The Many-headed Hyena.

hyena“It’s no use,” Gertruida says as she switches off the radio. “They’ll never stop this thing by taking out a few activists here and there. Oh, it’s good for morale and all that, but in the end, it’s pretty much symbolic.”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida…you’re in one of your black moods again. Russia and France are bombing those terrorists, and the police all over Europe are doing a magnificent job in unravelling the network of activists. How can you say it’s ‘symbolic‘?”

“All I’m saying, Servaas, is: too little, too late. Let me tell you one of !Kung’s stories…”


Once upon a time, many, many winters ago, the quiet life of the people living in a remote village was disrupted by a hyena. It was a huge beast, with fierce fangs and huge jaws.This hyena had developed a taste for the villager’s children, which naturally upset the parents tremendously. They held many meetings and spoke of the beast in hushed tones, calling it a coward and a thief – but still they didn’t do anything. Eventually, after yet another attack, they called on all the men in the village to hunt this animal down.

tour-dundee-04This they did, and after many bloody skirmishes, the men returned triumphantly, proclaiming their victory and boasting about their bravery. The villagers relaxed, painted many pictures of the battle on many rocks, and made up new songs for their warriors.

But, in the hills, something happened they didn’t know about. The Hyena had had a pup: a small and furry little animal that cried at night after the loss of it’s father. Some people from a neighbouring village heard the pitiful sobs, looked for and found the cute baby animal.

“What is this poor baby doing all alone? See how hungry it is! It is our duty to feed it and help it grow.”

And this is what they did. The shaman in the village took care of the pup, feeding it and making it strong again.

One day, the little hyena spoke to the shaman, telling him how bad men had hunted his father and killed him for no reason. The shaman felt exceedingly sad upon hearing this and promised the young animal that no such thing would ever happen to him.

“Look, I have cared for you,” the shaman said, “and now you’re big enough to go back into the wilds. But you’ll be hunted, like your father was. This cannot be. Here, drink this potion, it’ll protect you. No hunter will be strong enough to kill you now.”

And the young hyena took what the shaman offered, drank the potion and felt how it made him stronger. Then it left to seek out his own in the wilderness.

Some time later, some hunters found his tracks and followed it. When they saw the fully-grown hyena, they ran back to the village.

“Ayee! Ayee!” They shouted for the people to hear. “There is a hyena in the veld again. We must kill it at once!”

And so the men took their bows and arrows, their spears and knives, to go and find the hyena. This they did, and a fierce battle ensued. Eventually one of the marksmen managed to kill it with a well-aimed arrow.

“Let us cut off his head,” they said amongst themselves. “The women would be most impressed.” And this, too, was done.

While the villagers celebrated their brave warriors, a strange thing happened out there in the veld. On the corpse of the hyena, a new head grew. The shaman’s magic was working.

And the hyena continued to feed on the villager’s children, no matter how many times they hunted it down…


“Kung told this story about how some people never stopped doing bad things – he called them many-headed hyenas.” Gertruida nods at Boggel to order a round of drinks. “But it has a wider meaning than that. Evil – once it is nurtured and fed – will keep up it’s destructive ways once it has progressed beyond a certain point.”

“But the Muslims…”

“No, Servaas, this has nothing to do with religion. The evil isn’t confined to a certain way of believing, a certain culture or a specific race.  The evil was fed by politicians to attain political goals. But now the hyena is out there and he doesn’t need the shaman’s protection any longer. We can cut off its head many times…only to prove it’ll grow back every time.”

“So what can we do, Gertruida? Surely there must be some way…”

“It’s the most difficult problem, Servaas. The shaman created it…it must now stop feeding it. And I’m not sure that’ll happen.”

“You mean the politicians?”

“Ja, that, and the media, the religious leaders, the financiers, the suppliers, the fanatics and the fundamentalists. And I can’t see that happening. The pup has grown up. Now its got too many heads…”

A Flower for Paris

eiffel-tower_edited-1Even though Rolbos is so far away from the capitol of France, the group in Boggel’s Place gathers for a moment of silence to pray for the victims, the families and friends of the people who died there last night. Oudoom leads them in prayer – breaking the sombre silence – before sitting down slowly.

“The world is at war,” Gertruida eventually says, “but not like the wars in the past. The world is at war with itself.”

Servaas nods. “Yes, that’s true. Something horrible happened to the human race. I don’t know when, where, and how it started, but suddenly we have become a brutal mass of beings, intent on destruction.  It’s happening all over. I just don’t understand.”

“Well, over here it’s simple. The thousands of protests we have every year; all too often accompanied by the burning of busses, buildings, and such – not to mention the loss of lives; are  the result of an incompetent government.” Gertruida is lecturing again. It’s her way of rationalising – of escaping the reality of the horrors we live with every day. “We are, however, only experiencing the initial symptoms of social unrest. In it’s most advanced state,  this unrest turns into terrorism. Incompetence has nothing to do with that; it’s pure fanaticism.”

“But what happened to democracy and diplomacy? Why can’t people talk to each other any longer; you know, discuss problems and find an amicable solution?”

“You solve mathematical problems, Servaas. You can’t solve ideology.” When she sees him knitting his brows together, she explains. “Look, both democracy and ideology are forms of brainwashing. Almost the same animal, vastly different outcomes. In democracy the will of the majority is supreme. If you’re in the minority, you’re forced to accept whatever drew the most votes. So you stare at the TV every night, shake your head at the antics of politicians….but you remain a loyal citizen.

“But ideology? The backbone of ideology has nothing to do with minorities or majorities. The will of the people doesn’t count. If you dare disagree, your life is at risk. The brainwashing here is more brutal, stark in its reality and doesn’t respect the individual. Ideology demands absolute ownership of your life, your soul and even your spirit. That’s the danger.”

“But why Paris? It’s the capitol of Love, isn’t it?”

“Exactly, Servaas. Love and ideology doesn’t mix. Oh, there will be other reasons as well – France is fighting against ISIS, after all – but in the end, the attack on Paris was a cowardly expression of hate. Shooting innocent people – unarmed individuals enjoying an evening out with friends –  at random can never be seen as an act of heroism. You don’t kill people you love; you shoot those you hate. And why would a gunman open fire on a crowd? I’ll tell you: it’s because some twisted person propagated lethal violence as the means to an end. That’s ideology, be it political or religious in principle.”

“Ja, I agree.” Oudoom’s voice is tinged with emotion. “Religion is far more dangerous than all the nuclear arsenals of the world combined. Forget about an atomic war ending life on this planet. Religion will do it long before some idiot pushes the red button on the console.”

Oudoom…?” Servaas can’t believe his ears.

“It’s true, Servaas, and sadly so. Look, all the religions believe that Man was created by a Supreme Being, the ruler of the universe. That’s faith and so far, so good. But then we lose the plot by insisting we know all about Him…or Her…or It. We attribute all kinds of human characteristics to our gods, assume certain attributes and preach about God’s will – as if we have an intimate knowledge of the mind of God. That, my friend, is called religion. We have corrupted faith into various religions that suit our ways of thinking. And then…in the extreme form of this…we create an ideology, throw reality out of the window, and start hating people who differ from us. When logic fails, my friends, we use God to justify our actions. That’s fanatical ideology, the fundamental flaw of the human race that’ll be our downfall.”

“And that’s why they shot those poor people in Paris?”

“That’s my take, Servaas. I simply cannot think that God – whatever different religions might call Him – would sanction such acts. Religion can. and people seem blind to the fact.”

“So, what can we do?”

“Do what your faith tells you: that God created us all. That we have but one life on this one earth. That all life is precious. And that there is no power strong enough to destroy Love. What god would like to see his creation destroying itself? Killing others won’t get you to heaven,Servaas, it’s a sin.”

“Well, my heart goes out to all those in France.” Gertruida sighs. “Faith, religion, ideology…I don’t care how those terrorists justified it – what they’ve done is wrong. It’s sad. It’s pathetic to think somebody is so warped as to strap explosives to himself before opening fire on innocents. It is, in the end, not the action of somebody who stands up for anything. It’s the action of somebody stupid enough to die for nothing except the tears of those left behind.”

cederberg sandpoort vygiesKleinpiet walks in to the bar with a small flower in his hand. It’s a vygie, the hardy little plant that survives in the harsh climate of the Kalahari.

“I brought this,” he says, “for the people of Paris.”

Boggel places the flower in a glass of water. “That’s the religion I believe in, Kleinpiet. Thank you.”

(Read also the prediction in the fable posted in September.)

What’s in a name?

fullback “So Fiat is going to introduce a new bakkie?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. It’s called the Fullback and will be available next year.” Gertruida doesn’t add that the vehicle will be built in Thailand by a Japanese firm for the Italian company: Vetfaan still believes bakkies are unique to South Africa. “They’ll have a 4X4 version as well.”

Vetfaan doesn’t even bother to respond. If the bakkie wasn’t a 4X4, he wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

“It’s time for you to replace the old Land Rover,” Kleinpiet says.”That thing must have a million kilos on the clock.”

69-LandRover_SIIA_88_SWB_DV-07-CA_02“It’s still as good as new. The carburettor is a bit iffy, but that’s all. And the oil leak isn’t so bad – a can a week is much cheaper than buying a new pickup.” Always fiercely loyal to his Landy, Vetfaan defends the ’69 model with pride. “Last week, on my way to Upington, I even got a speeding ticket.”

“If you’re so happy with that old thing, why did you mention the Fiat?”

“The name got to me. Fullback. The chap with the number 15 jersey. The defender, see? Just like my Landy. But – and this is where the Italians lost the plot – a fullback must also be the secret weapon: able to switch from defence to attack in he blink of an eye. Fast, strong and aggressive when needed; calm and relaxed even under the most trying conditions. A fullback never panics – he stands his ground when the odds are stacked against him.”

“Lost the plot? How can  you say that after praising the vehicle so much?”

Vetfaan turns to Servaas with a mischievous grin. “Think about it, Servaas.  They needed a name no other vehicle ever had. This is a world wide problem for all manufacturers. And the name can’t just be any old name; it has to convey a message. The buyer must feel that he’s invested in something he can trust. Now, calling it a Fullback, might seem interesting to rugby players, and that’s fine in a country where rugby is a generally accepted sport. In South Africa, however, the game of rugby has become a very controversial subject. The government insists on politicising the issue, forcing down quotas and playing the race card over and over again. Remember, too, that the buying power in the country is now situated in the income group that supports soccer. The next thing you’ll hear, is that Fiat is insensitive about our colonial past.”

“I hate that.” Servaas knits his brows together. “Why is everything associated with the past so wrong? Colonialism brought a lot of things to Africa, massively improving the way we live today. If the politicians want to do away with the remnants of colonialism, they should stop using electricity.”

“Ja, and what about suits, ties, shaving cream and panties?” Boggel blushes, glances at Gertruida and shrugs. “But facts are facts, guys. You can’t throw out Rhodes while wearing jeans and T-shirts. If the old ways were so good, why adopt the style of the coloniser? And what about English – isn’t that a legacy of old Queen Vic as well?”

“So you’d like a bakkie to represent South Africa, Vetfaan? Something that is above criticism, epitomises the culture of Africa and is undeniably indigenous?  Well, then you must find a word that encompasses defence, attack, the ability to get into trouble and out of tight spots. It must say something about traction on all kinds of surfaces, the ability to purr over rough areas and the power to wade through mud and water while not getting stuck. In fact, the name must say so much that the majority of the country will fall for it, even though it remains, in the end a Fiat. And you know what that stands for…”

“Ja, that was the old joke. First In All Trouble. Used to laugh at that twenty years ago, but I don’t think it’s true any more.” Boggel actually likes the brand.

“Still,” Kleinpiet continues, “I’d like to know what Vetfaan suggests as a name to replace Fullback.”

“That’s easy,” Vetfaan smiles smugly. “Call it a Zooma.”

The Stupidity of Ernest.

Citrus_swallowtail_Christmas_butterfly_(Princeps_papilio_demodocus)_04Ernest Swiegelaar rarely visits Rolbos, mainly because he is such a busy man. Still, whenever he phones to tell them he’s on his way, the men in Boggel’s Place perk up, get to bed early and have their weekly bath. You never know your luck, after all, if you haven’t tried your best.

Gertruida says it’s Mandy’s fault. If she had been more kind, Ernest could have been a professor by now. Still, according to the men in Boggel’s Place, Ernest should be admired for the way he survived, despite the success of his research.

Ernest studied the habitat of a very specific butterfly, with a very specific goal in mind. According to Gertruida, the little creature is called  Papilio demodocus, but the group at the bar prefers the more common (and easier to remember), Citrus Swallowtail.  When asked why a young man like Ernest would want to waste his time chasing some butterflies, Gertruida defended his actions.

“Look, we all know what happened th Ernest. It’s the old-old story on boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-his-heart and girl-dumps-boy. It is, after all, not unique in the history of male-female relationships. But, in Ernest’s case, it turned out to be a life-changing experience. At the time, Ernest was doing a Ph.D in lepidopterology, the study of butterflies, and was doing great work on pheromones.” Of course, Gertruida had to stop right there to explain what it all meant before she could continue. “So, when Mandy preferred a star rugby player and left him, his world came crashing down. He actually abandoned his studies, telling his professors that there was no point in pursuing the matter. What good, after all, could come from analyzing minute amounts of chemicals some insects secrete? He left university and hitch-hiked his way to nowhere. Just travelled and lived like a nomad.”

This much is true. However, Ernest eventually ran out of money (and space) near Union’s End, where the borders of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia meet. He finally had to face reality, so he offered his services as a entomologist to the manager of Grootkolk Camp in the Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park. It is difficult to find game in this vast, arid region – which often resulted in tourists grumbling about the amount of money it cost to stay there in relationship to the number of animals they saw. Enter Ernest, with his vast knowledge of insects – and butterflies – who could entertain bored tourists for hours with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of exoskeletal creatures, moths, beetles, and…butterflies. Somehow a circle in his life was completed – the lepidopterist awoke once more.

It is here that he noticed the Citrus Swallowtail, an old favourite of his, and it is here that he started spending hours and hours studying the pretty butterflies. It is also here that his interest in the Kalahari Citrus Butterfly took a surprising turn.

The Citrus Swallowtail is rather common in Sub-Sahara Africa, but it prefers more moderate climates. In the Kgalakgadi, with the endless red sand dunes, Ernest observed two strange phenomena. First: the subtype occurring  there, didn’t lay their eggs on citrus leaves (there aren’t any). They had adapted to a small cactus-like plant, which Ernest correctly assumed contained citrus-like oils and Vitamin C. But, more importantly, he noticed that the male Citrus Swallowtail was much more successful in its mating habits than the butterflies he had studied before. He didn’t need a long time to figure it out: these Desert Citrus Swallowtails had to produce much more of the female-attraction pheromones than the ones he had studied before.

Well, it is said that you can take a born researcher out of the laboratory, but you can’t take his curiosity away. And slowly, month after month, Ernest compiled notes, observations and a number of theories. He surmised, for instance, that the reason why these male butterflies were so successful, was the harsh environment. Nature thus provided them with the super-ability to produce offspring, a simple evolutionary occurrence to ensure the survival of the species.

It was during this time that Ernest first visited Rolbos. The road to Upington had been washed away by a freak storm, leaving Rolbos (and Sammie’s Shop) as the only alternative place to replenish supplies. Like all visitors to Rolbos, it was only natural that he popped in at Boggel’s Place, where he met the group at the bar. Despite his natural reluctance to interact with strangers, Ernest found (much to his surprise) it exceedingly easy to chat with Gertruida – and it was through this conversation (and many afterwards) that Ernest finally agreed to become a scientist once more.

Ernest started contacting his old professors, much to their joy. Yes, of course, they’d love to assist him to complete his studies. Let the past be past, all is forgiven. And so, after another year, Ernest was back in the laboratory with his small colony of Citrus Swallowtails in a sizable, climate controlled environment stocked with Kalahari succulents.


“Ernest phoned to say he’ll be around for a week or two.” Gertruida’s announcement had a note of smugness about it. “He said the butterflies in this region proved to be superior to other areas – his previous visit showed that. Now he wants to make Rolbos his basecamp again.”

“Oh, no!” Vetfaan droped his head in his hands, making sure he didn’t spill his beer. “Last time he did that, it was chaos. Remember Oudoom’s sermons afterwards? It was really difficult to catch a bit of shut-eye when he started shouting like that.”

“Oh shush, Vetfaan. As I remember, the sermons were very necessary. Especially after the way you and Kleinpiet – and don’t forget Servaas – carried on during his last visit.”

An uncommon flush spread up Vetfaan’s neck while he tried to think of an appropriate answer. Kleinpiet came to his rescue.

“Ag, Gertruida, give us a break. Ernest succeeded in a massive scientific breakthrough. He might even be on the brink of establishing world peace….”

“Or a world war…” Servaas interrupted.

“…and he might even get the Nobel Prize.” Kleinpiet soldiers on. “Imagine that some molecule – which you can’t see and smell or taste – can have such a profound effect on men and women…men, especially.”

“It’s not the molecule that fascinates me,” Servaas said dryly.

“No, you closet Cassanova, you.” Gertruida’s scorn dripped from the words. “It’s the bevy of assistants you drool over. All of them – the beauties, the trim bodies, the pretty faces….”

“And the legs, the short skirts, the brilliant smiles…” Boggel added with a laugh.

“Ja,” Vetfaan eventually agreed with a sigh. “Such a pity they only have eyes for Ernest. It’s like being at a buffet but you aren’t able to get anything on your plate.”

“But maybe that’s a good thing, Vetfaan.” Servaas smiled. “Have you seen what he looked like, last time? Just a bag of bones. I gave him six months, but apparently he’s still at it. Quite amazing, really.”

The conversation dwindled out after that. Boggel had to lock up earlier than usual that night. The men wanted to get a bath and a good night’s sleep before Ernest and his entourage arrived the next morning. And maybe, hopefully, Ernest wouldn’t be so stuck-up to lock that precious little bottle away again like he did last time…

Gertruida’s (almost) nude sketch



Gertruida (as we all know) is not an emotional woman. She takes life’s blows as they come and never allows circumstances to weigh her down.

Well, almost never.

Tomorrow, when Vetfaan and Boggel will discuss the incident over a couple of beers and they’ll stick to the facts…but they won’t mention the tear that found it’s way over her pale cheek this morning. That’ll be an admission of the unmentionable, a breach of confidence, a disrespectful comment of a lady they hold in such high esteem.

Still, the tear was there, even if everybody chose to ignore it. People do that, sometimes. Some call it the-elephant-in-the-room-syndrome, and others say it’s  unkind to emphasise another’s grief; but it is entirely true that we all – at times – choose not to remark about something that is patently obvious to all. Even Gertruida acted the same way: she didn’t bother to wipe away the tear, nor did she try to hide her continuous sniffing when she read the letter.

Afterwards, she left the letter on the counter. Just the letter, mind – not the sketch; that she took home. It is, after all, her very personal property now. Maybe that was her way of explaining, of making them understand. Boggel thought it was a very clever way of going about things: much better than telling them all about Mathys Willemse and that summer of ’72. After all, they were all young once and they all did things they will remember with a smile although they’ll never talk about it. When you’re young, life is a kaleidoscope of missed chances. When you’re old, you cry about the beauty of those moments.

My dear Gertruida,

I asked the nurse to write this note as my condition does not allow me to do so myself. I trust Nurse Groenewald – she promised to keep this confidential. In a certain way, she reminds me of you, all those years ago.

Don’t be surprised to receive a letter from me. We may have met – and parted – many years ago, but I’ve kept the memory of those weeks sacred – and fresh – in my mind. Even now, despite the white sheets and the beeping machines – I can recall the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand. It is a great comfort in these days. If this is a cause of embarrassment to you, I apologise. But to me, it is the most wonderful memory.

By the time you receive this – so the doctors tell me – I will know more about Life’s greatest mystery. I’m looking forward to that. But, before I go, I have to finalise a few things while I can. My will is a simple one; you know how much I loved Nature. My remaining paintings (oh, how you encouraged the young artist!) will be auctioned and the proceeds used in the fight against poaching. It seems a fitting farewell for somebody who enjoyed the wide landscapes and the animals of our lovely country.

But – and you’ll understand this – I cannot sell your sketch. That would be wrong.

Remember that evening on the beach? I’m sure you do. The sun was just setting and the gulls were settling down for the night. They were our only company. And I took out my pad and you asked me why I was looking at you in such a strange way. I couldn’t answer then. I’ll try to answer now.

You see, at that moment I saw my Gerty, the real Gerty. I stripped you of your academic achievements (of which there were many!), and the faux air of superiority you spent so much effort in maintaining. I saw a young woman, a beautiful lady, a lonely girl – in all simplicity.

When I didn’t answer, you gave a little laugh and walked on, to sit down on the rocks amongst the gulls. Funny, they didn’t seem to mind. Maybe they recognised a kindred spirit: a restless soul, constantly moving on even if they stayed in the same place. It’s a paradox of life, isn’t it Gerty? We move and move…and seldom change who we are. No matter how wide we spread our wings, we cannot deny our inner identity.

So I sketched you as I saw you. Called the work ‘Restless’, with you as an off-centre central figure and the rocks and the sleeping birds around you. Over the years it hung in my gallery and I’ve had so many offers to buy it – but of course I couldn’t sell it at all. This was my sketch, my rock, where I could be calm and at peace. Even now, it hangs on the wall next to me.

I do believe I never told you I loved you. Silly me. I should have. But I knew – even back then – that an artist’s art is a fragile thing. It’s a jealous gift that demands all. If I have to explain (it is difficult!), I’ll say that art cannot be diluted by love. Art requires torment; it is the fuel that keeps the fire burning. And, Gerty, an artist without fire is an artist without grace. It is the anguish of Life that forces the painter to depict the beauty of existence.

And, of course, you had to move on, as well. You were on the brink of a brilliant career (yes, I followed it. Dakar was one of your finest moments!), a journey that would take you to explore a world that didn’t include me. We were both adult enough to know that. I understood that you were part on my anguish, part of my future in the most painful way possible. And I embraced the feeling, because I knew you were part of my journey to artistic excellence.

So now, with the curtain coming down on my stage, I return the sketch to you, where it belongs. It is – even though I say so myself – my best work. This is the way I remember you. Despite the years, you remain the lovely girl I drew back then. You didn’t age. Nobody hurt you along the way. The sun, my dearest, never set in that picture. The gulls didn’t fly away, nor did they die. They remain there, around you, quietly preparing for the night.

I do apologise for another thing. You’ll notice that I drew you as  saw you. Don’t be shy about the absence of clothing – you’ll notice that I respected your mage in the picture. But, dear Gerty, that was (is?) you. A pretty, wonderful, restless creature with a brilliant mind, and the kindest heart. That’s why, I think, you said goodbye afterwards. 

You understood…

And now I must say farewell. My journey is at its end and it’s time for me to explore the great unknown. I just wanted to put the finishing touches on the canvas of our picture – the one you have in your heart.

With all my love,


When Gertruida walks in to Boggel’s Place tomorrow, she’ll smile and greet them the usual way.

And then they’ll talk about the weather.

Weekly Photo Challenge: African Treat with Italian Flare.

Africa is the world’s best Treat Continent, without any doubt. The variety of surprises – the whole spectrum of them – is enough to lure you back again and again. A typical day on a recent trip serves as an example.

t1The road seemed to go on and on – a never ending strip of gravel through an endless terrain. No rushing here: a mishap might leave you stranded for days.

t3The desert gave way to stunted bush as the sun set. A lonely giraffe ignored us as we drove past. How far to go still? The map wasn’t of much help. The other question involved the camping site: what was it like? Booking a place where you’ve never been remains a risk, especially in Africa… But, bone tired and hungry, we pressed on.


Oh. My. Word!!! Was that the ablution block? A long-drop and bucket ensemble to freshen up after a day like that?

t2Well, set up camp, clean up, get the fire going, and then consider the options. There’s a lodge not far away – maybe we could take our chances and enquire about having dinner there? Two beers later, the decision was made. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

x6And…surprise! At Shakawe Mario turned out to be the best pizza-maker in Africa! Imported from Italy, he did his heritage proud. What a meal – what a treat!

And that’s the treat of Africa. Forrest Gump’s famous line rings true here: Life is like a box of chocolates….

Sparks Strydom and his Speeding Gun.

3fc23d2c4a81ab717c9d8f35e9804dba“Sparks Strydom got me stopped again today.” Verfaan sits down heavily, takes off the sweat-stained hat and wipes his brow. “I feel so sorry for him.”

Now, if you’re a regular traveler between Upington and Rolbos, you’ll know all about Sparks. He’s a sinewy man of about fifty, sporting a small moustache and a goatee beard. He’s not altogether unhandsome, but the high cheekbones and the sunken eyes combine to give him a cadaver-like appearance, which  seem to frighten children. The few who know his story, also know that he’s a kindhearted, gentle soul who’s only trying to make ends meet.

“Really? I thought that gun would never work.” Kleinpiet signals for a round of beers. It’s been another scorcher in the Kalahari. He knows all about Sparks. They served on the Border together. “He used to be quite clever, that man. But that was before…”

Yes, they all nod, Sparks could have had such a bright future. He had been the star student in Pofadder High, the only one who passed matric with distinctions. A bursary was offered to study engineering, but the Border War intervened and he was conscripted to the army. 

“I remember that day they brought him back to the hospital in Grootfontein. Man, was he a mess! It was a miracle that he survived.” Vetfaan, who also spent some time recovering in that hospital after an ambush, shrugs as he sips his beer. “The doctors said he’d never be the same again. They were right.”

“Ja, shame, the poor guy. And when the war was over, he tried to study. Lasted two weeks in the university before the professors realised he couldn’t keep up. Such a pity.” Kleinpiet recalls the day he met Sparks in  Upington. He had been shopping for a new transistor radio at Kalahari Electric, when the gaunt man behind the counter offered his help.


“Gosh, Sparks? Is it really you?”

The man allowed his eyes to drift upward from the glass-topped counter to travel over Kleinpiet’s paunch, his chest and finally to Kleinpiet’s face. A small frown furrowed his brow. “Ja, it’s me.”

“I’m Kleinpiet, remember? We played rugby against each other. In Prieska…before the war.”

“Oh.” The dull eyes attempted an apologetic smile. “I don’t remember things so well anymore.”

It was an embarrassing moment. Kleinpiet smoothed it over with smalltalk and then said he wanted to buy a radio. Sparks shuffled away to call the other salesman.


“He did get better,” Gertruida tries to sound optimistic. “At least, that’s what I heard. Some of his old ways returned – he actually started reading again.”

“Yes, that’s true. He read up on wars. Fascinated by conflict, Sparks was. Maybe he still is, for that matter. But the gun? I think it’s a stroke of genius.”

Gertruida nods. “Yes, when he stumbled upon the work of Barker and Midlock during WW II, he became obsessed with them. Imagine soldering tin cans together to create microwaves? Shew! But that was the start of the radar speed gun, which paved the way for laser speed guns. And our Sparks copied that – only he had at his disposal a whole heap of old, broken radios – an unlimited supply of transistors, and diodes and who-knows-what.”

“Yes, and now he’s the only independent speed analyst in the Northern Cape. He’s hard to miss, dressed up in his old army uniform like that. I could see him a mile away, standing next to the road with his contraption, so I speeded up a little.  Didn’t want to disappoint him.”

“That was kind of you, Kleinpiet. So what was your fine?”

“Well, he stepped onto the tar, held up a hand and I screeched to a halt. As usual, he didn’t say much; just held the contraption so I could see the reading. So I apologised and waited. He held out his hand and I gave him fifty bucks. Then he waved me on.”

“His usual routine, eh?”


The group at the bar remains silent for a while. Yes, they do feel sorry for Sparks. And yes, they know how the scars of war sometimes never heal. Politicians so often blow on the embers that flare up emotions, cause conflict and result in harm and bloodshed. Gertruida once said it’s the result of an imbalance in the logic/ego ratio. Once the ego increases in a disproportionate ratio to logic, irrational circumstances are sure to follow. They all nodded wisely as she said this, just to show her they weren’t ignorant. Afterwards they tried to figure it out until Servaas told them about the rabies one of his dogs once contracted. It’s a fatal thing, he said, when the brain cannot cope with fear. That, they agreed, was what Gertruida tried to say.

“At least he’s making an honest living,” Boggel say  as he refills their glasses.

They laugh at that, because they know Boggel is just trying to lift the mood. Just like stopping when Sparks holds up a hand when you approach, one should at least smile when Boggel makes a remark like that.


Note: If any of the readers ever travel to Rolbos, please be on the lookout for Sparks. He’s the one with the Ricoffy tin next to the road. He’ll stop you and make you read the little ‘screen’ on the back, where ‘150 km/h is clearly scrawled in his shaky handwriting.

Don’t argue.

Give him something. 

Freedom’s just another word…



“Free education? What’s next? With 25% of our workforce without a job and 16% of the population paying taxes, that’ll create an unbearable situation.”  Vetfaan scowls at his empty glass while he remembers how he used to work as a stoker on the railways in order to pay for the time he spent at the agricultural college. “I had to work eighteen, twenty hours a day during the holidays to pay for my studies.”

“Different times, Vetfaan.” Gertruida almost manages to sound sympathetic. “Back then the education system was subsidized – properly, as it should – by the government. Yes, there was an unacceptable racial slant and yes, the policies of the day prevented many promising students from attending universities…”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! There were the universities of Fort Hare, Western Cape, Cape Town, Wits and Medunsa…!”

“Now, don’t you go shouting at me, Vetfaan!” The angry glint in her eyes makes Vetfaan back off. “I didn’t make the rules back then, nor do I make them now. But…we can’t ignore the fact that many, many lives would have been vastly different if the Nationalists put more emphasis on education. Apartheid remains a fact of history, no matter how much we want to erase it from our memories.”

“I’m not talking about that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan sounds resigned, beaten. “All I’m saying is that we can’t go on with social grants, a huge salary allocation for government officials, free water, electricity, medical care, AIDS, services…and the rampant corruption we read about in the papers every day. What does government do? Every time – every time – they say the private sector must come on board! The EFF wants 51% of shares on the stock exchange transferred to the workers. The ANC wants the farmers to hand over half of their properties to the farm labourers. And you know who is paying for those politicians? You and I, my dear Gerty. You and I. We’re paying them to bankrupt the country. Now that’s irony for you!”

“Two sides to that coin, Vetfaan. As much as we’d like to ignore certain facts, we cannot deny the inequalities in the country…”

“I’m not saying that!” The veins on Vetfaan’s neck stand out as he tries to control his temper. Taking a deep breath, he continues in a calmer voice. “The inequalities need to be addressed, that’s for sure. The feeling I get is that we are continuously being punished for a policy the English forced down on us when they wrote to old constitution for the Union of South Africa in 1908. Now, suddenly, everybody is pointing fingers at us whiteys. Why does nobody question the decisions of Queen Victoria?”

“They do, Vetfaan. That’s why the Rhodes statue was removed.”

“Oh puleeez! Whether Rhodes stands at the foot of Table Mountain or in some heritage park, is of almost no significance. At least he’s being blamed for something – but he’s not being abused as a taxpayer. Our government is increasingly adamant about ‘redistribution’. In my book it means: ‘bankrupting society’. Have you seen what happened to the farms they already allocated to previously disadvantaged individuals? Or have you forgotten the reason why SAA, Escom, Water Affairs, Telkom, the railways and even our army and police have degenerated over the last twenty years? How can you ignore the effect of appointing people with inadequate skills to positions they simply cannot handle?

“Yes, Gertruida, I agree that there are still imbalances in our society. And yes, the one key is education. But the main lock to open, is the bolt that’ll free government to rule in a focussed, logical way. The private sector has been taxed to death by a government that can only remain in power by handing out freebies to the masses.” Vetfaan sighs this thanks as Boggel pushes over a fresh beer. “What we need is a contructive approach – not one that’ll destroy the fabric of society and which continuously emphasises race as the major dividing factor. What’s happening now, is a recipe for anarchy, hatred and violence. Look at the crime stats.”

Gertruida remains silent for so long that Vetfaan thinks she’s ignoring him. When she eventually addresses him in her quiet tone, he sees the tears in her eyes.

“You know, Vetfaan, we’ll never live down the injustices of the past. We need to recognise them, learn from them. That’s what Mandela said and it’s true. But he also emphasised the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  And he said: ‘…the day the ANC does to us what the Apartheid government did, we should do to the ANC what we did to the Apartheid government.’ Maybe that’s what is happening: the students have lost their fear for the securocrats and are doing exactly what Madiba proposed?”

“But, Gertruida, where is all this leading up to? Another Zimbabwe?”

“Possibly. Even…probably. We have one, single chance – and that is that democracy will prevail. People aren’t stupid. The poor is getting poorer. The previously disadvantaged masses are even more disadvantaged now. We have elections next year… We need a leader…no, many leaders…to stand up and get to work. We won’t build a better South Africa by doing nothing. We need good, honest men and women to tell the nation the honeymoon is over. Forget about demanding this and insisting on that, if you haven’t contributed anything. People must get used to working hard…and then be rewarded for their efforts. A student doing well at university should be allowed to continue his or her studies as far as possible. People with skills should be appointed to the right positions and then reap the rewards of their hard work. And the many unskilled labourers should be paid fairly – because their contribution is absolutely essential in the workforce. Maybe it’ll take a generation – even longer – but there can be no doubt that we have the potential to be a great country. Capitalism may have it’s shortfalls and it’s wise to acknowledge that. But socialism can’t exist in a vacuum; then everybody has an equal share of nothing. The answer is education, work, productivity and …love.”

The last word makes Vetfaan look up sharply. Yes, he wonders…what happened to that?

The Fable of how the Buffalo lost his Temper

images (18)Long, long ago the animals had to choose a king. As was their custom, they selected the biggest and strongest animals to be candidates, after which their nominees had to prove their ability to lead. In those days the animals – being what they were – declared that during this process only the best of manners be the order of the day. No hunting was allowed, and even Vulture had to be kind and courteous.

During this election (their last, as it turned out), the elders selected Lion (of course) as well as Elephant and Buffalo. As usual, everybody thought that the honour would befall Lion, as he had proven his worth over a long time. Elephant was, however, tremendously popular; the animals loved the way he could recite the history all the way back to the Great Flood. Also, the quiet way Elephant went about his daily business appealed to all, causing some debate as to whether Lion should really be elected again.

In those days, Buffalo was known for his good humour. In fact, he was so funny that Hyena (his best friend) couldn’t stop laughing. Whenever the animals gathered for the First Rain Celebrations, Buffalo was called upon to make a speech about the good times ahead. Man, the great animal soon had everybody rolling about in helpless laughter as he made fun of the hardships they endured during the dry season. Even the most serious situations – like when the ants ate all the grass or the river ran dry – were told in such a way that Boffalo’s uncontrolled giggling had them telling each other what a great comedian he was.

But…there was a dark side to Buffalo’s humour, something the other animals never realised. Buffalo, you see, had a secret. He knew about a pasture – set amongst the rolling hills of the veld – where he never allowed any other animal to go. Whenever he saw somebody approaching, he’d start telling his jokes and all too soon that animal would forget all about being hungry or thirsty while laughing with the big Buffalo and his funny stories.

Now, when the day of the election arrived, Elephant (being the biggest) got to be the first speaker at the Animal and Nature Conference, the gathering where everybody had to vote for their new king. True to Elephant’s nature, he reminded them of their heritage and the hardships of the past.

“Look,” he said, “we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must work harder and work together. Should you elect me as your king, I’ll see to it that we utilise our resources with greater care. Some of you might have to venture to pastures far away – to bring back food for the old and the needy. And you’ll have to clean up the river; we need good, pure drinking water. I also like the idea of building a dam so we may have plenty of water during the dry seasons.”

The animals listened with great respect, but the younger ones looked at each other in dismay. Elephant’s plans were so radical! And who would have to do all that work? No, they told each other, they won’t vote for him.

Lion was up next. He growled and grumbled, telling the meeting that he had been their king for a long time. “Elephant is far too ambitious,” he said. “What is wrong with the way we had been living? No, progress will only spoil the veld and the forest. I am a natural leader and there’s not one of you who can challenge my strength. If you don’t vote for me, you’ll have to bear the consequences.”

This time the animals looked at each other with knowing glances. Yes, they knew about Lion’s strength, but what had he accomplished in the time he was king? No, they needed a progressive leader, but one which didn’t make them work the way Elephant had proposed.

Then Buffalo stood in front of them and pulled a face while twirling his bushy tail in a grand circle.

“Hee, hee, hee,” he said, watching the audience carefully. Of course they sniggered. “This is all too serious, my compatriots. Why waste your time with a king that’ll make you work all day long? Or, for that matter, who scares you into voting for him? No, we are comrades in this kingdom. We must be happy. Nobody should do more than he needs to – in fact, let’s do nothing at all!” So rousing was his way of talking to them that all the animals cheered. “Now, look at Elephant. He’s so fat he can’t even scratch his ear.” (Lots of laughter). “And Lion? Why, he makes his wife do all the work! She has to do the hunting. She feeds the cubs. And he?” Buffalo waited a second to let the question sink in. “He’s so lazy he sleeps all day!” Buffalo went ‘Hee, hee, hee” again as the animals pointed paws and hooves at Lion, making fun at their former king.

And so it was no surprise that Buffalo was elected king. Even today the animals remember that summer, when the veld echoed with laughter. Buffalo allowed everybody to do as they pleased while he told them funny stories every time they sought his advice. It was a time of great freedom and merriment.

But then the winter came. The grass withered and the great river became a sluggish little stream of muddy water.

“King! King! What are we to do? Our children are hungry and the water is fuinished?”

And Buffalo went “Hee, hee, hee” and told them drought is a good sign: it means it will be broken at some stage. “Why, do you want rain all year long? No, you’ll just get too fat and lazy if the grass is green all the time. You must embrace the winter, comrades, for it means spring is just around the corner.”

But that year the spring didn’t bring rain. Instead, the sun burnt down from above and the muddy river became a dry river bed. Again the animals complained to their king. Buffalo laughed and suggested that Crocodile and Hippo were responsible for the river drying up. As for the veld? Why, didn’t they see the ants carting off the grass? No, they can’t blame him, King Buffalo, for their hardships, The real problem were the thieves amongst the animals.

For a while the animals believed their king and even managed the occasional smile.

And then Ferret found out about Buffalo’s secret pasture.

“Have you not seen how fat Buffalo is? And have you seen ho well-fed his many wives are? Come on, guys, think! We are barely surviving, but our king is living as if nothing is wrong!”

Yes, the animals said, that is true.

“Well, I’ve followed Buffalo for a while now. You know what I’ve found?” And he told them about the green pasture and the fountain and the place Buffalo tried to hide from them all.

The animals didn’t believe Ferret at first, but he took them to the secret place and showed them. The animals became very angry and gathered to speak to their king. One by one they stood up and accused the king of trying to fool them all. Buffalo tried laughing his way out of this predicament, but the animals had had enough. With the help of Elephant, Hippo and Crocodile, they tied him up and left him there. Then they all rushed to the secret pasture and ate their fill.

For once, Buffalo couldn’t laugh his way out of trouble. He thought about the animals eating up his secret source of grass and became so incensed that he broke free of his bonds.When he stormed up the hill to try and save his pasture, the animals rolled down rocks. He bellowed in anger, but everybody just laughed at him. This wasn’t funny at all. Buffalo finally lost his sense of humour. He knew then that he would never be king again.

From that day on, the animals were very careful to choose a king that would be fair, who could lead them properly and who could look after their interests.

But it was too late. Buffalo had become an angry, fierce beast; intent on attacking any living thing he encountered.

And the veld never really recovered.

The moral of the story: be very, very weary of a funny Buffalo. All animals know that. Maybe some day, humans will, too…

The man from HI (Inc).

The_Bible_and_moneyWhenever you talk about a dominee in Rolbos, the group in the bar will imagine somebody like Oudoom: kind, honest and blessed with a dry sense of humor. Now – us folks that have travelled beyond the greater towns like Prieska and Pofadder – we know there is no template for the perfect clergyman. The Americans like popular preachers telling them that all sins are forgiven and that prayer will make you amazingly rich. In Africa, it is not unusual for congregations to expect a sermon which marries superstition and gospel. Conservative Afrikaners go for fire and brimstone, while more liberal folk lean over to an everything-goes philosophy. As one would expect, preachers (usually rather intelligent men) pick up on the needs of their local flock and tell them what the want to hear. In this way they not only fill the pews on Sundays, but (more importantly) they also keep the financial side of the business ticking over.

But not so in Rolbos. Oudoom sticks to the truth, which is sometimes most unwelcome and will lead to lengthy debates in the bar. Last Sunday Oudoom reminded his small congregation that Christianity is a way of life, and that simply talking about religion isn’t enough. “Look,” he said, “at the way you carried on when Fourie du Preez scored that try? When last did you feel that way about your Salvation?” After church, the Rolbossers retired to Boggel’s Place in a gloomy silence – something which they shattered when Craig Joubert awarded that penalty to the Wallabies.

And so, when a brand new Mercedes purred down Voortrekker Weg on Tuesday and a tall, willowy man stepped from the air-conditioned interior, they tried to follow Oudoom’s teachings by inviting the stranger in to the bar.

“How kind of you all,” the man boomed, patting his white tie into it’s correct place between the lapels of his jacket, “I can see you folks are real Christians.”

This pleased the group tremendously as Boggel pushed a complimentary beer over the counter.

“I am Pastor Victor, but you can call me Vic. I’m here with an important message. Would you care to hear it?”

A message for Rolbos? Of course they were curious.

“See, the Rapture is near. Over the last few weeks you would have heard the repeated warnings that the world is on it’s last legs.” The group in the bar had never heard of such a thing, but they listened respectfully in any case. “The rapture is near!”  This was said in a whispered shout.

Of course, the rapture is something Oudoom never neglects, so the group nodded as one.

“Money won’t help you any longer. You’ll be called before the throne as you are – stripped of all worldly possessions. Do not for one moment think your bank account will help you Up There, my friends. Fancy cars and fancy clothing makes no impression in Paradise!” Pastor Vic warmed to his subject as he expounded on the vast difference between Heaven and Earth. “But,” he continued, “I have a solution.”

Several questioning eyebrows went up.

“You see, I represent Heavenly Investments Incorporated. We’ll relieve you of your earthly burdens – which will be useless soon – so you can help the poor and the downtrodden. This, my friends,” said in a conspiratorial tone, “will help you enter Paradise.” He went on to explain – in many words and with considerable passion – how the Bible taught them to look after those less fortunate than them. He spoke for a full hour, finishing with: “Get rid of your worldly riches! Now is the time and here is the opportunity! Heavenly Investments is here, ready to accept your earthly burden of soon-to-be useless money. Act now! Salvation is at hand!”

People often think about the inhabitants of places like Rolbos tend to be naive – and sometimes they’re right. But Pastor Vic had never been to Rolbos, so one may excuse him for not understanding their way of having fun.

“Is it true,” Vetfaan asked innocently, “that Paradise is a wonderful place? Pearly gates and streets of gold? Choirs singing all day long? With many mansions for believers?”

“Of course,” Pastor Vic said, “and you can all be there by giving away the anchors that bind you to this world. The more ye shall give, the more ye shall receive. That’s what’s written and that’s what you believe.”

“But…” Gertruida held up a hand. “with all those pearls and golden highways…the property tax must be astronomical?”

“And,” Vetfaan added timidly, “the municipal accounts can’t be free. Who does the garbage collecting and sweeps the sidewalks? I mean: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it?”

“What about dog licences? We can’t go without Vrede, after all. We don’t want him expelled simply because he transgresses some laws.” Servaas leant over to pat Vrede’s head, knowing how upsetting the conversation must be for his doggy mind. “Without money to pay for his licence, our poor dog is doomed.”

“Well, there is an upside. With all the criminals downstairs, the police force would only have to direct the traffic. And can you believe the savings when you don’t need burglar bars, alarm systems and security guards everywhere?” Kleinpiet’s nephew lived in Johannesburg and had phoned him about the student unrests. “At least everybody will know everything, so no students either. Stiil, without our savings we’d never be able to afford the occasional beer – not with our own brewery being sold to the Belgians. The prices are sure to increase…”

The Rolbossers had been worried about this ever since they heard the news. Kleinpiet’s last sentence made them all pat their wallets: no matter what the price might be, beer was an essential part of living – even in heaven.

Pastor Victor stared at the group in total unbelief. Were they poking fun at him?

“Let me put it this way,” Oudoom finally said, “Heavenly Investments Inc. may be on the right track – albeit for all the wrong reasons. I propose we do the right thing and run the gentleman out of town. I think it’s our heavenly duty to do it with grace and kindness – and if that doesn’t work, we’ll trade an eye for an eye and steal his car.”

It is, indeed, said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.This is especially true when imparting good advice. And Pastor Vic, it must be said, was a good receiver.

Gertruida summed it up as they watched the trail of dust disappearing toward Grootdrink. “And that, Oudoom, is the Christian way of living: to discern the truth from stupidity. You’ve preached so often from Proverbs, telling us about wisdom and foolishness. I think you can begin to relax now – we’re almost there.”

The Rolbossers trudged back to the counter, feeling they had done well that morning. But Oudoom knew it was only a passing phase. Come Saturday, and they’d be shouting at the ref once more – just like all good believers do when they remember to be normal once in a while.