Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Cave (# 8)

images (30)“It’s the Impimpi File!” The colonel grabs the file from Patrick’s hands, his eyes wide with shock. This is the moment he has been afraid of for so long. Over the years he gathered snippets of information regarding the possibility that such a file exists, until the clues pointed to Dawid van Graan. That’s why he ordered the burglary…and now he’s staring at the file containing the damning evidence. Nobody must see it. Nobody. This could ruin him…

The others back off instinctively, realising that the colonel is serious in his threat. Whatever information is contained in that file, he’s prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to protect it, 

While most of the group are familiar with the term, it is Gertruida who immediately grasps the significance of the find.

During the struggle years, both sides involved in the war used everything they could to gain advantage over each other. Lies, disinformation, propaganda, covert operations and blatant spying formed the canvas on which the horror of war was painted. It was a no-holds-barred time; the rule book was thrown out – life meant nothing.

0At Vlakplaas torture was refined to a gruesome art and here a number of anti-government activists were coerced into spying for the Nationalist government, Human endurance has its limits: at some point the pain, drugs and disorientation erodes the resolve of the most brave of men; and they’ll do anything – anything – to make the torturers stop. That’s when activist turned into informer – or impimpi, as they were known.

Colonel Tshabalala knows this. He has, after all, first-hand knowledge of the efficiency of those methods at Vlakplaas.

He flips through the file, trying to ignore the names printed in bold – but no, they keep jumping at him. Senior officers. Parliamentarians. Captains of industry. The list of impimpis goes on and on, detailing – next to the name – information supplied, when it was supplied and what the result of the information was. Prominent names in society, important ones, loyal party and union members…

And, of course, the reason for his interest: his own name. It screams at him from the page, along with the paragraph containing the names of his comrades who he, in those moments of sheer terror and pain, betrayed.

“That’s why,” Gertruida guesses in an hushed and asking voice, “that’s why you wanted to find that list? Why it was so important? Why you had to? That file contains the records of the prisoners at Vlakplaas – and what happened to them?”

The colonel nods lamely without consciously deciding to do so. He is overwhelmed – not only with finding the file, but especially by the number of names he recognises as important men in South African society today. How many of the comrades remained true? How many, like him, did what so many countries in the world did: supporting both sides in an effort to obtain personal gain?

“There’s only one thing to do; you understand that, don’t you?”

She gets another nod.

It is Rusty – the only smoker in the group – who gets the lighter from her back pack.

***

The helicopter takes the subdued group back to the parking lot at the public’s entrance to the ‘real’ caves. There’s not much to say – not after they all realised that so many men were involved in the struggle for many other reasons than pure patriotism.

But, huddled together, mother and daughter are trying to figure out why their lives took such a wrong turn.

“You know about Dad’s cancer, don’t you?”

No she didn’t. Didn’t know about the tumour in his brain that affected his personality so much. Didn’t know about his mood swings and bouts of depression. Didn’t know how he fought the disease, and how he tried to remain normal – and failed pathetically.

How his paranoia – in the end – made him tear up every bit of post coming to the house. How he had lucid intervals – the last one when he took Rusty to see the entrance of the cave. How he raved about everything he lost and how he blamed everybody – including God – for the miserable life he led.

And how he died – an unhappy man, fighting the many demons of the past he had been forced to live.

“So…that’s what happened to my letters?”

“I suppose so, Mom. He tried to protect me, I think. His thoughts got so jumbled, it was difficult to follow his reasoning. At times he said his condition was a just punishment for what he had done; at others he became sad that the dreams of a New South Africa became such horrible nightmares.”

“Your father was a particularly proud person. He hated failure – and that’s why he was so driven to succeed in everything. I could never understand why he reacted the way he did: chasing me off and refusing to take my calls were so unlike him. And now…now I wonder if it wasn’t the tumour…”

***

Gertruida will tell you (because she knows everything) that we all rationalise events and situations until we make them acceptable. She says the more abnormal the situation is, the more effort we put into such efforts. The brain – according to her – will protect the individual from sorrow, pain and guilt by simply rearranging impressions to create an agreeable picture.

And maybe that is why, when Dolly van Graan, the artist, decided to blame the tumour for her failed marriage, her daughter nodded and said yes, that must have been it. Rusty, with a wisdom not expected of such a fiery character, could not bring herself to tell her mother how often her father cried out for her during the final phases of his disease. Always – always – he’d stop suddenly, as if waking up, to make Rusty promise not to try and contact Dolly. She mustn’t see me like this, he said, I’m a disgrace. I did wrong. I cannot burden her with this as well..

Rusty won’t ever tell her mother about the difficult years following her sudden departure. About the desperate need she had for, at least, a simple explanation. About how, after a while, she rationalised her own feelings of loss by becoming a rebel. Using her short temper and rowdy vocabulary, she has managed to shock and alienate her friends – because she wanted to hurt them first before they hurt her.

But now, in this bizarre series of events, she realises that her mother and father were …. only human, after all. They made mistakes. A perfectly happy family was torn apart because they all rebelled against Life. Her father didn’t like what he was doing, but felt he had no choice. Her mother didn’t fit in with the expectations of society, but she too, felt the need to conform despite her unhappiness. And then, one day, it all went horribly wrong, leaving them all to lead unhappy lives.

That’s why she gives her mother a hug. “Maybe this is a second chance, Mom. Let’s not bugger this one up as well.”

***

Colonel Tshabalala will have nightmares about that dark chamber for the rest of his life. He won’t ever mention the incident to anybody – especially not to the people on that list of impimpis. He’ll go back to Pretoria where he’ll support the promotion of Patrick and Sipho, after he’s sworn them to secrecy.

Yet, despite his renewed efforts to serve his country, he’ll remain a colonel for the rest of his life. The feelings of failure – that he betrayed so many of his comrades – will never fade. Whenever the question of his promotion comes up, he’ll decline it firmly, saying he doesn’t deserve it.

He will, however, visit Dolly van Vuuren from time to time. Those shared moments in the chamber of darkness created a strange bond between the two of them. It became a symbol of the troubled lives they had led and the desperate search they both shared: to live in Light for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s why they’ll find such solace in reciting the Lord’s Prayer every time they meet.

***

Boggel, Gertruida and Servaas returned to Rolbos with the old Volkswagen – Rusty told them she’d come and pick it up again one day, but first she preferred to stay with her mother in De Rust. They had a lot of catching up to do.

Servaas offered to stay in De Rust, of course. To help with whatever, anything, if that’s okay with Rusty? And Rusty actually giggled, telling him he’s a despicable old man, and one day she’d love to spend some time with him. “You looked at me. Despite my abrupt manner and unkind words, you saw me as a woman – a desirable one at that. And you know, Oom Servaas, that’s okay. You chose to see my beauty and not my mask. Every woman needs a bit of that.”

And so we find Boggel’s Place filled with people tonight. Boggel is back on his crate, serving his excited customers. Servaas is in the corner, staring into space with a silly grin, while Gertruida tells everybody that there is no such thing as a coincidence. There is only Life, she says. and It happens. Each living thing has a purpose, she tells them, and each event slots into the next with a specific reason.

Oudoom nods, pats her on the shoulder and orders a round on the house. “Coincidence? That’s God choosing to remain anonymous. That way He makes us think we discover the wonder of Life all by ourselves. Clever, isn’t it?”

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The Cave (# 7)

images (29)The cool air and the fear of the unknown cause the artist to shiver as the men enter the chamber. They’re quite close now, and she can make out their words clearly.

“Look, the blue line disappears into that hole.”

“We’ll follow it.”

(Sounds of a man breathing heavily, followed by grunts and groans)

“I can’t get through this hole.”

“You’re too big, Colonel.”

(Silence)

“Then the two of you must go on. Take the torch. I’ll wait here.”

***

Darkness has immense power: it carries with it the fear of countless generations. Since the dawn of time, darkness is associated with danger, death and horror. Ghosts and zombies, cannibals and carnivores use the cloak of night to stalk unsuspecting prey.

Colonel Tshabalala is no exception – he hates darkness. This is not – as is often the case in Africa – due to superstition. In 1983 he was arrested after the Church Street Bomb incident and spent endless days in solitary confinement…in total darkness. His interrogators would drag him from that cell, question and torture him, and lock him up again. The complete disorientation, the pain and the utter isolation combined to drive him mad with fear. He had no concept of time; not the faintest warning of the next ‘session’ and no clue as to what had happened to his comrades.

Now, with the two agents gone with the torch, the demons of that time return to torment him. Curled up on the floor of the cave, he tries to dispel his fears. He’s never been particularly religious and doesn’t believe in prayer – but he now whispers as much of the Lord’s Prayer as he can remember. He gets to ‘…and give us today our daily bread...’ but can’t remember the rest.

He falls silent. It’s of no use. Then, to his utter surprise, he hears a female voice: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

***

“This is it…” Boggel shines his torch in the new chamber they’ve just entered, letting out a drawn-out whistle. “Just look at this…”

Neatly stacked on the floor, the rows of stainless steel boxes stretch from wall to wall. They are clearly marked with letters and numbers, each box the size of a filing cabinet drawer.

“So we found it,” Servaas is tired and short of breath, “now what?”

“I-I’m not sure. Dad said there is one box I must find. It’s marked with an ‘I’. He said I had to destroy it.”

“But look,” Gertruida points, “all the boxes are marked ‘A 1, A 2,’ and so on. Here are the ‘G’s and there is a stack of ‘H’s.” She walks over to get a clearer view. “And here…here is a single box with an ‘I’ stencilled on it.”

They are crowding around the box when they hear a sound behind them.

“Eish.” Patrick Ngobeni can’t believe his eyes. They were following a single woman, and now suddenly they come across four people. Four! “W-What are you doing here?”

Boggel is the first to recover. “And who, may I ask, are you?”

“No, you tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.” Patrick tries to sound confident, despite the uncertainty in his mind. This is just too much!

“Look,” Gertruida says, “this isn’t going to get us anywhere. Let’s talk about this. I’ll tell you what we’re doing here; and then it’s your turn. There’s no need for this situation to get out of control. Come over here and let me explain…”

***

“So you came here to take photographs? That’s all?” The colonel has heard strange stories in his life, but this tops them all.

During the last half hour the two of them progressed from fear to a strange camaraderie.  When they recited the Lord’s Prayer together, realising that they’re both alone, afraid and completely lost, they shared an uneasy silence for a while. Then, after the who-are-you and why-are-you-here questions, they moved towards each other’s voices to eventually huddle together.

“Yes, indeed. But who, then, are the other people? The ones that got here first?”

“I’m not sure. They must be the people I have been following – all the way from the Kalahari. They have a map of the cave, I think.”

“So…what’s so important about the map?”

While the colonel explains, the artist gasps in surprise. Can it be? Surely not? This cave? Noooo…!

***

“So.” Patrick swallows hard. “It’s all about this box? What’s inside there?”

“We’re not sure at all. My suggestion is that we take it outside and have a look. Then we can decide what to do, don’t you agree?”

***

It is in the dark chamber where the colonel and the artist waits that the strange events of the past few days reach a climax.

“I don’t believe it!” The artist views the group as they emerge from the narrow tunnel. “Rusty?”

“Mom?”

Everything else fades into insignificance as the two women stare at each other in the light of the torches. Then the older woman rushes across to her daughter, whispering I-don’t-believe it over and over again.

***

Outside the cave, with the sun just above the horizon, the group divides in two. Mother and daughter have lost all interest in the box marked with the black ‘I’, and sit down on a large rock to marvel at the coincidence of meeting up like this.

“But why did you leave, Mom? And why didn’t you contact me?”

Divorce doesn’t affect two people. It affects family, friends, colleagues, pets, congregations and every person remotely associated with the couple. Sometimes couples separate because of small differences that grew larger as time went by. Sometimes it is impossible to pinpoint the day they both realised how stupid it is to try to make the marriage work. And sometimes, like in the Van Graan household, the bomb explodes with such ferocity that the date remains etched in memory.

She had been cleaning the house when, quite by chance, she happened to see a slip of paper falling from the waste paper basket she had been emptying. A single name was written on it: Eleanor – and a telephone number. Intrigued and suspicious, she phoned the number.

“That was the start. Eleanor was the name of the secretary of a certain Ferdinand Fourie. She and Ferdinand and your father went on regular ‘business trips’ which involved a lot of spying and a lot of danger. Somewhere, sometime they got…involved. Your father and Eleanor. When she heard it was me on the phone, she immediately assumed I knew – but I didn’t, not at that stage. So she broke down crying, saying how sorry she was and how terrible it had been to live with the guilt. Before I could say anything – I was speechless, like you can understand – she put down the phone.

“That evening your father came home to tell me she had committed suicide… Jumped from the building and fell to her death.

“I won’t tell you what happened during the rest of the evening. We ended up shouting at each other, saying things we didn’t mean; hurting, wounding words. Later, I told him I couldn’t live with him any longer. For years and years I fitted into the mould society expected me to fill, but no longer. I wanted out.

“He pleaded, but my mind was made up. Then he told me to get out. Go, he said, and don’t come back. I stormed out, angry as can be, with only the barest of necessities in my suitcase. I had a bit of money saved – my  father left me a tidy sum after his death – and eventually ended up in De Rust.

“Of course I felt bad. Over the months I tried phoning him a few times, but he never returned my calls. I wrote letter after letter to you because I wasn’t brave enough to talk to you on the phone – but you didn’t answer, either?”

Rusty stares at the lined face of her mother in disbelief. “I never – never – got a single letter from you. Not one.”

Before they could say anything more, the shouts from the other group make them look up sharply.

“Mine! This is mine!” It’s the colonel’s voice, angry and frightened at the same time. “Stand back, or Ill shoot!”

The Cave (# 6)

DSC03053From behind her rock, the artist hears the voices drawing nearer. She forces herself into a small bundle – alone, afraid, and all too aware of the possibilities… This spot is so isolated, these people can do anything to her and nobody will ever know. She hears them …having an argument?…and then, suddenly, it is quiet.

***

“So your father only brought you here? He showed you the entrance and then took you back?” Boggel eyes the crack in the huge rocks with a certain degree of doubt. Where is this leading to?

“Yes, he said I only had to know where to find it – and he said he hoped I never have to go in to the cave. His idea was that somebody had to know where to look for the documents – but only if it ever became really, really necessary. And as you can see, it is virtually impossible to find the cave if you don’t know exactly where to look.”

“Well, lets get on with it, then.” Gertruida takes the ball of wool and the torch from her backpack and steps forward. Unravelling the ball of wool, she puts a rock on the one end of the wool. “Like Hansel and Gretel,” she says.

Servaas makes sure he brings up the rear, mindful of that short skirt and the long legs…

The passage they follow is so narrow that they have to move sideways to get through, but after a few minutes of awkward shuffling, they enter a larger chamber.

“It feels like an ancient vault,” Boggel says as his shines his torch on the high roof where white stalactites reflect the beam to cast eerie shadows on the walls. “And it’s cool in here.”

“Dad said the temperature is a constant 18 degrees Celsius and the humidity low. That’s why it’s such a perfect place to store these documents. According to the map here, there should be a passage of sorts leading off to the right – but I can’t see anything like that.”

images (28)The walls do seem solid and surprisingly smooth. “It’s the limestone,” Gertruida tells them, “hundreds – thousands – of years worth of limestone sludge slowly laying down coat after coat of sediment when the water table is high enough, or when it rained. It gives the soapy texture to the surfaces. And just look at the patterns it formed.”

It is Boggel – with his natural stoop – who finds the passage: It is a dark hole, just at floor level, and it is obvious that it had been enlarged to be a square rectangle, big enough for a person to crawl through.

“Go on, Servaas, you lead the way. You’re the only able-bodied one around, aren’t you?”

***

The artist takes a deep breath and slowly lifts her head to peek over her boulder. Nobody. There’s nobody around… Where…?

Carefully emerging from her hiding place, she looks around to figure out what has happened to the group of people. They can’t just disappear in thin air, can they? Then her colour-conscious mind picks up something that shouldn’t be there. A line of blue leads from under a rock towards the crack in the rocks. Realisation dawns: so that’s where they went! But why…?

She’s still contemplating the question when the regular thudding of a helicopter disturbs the silence. It comes in low and fast. Instinctively and without thinking, she heads for the crack.

***

“There’s somebody!” Colonel Tshabalala sighs with relief. It was easy to find the Volkswagen, but finding its occupants proved to be a problem. The car-guard in the parking area said some people wandered off towards the mountain, while the attendant at the entrance booth to the regular caves was sure he hadn’t seen the red-haired woman. That’s when the colonel, in an almost-hopeless attempt to find his quarry, instructed the pilot to fly in wide arcs across the terrain. With the light fading in the late afternoon, the window of opportunity is slowly closing.

But his gamble paid off, didn’t it? He spotted the figure running towards some rocks – and who else could it possibly be than that the woman he has to find?

“Land! Land there!” He points at the small clearing next to a rock formation.

***

When the artist hears the helicopter landing, she tries to see what is going on outside. Three black men are getting off the helicopter: one in uniform and two rather suspicious-looking men. What are they doing here? Is it a police investigation? Was somebody murdered here and now they brought the criminals to point out the spot? Worse…point out the…corpse?

She has to get away! She’s only here to take a few photographs, dammit! There’s no way she wants to get involved in some investigation. No! There’s only one choice: follow the passage, hide, and wait for them to go.

She’s about halfway through the narrow passage when – to her horror – she hears them following her.

***

Patrick Ngobeni – despite his headache –  hides a smile while he follows the colonel in the narrow passageway. An easy life and an unhealthy diet have combined to create an impressive figure: now the colonel huffs and puffs his way ahead, drawing his stomach in as much as possible in his efforts to forge ahead. He progresses slowly, painfully, down the passage. The pilot has supplied them with a single torch, so the two hung-over men are following the bits of light that escape past the heaving body of their superior officer.

“She’s left  a line of wool on the ground, we simply have to follow it. Hopefully we’ll get to an easier section.”

***

The artist gropes about in the dark. She has emerged from the narrow crack in the rocks and now finds herself in a larger space. She’s never experienced such intense darkness – it is impossible to see anything at all. The passageway acts as a loudspeaker but the sound of the voices is distorted and she cannot make out the words. One thing is certain – they’re following her…

Lances of light! Oh, my word, they’re near! Panic-driven breath escape through pursed lips. Where to? Where to?

The reflected rays of light down the passage create monstrous shadows of evil and dread, but at least it dispels the darkness to some extent. There! Some stalagmites! A recess behind them… She crawls over to her new hiding place to cower down as the men enter the chamber.

Is this it? The end of her life? What do they want with her? Rape? Noooo….!

Scenes from her life flash by. The happy childhood. University. Dates with nervous young men. The wedding. A pregnancy. And then, over the years, the disillusionment of the realities she had to face. Her husband’s secrecy. The affair with the pretty young blonde. The arguments. De Rust.

She used to be the golden girl, the envy of so many. The perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect mother…she played these roles because they were expected of her. But deep inside, in the shadowed areas which others never saw, she hated the routine of living up to other people’s expectations. Yes, she chaired the Women’s Reading Circle and helped various charities. She attended PTA meetings and church services. She lived the life others dictated. But she hated it. Every second of that make-believe world was unbearable. And she stuck it out, because that’s what society wanted. 

She fitted the mould with a pretended smile and a permanent mask. She ceased to be herself. 

The divorce was the key to the lock in her jail. She needed an escape and she grabbed it with both hands when the opportunity arose. At last – at long, long last – she could be herself. Dress in shabby clothes, get up early, have only one person’s washing and cleaning up to do. It took eighteen months to rediscover the artist inside her. And now, now that she’s established herself, she’s hiding in the pitch-dark of an unknown cave. Caught, like in real life before – in a situation with no escape.

Has it all come to this? Unknown men looking for…what?…in a cave?

Kneeling down on the smooth surface of the chamber, she starts praying softly.

The Cave (# 5)

Swartberg rock formations

Swartberg rock formations

“Aaarghh!” Patric Ngobeni can’t move. Something big and heavy is pinning his head down. His companion, the soft-spoken and usually silent Sipho Mahlangu, stirs painfully on the bed Mevrou made for them last night. She had borrowed a large mattress from Sammie and moved the lounge furniture in the parsonage to make room for the unexpected guests.

“They don’t know Green Ambulances in Gauteng,” Oudoom said as they arranged the bedding the previous evening, “these guys will need Aspirin in the morning. And maybe,” he adds with a mischievous glint in his eye, “a good sermon about Loving Thy Neighbour.”

“Shame, Oudoom, whatever they did, they don’t deserve such harsh punishment. Did you see their tears when Kleinpiet served the last round? They showed real remorse then – I felt sorry for them. Sitting in an office year in and year out can’t be fun – and then suddenly you get orders to break into somebody’s house to steal papers. And, to top it all, you get blamed for missing a map that was never there. Shame, I took pity on them.”

“But I don’t think that Patrick guy should have phoned the colonel. When you tell your superior officer he can stuff his job right up his you-know-what, it usually has a negative impact on your career options in the future. And … I expect more visitors… Anyway, these two boys are in for a hard time.”

Of course, Oudoom was right.  It takes Patrick a full five minutes to figure out that his head is weighed down by a monstrous headache, and another five to vaguely recall being helped to Oudoom’s house. When he finally moves his head far enough to get Sipho in his field of vision, he is relieved to see that his colleague is still breathing. And then, just as he considers dropping off again, he hears the distinct whup-whup-whup of helicopter blades…

***

“Boggel, you can sit in the back, if you like. You may be more comfortable there.” Servaas keeps his voice light, as if he’s doing Boggel a favour.

“Sure thing, Servaas. Thank you. Oh… Gertruida will do the driving today, so you two can have a nice chat in front while Rusty and I relax in the back.”

If he didn’t have a belt, Serrvaas’s shoulders would have slumped right to the ground. His disappointment is made worse by Gertruida’s hearty giggle – she’s actually enjoying his embarrassment.

“You old coot you! You were hoping to sit next to sexy Rusty, didn’t you? Now you’re stuck with me, Servaas…and yes – you may look at my legs while I’m driving.” Of course the others find this extremely funny. Servaas bites his lip, forces a smile, and gets in.

images (27)The drive to Oudtshoorn takes them through the awesome scenery of Meiringspoort. Gertruida lectures her passengers about the road that was opened in 1858, making it possible for the farmers of the Karoo to transport a milion kilograms of wool to the little export harbour at Mossel Bay by 1870. She also tells them how the sandstone ridges buckled and twisted to form the Swartberg Mountains while the continents of the world were still joined in the single landmass called Gondwanaland. Servaas takes great interest in this lecture, using it as an excuse to twist around in his chair ‘to look at the magnificent formations’. Rusty has to remind him that these formations are outside the car.

 The little town called De Rust reminds Boggel of Rolbos, and they stop for a late breakfast at The Village Trading Post. Servaas is so preoccupied with Rusty’s legs, that he doesn’t notice the woman crossing the street with a camera bag slung over her shoulder. Rusty, on the other hand, doesn’t notice her either because she’s turned around to point an accusing finger at the old man. Doubled up in  laughter, Gertruida and Boggel also pays no attention to the artist.

Before she drives off, the woman in the car glances over at the little group of people entering the restaurant. Tourists! Yes they are the life-blood of the town, but why do they always have to act like clowns? Then she notices the red hair of the one woman; and for a fleeting moment the unexpected memories of the past ambush her to cause an unwilling sob.

***

The atmosphere in Boggel’s Place is everything but happy when Colonel Tshabalala walks in through the swing doors. His two agents are trying to ignore the nausea which prevents them from drinking coffee, while Oudoom and Mevrou exchange guilty glances. What have they landed themselves in?

Somewhere in the military books, it states that an angry superior officer must voice his displeasure in a certain way. This is done with a ram-rod straight back, head thrown back, and an extremely loud voice (preferably with a baton tucked under the left arm, leaving the right hand free to amplify the spiced words). The colonel, despite his lack of sufficient experience, does a marvellous job. Standing six feet away from his two agents, he manages to rant for a full ten minutes without repeating himself once.

“Now,” he turns to Kleinpiet behind the counter, “you…!” He finally runs out of steam as he sees the surprised innocence on the stand-in barman’s face.

“Coffee, Colonel?”

Tshabalala throws his hands in the air in disgust, dropping the baton.

“Come on you two! On the double! We’re tracking that Volkswagen, and it’s heading towards Oudtshoorn. Get in the bloody helicopter! March! And pick up my stick, you fools!”

As the sound of the rotors fade away, Oudoom sits down with a sigh.

“Better mix something green and strong for me and Mevrou, Kleinpiet. Get one yourself, as well. I think we’re going to need it.”

***

dsc_0406“That’s the entrance to the main cave,” Rusty points, “but there’s a footpath leading from the parking area. We have to follow that until we get to a stream. That’s where we veer off to the right and start aiming for a rock formation that resembles the contours of a face. Come, I’ll show you.”

“Let the men walk in front,” Gertruida says with a wink, “we women will follow. Snakes, you know?”

Giggling at Servaas’s disappointment, the two ladies fall in behind Boggel and the disgruntled old man as they start the long journey into the mountain; the torches and water bottles clinking softly in their backpacks.

***

There! That’s the scene in the photograph. The artist sits down to wait for the sun to dip towards the horizon  When the light is right, she’ll get the perfect shot – the one that captures the atmosphere she wants to depict in the painting.

Inadvertently, her thoughts stray back to the colour of the young lady’s hair.

Before her own hair turned the colour of ash, that’s what she looked like. Red-headed, vivacious, lovely. Married… Yes, there were happy days. Many of them. But then she found out, and that was the start of the slow slide down the slope of unhappiness. The arguments got worse before the silences became more intense. And in the end – when the terrible finality of their incompatibility became a huge animal that was slowly devouring both of them – it was the unbearable sadness of being together that made the divorce so easy. 

She walked out, leaving everything behind. Everything. Just took a bag with essentials, walked out, alone. Took the bus, got off in De Rust, started over. She had the art in her though, an animal that refused to go away – a friendly one that comforted her in those dark, lonely first years. And she fed that animal, made it bigger, stronger; refining her talent until at last it started feeding her.

And then her husband-that-was died and she felt more alone than ever. Maybe if she tried harder? 

She shakes her head. No, that door is closed. He died. Yearning for what she has lost isn’t going to help anything. She’ll just sit here and wait for the right moment for her photographs, enjoying the silence and the comfort of these magnificent mountains.

The sound of approaching voices makes her look up sharply. People? Here? And she’s a woman, alone? Gathering her camera, she slinks away to hide behind a rock. Please, the last thing she wants now, is company.

The Cave (# 4)

red-checkeed-mini-skirts-in-girls-hotServaas just can’t get the young woman out of his head. Those legs! Those curves! The skirt… That smile (when she’s not looking at him)!  It’s 5 o’clock am and he’s given up on trying to sleep. Now, with the mug of coffee warming his arthritic fingers, he sits on his stoep in front of his little house, waiting for the sun to colour the eastern sky. What is it about Rusty he finds so alluring? She’s young enough to be his daughter (grand-daughter if he started earlier), yet he can’t keep his eyes off her. And his thoughts! Deliciously dark and tantalising…  Oudoom guessed about them, but the poor clergyman will never know the extent of his sin. The visions floating around in Servaas’s  grey head are far worse than Oudoom can ever imagine in his wildest fantasies…

The black BMW crawling into town interrupts his imaginary trip up those Cat-in-a-hat socks. The vehicle approaches almost silently, moving like a leopard stalking a prey. No lights. Only the crunch of gravel beneath the low-profile tyres.

Servaas gets up, hitches the baggy pyjama bottom to a respectful height, and walks down to his rusted front gate. This vehicle may very well be bad news. and he wants to know what it is doing here.

“Hey old man!” The BMW has stopped, and the voice freezes him next to his gate.

“Good morning…” His greeting is as hesitant as he is.

“You stay here?”

“No, I’m the local Father Christmas. Just arrived from the North Pole. A bit early this year.” Damn them for interrupting his voyeuristic daydream!

“We’re looking for someone.” The man doesn’t even react to his sarcasm. “Here, I have a photograph.”

Servaas takes his time getting to the car. When the driver turns on the interior light, Servaas notices that there are two men inside the vehicle – big, burly, strong men. He’ll have to be careful.

The photograph, inevitably, is of Rusty.

“Yes,’ Servaas says quickly. “Her car broke down. That’s it standing over there.” He points to the Volkswagen standing outside Boggel’s Place. “Yesterday. Yes, I think it was yesterday. Or the day before – at my age… But then some tourists came and she asked them for a lift. They went that-a-way,” he points towards Bitterbrak, “and that’s all I know.”

The man doesn’t thank him – simply nudges the driver, pointing down the road. Then they’re gone.

***

Within half-an-hour, they’re all in Boggel’s Place while he waits for the peculator to boil.

images (25)“Listen,” Servaas has their full attention, “those low-profile tyres won’t last on this road. They’ll be stranded by now. That means we have to move and move fast. What have you figured out, Gertruida?”

Servaas tries to see if Rusty is impressed. He explained he couldn’t very well have said she isn’t around – not with her car fitted with a tracking device standing out there in plain sight. If she appreciates his creativity, she isn’t show it. He sighs…

“Well,” Gertruida is still in a night gown, eyes heavy from lack of sleep. “The only thing I can think of, is to get Rusty out of town – but that doesn’t mean the cave is safe. Maybe we should set up an expedition to explore that cave. If needs be, we can destroy the documents. Or, better still, move them.”

“I’ll drive,” Servaas says hopefully.

Vetfaan says Fanny is almost due, and they can’t go. Kleinpiet also shakes his head after noticing the disapproving look from Precilla – she sees Rusty as serious trouble: she’s just too sexy.

“If Kleinpiet can watch the bar, I’m in,” Boggel peers over at his friend, and smiles happily when Kleinpiet nods.

***

Meiringspoort. Credit: bidorbuy

Meiringspoort. Credit: bidorbuy.co.za

In the sleepy town of De Rust, just east of Meiringspoort, an artist tilts her head sideways to view her latest painting. Living alone as she does, she likes getting up early to drive up into the mountains in order to catch the early morning light on the towering rocks of Swartberg. Lately, she’s been exploring the area north of Oudtshoorn to photograph the scenes that would become paintings during the long, lonely days in her studio.

Ever since her divorce – is it already ten years ago? – she has followed her life-long dream of being an artist. A real artist, mind you, living of the proceeds of her paintings – not one of those hopefuls that try to sell their shoddy work on Saturday markets and church bazaars. It was this obsession with perfection that contributed to the divorce in the first instance: her dear husband found it increasingly difficult to see her destroying canvas after canvas when the end result didn’t meet her expectations. That, and the endless secret meetings with men and…women…he never wanted to explain.

Life, according to her, is a simple question of doing your very best. As on canvas, so with relationships: if the picture isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth anything.

Ah, yes…this one will do. It’s exactly like the picture on the photograph. Now she’ll tackle that difficult one: the limestone outcrop she saw while hiking in the mountains with her water bottle and her camera a week ago. She likes the uneven surfaces of the rocks, the crags, nooks and crannies in the folds of these old stones. They resemble life in a manner of speaking, she thinks. We start off with shiny, smooth surfaces, only to be scarred and scoured by events until we’re old and wrinkled and…ugly. A beautiful ugliness, she calls it, a celebration of  unprettiness.

She peers at the photograph, remembering the atmosphere of the moment. This is important, she likes to say. It’s of no use to paint a picture if you can’t convey the feelings caught up in it. Now, in this photograph, she has to depict loneliness, an eerie feeling of mystery and the grandeur of the mountains. Yes, she remembers exactly what she felt when she took this photo: an strangely upsetting feeling; like a foreboding of evil, caught up in the magnificence of the surroundings.

It’s going to be a challenge…

***

The trip to Oudtshoorn is a long and cramped journey. Boggel – with his bent back – gets the front seat next to Rusty, while Gertruida has to share the back seat with Servaas (who positioned himself so that he can see Rusty’s legs between the split in the front seats). Despite it’s age, the old Volkswagen makes good time trough the barren wastes of the Karoo.

3753“We’ll overnight at the Karoo National Park,” Gertruida announces. “They have a fantastic restaurant and nice chalets. Then we women can share, and so can you men.” She stares pointedly at Servaas, who sighs heavily. “Then it’s a short hop to Oudtshoorn tomorrow – especially if we start early.”

***

Kleinpiet is behind the counter when the two burly men stumble in to the bar.

“May I help you gentlemen? You seem parched.”

“Eish, you have no idea. Two flat tyres. Two! And we had to walk back all the way.” Patrick Ngobeni sits down heavily. “We need two beers – and we have to rent a car.”

“The nearest car rental is in Upington, my friends.” Kleinpiet has to struggle not to smile. “It’s a long way.  Why not have a Green Ambulance – that’ll sort out your problems fast.”

Patrick has visions of a four-wheeled ambulance and nods eagerly. “Sure, anything.”

An hour later the lusty singing in the bar is loud enough to make Vrede scurry off to the shed behind Sammie’s Shop. Just like Kleinpiet hoped, the Cane-and-Crème-Soda mix made the two agents forget all about their mission.

***

“The light is wrong,” the artist tells herself. “It’s too vivid. Now, If I can get the sun at more of an angle, it’ll show up the cracks and crags even better. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll go back and get a better shot. An afternoon shot. Yes, That’s what I’ll do…”

***

A lonely artist. Three Rolbossers. One freckled and very sexy woman. And two very drunk agents. One would tend to say that it’s a random collection of non-related people.

How wrong would one be…

The Cave (# 3)

images (26)“You see, my father mapped out the entire Cango IV, noting the intricate channels that connected the various chambers. In the deepest one – they called it Botha’s Hall – they prepared the space for the hundreds – thousands – of secret documents. These were sealed in plastic containers within stainless steel boxes before being stacked inside the cave. These boxes were small enough to be pushed, pulled and carried through the narrow passages to get to their final resting place.” Rusty indicates the box size to be about two shoe-boxes big.

By now, of course, the entire Rolbos has gathered in the bar to listen to her story. Gertruida has told Rusty about their adventure with Sergeant-major Grove, and this seems to have reassured her. 

Then Rusty continues with her narrative, explaining that her house had been burgled a week ago. 

“Aunty G, they burgled my flat while I was at the Harley Club last week and broke open a filing cabinet. I kept a lot of Dad’s papers there – letters, photo’s and other documents he prized. Amongst them was mention of the Swartberg Project – about CCCP – and only these were stolen. Nothing else…”

Gertruida interrupts her. “And the map?”

“No, not the map. Dad was always adamant that the map should be kept separate, and that’s what I did. I kept it in the drawer beneath my socks…” She smiles coyly, “no burglar wants to steal old socks…

“Anyway, it is clear that they – whoever they might be – knew exactly what they were looking for. Nothing else was taken – not even the loose change that was on top of the cabinet. I think they hoped to find everything about the Cango-story amongst those documents – and there certainly is enough to be worried about. Although they didn’t get the map, there is enough to point them towards the new entrance to the North of the ‘known’ caves.”

***

About five years ago, when Dawid van Vuuren realised he was slowly losing his battle against cancer, he took Rusty to Cango IV. It was to be their last trip as father and daughter, and the details of that time is still crystal clear in her mind.

IMG_1809.JPGa“You won’t find that entrance if you didn’t know it was there. It looks like a thousand other depressions, holes and crags in the limestone ridge. Look, I took a photograph.” She fishes a picture from her hand bag to hold it up. “Even with this, you won’t be able to find it. You have to know where to look, and that’s why Dad made me go there.

“We had such a good time…”

“But I still don’t know why you are worried about a previous government’s documents, Rusty?” Servaas stares at her cleavage while he speaks. “Suerly it doesn’t matter any more?”

“Listen, Oom Servaas, if you can’t look me in the eye when you speak to me, you can take your old-man fantasies and go have a cold shower.” Her eyes flare in anger. “I’m not just a bloody object to stare at, understand?”

Gertruida hides a satisfied smile. It’s high time somebody gives Servaas a bit of lip – he’s not used to being criticised. Seemingly not interested in his response, Rusty nevertheless answers the question.

“Those files contain not only record of the Natioalists covert plans, but also enough information to embarrass many countries. My Dad said they contain evidence of the CIA’s support for the ANC, Buthelezi and the AWB. In other words, America helped everybody:  the Nationalists, the Right Wing and the terrorists – or freedom fighters, if you prefer to call them that. England did much the same: they harboured the ANC’s government-in-exile while they supplied help to the Nationalists. France, Italy, Australia…you name a country and you’ll find that the world didn’t know half the truth of various government’s involvement in both sides of the struggle. Most of them postured themselves to benefit from whatever the outcome of the war was.

“But there’s more, my Dad said. He mentioned funds in Switzerland, hidden stashes of weapons, and diamonds. 

“My involvement? I promised him to protect that information. He made me swear a solemn oath. He said that information is so sensitive that it’ll start a civil war in the country….but he also said the documents had to be preserved.”

Dawid van Vuuren reckoned that there will be a time in the future, when the truth about the struggle must be made known. In his opinion at the time, the country will need at least five decades post-Apartheid before society normalised. “Look, it took fifty years for the Afrikaners to stop rebelling against the English. I suppose it’ll be the same for the New South Africa. A generation has to die, and the past mustn’t be so tangibly real any more. Only then will people see their countrymen as companions on the same journey; as equals building a new future. That’s the time when citizens will be able to see the 80’s and the 90’s in their true perspectives. Before that, this information will only polarise an already-emotional society – with dire and disastrous consequences.”

Rusty sits down on the high bar stool, flattening the short skirt over her shapely thighs. Servaas groans with pleasure. 

“Boggel,” Rusty’s voice has an angry edge to it, “please tell this stupid old man to stop perving? Make him sit down on your side of the counter.”

***

“Is this everything you took from the cabinet?” Colonel Tshabalala stares at the two men across the polished surface of his over-sized desk. “Everything?”

“Yes sir.” Patrick Ngobeni shifts uneasily in his chair. “There wasn’t a map.”

“…So you searched the rest of the house?”

“Er…no sir. We thought this was what you wanted.”

The colonel sits back, making a steeple with his fingers in front of his lips. 

“And the woman has disappeared?”

“Y-yes sir.”

“Would you describe your little mission as a success then, Comrade?” The last word is hissed with venom.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Let me tell you what will happen. You will find that woman. You will find that map. And you will find that cave. Those are your orders. Is. That. Clear?”

***

A suitably chastised and down-cast Servaas sits next to Boggel, facing the rest. At least, he thinks, I have the full-frontal view now.

“So what do you want to know, Rusty? How can we help?”

“Aunty G…I don’t know. Destroying the map isn’t the answer. If they – and again: whoever they may be – if they know about the cave, they can send in squadrons of troops, hordes of people, to search the area. In those documents it states the entrance is to the north, and about  fifteen kilometres from Cango I. It’ll be a question of time before they find it.

“That’s why I came here – Dad said you’re the only one I can trust. Only now…I’ve ended up telling a whole town – including that randy old lecherous man. I-I suppose you’re all involved now.”

“Well,” Gertruida frowns down at her glass, “we’ll have to figure out something. The documents must disappear. Or the caves must disappear. Or the men looking for them, must be dissuaded. Or something…

“Did you tell anybody you’re coming here?”

“No, not at all, I’m not stupid.” Rusty bites her lip to control her temper.

“Did you use your credit card to fill up at a petrol station?”

“Yes, at Grootdrink.”

“And is your Volkswagen equipped with an anti-theft tracking device?”

“Of course! They steal cars all the time.”

“Then, my dear Rusty, we can expect visitors sometime soon.”

The Cave (# 2)

Union Buildings, Pretoria

Union Buildings, Pretoria

Getruida – in the way only she can – tells them of the strange episode in the State President’s office in 1988. She remembers how agitated the president was when he issued the instructions to develop the cave.

***

“I shall soon be a very unpopular President.” Flicking his tongue over his lower lip, he held his index finger high. “I have signed an agreement with Gorbachev and Reagan at the end of May in Moscow. This will see the withdrawal of Cubans and Russians from Angola – but we have to remove our presence in South-West Africa. I cannot begin to explain to you what level of pressure they applied to make me sign that paper.”

He’s getting old, Gertruida thought at the time, the war is strangling our economy, the world is united against us, and there are bombs going off almost every day. No man can tolerate this forever.

 “The 22nd of December will see us signing a final agreement with the United Nations, but I shall stand firm: we shall not allow any outside interference in our internal affairs. They can have Namibia as long as they leave us alone.

“Now listen to this: giving in the the UN  demands will not stop the terrorists we have inside our country. They will see this agreement as a victory for their cause. The White electorate will want to crucify me. I’m afraid my days in this office will come to an end soon. There are forces at play here; forces with the power to do anything they like…anything!

“So. My administration has done a lot to fight for the cause of everybody in this country. We’ve built up the country, we’ve defended it. And in doing so, we had to do … things … which the outside world will never understand. We’ve built aeroplanes, missiles, weapons. We’ve developed the ability to wipe out entire communities with gas and certain biological agents. We have the atom bomb…”

“I do not want the information on these actions to fall in the wrong hands. It’ll be your job to develop a storage facility to keep thee documents safe.

“Do you understand?”

***

“The meeting was held on the 20th December, 1988. The president suffered a stroke on the 18th of January. To this day, there is speculation whether the stroke was…induced…in some or other way.” Gertruida shrugs. “We’ll never know…”

Sudwala Caves, Mpumalanga

Sudwala Caves, Mpumalanga

“Dawid van Vuuren was tasked to lead a small team to investigate various possibilities. To build a facility to house these archives, would have been stupid – too obvious and certainly too visible. The idea to hide it in some natural structure appealed to the task team. They considered some old mines and Sudwala Caves, but then the team heard about Cango IV.

“You see, when they discovered a third set of chambers in the Cango Caves in the middle 70’s, they thought they had come to the end of the caves. Then, at the end of ’88, a geologist – Stoffel Steenkamp, a nephew of Dawid van Vuuren – discovered a cave in the rugged outback of the Swartberg Mountains. Upon exploring the cave, he found an underground river. Realising the water was flowing towards the general location of the Cango Caves, he added a dye to the river, rushed over to the Cango Caves – and confirmed that the two complexes were linked.

“To cut a long story short: he had found the most distant part of the Cango Caves. He told Dawid. Dawid swore him to secrecy and did a personal inspection of the new complex of chambers.

“And that, my friends, is where the documentation of the Apartheid Government’s secrets are kept.”

“But what is the connection with Rusty? I know her father had something to do with that project, but why is she worried?”

 “Rusty kept the maps Dawid van Vuuren entrusted to her before his death. I don’t know the details yet, but something has happened to those maps and she’s worried. Like her father had advised her, she contacted me…”

***

Rusty van Vuuren does justice to her name.  Red-haired, freckled, brown-eyed and beautiful in an off-hand-reddish kind of way, People who know her, are also aware of the fiery temper and the command of an extensive vocabulary which you won’t find in most dictionaries. All the same, she can be funny, lovable and extremely considerate when she puts her mind to it. Not surprisingly, she loves to dress in shades of yellow and red (sometimes, when she feels frivolous, adding a touch of blue).

She gets out of the ancient Volkswagen (which creaks contently as the overworked engine cools down) to stand uncertainly next to the pothole in Voortrekker Weg.  The little crowd on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place stare back with an equal amount of doubt. Gertruida has told them to expect a visitor, but Rusty is more – so much more – than they expected.

k-bell-striped-socks“Nobody wears Cat-in -a-Hat socks any more,” Precilla whispers, staring at the well-formed calves.

“That red dress is a short shirt,” Vetfaan says with great admiration – just before he receives Fanny’s elbow in his ribs.

“Definitely a weird one,” Servaas can’t stop looking at those legs.

Boggel sighs. “She’s bee-autiful…” He’s maybe the only man who looked at her face.

“I’m looking for Aunty G…er…Gertruida?” Rusty has singled out Gertruida, but she’s still not sure. Mevrou seems to be too stern, but you never know. It’s been, she reckons, twenty-odd years…

“Come on in, child, you’ll cause a veld fire in you remain outside.” Gertruida steps down to guide her inside.

“Now – there’s a woman! Wow! They didn’t make them like this in the old days.” Servaas watches as she hops up the stairs, the skirt flaring this way and that as she walks. “I’ll have to double my blood pressure pills…”

“Close your eyes, Servaas, or you’ll surely die.” Oudoom scowls at his head elder as he mutters: “Sins of the flesh…”

And so, as they gather around the counter to hear her story, they could never have guessed what the result of her visit would be. Or what effect it would have on the country. No – the men only had eyes for her, while every woman in the room felt the stirrings of jealousy.

The Cave (# 1)

Swartberg Caves

Swartberg Limestone Ridge with Cave Openings

If you were to ask Gertruida (because she knows everything), she’d tell you there are no such things as coincidences. They simply don’t exist in her vocabulary. She reckons everything that happens, happens for a reason. Oudoom once said that this is wrong, as it borders on fatalism; but in the ensuing argument Gertruida mentioned that you can’t surprise God. Is it not true, she asked, that everything is known to Him, and that He has long ago determined the fate of every living being? A coincidence is simply His way of guiding somebody to a specific destiny, she said. Oudoom grumbled, sipped his beer, and changed the subject.

Still, when the telephone call came, even Gertruida couldn’t have guessed where it would all lead to. Nor could she have guessed that a meeting in the President’s office – oh, was it almost thirty years ago? – could have an impact on on the lies of the men and women living in the small Kalahari Town called Rolbos…

“Hello, Aunty G?”

“This is Gertruida. Who did you want to speak to?”

“Oh, thank heavens!” The voice was young, excited. “I’ve almost given up hope. I want to – actually, I have to – come and visit for a few days. We have to talk – but not on the telephone. Will that be okay?”

Gertruida frowned her irritation, but kept her voice level. “Who is this?”

“Oh, my! I’m being rude. Completely forgot my manners. So sorry, Aunty G.” Long intake of breath. “I’m Rusty. Rusty van Vuuren? You remember? You used to work with my father, Dawid van Vuuren. He always spoke so highly of you.”

Gertruida couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath. Dawid van Vuuren? Yes, she remembered. He used to be a friend of Ferdinand Fourie in the time they all worked for National Intelligence…somewhere towards the end of the 80’s. She vaguely remembered the tall man with the piercingly blue eyes and his mousy, pregnant wife at a dinner party she had hosted one wintry evening. She had red hair, she still remembered. And yes, they did meet occasionally after that; a colleague-friendship that petered out after Ferdinand’s disappearance. And oh! Of course! The baby girl was born, a replica of her mother; now she forced herself back in time to remember a phase she didn’t want to think about.

“The last time we met, you were five or six years old, Rusty.” Gertruida tried to picture the toddler.

“Er…no. Sorry, I know this comes as a surprise and all that, but my Dad told me: if ever this thing surfaced in the future, you’d be the only one that would know what to do. Sooo…,” the voice became strained and uncertain. “…so I don’t know… Ag, it’s such a mess.”

“What, exactly, is this about?” There were so many skeletons in the past,..

“It’s that project Dad spoke about when the brandy couldn’t make him forget, Aunty G. The Swartberg Project…”

***

6668274Cango Caves Conservation Project, they called it. CCCP. Just another acronym to disguise an ominous, last-resort plan to keep the Nationalist secrets hidden in the event of a new government taking over. The generals liked the play on the USSR tag, the politicians loved the way they could mislead the public into thinking it has something to do with protecting the Cango Caves. Cango Caves Conservation Project – also known more cryptically as The Swartberg Project – was held forth as the explanation why there was such a sudden increase in activity in and around the caves. Look, PW Botha said, this special unit – like the army –  wasn’t just there to protect our borders, but it was also involved with the protection of our natural resources. And, he added, with tourism acting as a major contributor of much-needed foreign capital, it was only right that the government assisted in securing the future of the caves.

***

“Back in those days,” Gertruida tells Boggel afterwards, “nobody dared question the President. If he said there was a special force protecting the caves, everybody believed him. After all, the army and police were involved in protecting mines, harbours, airports and other buildings of strategic importance – why not the caves? If the ANC detonated a bomb there, destroying one of the natural wonders of the world, it would cause huge embarrassment in government circles.

“But we knew, of course – maybe not everything, but enough.”

***

The Cango Caves formed in pre-Cambian limestone next to the Swartberg Mountains. It has been used by man as a shelter for 80,000 years; the last inhabitants being the San people, who seem to have left about 500 years ago. Initially ‘discovered’ in the 1770’s, it has become internationally recognised as an exceptional series of caverns with tourists departing on tours every half-an-hour.

Over the years, more and more of the complex of caves was discovered. The ‘known’ area today is about 5 km long, but Johnnie Wassenaar – one of the first explorers, did his own research in 1898. His route through the various tunnels and chambers took 19 hours and he estimated the total length of the caves at 25 km.

'Known' part of the caves

‘Known’ part of the caves

Many myths and legends have their roots in these caves. It is said to be haunted. A surprising number of guides have committed suicide; skeletons in the cave suggested other entrances, And, as is so often the caves, it is rumoured that a number of thieves, scoundrels and other unsavoury characters have used the caves as hiding place for themselves as well as treasure.

***

“So is this … Rusty coming to visit you?” Boggel is quite excited. Rolbos has been very quiet lately.

“Yes. I couldn’t say no, see? I owe her father that, at least. And if what she says is true, she’ll need much more than a cave to hide in. Rolbos is perfect under the circumstances – nobody knows about us.

“And Boggel…not a word to anybody, understand? We have to keep this thing completely under the wraps.”

The door bangs open as the rest of the townsfolk trickle in.

“Too late, Gertruida! We heard everything.” Kleinpiet sits down with a huge smile. “Now, how about filling in some of the details?”

The Wake – Epilogue

 

319541_10151143833386951_529945732_n“I hope he’s happy,” Precilla says as she lifts her glass in a silent toast to the brigadier, “he deserves it.”

 

“Well, you can almost say he earned the right to happiness. To think how he lost out on such a large chunk of Life – it really makes me sad. He went to the army with dreams and ideals, wanted to defend his country, and finally had to come to the conclusion that it was in vain.” Servaas sighs – so many years! “Such a waste!”

 

“Both of you are wrong, I’m sorry to say.” Gertruida has that look again. “First of all: nobody deserves anything; that’s such a wrong way to look at Life. Suffering is as much part of Life as Love is – and we all get allocated a certain share of each. Some people get born without limbs, others are Olympic athletes – it’s the same thing. Whatever we get in Life, is given to us with a purpose

 

“To say the brigadier had a wasted life, is to ignore the fact that he played a significant role in many people’s lives. Alycia, obviously, found happiness, love and comfort in his arms; but there is so much more to it than just that.

 

“The army – and so the brigadier – fought the war to attain a certain goal. South Africa simply had to survive long enough for the Communist threat to pass. And it did, didn’t it? Just look at the coincidences in history:  The Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the same year South Africa became a Republic. That wall was demolished on the 9th November 1989, and De Klerk unbanned the ANC three months later. The Berlin Wall symbolised the power of the USSR, just like the Nationalists used the army to defy the rest of the world in its opposition to Communist-backed African rule. When the Russian threat disappeared, the war wasn’t necessary any longer.

 

“Now, I know this argument is simplistic – many other factors played a role, not least of all the question of Human Rights – but it bears thinking about. Without the brigadier and thousands of other young men, Russia would have had her hand in our gold-mine till, and who knows what the consequences would have been?”

 

Gertruida doesn’t expand her argument to include the strategic value of the country’s harbours under Communistic control and the effect it would have had on East-West relationships. Imagining  South Africa as an unfree and undemocratic  communistic state conjures up too nightmares of poverty and massacres.

 

“But we are worse off in so many ways, Gertruida. That war brought only destruction and despair…” Servaas was being his old, pessimistic self again.

 

“Where were you in April 1994, Servaas? I’ll tell you: in a long queue waiting to cast a vote. And who was in that queue? I’ll remind you: Black, White, Yellow and Brown. We all stood there – some silent, some chatting – in peace. Do you for one moment think that would have happened if we didn’t understand the alternatives? We knew very well that if we didn’t lay the past to rest, we might as well commit suicide.

 

240px-Janus1“You see, Servaas, there was this Roman deity, Janus. He’s got two faces: one looking at the past, one to the future. He was seen as a gatekeeper between the past and the present; an important figure in transitions. The war, Servaas, was our Janus, our transition. Everybody in the country had to arrive at the point where we simply had to let go of the past – and that meant we had to start building bridges where none existed before…because we had no other viable choice. 

“Had we not had that terrible war, we would have abandoned Volkspele and started learning how to dance the Troika.”

“But the lives, Gertruida! How many were lost – on both sides?”

“I know, Servaas, I know. And no matter how hard I try, I can never justify the death of the sons, the husbands and the loved ones. All I know, is that we owe them a debt of gratitude. They obeyed the highest command of all: to lay down their lives so that others may live. We must honour them and their families.”

Boggel gets on his crate to offer a toast:

Here’s to every man, woman and child

Who suffered so we may live free

And here’s to the memories, both sad and mild

Let us cherish them – honourably.

***

So…what happened?

Sergeant-Major Grove settled on the farm in the Kalahari. Here he found the many charcoal drawings the brigadier had done. Thinking they were rather nice, he asked Gertruida for an opinion – who sent a few to Professor van Rhyn, a consultant at Sotherby’s Institute of Art. These drawings immediately attracted international interest and is now considered to be one of the best investments in the art world. Grove now acts as the manager and agent for VGA (Van Graan Art) and has been invited by the Carnegie Foundation to give a lecture on the origin of the drawings.

Brigadier Kasper van Graan is now the mayor of Caramuti, a husband to Alycia, and a father to his beautiful Alli. He has revolutionised the infrastructure of the town, and with the money streaming in via Grove, has established the only modern hospital in Southern Angola. He plans to invite Gertruida to write his autobiography one day, but says it’s not time for that yet; he still wants to do so much more.

Alycia continues to live a simple life, despite the sudden change in her fortunes. She adores her husband and still holds him tight during thunder storms.

Ngepi Camp is a popular tourist destination that has won several awards for their hospitality.

General Sipho Modise had dreams of becoming a parliamentarian. When CNN requested an interview, he had no idea they’d ask him about his role in the assassination of civilians in Angola during the war. He is now a street vendor in Ventersdorp.

Hester and Gary Pienaar travel the world’s golfing circuit. She’s known for her motivational speeches about handling loss and grief, and has written a book about her life. They never found out what had really happened to her first husband.

Rolbos? It’s still the quiet little place in the Kalahari, where nothing much ever happens.

It’s a Boy-child

Boggel gets on the counter (with Vetfaan helping) with a wish for the boy born in St Mary’s…

Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Parade: Trooping The Colour
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling