Tag Archives: zuma

Waterloo in the Kalahari

train 3 leaving station close“Those were the days,” Vetfaan says when Kleinpiet reminds him of their time in the army. “The best part was when you got a pass to spend time with your family. Those train rides back home were quite a bit of fun. At every station we had to get off to buy more beer…”

He smiles at the thought: a thin, almost sardonic smile, as he remembers the stop at Mariental, on his way back to South Africa.

***

Two weeks! After a particularly hectic period of fighting, Vetfaan’s platoon were rewarded by some much-needed time off. He naturally didn’t want to spend that time in Rundu or Grootfontein and headed southwards, homewards, to his parent’s farm in the Kalahari. If there was one thing he needed now, it was the silence of the dunes. No pill, no psychologist can restore a broken spirit as fast and as well as the quiet hours amongst those magnificent sandy mountains.

There were quite a few soldiers on that train, all of them heading home, which resulted in a party of note while they progressed through the arid wastelands of South West Africa. Windhoek came and went. So did Rehoboth and Kalkrand. By the time they pulled in to Mariental, they’d discussed cars, booze, ABBA (that decadent new band with those girls) and how strange it’d be to wear something else than browns again. They told jokes, laughing again and again at the one that was told fifty miles before.

And they drank. Alcohol took away the memories of blood and vomit; dimmed the thoughts of broken limbs and gaping wounds. And the more they drank, the more they tried to forget the friends that would never share a drink with them again. And, like it sometimes happens during war times, their party petered out into a drawn-out silence – a wake for those who were less fortunate.

At Mariental it was Vetfaan’s turn to get a fresh supply of beers. He was glad to escape the gloomy atmosphere in the compartment and wandered into town. It was a Saturday, and a kindly old gentleman directed him to the bottle store at the end of the street. Ten minutes later he staggered back to the station, carrying the two crates of beer.

And watched in dismay as the train pulled out of the station, heading towards Keetmanshoop.

***

“I had to do something. My mates were on that train and I had the beer. I was sure they wouldn’t miss me so much, but the beer…now that was a catastrophe! That’s when I decided to hike to Keetmanshoop in the hope of catching the train there again.”

***

agnetha-liveHe had scarcely taken up his position next to the road, when  - much to his surprise – a vehicle screeched to a halt next to him. The surprise wasn’t the willingness of a driver to pick up a young man in uniform – in those days people seemed to consider helping a soldier as an act of patriotism – the surprise was the vehicle and it;s rather attractive driver. The fire-engine-red Mustang was driven by a young lady who looked remarkably much like Agnetha, the sexy singer they’d so recently discussed.

“Going to Keetmanshoop, soldier?” The startling blue eyes were staring at him, knowing his answer.

It turned out to be a memorable trip. She asked him a million questions, most of which he answered with a stuttering mumble. H couldn’t  tell her much, of course. The excursions into Angola were highly sensitive; one of those obvious secrets of the time – and one everybody speculated about.

“Look,” she said eventually, “you’re fighting a losing war. There’s no way you can win. We need…” and here she hesitated only for a second, “…we need guys that can supply us with information. Somebody like you. Somebody with real inside info. And we’ll pay you well…”

***

“There I was, young and innocent and … interested…and this woman with the body of an angel and a face to match, offers me an opportunity to turn into a traitor. You can imagine my thoughts. Although I’d been drinking all the way from Rundu, I was sober enough to realise what she was asking me.”

***

Vetfaan showed his disgust. Shaking his head, he stared at her in dismay and moved to sit as far from her as possible.

She laughed at that, saying she understood.

“You poor, poor boys. You get fed a constant stream of lies, half-truths and propaganda. Of course you believe you’re fighting for a true and just cause. But…there is a bigger picture. There is a world out there, and it’s changing. In the last fifty-odd years, women got to vote. In 1966 – at last – every citizen in the United States got the right to vote. Communism is dying and soon Russia will break up in many smaller states. The Berlin Wall will fall. And…the Nationalists will surrender power to the ANC. That is the future of South Africa, and it’ll be a bright and wonderful one at that, too. The communists aren’t your enemies, your government is. These things, soldier, are facts. I’m sorry, but I have to tell you your war is a futile one.”

Then, more than even when she asked him to spy, Vetfaan was convinced the woman was deranged. He shook his head again, staring at the barren countryside flashing past. He wanted to tell her about the way the Chinese and Cubans were killing young men in their quest to establish communism in Southern Africa. Their aim was not to liberate the black masses because they were such benevolent friends – they wanted to get their hands on the vast mineral resources hidden under the soil of his fatherland. And look at what the Soviets did to churches and the Russian culture? No, this woman had no inkling about what she was talking about.

At the age of barely twenty, Vetfaan trusted the news on the radio, the articles in the newspapers, the sermons in his church and – above all – his superior officers. The opinion of this young woman – as beautiful and as alluring as she might be – would never sway him to betray his country.

“You’re wrong,” he said as they neared the town of Keetmanshoop. It was a simple statement, but said with much bitterness and conviction. When one is young, one tends to have set ideas about the way of the world.

“Why?’ Her question was equally blunt.

“Because we’re protecting the country. The whole country. If we were to lose this war, everything we’ve built up over the centuries will be lost. Roads, hospitals, schools, factories, mines. We simply cannot hand over reigns to individuals who want to strip the country of its resources. Our government, I have to tell you, have the best interests of all South Africans at heart. That’s why we’re up there – for God and country. Whites and Blacks. That’s why.” Vetfaan felt he delivered his speech well – it was text-book stuff right out of the lectures he listened to during his basic training.

They drove into Keetmanshoop and Vetfaan got off, heading towards the station without saying goodbye.

***

“That’s such a sad story, Vetfaan.” Emptying her glass, Gertruida watches the big man with sympathetic eyes. “And you never saw her again, I suppose?”

He nods. “No. Later, I heard other soldiers talking about the girl in the Mustang that gave them a lift. Always on the remote roads in South West Africa. I always listened to those stories, wondering how many young men fell for her ploy.

“And it was clever, I must admit. Pick up a tired, footsore soldier, returning from the war up north, and sit him down in a Mustang and a beauty queen. Some would have fallen for it, I’m sure.”

Kleinpiet suppresses a hiccup. “Well, tonight we’ll listen to the president giving the State of the Nation address. He’ll tell us how they plan to employ millions. He’s going to turn the economy around. He’ll say how serious they are about eradicating corruption. He’ll emphasise education and health care – and how much they’re doing for social upliftment. It’ll be a repeat of previous speeches, just dressed up nicely to sound optimistic.

“He’ll sound just like that blonde in the Mustang. Or like Vetfaan on the train. No matter how you string words together, you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

He gets a nod from Gertruida. “Well, here’s my guess: this is the last State of the Nation address by President Zuma. He’s slowly being sidelined to make way for somebody who hasn’t had his hand so deep in the till lately. Maybe somebody with less wives and even less children. Maybe he’ll hint at his deteriorating health, saying the pressures of government has worn him down. Mark my words – if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the hidden messages.”

Yes, Vetfaan thinks, we’re all in that Mustang, listening and talking and trying to convince each other that we have the answers to the country’s problems. Some will fight a war, others will strike or argue, and yet others will sit quietly, waiting for the storms to pass. We’ll continue to believe in righteous causes and rich rewards. But, in the end, we’ll all hurry along to catch the train at a dusty station, hoping it’ll carry us to freedom and peace.

But like that day in Keetmanshoop, the station might very well be deserted and the train long departed.

***

The station master eventually offered the forlorn soldier housing for the night. They talked, like true patriots do, about how important it was to preserve and protect their way of life.

The next day Vetfaan was hitch-hiking again. This time he wasn’t facing south at all; he returned to his base near Rundu. There was a war to be fought, after all.

***

“History,” Vetfaan says heavily, “will keep on repeating itself. Presidents will come and go. Liberals and conservatives will fight. Traditionalists will warn about radicals. Capitalists will square up to communists. And, in the end, we’ll keep on insisting to fight wars we cannot win.”

“Maybe.” This time, Gertruida s smile is genuine. “But what keeps us hoping, is the future. No matter where we’ve been, we can always hope to reach a brighter tomorrow. That, my friends, is the only way.”

Kleinpiet writes ‘For God and Country’ on the counter top, using the froth from his beer. After staring at it for a long minute, he wipes out ‘Country’ with his sleeve.

“Enough lies,” he says. Then he invites them all to a braai on his farm tonight. “Not for the meat or the beer,” he reminds them, “but because I don’t have a radio or a television.”

Of course they all accepted, The president isn’t going to tell them anything they don’t know already. That train has left the station a long time ago…

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 Judging of Oscar Pistorius

Credit: News24.com

Credit: News24.com

“I’m glad we don’t have TV in Rolbos,” Dabbing an eye, Precilla switches off the radio, “to think your every tear and every sob gets transmitted right around the world. It must be terribly humiliating.”

“Listen. This isn’t a case of who did what. Oscar shot that girl and he deserves to be tried in an open court.” Servaas tugs at his collar – like he always does when he’s angry. “You can’t go around killing people and then say you’re sorry. It doesn’t wash. The law must take it’s course and the crime must be punished.”

Oudoom shakes his head. “I agree with Precilla. No matter how guilty he is, I question the circus the trial has become. I mean – think about the girl’s family, for goodness’ sakes! Can you imagine sitting there, listening to the advocates painting different scenario’s? The one says it was an accident, a case of a cripple frigthened for his life. The other guys says, no, not like that. He says Oscar is a man well acquainted with guns, a man with a short fuse, and he blew her away because he was angry.

“Two pictures on one canvas – the one the truth, the other a lie. The judge must make the call on what she’s heard in court. The public has the right to know the verdict, that I agree. But in the meantime, hours and days worth of TV and radio go into reporting every sniff and every tear. Why? Not because people are interested in the verdict – well, maybe they are, but that isn’t why they tune in to these broadcasts – they want the drama and sensation. They want to speculate and gossip. And I don’t think that’s okay. The bigger wrong may be the killing of Reeva, but I can’t condone the sensationalism that accompanies the case.”

“Yes.” Vetfaan holds up his empty glass for a refill. “Either we should have all high-profile cases on TV, or none at all. I’d like to see old Zum-Zum in the stand, answering to Gerrie Nel or that Le Roux guy.” He drops his voice an octave. “I put it to you, Mister President, that you have been engaged in a serious attempt to lie your way out of trouble. You lied to parliament, didn’t you, because you thought you could get away with everything?” 

Vetfaan turns to address Boggel behind the counter. “Milady, with due respect to the court, this man still has to answer on more than 700 counts of corruption and other issues. His liaison  with the Gupta’s and the Shaiks of this world has tarnished his credibility as a witness. I put it to you that such a man is unfit to lead a country.”

Now he raises his tone slightly, assuming a different persona, to confront the little crowd at the counter. “Oh no Milady. My learned colleague has sketched a terribly skewed picture of one of Africa’s foremost leaders. High trees and much wind and all that, you know? We have to take into consideration the background of our great leader. Was he not a fearless fighter against the scourge of Apartheid? Did he not father 21 (or thereabouts) children by various ladies? Does that not indicate a man of great capacity – a man of high morals, a man of vision, immensely popular amongst his compatriots? And oh, Milady, let us not digress into trivialities like arms deals and a few cents here and there. Look at the greater picture, Milady, and I put it to you that this case is a travesty of justice.”

Gertruida gets up to stare out of the window. It is another hot day in the Kalahari, with a lonely dust devil dancing slowly past the church on the other side of Voortrekker Weg.

Mr and Mrs Bumble

Mr and Mrs Bumble

“The law is an ass,” she quotes, “just like a donkey. The famous phrase is attributed to Charles Dickens, who published Oliver Twist in 1838 – the same year the Great Trek started. It’s something Mr Bumble said when it was put to him that the law supposes he is the boss in the house. The origin of the phrase goes back to the time Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape. It was George Chapman who published Revenge for Honour in 1654 and he wrote: ‘Ere he shall lose an eye for such a trifle… For doing deeds of nature! I’m ashamed. The law is such an ass.’

“The point, gentlemen, is that the law is blind. It only sees the letters on the pages, it doesn’t allow for creative thought. So we can frown and grumble about Pistorius, but the law knows only one way to come to a decision. Oscar is guilty and he’ll be punished. Does that mean justice was done?”

Gertruida waits for some response, gets nothing, and sighs before answering her own question.

“No. For justice to be done, you have to reinstate the circumstances and conditions that existed before the crime. Putting Oscar in jail doesn’t do that. Reeva is dead. A family lost a daughter with a bright future. An athlete has lost the respect and adoration of thousands of fans.

“Justice? No. Revenge, maybe. But it won’t fix anything.”

“Ja, Gertruida, you are right.” With the upcoming elections, Kleinpiet is more worried about voting than the court case in Pretoria.  “But what about our president? Why don’t they arrange a debate between him and Gerrie Nel? Wouldn’t that be something?”

Oudoom finishes his beer and gets up to leave.

“You lot! All you did this morning was to cry out for justice and revenge. Law this and law that. Sensation. Drama. Gossip. And this in the time when we remember the events surrounding Easter Time. Should we all not become quiet and contemplate the ultimate sacrifice Jesus brought to free us from such things? What happened to forgiveness?”

“That’s the point, Dominee.” This time, Gertruida uses his official title. “Jesus was crucified because of the law of the time. He was innocent, but that didn’t help Him. And that, Dominee, should tell us something: human judgement is flawed at its core. We choose to apply laws as it suits us. And then, just like in Dickens’ time, we want to hang sinners in public. We want to rant and rave and point fingers. That, unfortunately, is human behaviour. But…we also turn a blind eye to the many wrongs in our society. Maybe such high-profile cases soothe our consciences into thinking that there is still some justice left in the world. We condemn a man who did something terrible, but we manage to ignore the drugs, the crime, the farm murders, the raping of children and women.

“One major court case, and we go crazy. A million less obvious wrongs just get accepted as being part of a normal society. And…I simply don’t think that will ever change.”

“Sister Gertruida,” this time Oudoom, too, uses his sermon voice, “I shall now return to my home. I shall think about Easter. I shall spend time in prayer. And then I’ll try not to spend Easter Weekend as an advocate for the defence or for the state. I’ll want to spend the next few days contemplating kindness and peace and forgiveness and love.”

In the silence that follows the old clergyman’s departure, Boggel polishes some glasses behind the counter.

“You think we should pray for Oscar during Easter? Or for that matter, that our president shall receive the wisdom to tell the truth for a change?”

They all look at Boggel with surprised faces.

“What?” Servaas is the first to respond. “You crazy? Listen, it may be in God’s power to change a man’s thinking – or even the way we follow the Pistorius trial – but in the end we do what we do because we are human. We ignore, condemn, gossip, lie and cheat. And worst of all, we think the law protects us against such things. We pay more respect to our flawed laws than we do to our religion. So, yes, let us pray – but before we do, we must take a step back and ask ourselves if our all own actions are just and fair. If the answer is no, then each of us is - like the law – an ass.”

He, at least, gets a whispered ‘Amen’ from Gertruida.

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Expect No Surprises in Retrospect

images (58)“2013 was a terrible year,” Servaas says as he sips his peach brandy. “We had the Valentine’s Day Murder, Nkandla, Madiba’s funeral…” Dressed in black, the old man’s expression says it all. “I don’t suppose there’ll be any good news in 2014 either.”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t scold him for being so negative. Instead, she smiles and rubs his bony shoulders.

“I know, Servaas. It was one bad headline followed by another. They had shootings in America, explosions in Kenya and now England is being flooded. It’s a world-wide thing.”

He seems slightly surprised at her support as he gives her a wintry smile.

“I think the end of the world is near. We’ve just about trashed the place, anyway.”

“The only end that’s near, is the last day of 2013.” Boggel serves another round. “Look, you guys, at the end of every given year, you can look back in despair. It’s natural. People die. Love fizzles out. Promises were broken. Life is, in those immortal words, the drink in your shot glass. You never quite know what to expect.” Smiling mischievously, he adds a dash of mampoer to each glass. “But then again, you can either go and have a sip of tap water…or accept and enjoy the mix you got served with.”

“A  goody-two-shoes optimist! I hereby declare my life complete.” Servaas rolls his eyes, snorting loudly.

“No, Boggel is right. Look at us: we’ve had such a lot of fun with our president this year. He’s given us much joy. Especially when his sign-language interpreter told the world: Watch my lips. I never, ever, used taxpayer’s money to build my swimming pool. He was much more convincing than Clinton, don’t you think?” Vetfaan reaches down to make sure his fly is closed properly.

“Ja, and he almost convinced me he had nothing to do with the Gupta debacle, either. He’s really good, that man. I’m sure he’ll be even better in the new year.” Holding out his glass for a refill, Kleinpiet burps softly. “I mean, what’s the use of having a president if you can’t believe him? So, with a little practice, I’m sure he’ll get to the point where we won’t question him any more.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Kleinpiet. They’re going to replace the poor man – and then we’ll have to endure the promises of a better future all over again. It’ll take months – maybe years – for the new president to become such a smooth hand with words. Political gymnastics isn’t an art you get born with, remember? It takes time…

“At least we’ve got an election coming up in 2014. Auntie Zille and Missus Ramphele are going to ruffle a few feathers, if you asked me. It’ll be an interesting year.”

“Forget it, Vetfaan. Maybe as much as 50% of our adult population rely on social grants. In 1998, only 2,5 million citizens received such grants. In 2012 the official figure grew to 16 million. I can imagine the figure is even higher now. And remember: we only have 13 million individual taxpayers. Now, no matter how unhappy the productive part of our population is, they can never hope to outvote the ANC. The math is simple: we won’t see much of a change in 2014.”

“You’re right, Gertruida.” Servaas finishes his drink. “Add to that the increasing tendency to strike for unrealistic wages, the inability to spend government’s budgets wisely and the rampant corruption, and you end up with a state in a downhill tumble.”

“I’m just popping out to get my black suit,” Vetfaan says.”If you can’t fight them, join them…:

“I’ve only got a little black number,” Precilla blushes as she sits down. “And Kleinpiet says I can only wear in in the house…with high heels, of course.”

“Yep. It’s the black number that’ll do it, every time. It’s very powerful.”

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that 2014 will see many changes in many aspects of many lives;but at the end of it, we’ll look back in the same despair. Some people will die. Some loves will fizzle out. Even more promises will be broken. And, true to the deceiving nature of human beings, we’ll then try to convince ourselves that 2015 will be better.

Just like this year.

Yeah, right.

It’s so good – The song all politicians sing before an election…

C’est si bon
Lovers say that in France
When they thrill to romance
It means that it’s so good
C’est si bon
So I say to you
Like the French people do
Because it’s oh so good
Every word, every sigh, every kiss, dear,
Leads to only one thought
And the thought is this, dear!
C’est si bon
Nothing else can replace
Just your slyest embrace
And if you only would be my own for the rest my days
I will whisper this phrase
My darling, my darling…
C’est si bon!

The Pick of Rolbos – 2013

32“What a journey this year has been!” Servaas sits down with a sigh. “Love, relationships, politics, murder – you name it and it’s happened. And people talked about it, too.”

“Ja,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “and it was interesting to see Oscar Pistorius topped the list of the most-read topics. The tragedy of fame was, in the end, the winner. That discussion beat Obama’s speech on telling our president he’s no longer a favoured friend by more than 2000 reads.”

“Those were serious topics, that’s for sure. But I found it strange that The Fable of the Lion and the Porcupine was so popular. I mean, it’s only a fairytale, isn’t it?  But then the series of the psychological rape of Katie Malone also caught the fancy of many readers.” Oudoom sits back, happy that his Mandela sermon was so well received. “The other series also entertained a lot of people. The Bullet, The Wake, and Bianca’s story kept people coming back to read the rest.”

“Oh, yes! I remember Gertruida’s Journey, Operation Roar (PG 13), and Cathy’s Eyes, to name only a few. But I liked The Thing about Love the best, if I have to add my two cent’s worth.” Fanny, ever the romantic, hugs Vetfaan before continuing: ” You liked the story of the Midman, didn’t you, Fanie?”

He nods, smiling. “I did. But what about Boggel’s Moon, Mrs Basson’s Whisper, and Fanny’s Surprise?”

“The list goes on and on, guys. But…now there’s enough material for a book. I hear the Afrikaans version is due for publication in 2014. It’ll be interesting to see what people make of it.”

“Gertruida, isn’t there a Christmas story we can leave the readers with? Something nice?”

“Well, there’s the story of the Christmas Cow, isn’t there? I love that story”

***

And so we come to the end of another year. The little town of Rolbos will celebrate Christmas by remembering the blessings of the past and with the steadfast hope that 2014 will be even better. They’ll attend Oudoom’s Christmas service solemnly before retiring to Boggel’s Place to reflect, to chat, and to hatch some strange and silly plans for the new year.

As the scribe who pens down the antics of the townsfolk, I seldom address my readers directly – but this is an exception: May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are in the 140 countries that visited this blog during 2013. My hope (more than that: my prayer) is that your journey with Rolbos contributed to a few smiles. I’d like to believe that the spirit of Rolbos is alive and well, and that people from all over the globe will embrace the message of love, forgiveness and kindness.

And no, in Rolbos we don’t say Happy Holidays or something stupid like that. Here we still hug each other before standing back, looking each other in the eye, and – blinking away a honest tear – telling our loved ones: Merry Christmas! May we never forget what this day means and may you all appreciate – all over again – the most precious gift of all: Love.

How the Hyena Lost His Powers – a Modern Fable

Zambia ekspedisie 150One day, long ago, The Old Elephant Died.

Now, one must understand that it came as no shock to the other animals. The had seen how their old leader deteriorated, and some even thought he had died some time ago – but still, it saddened them all when the jackal ran through the woods, spreading the news.

“We’ll have to make sure he gets a proper funeral,” the owl said.

“Yes, and we must invite all the animals to attend. We’ll all gather on that open piece of veld where we can all see what’s happening. And we must keep the vultures away…you know how they are. Any death is good news to them; they just love to pick at bones once any of us lies down for the last time.” Tortoise spoke wisely because he had been granted the longest life of all, and had seen (many, many times) what happened once one of the animals died.

“I don’t know.” The little bushbuck was the shyest of them all. “I think it must be a private affair. Just the family. Maybe one or two close friends. That’s what I think.”

“Oh no!” Hyena had other ideas. “Let us have a huge send-off. Let us, indeed, gather all the animals to share in our grief. We owe The Old Elephant that.”

He was fooling nobody.  They knew he had some plan up his sleeve, but were afraid to get involved in an argument. Hyena had a short temper and a long memory. Also, he had the strongest jaws of all, which caused great fear amongst the antelopes who fed on grass only. The other carnivores took pride in hunting, but this involved careful planning and lots of patience. Hyena wasn’t like that; he simply ran up to his prey with tremendous speed and agility and bit them to death. Nobody was as fast, as cunning and as strong as hyena – they all knew that.

“Y-you want to eat us.” Hare was surprisingly bold to say this, but he had made sure he was near enough to his burrow for a quick escape. “You do that type of thing.”

Hyena controlled his anger and forced a broad smile to show he’s not offended. “Me? No, not at all. Nobody must take advantage from the death of The Old Elephant. Much too respected for that.  We’ll bury him to honour him.” Despite his friendly tone, he made a mental note to dig up hare’s burrow as soon as the funeral was over. He’d dig him up and eat him, that’s what he’d do.

Hyena wasn’t planning on eating them at all, though. With The Old Elephant out of the way, there was no way the other animals could stop him from being their king. Now was his chance to rule and he wanted everybody to know that. As soon as the funeral – the big one he planned – was over, he’d simply announce that he’s taking over. The plan was ingenious in its simplicity.

Although the animals discussed the idea at length, hyena got them to agree with several growls and snaps from his powerful jaws.

There was a problem, of course. The giraffes and the rhinos and the parrots – in fact many other animals – didn’t share the language of their plain. After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that jackal will have to act as the interpreter. He’s the only one clever enough to make everybody understand each other.

Then the problems started. Why, asked the animals, was hyena suddenly so important?  Yes, they were all afraid of him, for was he not fast and strong? And sometimes, it was rumoured, he’d start eating even before one of them was properly dead. Imagine, they whispered, being eaten alive!

No, they wanted another animal to be in charge of the proceedings on that sad day…but who? Owl came up with the answer.

“O, hyena, we all know you are the most important of us all. You must be the host and the guest of honour. That’s why you must arrive to loud cheers only after everyone has been seated already. Then we’ll get some of the other animals to say a few nice things about The Old Elephant before you make the most important speech of the day. That’ll ensure everybody knows you are in charge.”

Hyena thought about this for a while. This was, after all, his chance to show everybody they were right to fear and respect him. Then he nodded – yes, it would be like that.

Jackal had also been making plans. If he could get eagle to attend, then hyena won’t steal the show. Eagle, with his sharp eyes, razor-like talons and his strong wings, was one of the most honoured animals in all the world. As a hunter he earned the respect of every animal…and he could fly, soar, higher than any other bird. Yes, if the eagle spoke before the hyena, the hyena would pale in comparison.

Happy with his plan, jackal then set off in the jungle to have private talks with some of his friends. He had to ask them to do him a special favour as well….

On the day of the gathering, the animals cheered loudly when eagle landed. Then, just as jackal told them to (for they’d never have done it spontaneously), they hissed and grunted when hyena strode in amongst them. Jackal set his features in a grim expression and scolded the animals, who knew he was just putting on a show.

Oh, and how beautifully did the eagle speak. His words filled them with pride and even hippopotamus – who rarely exhibited any emotion – had to ask some of the more agile creatures to help her dry the tears.

Then hyena walked gracefully up to the ant hill to make his speech. Once again the animals grunted, hissed and growled, upsetting hyena tremendously. Secretly he vowed to get even with them – all of them. Once he took over from The Old Elephant, they’d see…

Jackal had to tell the other animals what hyena said; but because he had other plans, he translated the speech to his own satisfaction.

The great hyena says you will all be struck with lightning bolts and he will make a stew out of you. Yes, and even though I don’t want to tell you this, I’m afraid hyena isn’t in a good mood. He’ll start hunting you as soon as the funeral is over. You have been warned.

Now, of course hyena didn’t understand this, as jackal was speaking the other animal’s language. When he finished speaking, jackal told everybody to cheer, which they reluctantly did.

Soon after hyena trotted off, looking for somewhere quiet where he could plan his revenge, the other animals gathered.

“Look,” jackal said, “you all know what’s going to happen next. Hyena is going to start killing us all. The only way we’d be able to stop him,” and here he paused, waiting for them to listen real carefully, “is to tackle him. All of us, together. As soon as the funeral is over. That’s when we must combine our strengths and get rid of him.”

hyenaAnd so it happened that, on a bright and sunny morning, the animals ambushed hyena. Because they were scared of his deadly jaws, they all jumped on him from behind, breaking both hips. Then hyena snapped at them and they all ran away.

But jackal’s plan worked. Now hyena had these short hind legs, which robbed him of his speed. His jaws were as fearful as ever, but he could no longer hunt like he used to. Hyena, poor hyena, had to resort to the habit he has to this day: eating the leftovers after the real hunters had their fill.

Now the other animals realised hyena’s weakness, they started taunting him, calling him names and teasing him. Eventually hyena became so mad…that he lost his mind. That’s why, in the stillness of Africa’s nights, there is no mistaking the whoop-whoop! cry of the hyena, followed by mindless laughter.

***

Who became their king after The Old Elephant?

The fable doesn’t tell us. Maybe they found a nice, strong lion to lead them into the future.

One can only hope they did.

But hey! Why worry about this? It’s only a fable about animals. Right?

Right??

And yes, you may share it…

Will Our Esteemed President Resign?

Rev Canon B Pityana

Revd Canon B Pityana

A shocked silence greets Gertruida’s question. Resign? Our President? After all that he’s gotten away with?

“Why, Gertruida? He’s due for another term – it’s basically a question of rubber stamping a decision the ANC already took. They won’t let him.”

“Look, Vetfaan, you may think what you want, but the top structure of the ANC isn’t stupid. They’re highly intelligent men and women – the women especially –  and they’ve had a lot to think about lately.” Gertruida – who not only knows everything, but also still maintains good contact with her old Intelligence buddies – waits for Boggel to serve another beer.

“The Fake Interpreter Scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. I Googled ‘Court Cases Against Zuma’, and twenty million references. Twenty Million!. Now, maybe those hits only refer to the alleged 700-odd cases he was and is involved in, but it does say something. Add to that the obvious hostility displayed at the Mandela Memorial, and you’ve got some very worried comrades out there.”

“But you can’t blame the interpreter for the president’s problems. That’s not fair.”

“True, but he heads the government. The buck stops with him. Think about it: they’re now blaming mental illness as the cause for the interpreter’s actions. I think it’s blatantly unfair.  That poor man was contracted to do a job. And that’s the point where the analysis should begin. Who interviewed him? The person who suggested his services should have made a thorough check of his background. Simple things like: can he perform in front of a global audience? Does he have the security clearance to stand next to some of the most influential and powerful men on the planet? Does he own any dangerous weapons? Does he have a grudge against somebody? Is he on medication? Does he have a medical condition?

“So, let’s say he passes that scrutiny. Now that screening committee must make a collective decision and suggest his services to the organising body. He gets appointed to share more television time than any of the other dignitaries appearing on that stage on the day. He is to be the face of South Africa to millions of hearing and deaf people viewing the broadcast.”

Vetfaan nods. “So he’s a very important part of the ceremony?”

“Exactly. It turns out to be a slight miscalculation, and the world picks up on it. This time there’s no Constitutional Court to hide behind. So…what does the Powers-That-Be do? They shift the blame to this hapless man. No, they’re saying, it wasn’t us. He must take the fall.

“Spin. That’s all it is. Spin. And let me tell you: I feel sorry for him. Whether he’s a con-man or even if he has a serious medical condition, it’s not really his fault alone. He should never have been appointed.”

Kleinpiet nods. “But even so, Gertruida, you can’t expect the president to resign as a result of that?”

“I agree, but you should read the letter from Dr Barney Pityana, Kleinpiet. It is a damning message if ever I saw one. Most of all, Pityana isn’t happy about the way crime, corruption and the decay of morals in the country are experienced by the majority of the people. He blames the president for that, and he might be right.

“After all, when you compare the hope we had under Mandela with the despair we live in now, you can understand his argument. And did you not hear the reception the crowd gave the president the other day?

“No, my friends, there’s something terribly rotten in our system. If the ANC doesn’t clear up this mess, they’re going to get a terrible hiding at the polls next year.”

Boggel slumps on the counter, clearly upset.

“This whole thing makes me sad. So terribly sad. What has happened to Madiba’s dream? A country ruled in fairness to all it’s peoples? A just government, portraying the hopes and aspirations of a wonderful nation?

“Let us hope that clear minds and cool heads consider the questions raised. The interpreter is just a symptom, you guys. We need to address the disease, not blame that poor man for the real problem.”

Then, cynic that he is, he toasts the interpreter’s health. “Maybe he actually did us all a favour. He conveyed the right message, after all. He told us in no uncertain terms who we shouldn’t vote for next year.”

The Man who Told the World Nothing

 Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

“What…?” Kleinpiet is back for a beer. This time the subject under discussion is so strange that even he doesn’t want to walk out on it.

“No, it’s true. That man made all kinds of gestures, but he didn’t tell the deaf people what was happening – or what was being said.” Gertruida – who knows everything – spotted the problem immediately. At the time she remarked that it must be the New South African version of sign language, but now she knows better. “Nobody could follow him. Not in South Africa, Not overseas. It’s a disgrace.”

“Ja, Kleinpiet, it’s true. And Gertruida told us while you were out: the government knew that he couldn’t do the interpretation. As early as 2012 a complaint was sent to the ANC about the man’s abilities. That was also when he had to convert a speech by President Zuma into sign language. So the government knew…”

“You mean to tell me they used a man with no accreditation from official bodies to do something they knew he couldn’t do – and yet gave him security clearance to stand a yard away from the most powerful leaders in the world?”

“Indeed. And remember: this was to honour Madiba – and to tell the world about him. The memorial was supposed to show the world we cared. Supposed to be a showcase of our ability to organise things.”

Vetfaan sighs…this is depressing. Maybe, he thinks, the whole memorial event was such a big affair. Maybe they scrambled to get an interpreter at the last moment. Maybe this poor court interpreter was the best available. And maybe…

“They’ll fix it, I’m sure,” he says.

Servaas nods. Like they’ll fix Nkandla, the e-Tolls, the Arms Deal. They’ll always fix it. Like the old government fixed the Helderberg and Salem stories.

And then they’ll tell us nothing…

The End of the Love Affair

Barack Obama“That was a nice speech,” Kleinpiet says as he sits down. “I mean, he stole the show.”

“Ja, very eloquent. The best of the day, I agree. But I think it was a bit more than a eulogy.” Gertruida, as always, throwing out the bait.

“You’re on to something again, Gertruida. You might as well share it.”

“Obama is a very clever man. Or his speech-writer is, if you think of it. Anyway, here we have the president of the United States, travelling all the way from America at great cost, to deliver a eulogy. No problem with that. Many world leaders did that, as we know. But…I think there was a deeper, less obvious reason for his visit as well. He came to give our government a message and I’m not sure if Zuma picked up on it.”

Gertruida can be such a tease. She knows she has them now, so she orders a beer and sits back with that all-knowing smile.

“Okay, I’ll tell you. He started off with the expected praise for a great man, but listen to what he said. He praised Madiba for his willingness to step down after only one term – that’s when I sat up. Surely he wasn’t implying anything with it? Or was he telling our president something? I thought I was wrong, but there was more.

“Then he said: It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection — because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried — that we loved him so. You know what I heard? He was telling us what he liked about Mandela. He was saying: If you can’t admit your mistakes, I see it as an insult.

“A few sentences later he went on: Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions… I think everybody listening to him, realised that half-truths and lies had no place in a leader’s political life. And also: Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those who you agree with, but also those who you don’t agree with.

“Those are powerful words, my friends. I also liked the way he told us how Mandela was instrumental in creating our Constitution:  true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.  Then he spoke about ubuntu: It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you… Trust? Speaking of trust in front of an audience that just booed our president?

“Towards the end of the speech, Obama encouraged his listeners to reflect, saying Mandela’s passing should be a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? Then he mentioned the problem of health care, unemployment and education, the major issues in the country; but he disguised it as a worldwide problem.

“And listen to this gem: There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

Vetfaan can only shake his head. Sure, he listened to that speech as well, but he thought Obama was talking about Madiba’s example.

“Exactly, Vetfaan. But think about it: on the stage of world politics, things aren’t so obvious as they seem. There are always subtle hints. Obama says hello to Castro – now there’s a little incident that may mean a lot…or nothing.

“But consider this: eulogies are for the dead, And dead people don’t hear so well. So who ends up hearing the message? The people listening – in this case, all the leaders of the world, and a global audience. And who’s the host of the day? Our president.

“I can tell you: Obama was here for more than one reason. He certainly came here to pay a tribute to Nelson Mandela – but he also used the opportunity to tell us something very important. He held up a political mirror for those brave enough to see themselves. Look, he said, at yourselves.”

“I don’t know, Gertruida. I thought Obama spoke about Mandela. Now you’re saying he was telling Zuma to get it right – or get out? Don’t you think you’re over-analysing this thing?”

“Vetfaan, you witnessed the end of a love affair. With Madiba gone, the world’s fascination with South Africa has ended. No more Madiba Magic. We’re on our own now. From now on, the buck stops in our president’s office.”

The debate in Boggel’s Place is far from over, but Gertruida will defend her opinion fearlessly. Kleinpiet will leave in a huff, saying he doesn’t get it. Vetfaan will continue shaking his head, and Boggel will smile – a good debate is good for business.

In the end they’ll agree: politics have many layers. And yes, eulogies are intended for those that stay behind. The question remains, however: what was said, and what was heard?