“No, don’t tell me they’ve readmitted him…again!” Kleinpiet shakes his head. This doesn’t sound good at all. “I know he’s almost 95, but somehow I hoped he’d outlast the current president, you know? He’s such an important anchor of stability.”
“Only in name, Kleinpiet. He’s been so frail lately that I don’t think he’s the force he used to be. Did you see the pathetic picture he cut when the ANC paraded him the other day? That was such a sick publicity stunt – an old man like that…”
“You’re proving my point, Servaas. Even though he’s terribly old and frail, people still see him – and use him – as a symbol of the success of the New South Africa. I shudder to think what’ll happen if he should pass away.”
“Well, I tell you: I don’t want to think about it.”
Kleinpiet draws a small coffin on the counter top with the froth on his beer. “It’s so difficult to decide what to pray now. Do we ask that he recovers and prolong his agony? Or do we give thanks for his contribution to democracy and wish him peace?”
“I think the latter,” Boggel says. “Can you imagine what he must think of the current state of affairs? Name a state department, and you’ll find a story of corruption. The ideals he fought for have been watered down or discarded. Crime is rampant. Schools are still not being supplied with books. The army and the police are involved in questionable activities. Land distribution is a fiasco. The poor are getting poorer.
“I know I’m generalising but hey, it’s in the newspapers every day. Even the hopes we had for job creation fell by the wayside. The economy is in a state, and the Rand at all-time lows.
“I think the Old Man wouldn’t want to know about these things. I think he’d prefer to rest.”
“But if he dies, the country will be in turmoil.” Precilla signals for another beer. “First, there’ll be a world-wide outpouring of grief. Then the government will try to tap the very last drops of political advantage out of his life and death. You won’t hear anything else on the radio for days and days. With the election looming a year away, I bet they’d use his passing as a tool to unite people behind the ANC. They’ll use his death and funeral to their own advantage, I can guarantee that.
“Then there’ll be fear of unrest. A period of mourning will be declared. Production will drop even further. Whites will be unsure what it all means, and the rest of the country will be at the mercy of the spin doctors who’ll pump propaganda into every medium they can think of.”
“Ja, you’re right.” Gertruida tells them how the Rand will fall to new record levels as overseas investors take to flight because the magic of Madiba no longer assures safe returns.
Servaas shrugs. “If it has to be, it has to be. Madiba’s death will indeed have a devastating effect on the economy. Maybe that’s a good thing. After all the false promises by the government, a failing economy may just be the way to convince the masses to abandon the mad dream of easy living, low productivity and unrealistic wages. A hungry stomach is mush more convincing than flowery promises.”
“Here’s the answer, guys.” Oudoom glances over his shoulder to make sure Mevrou hasn’t followed him before he sits down. “It’s wrong to pray that he gets better. It’s equally wrong to ask for a quiet passing. The fact is: only God knows what is best. We should pray for the patience and the wisdom to accept His way. We should stop trying to impose our will and wishes on God. His way is the right way. If we put our trust in that, things will work out well. You’ll see.”
Boggels slides a beer over to the clergyman. Oudoom is right, of course. But, Boggel, realises, Rolbos may very well be the only community in South Africa that can talk about these things in this manner. The rest of the country will be polarised by Madiba’s passing. The unity he fought for, may die with him.
And that, he thinks, will be the end of the beginning, just like Churchill said. Or maybe the beginning of the end. Only God knows how history will record the rest of our story.