“Yep, the Americans have their old President back, and it cost them billions. Maybe they should have skipped the election and used the money on infrastructure. Just think how many toll roads you can construct with such finances, man! I heard the price tag for the polls was about fifty billion Rand. We can buy new uniforms for the entire army, get our submarines waterproof again and still get change!” Vetfaan signals for another Cactus – his fifth. “But I suppose that’s the Law of the Jungle for you – the strongest survive.”
“You’re angry at politics again, Vetfaan. Relax, it’s the way things work all over the democratic world. More progressive countries like Cuba and China are streets ahead of the Americans – they don’t waste time and money with a process that changes nothing. They keep everything the same for free. But you don’t have to feel stupid, just because you don’t understand the system. Africa’s longest-reigning leader struggles with the same dilemma. Even though Zimbabwe holds elections, poor Mugabe must hire thousands to make crosses of fake ballot papers to win the election. And then he only manages because the guys who do the counting do so with an AK 47 pointing at them. I tell you – that’s the fastest way to discover a whole new way of adding numbers faster than IBM can.”
“Well, our governing party has come up with solutions for that, as well. They’re creating ghost voters faster than even the chaps in Zimbabwe can count. And if the main men don’t like a candidate, they simply blame the printers for omitting a name on the ballot paper. I hear that’s what happened in Natal recently.” Vetfaan eyes Kleinpiet critically. “One must never underestimate the power some people have when they have become used to the comfortable seats of the gravy train. They know all the tricks, that’s for sure.”
Servaas points to his empty glass. It’s been a long evening in Boggel’s Place and he wants one for the road before turning in.
“It’s no all doom and gloom, guys.” Gertruida is fed up with the negative conversations over the last few days. “I hear they want to table a motion of no confidence against our president in the parliament. The opposition parties all agreed to cooperate on this one and the president’s men are frantically trying to squash it – but if they get as far as a secret vote, many governing MP’S will support it. Now that’s democracy for you! Wouldn’t it send a powerful message to the people of our country if we exercised our constitutional rights to give the president a slap on the wrist?”
“And that’s where it’ll stop, anyway. A slap on the wrist. If that. You think that motion is ever going to be dabated? Wake up, man!” Servaas sighs contently as Boggel pushes his glass over the counter top: at least some things still work in the country. “Things don’t change so easily in Africa, you know that. In America or England, people will resign at the first hint of scandal – they don’t have to wait for parliament to growl at them. There, politics still have a semblance of gravity and respect. Why? Because it is better to jump than to be pushed – and they know it. Over here, you get suspended with full salary, the case gets dragged out for several years, and then the documents get lost or people forget about it. Then, of course, you go to court to be reinstated and you can even claim damages in court. At the very worst, you get medical parole.”
“That’s not true, Servaas. Look at the story behind our weapons scandal – that dust is still way up in the air, it hasn’t settled yet. They have a commission of enquiry digging into it as we speak.”
“Sure, Gertruida.” He lifts a sarcastic eyebrow: “And tell me – what happened to the previous commissions that looked into that story? Not only did they declare the president squeaky clean, but I’d like to know what that report cost.”
“Oh, come on Servaas, you can’t suggest the judiciary is corrupt! That’s preposterous.”
“I remind myself of our police chief who even was the president of Interpol. He was jailed for 15 years as a result of corruption. The judge said he was a liar and a person of low moral fibre. This, may I remind you, was the man in charge of the police in this country; the same man who couldn’t understand (in his words), what the fuss about crime was all about. Now how, I ask you, did he get to his high office? By being honest? No Gertruida, I’m sorry. Corruption has eaten away the core of our society.
Gertruida lets her head sink into her hands. How is she going to convince her friends that all isn’t lost? That she still hopes for a better future? Surely the country is more than the murder capital of the world with the lowest ranking educational system as well? What about the honest, hard-working citizens who work hard to keep things going?
“Okay – there are more ways than one to look at this matter, I agree. The world is also host to Al Qaeda, Stidda, Mafia and Bravta. Show me a crime-free spot, and we can all emigrate immediately. Don’t forget the pirates along the way, the recession all over and the jobless situation everywhere. But we’ll have to leave our roots behind, say good-bye to the Kalahari and forget ever seeing a Gemsbok running free in the desert. We may have many challenges to face, but so do the people in China, or Japan, or New York. The point I’m trying to make is this: by concentrating on the bad things we have to cope with, won’t make the good things better.”
“I agree. Even the ANC is cooperating in that line of thought. They now banned any reference to Zumagate, just because they’re ashamed, see? They too, want to get past the landslide of criticism they have to deal with. Shows you: they care.” Servaas gets up – somewhat unsteadily – to gather his wallet. “But I’ll tell you what … the good news is: the engine has stopped.”
Gertruida looks up in surprise. “What do you mean, Servaas?”
“I call it the Zuma Spiral. Okay, here’s how it works: you are in an aeroplane, high up in the sky. The engine stops – runs out of fuel because the attendants didn’t fill up like you asked them. For a few seconds you carry on as before, and then you lose speed. The next thing the plane’s nose dips as it loses altitude. You gather a bit of speed, but the plane isn’t flying any more – it’s busy falling from the sky. After that you go down in a slow spiral. Slow at first, but as the ground nears, gravity wins and you pick up speed before slamming into the ground. You wake up in your comfortable bed in Nkandla, where you remain motionless for the rest of your life.”
Vetfaan gets up too, to put an arm around Gertruida’s shoulder. “Listen, we’re just being realistic, that’s all. Servaas is right – but so are you. I think it is far healthier to talk about these things than to ignore them – and even though we won’t change much from Boggel’s Place, we don’t bottle things up until it becomes a crisis. Now, if you don’t get stuff your chest, you end up frustrated and depressed; and we’re not like that, are we?”
Seeing the sad look on Gertruida’s face, Kleinpiet also gives her a hug. “Now, Gertruida, remember this isn’t a new thing. Ever since man has gathered in clans, there has been struggle and corruption and crime. It’s universal and enduring. It won’t change.
“Come, let me surprise you with a poem by Rudyard Kipling – we had to recite it in school, way back. He wrote:
Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
(The Law of the Jungle, R Kipling))
Gertruida gives him a weak smile of surprise. She never thought he’d know poetry.
“I know. It’s the way it is. But in a million homes, all over the country, people feel the way we do. In a trillion homes, all over the world, people echo these thoughts. Sometimes I despair about the future. Lord knows – honestly I do.”
“But we’re here, Gertruida. We’re all here with you. For you. We’re proud to live where we do and we’re proud to be ourselves. It doesn’t matter if the world goes mad in Cape Town or London or Beijing – here we have to care for each other. That’s the first thing. The Wolf is out there, running with his Pack – we can’t do much about that. But the Pack is thinning and the strength of the Wolf is waning. The Law will win – not the constitutional one. The other one.”
Fly, thought, on wings of gold,
go settle upon the slopes and the hills
where the sweet airs of our
native soil smell soft and mild!
Greet the banks of the river Jordan
and Zion’s tumbled towers.
Oh, my country, so lovely and lost!
Oh remembrance so dear yet unhappy!
Golden harp of the prophetic wise men,
why hang so silently from the willows?
Rekindle the memories in our hearts,
tell us about the times gone by!
Remembering the fate of Jerusalem
play us a sad lament
or else be inspired by the Lord
to fortify us to endure our suffering!