“What’s this with Obama visiting us? Doesn’t he have enough problems elsewhere – especially at home?” Kleinpiet turns off the radio – he has been trying to figure out how Madiba is doing – or if he’s doing anything at all.
“This is the smoke and mirrors of international politics, Kleinpiet. The Americans don’t like the idea that China is taking over Africa, so their president has to come over with his helicopters, half the CIA and his family. They’ll meet all the important people, look terribly grieved on Robben Island, and tell us how fortunate we’ve been to have had Madiba around. Of course, they’ll say nothing about the fact that they supported Buthelezi in the 80’s and Vorster in the 70’s. It’s a show, my friend, the greatest show on earth.”
“But,” and here Vetfaan lifts an admonishing finger in the air, “they won’t forget that we helped them win the war in the 40’s, nor the fact that that there’s a lot of money involved in exports and imports between us and them. Without us, America won’t be able to influence the political future of Africa. We are, my friends, very important to Mister Obama.”
“Yes, and our president will want to make sure our exports to the US of A aren’t taxed out of the market. So he, too, will suck up with gusto. And there’s American aid to think of, too – as well as the possibility that some athletic accounting gymnastics may very well result in some of that aid landing in the pockets of certain men and women.” Servaas winks and fingers his nose,” you know what I mean…”
Precilla almost manages to suppress a hiccup. “Where I’d like to be a fly on the wall, is the meeting between the First Ladies. There, we’ll have the power of numbers, at least. Democracy at it’s best. Poor Mister Obama has only one wife, while President Zuma obviously is in a far superior numerical position. Maybe they should leave all the decisions to the Ladies’ Meeting?”
“Yeah, and if the kids get the opportunity to meet, South Africa will be proud of what we’ve managed. The odds are 24 to 2 that they’ll play African games.”
“You know,” and here Vetfaan lets out one of his protracted sighs, “the world of politics is in denial of the past. They live on promises and maybes of the future. They hope for a better tomorrow than yesterday. And they don’t care about you and me: look at land reform, or BEE. You think they care? What has Obama done or said about Zimbabwe? Or did he make a statement about the farm murders, crime, and poor service delivery? Wake up man, you’re just a puppet in a big play. They don’t worry about Vetfaan or Kleinpiet in New York – they only want to hear important people saying things that sound nice, that’s all.”
“So it’s all a sham?”
“Yes, Servaas. It’s a game. While the players are on the field, the score is unimportant – just like you are. Or poor Madiba, come to think of it.. We get to be marionettes, that’s all. Little pieces of broken glass in the grand mosaic of international power games. Like it or not – the final score is not about you and me; it’s about people who want a piece of the pie. And that, my friend, is not about us simple folk – it’s about the ego of a few individuals. Get used to it: it’s been like that since the dawn of time, it’ll be like that forever.”
“So what can we do?” Fanny is clearly upset.
“We can stop believing and hanging on to every word that’s said. Look,” Gertruida uses her lecture voice again, “when they caught out Lance Armstrong, it was a scandal. When they detect match-fixing in soccer or cricket, the world howls it’s disgust. But somehow we accept the crazy game of politics, with its illusions and fake values. It’s the biggest, grandest, most obviously fixed game in the world – ever.”
“But guys, without international politics the way it is now, we’d be back in the middle ages. We have to have international relationships. Leaders have to chat with other leaders and come to understand the way the rest of the world lives. They have to exchange opinions and find out how to reduce conflict.” Boggel spreads his arms wide in a gesture of dismay. “It’s a Catch 22: it’s called denial if we don’t accept it – and called statesmanship if we do. However, in both situations we may very well end up on the losing side. I mean: no matter how open and honest the two presidents are, Obama isn’t going to tell Zuma to donate Nkandla to the nation, is he?”
Gertruida finds this amusing. “Har! Well, I’ll tell you what I hope for: that our government will realise that the global village is a bit bigger – and smaller – than they thought. That there are eyes and ears out there that see and hear – even if the mouths don’t choir their disapproval. And I really, really hope our dear president will be sensitive enough to hear – not only the words of praise and encouragement, but also the unspoken encouragement for South Africa to become a great nation once more. If Obama manages to make a few of our leading politicians do a bit of introspection, this visit may well be the single factor that was needed to bring us back on track.”
As usual, Gertruida’s little speech is followed by a reflecting silence. Her audience knows: in the match-fixed game of politics, nothing is quite the way it seems. Hoping that the odds might swing in the favour of the little people on the streets is maybe too much. The best, they realise, would be if Obama told the world that he found in South Africa not only an ailing Madiba; but also a society sick of broken promises, poverty and crime.
Maybe, even, Obama can take up the cry of Amandla! on behalf of the nation…
But it won’t happen. He’d be scoffed at if he spoke the truth.