“Okay. So now Rolbos is filled with Ninjas and Saints and even Cupid.” Vetfaan’s bad mood has disappeared and he smiles as he remarks on the recent events. “If that is progress, we must accept it. But I miss the old days. We used to have fun, built spa’s, laughed[i] at Oom Oorlog and had picnics at Bokkop. The old Rolbos is disappearing, you guys. Unless we do something about it, we’ll become like one of the bigger towns – like Pofadder or Prieska. My vote is that we do something to prevent that. We must bring the fun back to Rolbos – and we don’t have to fall behind the rest of the country either, while we’re doing that. We’re not backward – we can move with the times, my friend.”
Kleinpiet has that faraway look in his eyes as he sips his beer. Precilla has been so sweet lately – as if the recent spate of romances in town was contagious somehow. He likes the way she looks at him in that Princess Diana way.
“Look we’ve had Olympics and Paralympics. We’ve had bazaars and picnics. We have Boggel’s Place to meet and chat. We must find something new.”
“Okay.” Kleinpiet isn’t concentrating at all.
“I think we must have a strike.”
“A what?” Kleinpiet sits up straight.
Vetfaan explains. The rest of the country goes on strike every now and then. Then the people dance and sing, start a few fires, and get a raise. “But we’re not like that. We’re not going on strike for money. We’ll do it for free. If you get paid to strike, you take the fun out of it. It becomes something people do to gain something. Now, we? We don’t want money. We have got houses. Most of us don’t need electricity – we’ve made do with candles and paraffin lamps since forever. We’ve got Boggel and when we’re hungry, I slaughter one of my sheep….”
He’s about to go on, but Kleinpiet frowns him into silence.
“Hey, wait a minute! What about the sheep you gave for the church bazaar last year? You stole that one from me!”
“Now, don’t let’s derail the argument on a technicality. That sheep was standing in no-man’s land. You know we agreed on that.”
Long ago, to prevent this type of argument, the men agreed to clear a stretch of land on both sides of the fence separating the two farms. That was supposed to keep the sheep from approaching the fence, and being enticed to break through to the other side. By mutual consent, it was agreed that a sheep found wandering in the cleared area, can be claimed by anybody. While the logic in the argument is sadly lacking, it is an example of the wisdom originating in Boggel’s Place late at night.
Kleinpiet lets the argument go. After all, he sneaked over to Vetfaan’s during the next full moon, and helped himself to some “compensation”. This, in turn, resulted in lengthy peace negotiations and he returned most of Vetfaan’s sheep. He doesn’t want to revisit that argument – last time he and Vetfaan had to replace the broken furniture afterwards.
“So you slaughter sheep when we’re hungry. What’s the point of your argument, Vetfaan?”
“My point is this: if you strike for money, you’re being unprofessional. We’re not like that. I mean, most days we don’t do any work, so what’s the point in striking? But we sure can do with a nice dance and some singing. And, may I remind you – we don’t need to throw stones in Voortrekker Weg – that pothole is large enough to stop any traffic. We’ve got this bar, an unlimited amount of Cactus, some very crazy people and a judge. He can mediate the end of the strike when we’re tired. And somebody can hand over a memorandum to Gertruida.” Vetfaan’s eyes sparkle as the ideas begin to flow. “Oudoom can even open the strike with a reading and a prayer. It’s perfect!” To celebrate, he orders a beer.
“So what’s the memorandum about, then?”
“We must find a reason to complain. Somebody must have a grievance. A complaint-free strike is an impossibility. Once we’ve identified a problem, it’s written down on a piece of paper and then it’s a legal strike. Even the judge will agree with that.”
And so, for the first time in the world’s history, a sing-strike got organised. Vetfaan explained it to the townsfolk in Boggel’s Place that night.
“Look, we all know how Oudoom complains about our singing in church. I think it’s unfair. It’s an infringement of our rights. The reason we sing so slowly, is because Mevrou plays the organ as if it’s a funeral every Sunday. Next time we’re in church, we refuse to sing. In respect for all concerned – it is a church service after all – we cannot remain silent either. So when she plays this Sunday, we la-la-la along. We’ll sing the words in our hearts, but not like Mevrou expects us to. Then Oudoom will complain. He’ll draw up a memorandum, and then we’ll have a dispute.
“The beauty of the plan is this: we’ll be singing and dancing when Gertruida receives the memorandum, Boggel will see to the drinks, and we can have a strike-party, just like they’re doing everywhere else these days “
Mevrou looks up in alarm when she starts with The Lo-o-o-o-rd is my-y Sh-e-e-eph-e-e-erd, and the congregation L-a-a-a la la la-a-a-a’s along. Oudoom and Servaas try valiantly to get them to sing the words, but are met by the smiling faces that continue to sing in monosyllables.
“What is this?” Oudoom fights to keep his voice steady.
“It’s a sing-strike, Dominee. We demand proper accompaniment in church. We’re here to praise the Lord, not to bury our joy. We want you to draw up a memorandum, be at Boggel’s tomorrow night and hand it to Gertruida. Then Judge Gericke can mediate the dispute, we can come to a negotiated settlement and we’ll call off the strike. It’s the modern way, Dominee. Everybody does it.” Vetfaan has prepared well, and feels he delivered his ultimatum with considerable respect.
“This is preposterous. Unheard of. Not possible!” Oudoom struggles to keep his temper at bay. Servaas sits down to let his head sink into his hands. Every time he thinks the townsfolk have done the stupidest thing, they manage to surprise him with something even worse. Imagine: revolt against singing in church?
Oudoom breathes deeply. While in his toga, it would be unseemly to lose his temper. Mevrou has turned a whiter shade of grey.
At seven, Monday evening, Oudoom walks into Boggel’s Place with as much dignity he can muster. At his side, Mevrou cuts a striking figure in her best funeral dress and 50’s hat. Servaas brings up the rear, dressed in his black suit.
Vetfaan, smiling proudly at the strike he’s organised, waits at the counter. Kleinpiet serves the Cactus while Judge watches. He, of course, thinks this is a farcical travesty of justice; but being new in town and not wanting to hurt feelings, he agreed to go along with the proceedings. Gertruida – who hasn’t been herself lately – holds his hand while her smile threatens to reach her ears.
The atmosphere is tense as the two delegations approach each other.
“I. Have. Written. Here. That. I. Think. You’re. Crazy.” Oudoom’s words are measured and precise while he waves the document around. He is obviously very angry.
“Yes, and I will see to it that you get expelled from church.” Servaas’ words tumble into the ensuing silence. “This is blasphemous. You will be placed under censure. The Ring will hear about this.”
Gertruida holds out her hand to receive the paper. “Thank you,” she says sweetly.
“I declare this dispute resolved, and both parties must now shake hands. Bless you all.” Judge Gericke has never seen anything like this and can’t help smiling.
“And I want to thank Oudoom for being such a sport. We have had our first real strike in Rolbos. Two things remain to be done. Kleinpiet?”
Kleinpiet walks over to Oudoom to hand over a document. “We’ve been collecting sheep for the next bazaar, Oudoom. Between the guys,” he points at Frans, Vetfaan, Ben Bitterbrak, we’ve got twelve so far. Sammy promised groceries. The Verdana’s are going to have a pasta stall. And the ladies have put down their names for cakes and handcraft stuff. In all, I think we should make enough money to buy a new organ for the church. A nice electronic one that can do flutes and harps and piano, as well. The old one takes ages to build enough pressure to play the notes – that’s why poor Mevrou has to play like she does. With a new organ, we’ll really be able to praise the Lord in a joyous way.”
While Oudoom now finds himself fighting to keep the smile from his face, Mevrou asks timidly: “And the second thing, Vetfaan?”
“Well, it involves two things, actually. First of all we’d like to apologise. We didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And we’d like to show our respect by asking you to join the party.”
At the word ‘party’, Boggel breaks out a case of Cactus Jack and Precilla starts serving. Oudoom has no choice but to join in the toast on the new organ. It’s going to be a long night…
“That was a glorious strike, Kleinpiet,” Precilla says later, while they’re helping Boggel to wash the glasses. “And all those sheep! That was so generous of you!”
Kleinpiet smiles coyly. Yes, those sheep. Maybe he’ll tell her about the no-man’s land one day. But not now – if Vetfaan hears about it, they’ll have to buy new furniture again.
“Oudoom always says you must give until it hurts, Precilla. But sometimes it’s better to stop before it does.”
General consensus is that the world’s first sing-strike may be viewed as a success. Oudoom and Mevrou received the organ with undiluted joy. The singing during services is so filled with delighted ecstasy that the church council from Grootdrink established a commission of enquiry to investigate the possibility of acquiring a new organ themselves. Just yesterday the delegation came to see Vetfaan about the possibility of a strike. It seems that Julius Malema is unavailable for the time being. Servaas still considers the events to be sacrilegious, but Mevrou told him to calm down, the townsfolk meant well – and the Lord knew from the start they weren’t trying to disrupt the services – they only wanted to enhance them.
There is a problem, though: Vetfaan did his monthly count of sheep today. He stormed into Boggel’s, demanding to know where Kleinpiet is.
“He called out a fight-strike, Vetfaan. When you’re ready, he’ll receive the memorandum. But right now he’s on his way to Lekkersing,[ii] on the West Coast. He suddenly remembered he had business there…”
[ii] A real place, in the Richtersveld. Like Grootdrink, it got it’s name a few generations ago. Apparently the sound of the water bubbling from a fountain in the arid desert was the reason for the village, as well as its name.