Monthly Archives: February 2013

Can we now stop apologising for the past? Please?

The Most Honourable Minister Xingwana

“Jaaa..Boet.” Even Vetfaan sounds depressed. “Now a minister; a Cabinet Minister of our Fatherland nogal; goes and tells the Aussies they can blame everything on us – the Afrikaners. I’m getting sick and tired of it.”

“Oh, you’re talking about the honourable Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana? I heard she said “Young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion believing that they own a woman, they own a child, they own everything and therefore they can take that life because they own it”.  I think she lost the plot.” Gertruida sniffs loudly. “This is the same woman who heads a corrupt department, I’ll have you know. You can’t expect too much discretion from her.”

“But wait a minute, Gertruida. The present government has been in charge of the country for almost 20 years, and still they blame everything that goes wrong, on Apartheid and Afrikaners. It doesn’t matter if the argument makes no sense ; they play the race card or say it’s due to Apartheid. What happens? Everybody shuts up because if they argue, they’re racists.” Servaas is clearly upset. “Now, I’m not defending Apartheid, although it used to be a world-wide phenomenon. Show me a country where it didn’t happen, and I’ll buy you a beer. But…surely blaming Whites for everything must stop at some stage? Obama doesn’t harp on about the American South, does he? The British Prime Minister apologised for the massacre at Amritsar almost a hundred years back, and he wasn’t stoned for it. Life goes on; people must get over the past”

“You’re forgetting one thing, Servaas. A strong, honest government doesn’t have to prop up it’s appeal by reminding voters of the past. They’ll concentrate on the future.” Gertruida tilts her head in mock sadness. “It’s because they seem to be unable to sell their policies on merit, that they keep on reminding the masses they are Black and the Afrikaners are White.”

“But that’s nonsense, Getruida. We don’t live in a Black and White world any more. We can’t continue to see all Whites – or all Blacks – as a unified race. Pigment has nothing to do with it. For goodness’ sakes: Chinese are now officially accepted as Black. Indians are Black. People of mixed decent are Black. There is as little logic in that as saying the Irish and Scots are the same. Or that there is no difference between a German and an Italian.”

“That’s my point exactly. What do you think will happen if the ANC were to tell people to embrace their own culture? If they encouraged Zulus to be Zulu, and Vendas to be Venda, they’ll generate a polarisation like you have in Europe. Dutch people are European, but they revel in their own language and own culture. So do the Swiss and all the other countries you have over there. The ANC’s biggest nightmare is that the separate cultures in the country recognise the fact that being ‘Black’ or ‘White’ isn’t going to cut the cheese. They desperately need to remind a certain section of society that another section of society is the enemy. In unity is strength, remember? So their only hope of survival, is to convince the masses they are this cultureless group fighting a common enemy.”

“Well, I’m through. I’m not saying sorry any more. I voted for change. I stood in those long queues in 1994 and celebrated with the rest of the country. I saluted Madiba for what he stood for. And by drawing my cross on that ballot paper, I prayed for peace and stability.” Servaas has to stop speaking to get his emotions under control. “And what did we get? Look at our country, man…it’s burning! The racial divide is growing by the day because the government is fanning those flames. If our ministers tell overseas audiences the Afrikaners are bad people, I refuse to respect them any more. I’m angry and hurt, man, humiliated.” By now, he can’t hide it any more – the tears well up and Vetfaan has to offer him a hanky.

“We’ll just have to find a way of managing this, Servaas. There’s an election coming up next year…”

Vetfaan holds up a hand. “That’s what the government is preparing for, Gertruida. And I share Servaas’ sadness. Now, more than ever, the ANC must find a way to keep the different cultures in one little basket, believing they act on the basis of skin colour. It’s worked well for them so far.”

“You know what, gentlemen?” Gertruida sits back with a secretive smile. “You mustn’t make the same mistake as the government. They want all Blacks to be united. But…there are more and more voices – some small, some not – calling out in the dark. Many, many people are starting to feel the way Servaas does. Poor people in shanties. Unemployed masses. Middle-class white-collar managers. Mineworkers. Farmworkers.The petrol attendant at the filling station. The waitress at Wimpy. They don’t want to drown in the toxic waste of the past; they want to make sure their children get a proper education, live in proper houses and enjoy a more prosperous future. They want functional municipalities, service delivery, effective policing and honest administration. These are the voters who must make up their minds about who they’ll vote for in 2014. And even the mighty ANC can’t fool all the people all the time, either.

“I can tell you what’ll happen. The ANC will win again – but not with the majority they currently hold. They are saying the things they do, to try and avoid the humiliation of accountability. They love the situation where they can silence the opposition by the democratic process of voting in parliament. Absolute power…remember? But after that election they’ll face a formidable opposition, one that will hold them accountable for the atrocious way they managed the country for the last 20 years. They won’t be able to hide behind Afrikaners any more. The tide, my friends, is turning.”

Servaas leaves quietly. In his cottage, he rummages through the old records until he finds the one he’s looking for. Tonight the rest can bury the past, but he needs to return to an earlier age, a happier time. A time when he could still believe in a bright future where he and Siena would grow old together.

“Siena, I need you now,” he whispers as he places the needle gently on the old vinyl record. “The future, Siena, has become a memory. Like you, it isn’t here any more.

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The Amanpour Interview with Zuma You’ll Never See

Credit: nypost.com

Credit: nypost.com

Sometimes, when world news brings down a mood of gloom over Rolbos, they play a game. Gertruida will dress up in her Sunday best, and become Gertruida Amanpour, international reporter for CNN (Chaotic Network News). She’ll then interview somebody famous, using an empty beer bottle as a microphone. During these sessions, Boggel gets onto the counter, and films the proceedings with an empty wine-box, having cut two strategic holes in opposing sides.

They don’t do this for free at all, the audience must pay a small entrance fee and if the interview was particularly funny, they’ll pass a hat around afterwards. The proceeds end up in the Rolbos Orphanage Fund, which buys Christmas presents for the orphanage in Grootdrink.

Tonight, Gertruida Amanpour is interviewing Jacob Vetfaan Zuma.

Amanpour: Mister President, you are a most educated man, I see. Tell us about your schooling?

Jvz: Well what can I say? You know I am highly intelligent, don’t you? You have to be, to be in charge of the country. So it’s only natural that I educated myself. If you don’t believe me, you can check it out on the government’s Presidency site. And you know the government never lies. Never. We don’t lie. No.

Amanpour: That’s very interesting. You must be very proud of your country?

JVZ: You crazy or something? No, there are too many strikes and unions. Even the police are getting better. No, I’m on record that my favourite will always be Mozambique. Oh, they have occasional floods, but us rich people don’t live in the valleys. Have you seen Nkandla?

Amanpour: You are also a very proficient dancer, I hear.

JVZ: Of course. To be who I am, you have to be good at that. That’s the legacy of Robben Island – I learnt ballroom dancing there. If I may (coughs and pushes up his glasses with his middle finger) I’ll refer you to the Presidency site again. I quote: ‘South Africans know and love him for his prowess on the dance floor and his impeccable vocal chords.’.  (aside) Don’t you just love spin-doctors?

Amanpour: At the age of almost 73, you seem surprisingly spry. What’s your secret?

JVZ: I take daily classes in political athletics. And I’ve a black belt as a  master in moral gymnastics… Why do you ask?

Amanpour: (embarrassed, changing the subject) You have a favourite chocolate?

JVZ: Of course. It’s a One Bar. It reminds me of my prison days…you know? A jail window with only one bar left after you’ve filed through the rest. (waves a dismissing hand) Oh, you won’t get it. Don’t worry.

Amanpour: You seem to be quite a Cassanova, Mister President. Officially you are married to four women, and have 19 kids?

JVZ: Twenty-one, officially, if you read the papers. We all know ‘officially’ means you never have to say you’re sorry.  I will not be drawn into a debate about this. All I can say is that I did better than Steve Hofmeyr. (laughs, holding his stomach) He’s such an amateur! But I can tell you this: if I wasn’t the president, the school-fees would have killed me.

Amanpour: You’ve been described as ‘an organic intellectual’ with ‘a cavalier attitude’. Can you elaborate?

JVZ: Yes.(coughs) Farming has always been important to me.

Amanpour: There have been calls for you to resign. Professor Pityana wrote you a letter in this regard, and I quote: “My… motivation for taking this step is the recognition that we have to pull back from the precipice – or to coin a phrase, from this ‘moral cliff’ – where any sense of public good or virtue, loyalty or restraint are absent, and the moral sensitivity of the nation is in paralysis,” and “In other words, the absence of a moral basis for human conduct – especially in public life – is totally lacking and the victims will be the poor and the powerless.”  Surely, Mister President, these are serious words. How do you respond?

JVZ:  Come on now! (cleans his glasses and smiles disarmingly) Do you really think we should start listening to professors in this country? What do academics know? They’re a legacy of Apartheid, a throw-back to colonialism. We’ve progressed far beyond that. If you Americans are still caught in that type of slavery, it’s your own fault.

Amanpour: One last question, Mister President. I know you told me to stay away from (she checks the five-page list of forbidden subjects) asking questions about Nkandla, the Arms Scandal, rampant corruption, crime statistics, the state of schools, hospitals and service delivery. You said you’d invite me to some tribal dancing if I did. So, here’s my final question: how do you see your future in South African politics?

JVZ (coughs, laughs uncomfortably) Well, you see, I’ve never been involved in politics. I don’t do that. I only do what the party tells me to do. I’m a servant, see? I serve the party. They build my house, I sign their papers. Once Nkandla is paid for, I’ll step aside. There are many more comrades that need housing, you see? So, as somebody who’ve never been involved in politics, I don’t have a future in it at all.

Amanpour (stares at the camera) And there you have it. South African President denies being a politician. This is Gertruida Amanpour, returning you to the studio. Good night.

***

They don’t pass a hat around afterwards. Servaas say’s it wasn’t funny at all. Boggel’s suggestion that everybody makes a donation to the National Association for Unappreciated Statesmen and Eligible Amateurs does, however, raise enough for a teddy bear. Gertruida thinks Vetfaan was brilliant, calling his performance a ‘true-to-life’ rendition of a very mysterious character.

She says they must think of doing a show in Grootdrink, but then they’ll pass the hat around before they start.

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame.
All day long I hear him shout so loud,
Crying out that he was framed.
(Bob Dylan)

The Black Bag of Broken Dreams

“Do you recycle, Boggel?”

“Sure I do. Take the bottles and plastics through to Upington every month when I get new supplies. It helps keep our town clean and it’s good for the planet.”

“Ja, everybody is going on about being green these days. I suppose it’s the right thing to do.” Servaas feels marginally better since he heard about Sugarman. “If we don’t, we’ll turn the world into a dump. Mind you, we’re really not far from destroying our environment. Rhinos, elephants, whales, forests…the list goes on and on.”

“It’s not just that, Servaas.” Vetfaan points to the front page of The Upington Post. “You can add politics, education, the economy and some churches to your list. Listen, I don’t want you to start wearing that awful black suit again, but give me one single example of something that’s improving these days. I’m really not sure such a thing exists.” He swills the beer in his glass around a few times, deep in thought. “Service delivery. Price of petrol. Electricity outages. The whole crime scene.” He throws his hands in the air, almost upsetting Servaas’ glass. “What next?”

“Well, there are lots of people trying to make things better. You know, the Mother Theresa’s of the world.” Boggel really doesn’t want another gloomy evening in his bar. They’ve had enough of those recently. “Big companies are getting involved in local communities. The Sunday Times is giving away R1,2 million in school fees to underprivileged  pupils. MNet and Liberty Medical Scheme raised more than R600,000 for charity with a golf game. Local scientists have developed a new Rabies vaccine. And Dr Ramphele announced a new political platform. It’s not just doom and gloom, guys. There is some good news, too.”

“Just listen to yourself, Boggel. Did you say anything – anything – about the government?”

“No. I didn’t.”  Boggel smiles wryly. “But that’s why I brought it up. We had hopes for the government. Dreams. And it’s time to realise we must stop believing they’ll change anything. We had other dreams too. We hoped Valentines would be a celebration of love, not death. We wanted to be a proud nation, but we can’t. We thought people living here are all inherently good, but we certainly have our layer of bad apples. That’s why we must recycle.”

“What do you mean, Boggel?” Oudoom has just sneaked in for a quickie.

“Green minds, chaps, green minds… Look, the bottles I take to Upington, once were full. They were worth something. Now they’re empty, and pose a threat to our environment. If we recycle them, they’re not wasted – they become useful again – worth something. We must do the same with our dreams. Instead of allowing broken dreams to clutter our minds, we must use that energy to recharge – redouble our efforts to make things better. Empty out the old, fill up the new. Don’t wait for the government – start with yourself. Simple as that.”

“Ag come on, Boggel! You sound like one of those motivational speakers now. How can we use tragedy to feed optimism? It’s a contradiction in terms.” Servaas is certainly not buying anything Boggel has said.

Oudoom clears his throat. “It’s what faith teaches us, chaps. It says you must become child-like again. You can choose to look down at your shoes all the time, or you can lift your gaze and inspect the horizon. Boggel is right. All the effort you put into bad-mouthing circumstances, can be channelled towards doing or saying something good for a change. I’ve seen children play with mud, with twigs, with stones – children who have nothing, will make their own toys. And I’ve seen children in a room full of toys, crying because they are bored. Unspoilt children -the poor kids, those from good homes, and those who still believe in a better tomorrow – laugh much more and have much more fun than spoilt children.”

“So you’re saying we’re spoilt?” Servaas lifts his bushy eyebrows to question Oudoom’s statement.

“I’m afraid we are, Servaas. You see, the global village has become very small. Something happens in New York, and it’s on the radio the same day. That’s where the clutter – the pollution – starts. We weren’t wired for the overload of human tragedy we have to digest every day. We’re clanspeople, designed to live in smaller communities where we take care of each other.

“Look: take Rolbos, for instance. Supposing it was just us. A little collection of people with no contact with the outside world. We wouldn’t care about the politics in the Union Buildings. We won’t know about the tragedies that affect other parts of the world or other people. Instead of feeling part of this huge amount of misery, we’ll have our own lives to reflect on – and we’ll work through our own ups and downs.”

“But that means we’ll live in a bubble, Oudoom. Ignorant peasants with no understanding of the world out there.”

“Exactly. We’ll be like children again. And you know what? We’ll regain our sanity. We’ll be happy. And we’ll concentrate our energies towards making things better for each other, rather than talking about misery and tragedies all the time.”

The debate turns into a discussion of the advantages – or disadvantages – of larger societies. In the end, they fail to reach consensus – in true Rolbos-style, with smiles and nods and gentle jibes at weak points in certain arguments. Still, the evening isn’t wasted.

If you visit Boggel’s Place, you’ll find a black bag in the one corner. Vetfaan painted a sign on a piece of wood, reading “Broken Dreams” and nailed it to the wall next to it. The idea is a good one, but it’ll most probably not spread to bigger places like Keimoes of Kenhardt.

What you’re supposed to do, is to place your broken dreams and negative thoughts in the bag before ordering a pint. It’s worked wonders so far. The message is simple: if you can’t say something positive…shut up!

Oudoom is right…children have a much better sense of beauty than adults do. It’s because they have a much greater ability to recycle: crying one minute, laughing and playing the next. But we; the adults and leaders of tomorrow’s generations; we set the example that spoils their innocence. Pollution is, after all, the adults’ fault.

The Icing on the (very bad) Cake

Searching-for-sugar-man-soundtrack“Never heard of it,” Servaas says sourly.

“That’s because you are such an old sourpuss, Servaas.You never enjoyed your youth. Age of Aquarius? You’ve never heard about that, either. And Bob Dylan? Pffft ….!”  Gertruida can’t understand why some kids get born to be boring, serious and frowning all the time.

“It is a good story, though.” Precilla smiles at the memory of the melodies that accompanied the scathing lyrics. “He was an icon, a beacon of hope. He sang the words we were afraid to say. Man, when he does his Blues, it still gives me goosebumps.”

“I think the story behind the movie is even better than the story in the movie. To do an 8mm film in this day and age is almost unthinkable.”

“Not only that, Vetfaan, but the money ran out and they couldn’t buy more film. So the last scenes were shot with a cellphone.”  Gertruida fixes Servaas with a dead-pan stare. “You know what a cellphone is, don’t you?”

Before the old man builds up enough steam to look even more disgruntled, Kleinpiet orders a round.

“I think it’s a great story of belief and conviction and commitment. To me, it says you must never give up on your dreams. I like that.”

Boggel quietly serves a double to the red-faced Servaas. “I’m glad the movie won. It’s good for Bendjelloul, Segerman and Strydom – and even better for Rodriquez. In fact, it’s good all round. And it’s nice to say the name without winching. Oscar… It’s got a nice ring to it, for a change.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Mostly, my attempts at taking snapshots are outdoorsy efforts. Sticking to the theme of Inside, is a challenge…

Safari tent in Serengeti

Safari tent in Serengeti

 

bathroom, Ngorogoro crater

A luxurious bathroom, Ngorogoro crater

inside the lounge of a lodge on the Zambezi

Inside the lounge of a lodge on the Zambezi

a c

A cave where the Boer commandos hid ammunition during the Anglo-Boer war

Travelling alone? It sure messes up the inside of the vehicle..

Travelling alone? It sure messes up the inside of the vehicle..

But this is my favourite: Inside a classroom in Zambia

But this is my favourite: Inside a classroom in Zambia

 

The Curious Disability of Society

Credit: Independant.co.uk

Credit: Independant.co.uk

“He won gold in the Paralympics in 2004. It wasn’t enough. He was 18 years of age, and determined to make his mark in the Olympics – the real competition, against men with real legs.” Gertruida is in her lecture-mode, her tone of voice grave, knowledgeable and informative. The patrons at the bar know this is not the time to interrupt or ask questions. “One has to remember he’s a born competitor. He only started running at the age of 16, because he tried to rehabilitate a knee he injured while playing rugby. Imagine that? Playing rugby with no legs. It makes you think.”

“Now remember: his legs were amputated at 11 months of age. His parents divorced when he was six. To compete with normal kids was a natural instinct and he showed athletic promise early. He boxed, wrestled and played cricket. One can assume his disability served to encourage him to prove himself.

“Now, psychologists will tell you this is more common than you’d like to think. Many disabled people find a way to the top by sheer grit and determination. Part of the picture is overcoming insecurity. You have to accept who and what you are, and then find ways to compensate for the specific handicap you have. Combine a genetic disorder, an unhappy childhood and obvious physical deformity, and there are a thousand reasons why somebody might just give up and allow life to sweep them along. But not this chap. He used his heartaches to be the fuel in the furnace to build up steam. He was going places – despite what Life dished out to him.

“To do that, he learnt to trust his own judgement. What other people thought or said, didn’t matter. Initially he was viewed as a curiosity on the track, but soon his determination started paying off. The small-town nobody became a part of Olympic history. Reporters loved his story. Disabled people right across the world were encouraged to rise above adversity by his efforts. He became a hero…

“But deep down, the scars of the past remained, like they always do in all of us. The struggle for so-called normality. The broken home. The loss of his parents. Maybe that was the source of a gnawing insecurity – or maybe his achievements compensated for them. In the end we get to the 12th of February. He found the love of his life. Oh, I’m sure he knew his athletic ability won’t last. No athlete goes on forever.  But love…now there’s something to accompany you on the journey through life. This was something he couldn’t bear losing. This was something he’d want to protect with his life.”

Servaas holds up a hand. “No, Gertruida, you can’t be sure of all that. You’re guessing.”

“You’re right, Servaas. I am guessing. But in contrast to public opinion, I’m trying to paint a different picture.”

“You’re still assuming things you have no right to.” Servaas can be extremely obstinate.

“Okay.” Gertruida sighs. “Let’s assume then. Let’s assume we have to do with a fragile personality that’s used to losing the most important people in his life. He has achieved the impossible on the athletic track. Lets assume he’s looking ahead at the future, and will lay down his life to protect the love he’s discovered. And lets assume he picked up the gun, just like he said, to protect the woman in his bed.

“Lets assume he fires off the shots, and turns back to talk to her. Let’s assume the horror of the realisation of what he’d done. And let’s assume it is the one single moment that’ll haunt him for ever more.”

“Too many holes in that argument, Gertruida. Why didn’t he call the police or security people. Why didn’t he wake her up first? Why didn’t he know she’s not in bed?” Servaas shakes his head in disgust. “The pieces in your puzzle doesn’t fit.”

“Sure, Servaas. We have the luxury of thinking and analysing and being terribly clever. People around the world have mulled over this for endless hours.

“But he didn’t have the time. He acted. He got out of the starting blocks so fast, he completely forgot to check the basics. And he made the most disastrous mistake of all. Why? I’ll tell you why. I’m assuming it was a subconscious, automatic action to protect his love. He panicked. His thought processes stalled. He became the caveman, protecting his possessions. He stormed the lion with a club and wrecked his life.

“And once again, he lost what he desperately wanted to preserve. Broken home, dead mother, murdered love. And that’s why you saw the face in the court. He’s devastated – only this time, he was responsible for the loss.”

“You’re a good Christian, Getruida. You look at the bright side, searching for a nice answer to a terrible tragedy. I respect that, but I’ll wait for the court case.” Servaas isn’t convinced, but some of the things Gertruida said, gnaws at his conscience. “You can’t possibly say he wasn’t responsible for her death, though.”

“Sadly, no. He’ll have to face the wrath of the law for that. You can’t kill somebody and then argue innocence. All I’m trying to do, is to understand, that’s all.

“What I don’t understand, is the public outcry. If this was just another horrible mistake or some family tragedy, CNN and BBC  and Sky wouldn’t have bothered. But because of the man he is, and because of the woman she was, it has become world news.

“Society loves drama. They dress it up and dissect it. They love to see a hero fall. Sometimes I’m convinced about a universal disability – we just don’t do compassion any more. Find him guilty, if you want. Send him to jail, if you like. If it was premeditated – let him feel the force of law. But if this is a case of an insecure man who panicked and made a disastrous decision…well, then I feel for him. He is guilty of shooting the girl. No question. But what was in his heart when he pulled the trigger? And that, my friends, is what the judge must rest his sentence on.”

“I don’t know, Gertruida…”

“Look, Servaas, you’ve made up your mind. It’s your right to do so. I’m just saying Oscar isn’t the only disabled person in the accused dock right now. We – all of us – are suffering from a variety disabilities right now. We don’t know enough. We can’t see the suffering of the two families. We don’t want to hear any other explanations. And we avoid feeling the pain of those directly involved in the tragedy.

“They say you must walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes to understand him. Society, Servaas, has never balanced on those blades. That’s their disability. They didn’t hear the roar of the crowd in London when he ran that race. They can’t hear the scream of pain when he stands, head bowed, in front of the cameramen. And society – with nothing better to do – will rather condemn than be compassionate. That’s our disability, Servaas, and there’s no prosthesis for that.”

Rape, the Beloved Country

Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

Anene Booysen

Anene Booysen

“We’re not doing this right.” Servaas’ mood hasn’t lifted yet. Recent events depressed the old man to such an extent that Gertruida says he now sleeps in his black suit. “If the Valentine’s day murder hadn’t occurred, the media wouldn’t have forgotten about Anene Booysen so quickly. Her rape and murder was – if comparisons can even be contemplated – a much worse crime. She was repeatedly raped by men taking turns. Her stomach was slit open. Her bowels spilled out on the dusty ground. She was mercilessly beaten. She died. If the media wanted sensation, her case was perfect for it. If people wanted to protest, she was a reason. If parliamentarians and lawmakers wanted to highlight the crime, her funeral would have been a perfect platform. 

“But no. The president – whose own rape case resulted in no conviction, like 90% of such cases do in this country -made a lame statement; a few people expressed their disgust and the poor girl was laid to rest in the forgiving soil of her hometown. The contrast is just too obvious to ignore.”

For once, Gertruida agrees. “You’re right, Servaas. Look what happened in India. Jyoti Singh Pandey caused an international furore and mass protests. The plight of Indian women was brought into sharp focus, and the lawmakers are being forced to review the role of women in Indian society. It’s an ongoing process. The legacy of Miss Pandey will at least mean something for future generations. Her death – so terribly tragic and unnecessary – is having a lasting impact.

“But over here, Anene is just another rape victim, one of the many. In a country where a woman gets raped every four minutes, we’ve become insensitive to the anguish and heartache of rape. However, had the Valentine’s Day murder not happened, the media would have made something more of her case.”

“There is a difference.” Vetfaan sighs at the reality of an unbalanced world. “Equality is just another word. The Constitution makes a big spiel about equality. It says we all enjoy the same rights and privileges, and nobody is more important than anybody else. It’s a lot of hogwash, of course. Anene Booysen came from a poor family in a town most people can’t point to on a map. She didn’t finish school. She worked as a cleaner, at the age most kids should be studying to improve their futures. Her life was a one-way highway to misery.

“So the media chased down the story, ran with it for a few days, and got bored. This was not the case of a beauty queen whose future was snatched away. She never adorned the cover of glossy magazines or appeared in reality TV shows. She never modelled sexy clothes for lecherous men to ogle at. She was simply not that interesting…

“But then Valentines Day happened. I’m sure the media bosses let out a collective sigh of relief. Sensation! Drama! A beautiful woman and an international star! Two people who made South Africans feel proud, did something to shock the nation! Hooray! And the helicopters and taxis and TV vans raced out to the security-fenced complex to camp outside the gates in the hope of getting a vague photo of the accused. For what? To paste the picture of a tormented man on the front page to fascinate the nation?” Vetfaan shakes his head: the world is sick…

“Look, rape and murder is wrong. Abuse – in any form – is a sin. I suggest we urge everybody we meet, to pray for the Steenkamp and the Booysen family.  Grief is the great leveller. No matter who you are and where you live; irrespective of dreams and ambitions, wealth or poverty; the loss of a loved leaves an emptiness that knows no boundaries.” Boggel, too, seems sombre today. “And while they’re at it, lets not forget the daily tally of murders taking place in our society. We’ve become a violent, unthinking community with little regard for others.

“The abuse of women and children is as bad as the abuse of power. Anene is a symptom, guys, not a disease. Our society have learnt from it’s leaders: if you want it, you take it. The weaker gets exploited, the stronger man rules. Equality? There’s no equality. It’s the absence of equality that allows corruption and crime to thrive.”

“Yes, you can pray.” Oudoom sits down heavily. “And it’s right that you do. But sometimes God puts you in a place where you have to make decisions. Sometimes He’s telling us to stop asking Him to fix stuff. Society is the way we made it. We voted a government into power. We chose leaders who are corrupt. We turn a blind eye to the mayhem in the country. And we’ve created an unequal society where the rich and the famous will forever receive more attention than a poor girl in Bredasdorp. So, my friends, if we did it, why think He must make it right again?”

“What do you suggest, Oudoom?”

“Nothing much. I suggest we urge our brothers and sisters in the country, to open their eyes. To stop tolerating and inciting violence. To bring religion back into our schools. To discipline their children with kindness. To open parliament with prayer. To be dignified in their interaction with all others. To realise that we’ll ruin the country if we go on like this.

“It’s not much to ask, is it?”

Suddenly, they all had the same vision. It’s a picture of a young girl whose life may have been such a blessing to those around her. She’s been beaten and raped and stabbed and cut open. Her bowels spill from the slit abdomen. Her blood is seeping away into the ground.

Her name is not Anene. Her name is not Joyti.

Her name is South Africa.

The Dung Beetle Circus

“Now the dung beetle, Mister Vetfaan, is a very clever animal. People look and they say: it’s just a dung beetle, but they’re wrong.” !Ka holds his hands out to the fire. It’s not quite autumn yet, but there is a distinct chill in the evening breeze. “Look, he does not go hunting for food or anything like that. He’ll see a herd of animals – he is very good at finding them by smelling the air – and he’ll go there and wait. He knows there’ll be some dung if he is patient enough.”

Vetfaan is fascinated by !Ka’s knowledge of the desert creatures. During !Ka’s infrequent visits, he’ll always steer the conversation to the veld and the animals that somehow survive on the arid plains of the Kalahari.

“So the gemsbok and the eland and the elephant – they walk long distances to get enough food. Dung beetle waits. What goes in, must come out. And that dung is already half-digested; he doesn’t have to do much to chew and swallow and digest. He feeds on the dung and grows fat. That’s what he does.”

“But !Ka, why do they roll the dung into a ball?”

“Ah, Mister Vetfaan, that’s his wealth! The more dung, the bigger the ball. And the beetle with the biggest ball, is the richest. The lady beetles watch the man beetles very carefully. The man-beetle with the biggest ball of dung, is the one that can choose the female he likes. Lady beetles like a big ball of dung. They’ll mate with the man-beetle who has accumulated the most dung, because that’s where they’ll lay their eggs.So they choose a rich man, so their eggs can hatch and start feeding on the ball. It is all very clever, Mister Vetfaan. If a beetle rolls only a small ball, he doesn’t count. He must collect a lot to be an important man amongst the others.

“Once he’s gathered his dung, he’ll start rolling it across the veld to a soft spot, where he’ll bury it. The other beetles will wonder what happened to his dung, but he won’t tell them. It’s his secret. And one day, when the little beetles appear, the others are so surprised.

“These beetles will become more and more, Mister Vetfaan, as long as animals produce dung. Maybe they’ll be the last living creatures left on earth after everybody dies, who knows?’

***

Vetfaan walks into Boggel’s Place to hear the buzz of conversation.

“Hey, Vetfaan, Oscar managed to get bail! Can you believe that?” Precilla is excited – she still can’t get to grips with the recent events.

“Gee man. Now the lawyers are going to have a field day. They’ll dig up dirt left, right and centre. They’ll discredit witnesses, find forgotten transgressions and figure out ways to make the judge doubt anything the opposition says. It’ll be a merry dance with facts and truths, mixed with innuendos and suggestions. It may become quite messy.” Kleinpiet makes little dancing steps with his fingers on the counter top.

“Aw, that’s nothing. The social media will go to town. Here people can say just what they want – and I understand they’re already doing so.” Boggel is on his crate to join the conversation. “The things they say there…” He lets the remark dangle in mid-air, like good barmen do.

“Don’t forget the media.” Gertruida gestures towards the much-read Upington Post in the corner. “I can understand the lawyers scurrying to get grounds for their arguments; but the media people don’t have to stick to hard facts. They’ll interview families, friends, coaches, team mates, managers and policemen. They’ll quote confidential sources. The magazines will have pictures of Oscar as a baby. Some fool will trace the surgeon who amputated his legs. It’ll be much more than just a dance – it’ll be a circus.”

Vetfaan shrugs and orders a beer.

“There’s nothing new in nature,” he says. “I’ve just been talking to !Ka about exactly the same thing.”

A Parade of Fools

“Despite everything in the past, we used to have a good police force. They had special branches for special types of crime. Then the new government abolished some. Now they’re bringing some back. They did the same thing with the training of teachers and nurses. First they scrapped previous departments and programs, now they don’t have enough people in the right positions. And, of course, they blame Apartheid.”

“Well, Kleinpiet, this time I think they surprised even themselves with the level of stupidity. If you know this is a high-level case, why don’t you appoint somebody that has the sense to wear overshoes at a crime scene? This chap makes statements in court and has to retract them because of their inaccuracy. To top it all, now it’s reported that the investigating officer is facing attempted murder charges himself. Seven of them, no less. He shot at a taxi, for goodness’ sakes!” Despite her usual control, Gertruida’s laugh sounds bitter and disillusioned.

“Look, we have two opposing forces at work in this country: Crime and Policing. And the police are the guys that suffered the most in the new democracy. What happened was that the government kicked out the guys with expertise  because they served the previous government, and – sadly so – because of BEE. Some segments of society can forget about getting promotion in the new SAPS. There seems to be a pattern here: appoint a commissioner, then spend millions on a court case to try – and fail – to prove his non-involvement in crime.

“In the meantime, the criminals are getting more and more expertise. Drugs. Abalone. More than 100 rhino’s this year. Corruption. Rapes. Murders. And how many convictions? Less than 10%? That means the odds are in your favour. If you have a 90% chance of getting away with a million or two, won’t you bay a ticket?”

Vetfaan sighs.

“It’s all a mad scramble, guys. Musical egg-in-the-face. It’s like the boy stopping the ocean from overwhelming the dyke by holding his finger in the breach. We may as well give up.”

“No, Vetfaan. It’s time for the world to take notice. We used to have our problems, that’s true…but we can’t go on accepting this sort of bungling and continue blaming it on the past. It’s time for the government to acknowledge the scale of their problems – and that they’re responsible for them.”

“Oh they will,”Vetfaan smiles ruefully, “they will. Once they notice, they will. And that won’t happen until their faithful supporters see how they are being conned. Maybe Dr Ramphele must team up with Helen Zille…now, won’t that be a foundation for the future?”

“And in the meantime?”

“Why, the parade of fools will just keep on marching…”