Rolbos, the synod might want to inspect us.” That lady with the fishnet stockings still haunts the clergyman at night. “And there was the time the pole dancer visited Boggel as well…”

They wait.

And wait…

“Maybe she likes Servaas. He’s been in there for a long time. I really hope he doesn’t tell her too much. I mean, we’re not really the epitome of a normal society, you know. We drink too much. Maybe Boggel should see her, as well. Or Oudoom…just to tell her that we’re actually a nice bunch.”

“It won’t help, Vetfaan. Doctors like her get to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They flash these cards with ink spots all over them, and the next thing you know, you’re hypnotised. That’s when they get to the bottom of your problems.” Boggel read something like that in  a Reader’s Digest somewhere.

So they wait a bit longer.

It takes hours…

Eventually, Servaas emerges from the building, a swagger in his step and the jacket slung carelessly over his shoulder.

“Come on, chaps, lets get back to Boggel’s Place. Drinks are on me. And oh my! Just look at the colour of the sky! Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

“Servaas…?” Fanny can’t believe the transformation. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing much. I told her about Rolbos and Boggel’s Place. She was fascinated. Then I told her about Siena, and she cried. Boggel made her laugh and she can’t believe everything I told her about Gertruida and Oudoom. She even fell in love with Vrede.” Servaas smiles broadly. “What a nice young lady.”

“She prescribed pills.” For such a change, Precilla knows, Servaas must have swallowed a bottle full of happy pills. “And you took them all?”

“No. No pills. We just chatted.”

“And you feel better?”

“Well, I suppose. But she asked me to see her again next week. Told me it’s been such a long time since last she saw a normal patient. Said I’m the best therapy she’s ever had. So I’m going to help her get back to normal. Man…I feel good!”

It’s a popular myth that psychiatrists have all the answers. In fact, Servaas will tell you, they only guide their patients to find the answers to their problems all by themselves. And sometimes – rarely – the doctor ends up benefiting the most.

Whichever way you look at it, psychiatry and politics share a lot in common. What you see isn’t what you get. And those ink-splattered cards are not that dissimilar to the smoke and mirrors that excite politicians.

Change, Servaas says, is not the result of an election or a consultation. No, he says, change is in each of us, waiting to be discovered. Boggel doesn’t agree. He maintains that change only happens once you stop living in the past and start planning something better for the future. He’s due to see Dr Ramsbottom soon.

The Incredible Influence of the EFF

images (70)“I remember,” Gertruida says, “the way the old Nationalist Party used the AWB.”

Servaas looks up sharply. He still has the khaki uniform in mothballs in his cupboard.

“They needed an organisation to scare the public, so they allowed the AWB to continue with their actions. Look, they said, that is how bad the Right Wing is. We, on the other hand, are the moderates who govern fairly. We’re not like them. What happened? The Nationalists were made to look good and De Klerk became a hero.”

“Sooo…?” Vetfaan doesn’t like to be reminded about the past. He wants to move on and see a better South Africa in the future.

“It’s simple, Vetfaan. The ANC needs the EFF. Look, they’ll say, these guys want to nationalise mines. They want to grab land like Mugabe did in Zimbabwe. We’re not like that. So they make themselves look good and people will look at the ANC as the saviour of the country. Also, they’ll hope that the antics of the EFF will draw attention away from the corruption in government.

“Do you think our president is worried about the 4% of the vote the EFF got? Remember, the EFF voters used to be ANC supporters. Of course he’s not. I think he’s as pleased as punch. It’s all a game of smoke and mirrors, guys. You can paint stripes on a leopard, but it’s still the same animal underneath the fur.

“Mark my words – the EFF is a lifeline to the ANC. In public they’ll fight like cats and dogs, but behind closed doors they’ll smile at the gullible members of the public who view them as two different entities. The truth is: the ANC needs the EFF.”

“Aggenee, Gertruida, now you’re back on conspiracy theories again. Surely this is absurd? You can’t expect me to believe this drivel?”

Gertruida only smiles. She’s thinking about a quote attributed to Brian Mulroney: In politics, madame, you need two things: friends, but above all an enemy. She also knows that if you can control your enemy, friends will flock to you.

On the EFF webpage:

  1. Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use.
  2. Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.

The Fable of a Fair Election

Credit: praag.org

Credit: praag.org

“It’s a joke,” Vetfaan says as he accepts a cold beer from  Boggel. “We vote, and nothing changes. Every election is the same – promises and more promises…and then nothing.”

“It’s called democracy, Vetfaan. Everybody casts a vote, and the majority wins. Simple. It’s the way things are done.” Kleinpiet sighs – he, too, believed the President when he promised millions of work opportunities last time. Now only one out of three people in the country contributes to the labour force. “Unemployment is up again, masses of people get some sort of social grant, and we have to foot the bill.”

“In the old republics – before we lost the war to England in 1902 – they had a better system.” Trust Servaas to hark back to olden times. “A man got elected because of what he had done. Promises counted for nothing: you first had to prove your worth before you were sent to parliament. Nowadays you can promise the jobless people more money for doing nothing, and Bingo! you get a cushy job, a seat in parliament and an expense account. Talking gets you elected, irrespective of whether you are ever going to do what you say you will.”

“That is true. If 66% of people don’t work, they look at government for help. So the twenty-odd percent of people who pay taxes en up as being cash cows for the rest. In fact, I saw an article stating that 1,25 million people contributed 82% of the revenue in the 2010/2011 tax year. Remember, the population totals about 52 million.” The wry smile on Gertruida’s face speaks volumes. “Work it out, guys. All the government needs is a majority. And all they have to do to remain in power, is to keep on milking the cow, keep the rest jobless, and then they can build as many Nkandla’s as they like.”

“Then it’s not worth voting, is it? I mean; Zuma is going to be laughing all the way from the polling station…to a few other places as well. We, on the other hand, will be left with exactly the same mess we have now. It’s all smoke and mirrors.” Remembering the way things are done in England, Fanny still wants to see the day a South African minister gets up in public to accept responsibility for the problems in his (or her) department.

Gertruida shakes her head. “We have to vote, Fanny. Our only hope is to elect an effective opposition. I don’t mind the ANC ruling – or any other party, for that matter. What is important is that whoever gets elected, gets to be under proper scrutiny. Any government with too much power is apt to go wrong – there are too few checks and balances. Even if you are a staunch supporter of the government of the day, you have to understand that principle. With a non-existent opposition, the guys in power can do anything they want with impunity. The answer lies in balance. Balance the power and you balance the way the government rules over the country.”

“There’s the story of the grasshoppers, isn’t there? Long ago the veld was covered in green grass and the antelopes had more than enough grass. They prospered. Then the lions came, and started hunting them down. This was necessary to keep the bucks from overgrazing the area. But…if they caught too many, the lions would starve.

“So they found a balance: too many lions, and the antelopes would be too few to feed them. Too many antelopes, and the grass would run out. But…with the number of antelopes just right, the amount of lions exactly balanced, then the grass would be enough to keep the feeding chain happy.

“But then, one day, the grasshoppers arrived. They ate the grass. The antelopes starved and stopped multiplying. They lions finally ate the last antelope before they, too, couldn’t survive either.

“Did the grasshoppers mind? No. They simply went ahead and started destroying a new pasture. They will survive, no matter what…also because they leave the devastation they cause behind. And of course, they don’t stick around to see the catastrophe they created.”

Oudoom sits down with a sigh. “So, what should the antelopes have done, Gertruida? They can’t fight the grasshoppers, can they?”

“No, they cant. But they didn’t elect the grasshoppers, either. That’s the difference. Democracy means you have to elect a responsible government. In the end, it’s about the country, not the party. The country needs a balanced government.” Signalling for another beer, Gertruida pauses for a moment. “Free and fair elections mean just that. You vote for freedom. You vote for a fair government. And that implies a balanced parliament.”

“It’s a message Africa doesn’t understand, Gertruida. You vote for the strong man, and that’s the way it is. Survival of the strongest. We can boast with a free and fair process, but the homeless and the jobless masses will vote for the hand that promises to feed them. And remember, the criminal in jail has exactly the same vote as the captain of industry. I don’t think that’s fair.” This has been one of Vetfaan’s main gripes lately, so he ignores the shrugs and rolled eyes of the rest.

“So the grasshoppers will destroy everything?”

“Yes, they will. But we can hope for a proper opposition this time.” Having noted the polls lately, Gertruida expects the ruling party to retain a comfortable majority. “Let’s hope people will be fair in their decision to draw their crosses in the right little spaces. Freedom isn’t free – it carries a heavy responsibility…it requires you to be fair to the rest of your countrymen.”

“Sure, Gertruida, sure.” Sarcasm drips from Servaas’ remark. “But not in Africa, my dear. Fairness, responsibility and freedom have long emigrated to greener pastures. Zuma said the ANC will rule until Christ comes again…”

Before het could continue, Oudoom gets up, very much upset. “That, my friends, is what’s wrong. Remember the crewman who told Mrs Caldwell that even God couldn’t sink the Titanic? Well, He did.

“There’s a fine line between mockery and political bragging. My take? God is always fair…unless you try to make a fool out of Him. Now, He may choose to let everything remain as is, but mark my words: it’s all there in Galatians 6.” He pauses, just like he does on the pulpit on Sundays, before repeating his question. “My take? A slip in this election, a fall in the next.”

They’ll continue discussing the issue for some time. Then they’ll all drive off to Grootdrink to cast their votes…and pray that the electorate will, this time, be fair and at least think about what they’re doing…