And the World looks on…

The two men have no names. Not real names, that is, like you do. Addressing each other simply as ‘Bru’ – which serves them quite nicely – they’ve long given up hope to be somebody; individuals with dreams of a future. Whenever they need a name, they use the first one that comes to mind, like Phillip or Lucky or Charles. Surnames, too, are disposable items. Today it may be Modise, tomorrow: Jacobs, and the day after…

Of course, this nameless existence is not of their own choosing. In fact, they know nothing else – and find it strange that some people have the luxury of a specific name that belongs to them. Even more fascinating is the ID Document that the Named Ones carry: it has a unique number and a personal photograph. Oh, they have several of these, of course, and it comes in handy when you look for a temporary job at the Wimpy in Kimberley of Upington. The original owners have no further interest in these papers, simply because ID documents serve only the living.

No, their journey through the Southern tip of Africa started long before they were born. While the Matabeles and the Shonas and the Whites and the Colonialists and the Communists and the Terrorists and the Freedom Fighters squared up for control of Rhodesia, the self-righteous folk of the world agreed on a democracy. It’s only fair, they said, that each man had an equal vote. How else, did they ask, can you ever have peace?

But in Africa, you don’t choose a headman. Much like the family Windsor, you come to power because your family is of royal blood. And what the chief says, you do. Full stop. Unless you kill him, that is, then you’re in charge; unless again somebody sneaks up on you on some deserted footpath one dark and stormy night. So despite the world’s delight at the arrival of democracy in Africa, Africa still does what the chieftain – or leader says. It’s a tradition, you see? Part on the way things are done over here.

Canaan Banana got to reign in Zimbabwe as the first president in 1980. He was a religious man, a minister in his Church, married to one lady and had four children. The world sighed with satisfaction. See, they told themselves, it works just as well over there as in the UK or the USA. Put a competent man in charge and forget about the problem of inequality. One must remember that in America, the problem with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X was handled quite differently. Mugabe took over his ceremonial role and sidetracked the able politician to be a diplomat to the African Union and a theologian of note..

In 1997 charges of sodomy was brought against this statesman. House staff, former soldiers, even members of sport teams (he was a referee, as well) testified against him and he was found guilty. His wife refused to believe the accusations, believing them to be politically motivated. Defrocked and humiliated, he died in 2003. Mugabe – who welcomed his jail sentence – said at his funeral he was a “rare gift to the nation”.

Without the moral voice of Canaan, Zimbabwe was doomed to follow the whims of it’s leader. The old chief was gone, the new one ruled. Not Mbeki, nor Zuma, dared to oppose him. Africa returned to it’s old laws.

The role of Mugabe need not be analysed here to fully understand the mindset of the two nameless men around the little fire in the lee of Bokkop. The situation in Zimbabwe is well-know (and astutely ignored) by the world at large. What does one do when the work dries up? When there is no home to return to? When you have to pay billions of worthless Dollars to buy a bread on the rare occasion it is available? When crime is rife and walking to your shelter at night is more dangerous than crossing the border to South Africa (even though you have to traverse the Kruger National Park with it’s predators and carnivores; not to mention the army and police patrolling the borders)?

South Africa is, after all, the land of milk and honey. They dig for gold there. Unimaginable wealth awaits in the diamond mines, the platinum mines, even – if you’re desperate – in the coal mines’

But once safely through the barriers of animals and law-enforcers; the dream became a nightmare. Nobody told the two men about the xenophobia, the almost-60% jobless population, the rampant corruption, the sky-high AIDS figures and the massive wave of crime and murder that rolls from the one coast of South Africa to the other. Instead of chasing their dream, they became fugitives from reality.

They started small, like most do. Snatching a bread from a street vendor is relatively safe. Running drugs for the Nigerians pays much more. Hijacking vehicles on deserted farm roads was next. Attacking isolated farms can be lucrative. Once you have a weapon, the world is your oyster.

“Bru,” the smaller one says, “one day we will be caught. They’ll send us back.”

Slowly turning the chicken once more, his companion smiles. “Sure. We’ve got no papers – they don’t know where we are from. In fact, what will they do? Charge us with armed robbery or murder? Well, then, so be it. There’s no corporal punishment, no death penalty over here. If they send us back, we’ll be heroes – we’ll tell Mugabe we acted against the land-grabbing colonialists. If they jail us…so what? We’ll have three square meals, medical care, a bed and a roof. We can even study and become lawyers. Some social service will listen to our tales of woe, and see to it we get Christmas presents.”

The smaller man guffaws. “Bru, you make it sound good. Let’s go to that little town and give ourselves up.” He gets a stern look from his mate.

“And you are going to tell those cadres in Gauteng we defected? They’ll kill us, man! They specifically told us to come here and now we can report back. Those guys hold all the cards, you know that. Eventually we’ll have no colonialists out of here, and the land will belong to Africa once more. Then – they promised this, remember – we’ll have houses and ground of our own. No – we have no choice. We’ll go on as long as they send us to find out what’s happening in the rural areas. And remember – except for stealing stuff here and there – we’re not doing anything wrong. The murders they’ll never pin on us.  It’s the guys they send after us that do the dirty work.”

They look up in alarm as they see a bakkie approaching the hill.


“Look, there’s smoke over there!” Precilla points. “Maybe you should have a look?”

They are returning to Rolbos after a quite pleasant weekend. After the Springbok stampede, Kleinpiet made a breakfast of scrambled eggs (complaining that one chicken must have been taken by a lynx during the night). After that they spent a lazy day on the stoep, talking about relationships, trust and respect.

Kleinpiet stops the vehicle and walks over to the thin line of smoke against Bokkop. Finding the two men there, he stops at a respectful distance to greet them.

“I’m going into town,” he says, “if you guys need a lift.”

“No.” The bigger man gets up uncomfortably. “We’ll walk. Grootdrink is still far.”

Kleinpiet shrugs and walks back to the bakkie.

“Who are they?” Precilla is still uneasy after the scare of the stampede.

“Vagrants. Guys looking for work. There are a lot of them these days.”


Back at the fire, the men finish the chicken.

“This is too easy,” the bigger one sniggers.

His companion throws sand on the remaining embers. “Come,” he orders, “we have work to do.”

The chief, according to Africa’s rules, has to be followed.

12 thoughts on “And the World looks on…

  1. Rita van der Linde

    Dankie Amos. Ek het geweet jys n man wat jou woord sal hou. As jy so die Bru’s se omstandighede beskryf, maar net voor ek te jammer kry, besef n mens hulle voer iemand se magsbehepte opdragte uit en dat ons seker sal moet wakker skrik. Dankie vir Leonard Cohen, hys n groot gunsteling. My sussie het hom nou in Italie gaan sien, se syt haar pensioengeld gebruik he he. Hy was nou tagtig ne. Sy se die konsert was 3ure lank en alhoewel sy orkes gesit het, het hy die hele tyd op sy voete gebly.


    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      Well, there are harsh realities. Then again – Rolbos has a funny way of dealing with awkward situations. I’d love to see you comment on Part 2 of Crime and Punishment…crazy place, this Rolbos…


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