Weekly Photo Challenge: Local Faces


South Africa has many faces, all of them local and all of them precious. In Cape Town the mood is light and smiles welcome you, inviting you to come in.

IMG_0218.JPGIn the Kalahari, !Oushe is more serious as he imparts age-old wisdoms to a boy on the verge of manhood.IMG_0288_edited-1.jpgHis name is Kobus, and he’s preparing the snoek – fresh from the cold Atlantic – for a family feast in Namaqualand.


The descendents of the original Nama people are proud of their heritage. You’ll never get lost in this arid landscape: the Riemvasmakers are all too keen to spoil you with unselfish hospitality and will gladly point out the right route to your destination.IMG_4739.JPG

You’ll find Sefanja in the middle of nowhere, where his neat little ‘garage’ is constructed of sticks, stone and wire. Whistling an age-old tune, he can fix a punctured tyre in no time. IMG_5712.JPGThe best, most famous ‘face’ of South Africa, is quite possibly not human at all. No matter where or what or how you are right now, this is the picture that tells you where ‘home’ is. It is timeless and precious, friendly and welcoming, and it’ll always invite you in.

The Circus Lion of Society

2B66E2C400000578-0-image-a-56_1439753878897.jpg“Isn’t it strange how some people manage to convince themselves that they  – or their deeds – are invisible? Fact is: the things you have done and said in the past, remain as historical facts. And, what’s more, we live in a digital age in which information is not only freely available, but it also spreads at the press of a button.”

“Ja, Gertruida, that is true for Trump and Zuma. No matter how much they’d like to bury the past under a heap of horse manure, there just aren’t enough horses around to help them out. Their actions – or lack thereof – remain as timeless accusations against their characters. It simply won’t fade away as the days and months roll by – in fact, they become more visible.”

“Society,” Gertruida pouts like she does when she’s in her cynical mood, “has become a circus lion, Vetfaan. We’ve been cowed into subjection, tortured to submission and dominated into impassive insensitivity.Where is that steadfast honesty and integrity our forefathers were so famous for….”

“At least some of them,” Vetfaan interjects, ignoring Gertruida’s disapproving frown.

“…and fought for so hard?” Gertruida ignores the taunt. “And, let me remind you: this never was a white or brown or black issue. Sure, we had some very bad apples spread widely through the development of our country, but somehow our spirit of adventure always had a foundation of justice to it. The Great Trek and the Freedom Struggle had more in common than meets the eye: both were quests for freedom from oppression and both were driven by men and women who sought civil justice. The methods differed, but the basic premise was the same.

“Somewhere along the line, however, we always seem to muddle things up. Power corrupts, Vetfaan, and that’s the bottom line. Too much power ends up in the very same oppression we tried to escape in the first instance.”

“That’s when we become circus lions?” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow.

“Sure. A lion is a vicious animal, a superb hunter and known as the king of the jungle. Then man comes along with a whip and beats the natural instincts out of him. The lion submits, forgets who and what he was, and becomes a plaything – a party trick to amuse the crowd. If the lion believed in himself, he’d easily overpower the man with the whip – he’d snap the ringmaster in two, jump out of the ring and go back to being a lion. But the poor animal has lost the will to fight. He’d rather jump through a few hoops to earn his measly dinner of donkey chops than roam free and live off kudu steaks.”

“Okay, so we’ve become a nation of cowards. What’s next?”

Gertruida stares at her friend for a second or two before answering.

“Time. That’s the answer. That, and the power of history. Lions don’t keep record of who growled what and when – they lack the skill of understanding history. And to them there’s no yesterday and no tomorrow – they eat, hunt and sleep as and when the need arises. We, on the other hand, cannot escape the past and are very much aware of the future.

“Nations – throughout history – have gone through periods of oppression. There have been autocrats, dictators and madmen throughout the ages, who’d thought their whips would be enough to keep the lion of society at bay.” She sighs, orders another beer and shrugs. “Name one empire – one single leader – who has survived it’s own injustices? Don’t even bother answering that, Vetfaan, we both know the answer.”

“So America and South Africa are in the same boat?”

“No, my friend. We are at the point where the lion is about to snap the whip in two. America’s circus is still in training…”

The Sad Demise of the Acrid Empire



Credit: bbc.co.uk

“This thing with Mr Gordhan is simply mind boggling,” Vetfaan says as he puts down the newspaper. “Every time the government wants to bugger up the already-dead economy, they trump up some charges against the Minister of Finance. He now has to appear in court on short notice, while the case against the president – many years old –  is being studiously ignored. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Servaas shrugs. “What’s new, Vetfaan? What with quotas in sports, black economic empowerment and the burning down of universities, corruption and crime, the country is bleeding to death, anyway. Professionals have fled the country, the academics are following. Our president, the father of the nation, is too afraid to say anything about student protests and when he does, he simply says it’s a problem.”

“That’s why the Acrid Empire always fails, you guys. It’s a matter of time.” Gertruida has an enigmatic twist of her lips – is it a smile? “And if you don’t understand nature, you’ll never grasp the fact that the government is teetering about, waiting for the inevitable knockout..”


“Okay, I’ll tell you…”


In the beginning, the immature Acrid individuals roam about independently, making no impact on the environment. The days are lazy, with plenty to eat and time to explore. It’s a great time, with no threat offered and no threat lurking.

Of course, with so much time on their hands, they multiply – what else? More and more individuals  result in more and more and more individuals. Darwin stated that the fittest survive at their peril – once a critical mass has developed, it’d destroy the species. Too many lions, for instance, will hunt out the food supply in no time, simply because their strength is their skill in hunting. Result? The hunter has nothing left to hunt; end of the hunter…  Ergo: the very same strength which promises survival, also ensures demise.

The Acrid’s strength – and thus their weakness – is their ability to destruct. They do not respect the environment, do not attempt to maintain civil order, abhor any form of discipline and will never be interested in education. Their destructive behaviour overrrides everything and forces their neighbours to flee or starve to death. They neither understand the need for justice, nor do they care about moral values.

For some queer reason, it is wrong to criticise them – one will be called a bigot or scolded for selfishness. The liberal line of thought is that they were here first and therefore have the right to live as they’ve always done. The conservatives, on the other hand, point to the fact that, where  Acrids have been, nothing remains intact. It’s a debate that will never be settled: the Acrids are here to stay.

Lasly, Acrid society is not known to contribute to the environment in any way. Their homes are temporary; once they have destroyed everything around them, they move on to seek new places to attack.

But in the end – at last – Acrids are instrumental in their own destruction, simply because there is nothing left for them to devour. They’ve stripped the land clean of everything, crippled the economy and caused untold hardship for those unfortunate enough to have crossed their path. Their ever-increasing numbers make it impossible to sustain their way of life because they have become too numerous, their opportunities too scarce and they end up as hungry (and as dead) as those they have deprived of the most basic rights nature affords all.


Gertruida sits back with a frown. “And so, my friends, Acrid’s strength is Acrid’s weakness. Destruction begets destruction, leading to demise. It’s a law of nature.”

Servaas gapes at her. “Sheesh, Gertruida! That’s terrible! What are you talking about?”

“Our society,” Vetfaan says as he orders another beer. “You know Gertruida loves talking in riddles. I bet Acrid is an acronym for something.” He scowls for a moment, then brightens. “What about Aggressive Cultural, Religious, and Industrial Destruction?”

“Oh, you guys!” Gertruida throws up her hands in despair. “Not at all! How can you even think like that? I’m talking about Acrids. Real ones.”

“And what, pray, might that be?”

acridid01.jpg“The little insects Hermann August Krauss named back in the late 1800’s, you dummies. They belong to the family of Orthoptera and you see them every day. Acrididae are grasshoppers or locusts, Servaas. And I only used them to illustrate a point.

“Students go to varsity to become more skilled. If they learn destruction, they’ll destroy – because that’s what they believe is the purpose of studying. They’ll become skilled destroyers and more and more will join until there are no universities left to teach morals and ethics and discipline.

“The same thing is happening in some parts of our government. Remember, there are none as blind as those who refuse to see.

“Of course, the curriculum and instinct of destruction become a national oxymoron – the destroyers will, in the end, have nothing left to do. They are destroying their very future, just like the Acrids do.”

“You saying that our society is infested by grasshoppers?” Boggel, who always tries to be moderate and even politically correct, shakes his head. “That smacks of racism, Gertruida.”

“I. Was. Talking. About. Locusts.” Gertruida, clearly irritated, glares at the little barman. “A natural phenomenon, Boggel. A law of nature. Race has – for goodness sakes! – nothing to do with it!”

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”


Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

The Horizon Hunter #9

“What a sad, sad story…” Servaas watches as Mo gets into the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer. Sammie arranged a lift as far as Upington, from where Mo  will travel by air to Luanda.

“In a way, it’s happy, as well.” Gertruida tries not to look too smug. Did she not – after all – do a splendid job at unravelling the mystery of Mo’s real father? And was not her efforts worth it, just to see how much the news had meant to the man who never knew his father – who, in fact, believed him to be dead? “He’s quite excited about meeting the old man. Far as we know, he is still in good physical shape but Dr Lubovski said he had lost the will to live. When I phoned her this morning, she couldn’t hide her excitement – Mo is exactly what the old man needs right now.”

“But think of all those wasted years! Poor Gerhardus thought his wife had deserted him and never knew about his son. He didn’t even want to come back to South Africa…”

“Yes, Servaas, that’s true. But then – you must remember that, in his mind, he was abandoned by all. Why return if there’s nothing to return to? Now, of course, things might change. Mo promised to keep us up to date, didn’t he?”

“And Mo? What about his journey through life? So complicated, so…unnecessary.”

Gertruida flashes an understanding smile – the one mothers use to soothe an upset child.

“No, not unneccessary, Servaas. No journey through Life is without a purpose. There’s always a rhyme and reason.  Did you have a look at Mo’s book?”

“The Song of Life? The verses he wrote in isolation? No, I didn’t have a chance; you were in it all the time.”

“Well, it’s better than Rick Warren, more profound than Mitch Albom. I told him I’ll send it to a publisher, who – I’m sure – will latch onto it like a leech. It’s international bestseller material, I’m sure.

“Now, without the way his life turned out to be, he’d never have been able to write it. And that shepherd, Petrus, contributed remarkably much to his insight. And…don’t forget that farmer. It was no coincidence that the two of them met up – no coincidence at all! Now Mo has a half-share in a Karoo farm, a father to meet and a whole new life ahead of him.”

Servaas is still not comfortable with it all. “What about Maria, his mother?”

“Ah, yes, the mystery of it all! Who knows what fate…or destiny…has in store there?  Funny, Mo never asked about her – did you notice? Auntie Florrie brought him up and after that he took to the streets. He never knew a mother…not a real one, poor thing.”

Vetfaan brightens. “Maybe that Russian doctor….?

“Shhh, Vetfaan, don’t tempt fate. But wouldn’t it be nice, though?”


And so, in the end, they waved the bus off and returned to Rolbos. Mo was en route to his last horizon, and whatever answer he finds there, it’ll be the end of his search – for now..

Gertruida says Life is much like a good story: every ending is a beginning and not all endings are happy ones. Most endings, according to her, are not endings at all but  mere pauses while the next chapter is born.

And sometimes, she says, the best stories do just that: allow the audience to make up the next chapter – for there’ll always be a next, and a next, and a next to follow. Which is why, when the dust on the road to Upington settles down at last, the group returns to Boggel’s Place in a pensive mood. What will Mo find in Angola? Will he return? And what about his father?

“At least they’ll be able to talk about prisons and being locked up. Or compare notes on interrogation techniques. Or feeling rejected?”

“You are one facetious, cynical, insensitive son of a female dog, Vetfaan!” Gertruida’s smile, however, tells him she understands.  Vetfaan is only doing what most South Africans do when they’re upset – joking has become the best survival tool since 1994. “Did you notice? Mo didn’t use his Sulliman surname when he introduced himself – he said: ‘Cronje’. And that’s how I realised what he really needed – he was  searching for his roots. He was looking…for himself.”

Servaas nods. “We all are, aren’t we? Trying to understand our own stories, I mean. Figuring out the next chapter. Without it, we cannot love.”

He gets a surprised look from Gertruida, who has picked up her handbag to look for a Kleenex.

                                                                     The End



The Horizon Hunter #8

images (23).jpg

Cuban Prison

Mo seemed to have rested well that night. He dreamed about a huge green pasture where he and Petrus looked after some very fat sheep. They were chatting and laughing a lot. That’s why, when he walked into Boggel’s Place the next morning, his trademark smile was firmly in place.

Gertruida then surprised – astounded! – him with her news.

One must never underestimate Gertruida’s abilities: as an ex-intelligence service agent, she has kept contact with many an old colleague – and they, with her. Recently, for instance, she was approached to give her opinion about a report a profiler had drawn up about the CEO of the national broadcaster. Not only could she expand on the report, but she also advised how to get rid of the man. Although it is not common knowledge at this stage, her strategy was spot-on.

Be that as it may, Gertruida only waited for the usual ‘good-mornings’ to quieten down before telling the group that she had been rather busy during the night.

“I contacted one of my old friends at Intelligence, who referred me to a certain Pablo de Nobriga in Luanda. He said Pablo would know, or find out – and he did.”


During the action of Task Force Zulu, Gerhardus Cronje got detached from his patrol during a skirmish. It didn’t take long for the soldier to find himself surrounded by FAPLA troops and he was forced to surrender. The Cuban advisors were excited to get their hands on a prisoner of war and decided to keep his presence in Luanda under wraps while they interrogated the soldier.

He, of course, knew very little of strategic importance, but still it took many weeks before they believed him. Gerhardus was then transferred to Cuba, to be kept in jail as a trump card if ever the need to exchange prisoners of war arose. There, in the cells of  Combinado del Este prison in Havana, he remained for the next fifteen long years. It wasn’t quite clear whether his long stay was the result of a bureaucratic bungle or maybe an oversight while the officials concentrated on the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in the end Gerhardus seemed to have been forgotten – for a while.

During his sojourn in prison, Gerhardus kept himself busy by learning Spanish and Portuguese, while teaching English to the inmates. The conditions were atrocious, the food horrible and regular beatings followed any transgressions. Despite this, the authorities took note of the prisoner – who seemed to have accepted his fate, obeyed the rules and kept the other inmates occupied with his language lessons. This, they thought, was benefiting the prisoners as well as making their task as wardens a bit easier.

Gerhardus was later ‘promoted’ to the Chief Warden’s office, where he helped with the admin – especially regarding correspondence with their Headquarters and the government. So trusted was he that he eventually had a cell to himself – not as solitary confinement, but as a reward for services rendered and good conduct. Here he had a bed to himself, a minute window and a few books. It took the chief warden – Lt. Col. Carlos Pedro Quintana – several months to become friendly with the prisoner, but Gerhardus’s easy demeanor eventually won the guard over.

Then, when he was sure it was safe to ask, Gerhardus approached Quintana with a request. Please, may he send a Christmas card to his wife? He’d had no contact with her since he was taken prisoner, he said, and she would not know whether he is alive or not. Surprisingly, the warden agreed. A card was sent, carefully worded so that the South African authorities wouldn’t know who sent it – Gerhardus signed it simply ‘Gerkie’, knowing Maria would understand. Two months later it was returned, undelivered because nobody of that name lived at the address. The addressee was no longer there – and there was no forwarding address.

“It happens.” Quintana said in his abrupt manner. “Women cannot be trusted. The man goes away, the woman starts looking around. I see it every day” The warden tried to smile. “But, like you say: many fishes in the sea.”

The news almost destroyed Gerhardus Cronje. His wife…gone? Back to her parents? He tried another letter, which was never answered. Neither the next or the next. He didn’t know that there was no postal delivery in Atlantis and that his efforts to contact Maria simply ended up in an incinerator in Cape Town.

In the end, Gerhardus resigned himself to the fact that Maria had moved on. With no means to contact her,she must have assumed him dead. The soldier did try to convince Quintana to contact Defence Headquarters in Pretoria, but that effort almost got him locked up in one of the dark holes they used for solitary confinement. His presence in Cuba was a secret – Cuba repeatedly denied holding any South African soldiers prisoner. Any official enquiries would have resulted in a diplomatic scandal.

After about ten years in Cuba, Gerhardus gave up hope. By that time he firmly believed that he had lost Maria forever and that his country of birth had forgotten all about him. The only place he knew  was the prison and the only language he spoke, was Spanish and Portuguese.

Quintana called him to the office one night late.

“Look, the war is drawing to a close. Nobody won, but the hostilities are ceasing. Luanda needs somebody with knowledge of Afrikaans to negotiate an exchange of prisoners.”

Gerhardus grabbed at the chance to get back on African soil. He was under the impression that he’d be one of the prisoners to be released or exchanged and gave his full cooperation. Once in Luanda, however, he found out how badly mistaken he was.

Gerhardus was taken to a small room. A a chair and telephone-like instrument on a little table were the only furnishings. When he asked, he was told to listen with the earpiece, and translate whatever he heard in Portuguese. The negotiators on the Angolan side was worried that the Afrikaans-speaking delegation would use their own language when talking amongst themselves and thus put the Angolan side at a disadvantage; so they had bugged the table at which the South Africans would sit. Still, Gerhardus believed his freedom was imminent and still he cooperated fully.


“So, you see Mo, your father was very much alive at that point, believing he would be returned to his country. The negotiations went well, the exchange of prisoners was arranged…and your father was returned to the jail in Lunada. Why he wasn’t included in the deal, is a mystery. Maybe both sides held back what they believed to be an ace in the hole.

“There are reports, stating Gerhardus’s anger and frustration at the time. The friendly, docile man became obtuse and aggressive. Emotional outbursts followed and he had to be confined to a padded cell, which only served to make matters worse.  Eventually, believing him to be going insane, he was referred to a psychiatric institute, the Hospital Psiquiátrico De Luanda.

 “There he was placed under the care of Dr Veronica Lubovski, a Russian psychiatrist, who had stayed behind when the Russian advisors returned to Moscow. She had fallen in love with Africa, the balmy climate and the lush countryside.

“I tried finding out more, Mo, but the trail almost ends there. Dr Lubovski, it seems, is a rather wealthy woman and she owns one of the largest banana plantations in Angola. Well, the hospital records show that she had convinced the authorities – this was in 1995 – that her patient would be better off under her personal care and in a more relaxed environment. So, almost the last traces of Gerhardus Cronje I found, was that he was discharged from hospital, and that he now resides on the farm of Dr Lubovski. I tried to find out more, but other than that he is still alive and living there, I cannot really tell.”


By the time Gertruida had finished, Mo was as white as a sheet and completely shocked.

” My father? Alive? Insane?”

“Yes, alive, Mo…oh, and there’s one more thing…”

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #7

Copy-1-of-IMG_1418_1-300x225.jpgBy this time, Gertruida had a puzzled frown – something unusual for the woman who used her formidable logic to analyze issues. Servaas noticed this and leant over.

“What’s wrong, Gertruida?”

“I think I know…” She whispered back. ” But I think I know how this must end.’

Mo didn’t notice the exchange. He was lost in his narration; the pain of remembering isolating him in a bubble of words.


“I must have stood next to that road for half the night. At first the traffic was fast and heavy, but later – when the night’s cold had already almost frozen my uplifted thumb – the stream of cars became a trickle…and then, nothing. I had almost given up hope, when a dilapidated Datsun stopped. The man leant over, opened the door and told me to get the hell in, it was cold.”

The Datsun belonged to Frederik Claaste, a farmer eking out a living in the barren Karoo near Prieska. After the usual chat – introductions and weather – Frederik asked the obvious question.

“I’m not sure, Oom.” Mo, indeed, had no idea where he was going. He needed time; he needed to escape the festering loneliness inside his mind; he needed to make a new beginning somewhere, where skin colour and politics didn’t determine your future. He tried to explain and it wasn’t until Beaufort West that Frederik finally grasped the magnitude of Mo’s problems.

“So you see yourself as a martyr, then?”

Mo thought about this. Yes, he was half an orphan, half a Christian, half white and…completely lost. He had contributed – in his small, unique way – to end apartheid and had endured a lengthy and painful interrogation. Did that make him a martyr? He shook his head.

“No, Oom, I don’t suppose do. I did what I did because I believed in it. In reality, I had no choice, did I? I’m not sure about God, but it seems as if I was dealt a losing hand of cards. I’ll just have to get used to it.”


Three Sisters. Credit: Johannkochart.com

And then, with the early morning sun peeking over the silhouette of the Three Sisters, Frderik stopped next to the road to address the dishevelled young man next to him.

“Look, Son, Life will take you where you have to be. Oh, you can wriggle this way and crawl that way, but in the end you’ll arrive at what was destined for you right from the start. Everything you’ve lived through have contributed to where you are now and it’s no coincidence that I happened to pick you up.

“Us farmers in the Karoo have to learn – at an early age – that you cannot unravel the mystery of Life at all. Hardship will come, even tragedy. We stare at a cloudless sky and watch our flocks starve. But then, when it rains, the dams fill up and the Karoo turns green. There’s no logic to it and no way of explaining why – but we know there’s a season for grieving and a season to rejoice. The point is this: whatever season you are in – it’ll pass. Remember that. Laughter is great, but it’s temporary. Tears are sad, but it doesn’t last forever.

“So, you’ve had a hard time? I’m really sorry to hear that. But…you are a traveller on a predestined path, Mo. You’re on your way. There,” Frederik pointed at the horizon, “somewhere, you’ll find peace. You’ll understand. And then you’ll realise that everything had a purpose…”

The rest of the journey passed in silence as Mo contemplated those words. What, then, had been the purpose? Why the convoluted path? Could God or Allah or whichever deity reigned over everything, not have chosen a straighter, more logical route?

“You’ll have to stay.” Frederik’s firm tone made told Mo he had no choice. “There is a cottage I don’t use and you can help me with the sheep. And…you’ll meet Petrus Kruiper, the wisest man you’ll ever  get to know. He’s the shepherd. He knows everything.”


Gertruida smiled at this irony. How often did wisdom and cleverness not get equated with university degrees and professors – and how seldom was that true?  She completely understood Frederik’s statement – a simple shepherd; a man living so near nature, would have been just the right medicine for Mo’s troubled mind.

“Yes, I can understand that,” she interrupted Mo’s story. “Human nature and everyday hardships combine to confuse most of us, most of the time. But for an unschooled person, somebody who doesn’t want to analyze and  measure the logic of Life, events unfold as they must. People like that lead happy lives because they don’t ask questions – life goes on. Tragedy and laughter are essential to make us realise what joy and grief Life may hold. It’s the contrast that paints the picture.”

Sometimes Gertruida’s remarks confuse her listeners – that was one of them.

Servaas ignored the interjection. “So you became a shepherd?”

“Yes. And I met Petrus. He became a father to me when I needed it most.”

“Oh? And what did he teach you?”

“Lots of things. To journey through life. To distinguish between asking questions and searching. There is a huge difference in the meaning and purpose of those two. It took time, of course, for me to grasp that, but he was patient. He told me about his San ancestors and how they were almost wiped out. And he said that it is in humility that greatness is found. Acceptance is better than rebellion – especially when fate steers you in an uncertain direction. That’s why, he said, the sacrifices of his forefathers were not in vain. His family, he said, would rise again to claim their rightful place in society; but it’ll take time. Many years. Possibly decades or centuries – but he doesn’t care. Their path leads to a future horizon and it was his duty to walk that road with his head held high.”

“He taught you to believe?”


“And then…?”

“He took me to a place in the Kalahari. A secret place next to a fountain. And he told me to stay there until everything settled in my mind.  ‘Write down your thoughts, Mo. Write a book. And read those thoughts over and over again to determine whether they are true or not.'” Mo’s smile was back. “So I did. Called my book ‘The Song of Life’ and filled it with verses. And when I was finished – it took me years – I returned to Frederik’s farm.

“He was quite old then and struggled to manage everything. I offered to help. He told me it was destined to be like that. So I worked on the farm while his strength slowly waned.” Mo shrugged. “He died last month and we buried him next to the sheep kraal, just like he wanted. He left the farm to me and Petrus. I told Petrus to get all of his extended family there and settle them on the farm – he has two brothers and a sister. And I realised he had been right: his belief in the future of his family had been vindicated. As for me? I realised my time to continue my journey had come. I mustn’t ask questions, but I must also not stop searching.

“And that’s how I ended up here…”

At that point, Gertruida got up with that look on her face. “You stay right here in Rolbos, Mo. I have a few calls to make. Hopefully, I’ll have some answers for you tomorrow…”

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #6


Cape Town, 1998

Mo’s smile was gone by then. Remembering the conversation with Achmad had been bad enough – but talking about it was worse.

“You know, that man – the one who helped me get a name – well, he listened to my concerns and I remember him sitting back with a condescending smile. He told me – rather bluntly, I must add – to grow up.”


“What’s your problem, Mo? Do you think you’d get anywhere with the current government under the current conditions? We’re the in-between people, son. We’re not black. We’re not white. We’re a minority in numbers as well as political importance.

“Political power belongs to the north – to the Zulus and the Xhosas and the others. In the Cape you have a different racial spread, resulting in our opinions being trashed by the majority. The only power we have, is the power of money – but how do we get that? With Black Empowerment, the big money quite naturally goes up north.

“But we? We have gangs and drugs and a lot of very clever people. The government is made up of men and women with very little experience and almost no insight in the long-term expectations of common people; they want to dig into the cookie jar as deep as they can get, while they are in a position of power. So, influential businessmen – and not the white variety – are all too happy to voice their support for the government and they do it loudly. They get rewarded with contracts that earn them millions.

“And how do they ingratiate themselves with the powers that be? By cutting them in – shuffling a generous share under the table, see? It’s the most logical thing to do.

“That’s why some of us in the Cape use our brains and play the game. James has read the script, Mo. If he doesn’t play ball, he’s out on his ear.”

So what was the price of integrity, Mo asked? Ahmad laughed at that.  “Integrity? She’s a prostitute, Mo. Throw money at her and she lies down with a smile.”


“I can’t remember leaving Ahmad’s house. When I calmed down, I was walking along Adderley Street and I looked around. Cape Town’s streets were filled with litter and beggars. There were whores everywhere, giving me a hopeful eye. I thought back on the bad old days and remembered how clean the place used to be, how orderly everything functioned.

“And I felt the way Cape Town looked that evening.

Sea Point Promenade.jpg“Later, I sat down on the promenade and watched the white foam on the waves roll in. I was, I realised, a nobody. I had no father, no schooling, no prospects. I was part Christian and part Muslim. My genes were a mosaic; my name borrowed from an uncle. And the lofty ideals of freedom and fairness? Ah yes, those were only nice ideas, stuff only kids believe in.”

Realisation hit hard. Those terrible days in the damp and lonely cell; the nights of torture and his steadfast refusal to tell the authorities anything – it had been a pointless rebellion. He had been the protector of a system that was destroying the country. Yes, Mandela was still there, but his term of office was almost over – and who will the corrupt government appoint then? There were no great leaders to fill Madiba’s shoes, were there?

In his dark thoughts, three facts stood out quite clearly: the struggle had been in vain and the future promised only a decay of what was still left. That…and the point that he was a nobody with nowhere to go. His loyalty to the cause and dedication to change had born the most despicable fruit. His life, he realised, had been wasted.

“I went home that night. Told my mother that I needed time out. Explained how I felt. She actually understood, much to my surprise. Then I packed a rucksack, took the little money I had, and walked out of Atlantis.

“I’ve never been back.”


On the balmy evening of 6 March 1998, Cape Town rocked to the music of Sixto Rodriguez in the sold-out Bellville Velodrome. He sang about escaping reality. It was a stunning performance by the enigmatic and improbable artist and the audience loved it.

Outside Cape Town, a young man stood next to the N2, his thumb in the air and tears on his cheeks. He didn’t sing about escaping – he was attempting to.

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #5

000_ARP1530688.jpg“Being a free man – or a free youth – was wonderful. I went back to Aunty Florrie’s house and found out a lot had changed in the meantime. Mom called me aside that evening.”


“It’s been fifteen, sixteen years since your father left us, Mo. He never returned from that operation into Angola and all I know is what they tell me: missing in action. Now that it’s safe to make official enquiries, I’m still not sure what had happened to him. I must assume he’s dead – the army even offered me a pension of sorts.

“So now I’ve met this man, James February. A good man, Mo, who loves me. We want to get married.”

Mo thought it was a great idea. Mary Cronje, his mother, was not a young girl any longer – she deserved to have some love and joy in her life. Mo, however, couldn’t get himself to accept James as a father. Having grown up without such a privilege, he had learnt to fend for himself, think for himself and set his own boundaries. Anyway, his real father – of whom his mother occasionally made mention – remained an enigmatic figure in the back of his mind. He’d fantasised about the man; conflicting thoughts imagining a fearless soldier as opposed to somebody defending apartheid. At times he’d wish he had known him, at others he despised the very idea.

James February tried his best to befriend the rebellious youth, and succeeded to some degree. After all, James was a prominent political figure, somebody who commanded respect from the community. And James, knowing as he did what trauma the youth had lived through, treated Mo with great care and compassion.

Mo was now almost seventeen and James tried in vain to enroll his stepson in a technicon or even a university – but with no formal schooling, it was impossible. The solution was to appoint Mo as a personal assistant and chauffeur. At least, James reckoned, that’d keep the boy busy.

Mo’s old network of friends and contacts also welcomed him back after his imprisonment. Mo was the hero, the one who refused to divulge anything about their activities despite the severe interrogation. For a while, Mo was quite the toast of the town and feted as a minor celebrity.

The elections of 1994 saw the inevitable change in government. James was appointed on the Mayoral Committee of Cape Town. The future, it seemed, could not be anything but rosy. Had it not been for Mo’s old network, it might have been.

The problem surfaced one evening in 1998 at a local shebeen where Mo and his old friends were having a drink and chatting about the bad old days. By then, they could laugh at the hardship and the many close shaves they had had, and Mo’s story was told over and over again.

“It’s just a pity things are getting out of hand again.” This remark by Steven Plaatjies resulted in a sullen silence. Yes, it was true. The politicians were in it for their own good and rumours of rampant corruption were common. “The more things change, my friends, the more they stay the same.”

“I’ve heard some stories,” Keith Petersen nodded. “And it’s not just the ministers and high-ups. Local government is equally bad. If this goes on, the government will lose Cape Town.”

“Impossible!” Mo rose to his feet, shaking his head in disbelief. “James is working hard to improve conditions in the Cape. I know – I’m with him all the time.”

Keith laid a placating hand on Mo’s shoulder. “Listen, Mo, we’ve been friends for a long time and I wouldn’t want that to change. But…you’ll have to open your eyes, man! Already there’s talk about the possibility of the Soccer Cup coming to South Africa in 2010. Some say it’ll definitely happen. And who’s meeting with construction companies all the time? James! And why? Because he’s worried about a stadium? No way, my brother. The big guys are making deals – big deals – that’d line their pockets very nicely, thank you. Tell me Mo, you’re the chauffeur. Where have you been taking James the last few weeks?”

Mo shook his head. James? Corruption? What were they talking about? Yes, James must have visited all the major construction companies in the Cape, but he thought…

“Look, these things are planned years in advance. Remember Lucy Adams, the auntie who’s a cleaner in the premier’s office? Well, she has to throw out the trash every day. And boy! The stuff she finds in the wastepaper baskets! No we,” Kieth pointed at the rest of the group, “didn’t want to talk about it – especially not you – but now it’s become too much. You’ll have to help us, Mo, otherwise everything we fought for will go down the drain.

“You see, apparently the premier, the mayor and certain officials – James is amongst them – are skimming a lot of money from different projects. But now they’ve become greedy – they want more and they think they’re untouchable. The big prize is the Soccer World Cup, with Cape Town being one of the host cities. It seems as if there are people out there that’d do anything t make that happen. They want to get a piece of the action while most people are still wondering if the soccer will really come our way. The way I read it – it’s already in the bag. Money, Mo, is what is at stake. The World Cup is a mere sideshow.

“Aunty Lucy is great and she finds papers. But you, Mo, are right on the spot. Keep your eyes and ears open. If our suspicions prove to be correct, we’ll have to go high to stop these corrupt deals. Maybe…even to to the president.”

Steven Plaatjies agreed. “Mo, you’ve been tortured. We’ve fought hard. In the old days, we ran around selling dagga – that was nothing but a way to survive. Then they promised us a better life – and have you seen any difference? I haven’t. It’s because our politicians don’t care a owl’s hoot about us common people. They sit in their air-conditioned offices, wheeling and dealing and filling their wallets. We have to stop this.”

And Mo, only barely an adult, found the tears welling up. Did not James buy that big BMW just the other day? And did he not promise a holiday in Mauritius over Christmas? What about the diamond earrings he gave Mary?

The next day after work, he visited Achmad Sulliman. If anybody knew about crime in Cape Town, the drug lord of the city was sure to know. Achmad was careful how he chose his words, but he was as honest as he could have been with the boy he had rescued as a baby.

That was the night Mo’s journey really started.

 To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”


Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.


Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…