“I quite agree with Graca Machel,” Gertruida says as she puts down the newspaper. “People – worldwide – see us as a violent nation. Time had that horrible statement about Oscar being a gunman, and we all felt it was a bit much. But here Graca says: South Africa is an angry nation… We are on the precipice of something very dangerous with the potential of not being able to stop the fall. The level of anger and aggression is rising. This is an expression of deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed. We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain,
“I believe she’s right. The amount of bloodshed in our country is unacceptable. It’s not just the farm murders – that’s bad enough already – but the country is losing it’s grip on reality. We’ve a president with enough children to fill a classroom. He still has to explain his role in the Arms Scandal. He’s getting rid of the voices of opponents in his own party. I don’t think he is a good example for other politicians.”
“It’s not just that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan reaches for a new beer. “It’s the way the criminal elements rules the country. I hear you mustn’t stop if a police car flags you down. The chances are that you’d be robbed or raped. They say you have to drive to the nearest public spot, like a petrol station, before stopping. Sure, some policemen are honest, hard-working guys; but others find creative ways of filling their pockets. Maybe that’s why Oscar didn’t phone the police: most burglaries are inside jobs and it is an open question whether you’ll get a prompt and honest response. We stopped trusting the people who must protect us.
“And Mrs Machel hit the nail on the head when she said society is getting more and more violent; causing the police to act in kind. It’s a vicious circle.”
“Well, there’s no such thing as peaceful protest any more either. People seem to think the only way their voices can be heard, is by destruction. Burning buses, trains and buildings are apparently the only ways to get the government’s attention. If service delivery is poor, you ransack the municipal offices. That’s on local level. What’ll happen if these protests become a unified, national movement?” Boggel takes a reflective sip, thinking on the chaos that will follow such events. “But maybe that’s what the government wants. Maybe they think these protests are the way to divert attention from the bigger picture. They can’t govern fairly, and there are deep feelings of distrust amongst large segments of society. Soo…create chaos and make people worry about their own safety, rather than allowing government to get involved in a debate they can’t win.”
Gertruida nods. “It’s an old trick. The Nationalists did the same with the Right Wing in the seventies and eighties. They used the Right Wing to scare people into submission. Remember Mafeking? Even after all these years, we don’t know everything…but sure as nuts, that was an orchestrated event. And don’t forget the lies about the famous Third Force in the nineties. Destabilise and rule. It worked in other parts of Africa, why not use it here as well?”
“It’s sad, isn’t it? In the old days, the Nationalists had a lot to say about the Black Danger and the Communists. Now our parliament has a new way of using the exact same tactics. Only the danger is now multicoloured and the Whites are everybody’s favourite scapegoat. It’s us, they say, who are at the root of all the problems in the country. Shoot the farmer, kill the Boer, indeed.”
“It’s going to get worse.” Servaas rests his chin on his folded arms. “We better know that. I can’t see the government getting a grip on this mess. Look at the cock-up in the Congo. What the hell were our soldiers doing there, anyway? And where was their support?
“It’s a sign, guys. Our rulers don’t plan. They do. And if it doesn’t work out, they appoint a commission of enquiry to point fingers at some poor sod who didn’t take the initial decision. More than likely, it’ll be swept under the carpet, like everything else.”
The group at the bar falls silent. Rome is burning. Nobody can stop those flames… Maybe, just maybe, the plaintive voice of Graca Machel will reach beyond the borders of our devastated country.