Thou Shalt have no Statues

Credit: iol.co.za

Credit: iol.co.za

“First Rhodes, now they’ve defaced Gandhi as well.” Gertruida sighs as she folds the newspaper. “Called him a racist, and poured paint over the statue. I know he used the maligned K-word, but so did the rest of the world in the 20’s. I’m not saying it’s right, but context is important. There is no question that racism was the norm in earlier times – it is not logical to apply today’s norms to the years when the world still struggled with the concept of equality.”

“It is strange,” Boggel adds, “that races have taken such a long time – centuries – to get to this point in time. Even now the system is flawed. Previously, Whites were in charge. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.”

“But why use skin colour to define identity? Look at us – we’re a mixed lot. Sammie is a Jew, with his own culture and beliefs. Mister Stevens is more English than a cup of tea, and he doesn’t know a Marino from a Dorper. The fact that he shares the same amount of pigment we have in our skins, doesn’t make him sing De la Rey all day.” Shaking his head, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “One day people will identify with their culture – not their skin. That’ll be the start of real democracy.”

“Ag, Vetfaan, then they’ll start saying the Xhosas are better than the Vendas, or the Zulus are superior to the Sothos. Culture or skin, it doesn’t matter. It is human nature to want to be at the top of the ladder. Any excuse will do…”

“So – for now – we’ll just sit back quietly while they take down all the statues? First Rhodes, but soon Paul Kruger, Botha and dear old Queen Victoria?”

01300542702710141569413260945“Well,” Gertruida puts down her glass with a thump. “The Americans can be glad they don’t have the same situation over there. Remember Abe Lincoln? He made a speech in 1858, saying: ‘I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races.‘ His statue would have no chance over here!”

“Ja,” Oudoom agrees, “Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist and Reagan supported the Apartheid regime. If you want to talk about a flawed past, America is a good place to start.”

“Don’t forget about England. Or Germany. Or China…I can go on and on. There is no country with an unblemished past” Oudoom sits down gratefully, accepting the beer Boggel slides over the counter. “You know, I think God created diversity with a purpose. Instead of creating a one-dimensional herd of humans, He made us into a multitude of many-faceted societies, so that we can build on our strengths. What do we do? We use diversity to weaken. We emphasise differences of ideology and appearance in an attempt to prove superiority. A wise man once said it’s only a fool who judges history – the wise will learn from it. We simply fail to grasp that simple fact.”

“So what do you suggest, Oudoom? That we retain the statues that are offensive to others?” Gertruida smiles – there is no correct answer to the question, is there?

“I’m saying,” Oudoom says after thinking a while, “that we should either have statues…or not. In a hundred years or so, todays heroes may be seen as villains. And the outcasts of today might very well be seen as people who stood at the forefront of progress. Who knows? The point is that history will always be a subjective subject. It depends on the individual observer. Today we have the King Shaka airport – but in the future somebody will remember that his hands weren’t clean at all. Some ascribe the worst atrocities and human rights violations to the great Zulu king. Remember the mfecane?”

“So…no more statues? No more streets and towns named after struggle heroes?”

“History is a fickle thing, Gertruida. One should never forget that it is virtually impossible to reflect all sides of all stories in the past. Yes, there have been villians. We certainly had some very bad men and women who shaped the history we have to live with. But…that’s where the point about context comes in. Only when you consider all the angles of a specific event, can you judge people like Abe Lincoln or Paul Kruger or Ghandi. And, surprisingly, not only will you find that they did what they had to do, but that they may have contrinuted in some small way to a better world.”

“So you’re saying….?”

“Let those of pure mind cast the first stone. I mean, labelling Rhodes as a colonialist, sounds a bit racist to me…”

And so the discussion goes on and on. In the end they decide, quite wisely, not to erect any statues in Rolbos. The cost of removing such monuments could be spent much more wisely over the counter of Boggel’s Place. Peach brandy and peace are surely more acceptable than fighting over a piece of bronze.

Can we revive the Rainbow….Please?

Sometimes we need to turn off the TV, stop watching the horrors of civil strife…and consider the other side of the coin. Yes, there are deaths and abductions and religious conflict; and yes, we may despair at the hopelessness of it all.

But in the mess of politics and the mud of corruption – if you looked hard enough – you find little rays of hope.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blurred Memory

“…And that, son, is exactly what a desert elephant looked like. Close your eyes tightly, and imagine what a wonderful creature it used to be.”

begin 2004 080“Gee dad! Really? They used to live here?”

“Yep…right here, in the desert. It was a long time ago, when they were still protected.”b2

“Wow! I would have loved to see one.”

“They were quite magnificent. For a while it looked as if they might have been saved, But….”

b5“Aw no, dad! Don’t tell me…”

“I’m sorry, son, but they didn’t survive, I’m afraid.”

“And now, dad?”

b4“We can only imagine them.They once lived here…free and harmless. Only their memory lives on.”

“But I’ve never seen one, dad! I can’t remember something I’ve never seen!”

“That, my son, is true. Unfortunately the poachers didn’t care.”

When Pointing Religious Fingers becomes Dangerous

Credit: spiegel.de

Credit: spiegel.de

“Look at this,” Gertruida says as she points to her laptop screen. She’s just acquired a dongle – upsetting Servaas very much. However, once the term was explained to him, he did relax a bit. As an astute guardian of the town’s morals, he takes no chances. “They’re saying that Germanwings crash is Germany’s own 9/11.”

She reads the report stating that the copilot was a recent convert to Islam and that he deliberately ploughed into the mountain, killing all on board. “Apparently this man, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and flew the plane to destruction on purpose. If the suggestion that there is a link between his religion and the crash is true, it is a sad day for people of all faiths. I mean, would God command such a thing? No matter what you believe Him to be, surely killing innocent people, including babies, should be regarded as a sin. All life, after all, is sacred.”

“Ja, you’ll get two responses from government agencies in the next few days.” Kleinpiet loves urban legends – he says living in South Africa provides fertile ground for far-fetched ideas to grow. Lately he’s said a lot about how the officials remain silent about the 4000 jobs they’re cutting at PetroSa, the state refinery. He says the most dangerous tactic of any government is to say nothing. “Either they’ll do it the old-fashioned way and blame it on human error. You know: the co-pilot had a blackout, fell asleep or was mentally unstable. There must be a thousand ways to blame the crash on something unforeseen happening to the poor man. And the public would have no choice but to accept the official findings, because who can prove anything else? The only people to know what really happened, were those on board.

“Or, they’ll remain tight-lipped, feeding the public only enough to confuse the situation. Can you imagine the backlash in Germany – and the world – if Islam gets blamed? No government would encourage such instability within its borders.”

Facebook-page-in-support-of-Andreas-Lubitz“That may be true, Kleinpiet. But it also says here that the Islamic State is lauding Lubitz as a hero. That is enough to incite hatred already. I certainly hope it’s not true.”

“Ja,” Oudoom sighs, “beheading people and kidnapping westerners aren’t clever ways to promote the values of faith. If that crash has religious undertones, it could spark a lot of negativism towards Muslims who are sincere in their faith. Religious intolerance is a horrible thing. It’s caused wars in the past.”

“True, Oudoom. Most wars seem to have a religious or ideological basis. The Arab Conquests (632-732), the Crusades (1097-1291), the  Reformation Wars of the 16th century, Hitler’s stance against Jews…the list goes on. But…” and here Gertruida pauses dramatically, “the cause of war isn’t religion. It’s people. Neither the Quran nor the Bible commands us to kill each other. We may differ in our views, but in both doctrines there are more than enough to promote tolerance.

“The problem arises when some individuals start interpreting certain passages in a way to promote their own goals. That’s where the danger lies. It’s a matter of opinion – skewed as it might be – as opposed to religion, which directs us to harmony, not destruction.”

Vetfaan stares dolefully at the counter. “I like our isolation, Gertruida. Ever since you brought that dongle into our lives, we’ve been fed on a diet of bad news and conflict. I don’t want to be reminded of religious fanatics, social unrest and rising petrol prices. I want to talk about the drought and sheep. So, please, would you mind terribly much to keep that laptop at home?”

“Keeping the laptop at home won’t change what’s happening in the world, Vetfaan.” Her tone is soft, almost apologetic. “Events in the Alps do have an influence on us, even if it is indirectly. We can’t play ostrich all our lives.”

Oudoom holds up a hand. “Let’s not argue about the necessity of news – or not. Let’s think about the families and friends of the passengers who boarded that flight. We can’t change the world and neither can our arguments in this bar solve the question of why the plane crashed. But we can sympathise with the people who are directly involved.

“Blaming religion won’t solve the problem. The question to ask ourselves is: why would a normal, rational man be led astray to such an extent that he starts killing others? Why did radicalism seem so preferable? And the answer is simple: because people stopped caring about each other. Personal gain and personal glory are the matches to light that fire. If, in your quest, you happen to step on others, then that’s just too bad.

“So, a finger points back at the rest of humanity, as well. What are we doing to reflect the virtues of a kind and loving religion? Or has the world become so egocentric, so uncaring, that religion is something we fall back to only when we need something? What, my friends, do we do to live our faith?”

They fall silent after that. Copilot Lubitz may have crashed the plane on purpose, but – they realise – he might be only a symptom. If that is true, the disease is far too frightening to contemplate.

Wire-trapping the Past

Credit: bergsiggamefarm.co.za

Credit: bergsiggamefarm.co.za

Whenever the talk in Boggel’s Place turns to sheep farming (which is rather often), somebody will inevitably say something about wild dogs – those painted animals with the vicious hunting instincts. That they are a threat and capable of wreaking havoc, is above questioning, yet it is Vetfaan who usually gets up quietly to go and smoke his pipe outside. He knows not all vermin need to be shot on sight. No matter what their usual habits are and how much damage they have done in the past, he’d never forget the incident on his farm…

It happened towards the end of the 70’s, when he was a young lad on his father’s farm, but he can still recall those eyes when he found a wild dog caught in a wire snare out in the veld. Snares – as illegal as they were (and still are) – were used by some workers to trap small antelopes and rabbits. Of course Vetfaan’s father took a dim view of such practices, but this didn’t stop the trapping.

One day, while patrolling the fence around the farm, Vetfaan heard shrill yapping, a piercing cacophony of sound, emanating from a koppie just north of the fence. This was noman’s land, an arid wasteland where even the sparse Kalahari bushes didn’t attempt to grow, so Vetfaan climbed through the fence to investigate.

The wild dog had his foot caught in a wire snare and the animal must have endured torture for a considerable period of time. The animal was gaunt and in obvious distress. The howls of pain decreased to a whimper and Vetfaan approached as the animal cowered down on the ground. As usual on these patrols, Vetfaan was armed with his .22 rifle – in case he came across a mamba or some other danger.

There was only one way to address the situation. A few yards away from the animal, Vetfaan stopped to load the rifle. Putting the wild dog out of its misery was not only the humane thing to do, it would also prevent further stock losses on their farm. Vetfaan knew this. The wild dog, it seemed, also understood the inevitability of its demise. It lowered the once-proud head onto it’s trapped foot and waited. The wailing ceased.

In that eerie silence, the sound of the bolt ramming the bullet into the breech seemed unnaturally loud. Still, the animal didn’t react, except to close his eyes. Vetfaan lifted the gun. Took aim. Took up the slack on the trigger.

And couldn’t fire.

It just seemed so wrong: the animal was helpless, rendered incapable of escaping by the trap set by some heartless hand. Vetfaan was suddenly struck by the two wrongs: the trap – and the vermin caught in it. The wild dog, after all, was not on his father’s ground and had most probably done what it had been designed to do: hunting for prey. On the other hand, the trap was highly illegal and a coward’s way of hunting. If he killed the beast….would that be right?

He sat down on the red Kalahari sand and looked at the animal more intently. It was, indeed, a young male. Although gaunt and obviously fatigued, there was no denying that he used to be a magnificent animal. A live, healthy, magnificent wild dog. The animal opened his eyes to look at Vetfaan. He saw the silent plea: get it over with, will you?

Vetfaan shouldered the gun, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger. Despite the small calibre of the rifle, the boom of the shot seemed to echo over the veld forever.

For a while they remained as they were: wild beast and human frozen as silent statues under the blazing sun of the Northern Cape.

Then the animal moved it’s foot. Vetfaan could then see that only one toe of the one front foot was caught in the snare. The animal gave Vetfaan a last look – a lingering stare – before limping off. The bullet had gone true: snapping off the restraining wire that had kept the animal captive for so long.

Of course Vetfaan never told his dad.

It must have been a year later that he once again patrolled that fence. Acting on instinct he climbed through the fence at that spot to revisit the place where he had freed the wild dog. The shot-off wire was still there, rusting away in the veld.

That night he slept at the half-way spot like he usually did. The perimeter of the large farm was so long that his father had built a small stone hut at the place, especially for the cold winter nights when sleeping outdoors would have been very foolish indeed. The hut had a bed, a fireplace and a few candles – it was a simple shelter to rest in before setting out on the next leg of the patrol. Vetfaan ate his meagre meal, sat next to the fire for a while and turned in to sleep.

That night he heard the soft padding of feet around the hut. He wasn’t particularly worries as the door was shut and the embers still glowed reassuringly in the small hearth. That is, until he hear the soft growl…

Kalahari lions are unpredictable animals. In the vast open spaces of the Kalahari desert, their pale-gold fur serves as excellent camouflage, but that is maybe the only positive factor in their fight for survival. Stalking is extremely difficult and prey is scarce. These cats have learned to survive by eating almost anything they come across: from defying the quills of a porcupine, feeding on decaying carcasses and catching birds – to cannibalism. If it has meat, the lion will eat it.

Even humans.

Vetfaan stoked up the fire, checked the door and wondered how many puny .22 bullets would be needed to stop a lion. It became a long night of listening to the growling outside and the thumping of his heart.

Some time before dawn, the sounds outside ceased. Was the lion standing still? Or did it lie down in front of the door, scenting the fear of the human inside? Would it wait there until Vetfaan was forced to leave? The silence stretched out in an unbearable nightmare of possibilities…

Then, suddenly, there were sounds of a…scuffle? Running feet and indistinguishable sounds. Growls, Heavy breathing and more grunts.

And then…complete silence.

Once the sun started rising in the east, Vetfaan slid the bolt back to ease the door open to a crack. Nothing. No lion.

spoorThe only evidence of the night’s activity was the myriad of lion tracks all around the hut. Imprinted in the sand there was no mistaking the large paw marks of an adult lion.That, and the strange tracks of a wild dog, with one foot missing a toe.

***

Vetfaan once said that people are too quick to judge, especially when they insist on analyzing the past. The activists  now baying for the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue, his name from universities and even his remains from the Matopos, seem to think that they can rewrite the history of the continent. The current fashion is to blame people long dead for the hardships of today; while completely ignoring the fact that we are what we are because we refuse to face the simple fact that we have inherited the world the way it is. We can’t change history. But we can learn from it.

And, like that wild dog, it is sometimes excitingly worthwhile to remember that very few people were just good or just bad. The Rhodes Trust with the Rhodes scholarships have benefitted more than 7000 students from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica & Commonwealth Caribbean, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan and Southern Africa. Notable world figures gained from these scholarships, including heads of state like: Bob Hawke, Wasim Sajjad, Bill Clinton, Dom Mintoff, John Turner and Tony Abbott.

In Vetfaan’s mind. shooting that helpless wild dog because of its perceived history would have been wrong. Sadly, he also reckons the activists  won’t stop. They’ve trapped Cecil John Rhodes in a wire trap. They’ve snared Jan van Riebeeck. Who’s next? Paul Kruger? Queen Victoria? Any historical figure with an European surname?

His message is simple: live and let live…but please get on with life…

Weekly Photo Challenge – the freshness of an African dawn.

There’s something about the freshness in an African dawn…

405The misty waterfall seems to hold its breath as the sun lurks just below the horizon.

IMG_2159Even the clinging bushel of reeds light up in anticipation.

mattanu 085aA lone giraffe welcomes the comforting rays of light, relieved at surviving another night.

100_1493aWhile a tired lion rests after a night of hunting.

Zambia ekspedisie 112aThis is the time for the intrepid traveller to saddle up: Africa awaits, fresh and eager,  to display her charms.

The Prince of Words

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes

“So they found him at last,” Gertruida says with a satisfied smile. “He can now be buried properly, monument and all.”

“Who? The president?” Servaas looks up sharply – it sounds like good news.

“No, you dummy, Miguel Cervantes.”

“He the new president?”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. Such ignorance! “Cervantes, Servaas, was one of the greatest writers Spain ever produced. He was born a long time ago, in 1547, the same year Edward VI banned execution by boiling in England.”

“And they say we are backward?”

“The point is – if you’ll stop interrupting me – that Miguel Cervantes created Don Quixote, an erant knight with high ideals. Despite his blustering stupidity, he was an extremely wise man.”

“Now that, Gertruida, makes a whole heap of sense. Just like our parliament.”

“Well, I’ll have you know he could have written a speech for the country, seeing the vote of no confidence in the president was defeated by the ruling party’s inability to see the wood for the trees. Listen to what he wrote in 1605: Don Quixote was addressing his faithful squire, Sancho Panza at the time, after suffering severe setbacks.”

Bear in mind, Sancho, that one man is no more than the other, unless he does more than the other. All these tempests that fall upon us are signs that fair weather is coming shortly, and that things will go well with us; for it is impossible for good or evil to last forever. Hence it follows that the evil having lasted so long, the good must now be nigh at hand. So you must not distress thyself at the misfortunes which happen to me, since you had no share in them.

Servaas doesn’t know much about knights, old-time chivalry or squires, but he understands the bit that evil can’t possibly last forever. In his mind, parliament has degenerated into a circus: good enough for entertainment but not really huge in the problem-solving department.

“And, whats more, Servaas, he wrote something else that comes to  mind…”

I do not deny that what happened to us is a thing worth laughing at. But it is not worth telling, for not everyone is sufficiently intelligent to be able to see things from the right point of view.

“Wow! He should have been our president, Gertruida.”

“You wish. But still, even though he died a poor man, at least he’ll be honoured by a monument. People from all over the world will come to pay homage to his genius.”

Servaas thinks about this. Cervantes, dead but honoured for his honest wisdom. The president, alive, and scorned for his devious ways.

“We live in a crazy country, Gertruida.”

“Indeed, Sancho.”

“My name is Servaas.”

“Oh…but you sound like him.”

Places – Outside The World Outside

When the conversations in Boggel’s Place falls silent and the night pulls a blanket over the barren wastes outside, the patrons at the bar often reflect on The World Outside. Some memories are precious, others make them frown – still, The World Outside contains the places they’ve been to and the experiences they had. And that, after all, made them what they are: Outsiders of the World Outside.

windpomp

The World Outside starts at the last windpump you get just before Grootdrink. Beyond that, the reality of modern society is just too stark, too obvious, to ignore.

later randall 013The World Outside is  a crowded place, with people crammed into every nook and cranny. Even if the authorities tried to deny it by entertaining prisoners in jail, the cells are overcrowded.

IMG_4048Businesses have funny names and say nothing about who runs it. In Rolbos the owners are proud to display their names above the door. After all, Sammie’s Shop says it all, doesn’t it?

IMG_4169And the people erect the most amazing signs everywhere, with words and pictures for those who cannot read. In Rolbos it isn’t necessary. Vrede never ventures far from the cushion under the counter.

IMG_2506Worst of all, whenever you find a nice pub, you can’t smoke there!

IMG_2689Anyway, the hotels are far too fancy…and expensive!

IMG_2597No, the true Rolbosser will always find the way home, to The World Inside, where solitude and isolation ensures peace of mind. Forget the retreats and the spas and the costly weekends-away-from-it-all…in the Kalahari you don’t need such escapes to be yourself.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Walls of Grief and longing

Walls know stuff. They’ve seen the arguments, the passion and the joy of living. And, long after the people have left, they tell the story.

IMG_3247A lover knocked, the door opened, arms reached out for comfort.

IMG_3246Put your hat on the shelf over there, she said, smiling coyly.

IMG_3248Dancing to the kitchen, she asked if he’d like some coffee.

IMG_3315I even stoked the geyser, should you want to freshen up, she said.

IMG_3094I have no time, he answered heavily. The war….

IMG_3339And he left her standing in the doorway, waiting.

IMG_3267She’s still there. She, the walls…and the sand…