“International politics – even local politics – is like a sordid and doomed love affair. Or like the clouds building up, and building up, with the promise of rain that’ll never come. People say things they don’t mean, show feelings they don’t feel, and say words they wouldn’t if they were honest. It’s all about getting what you want, and not caring about the rest. False promises, lies, and lots of video tape.”
“Gee, Gertruida, that’s harsh. Mister Obama seems such a nice man.”
“Seeming to be nice is what it’s all about, Kleinpiet. It’s an illusion; strangers in the night, making promises they know they won’t keep… It reminds me of the Fable of the Rain and the Grass.”
Of course she waits. This is one of !Ka’s stories – something he told her one day while she showed him how to condense the evaporated water from vegetation on a plastic sheet. He said the story s an old one, and an apt reward for a new skill. Still, the pause causes a sense of huge satisfaction and she enjoys every second of her audience’s curiosity.
“Soooo…?” Boggel prompts her.
A long time ago, the Kalahari was a green pasture with many trees and tall grass. Great Eland came here to enjoy the lush vegetation, grow fat and be content with the safe surroundings. And the Eland multiplied and became more and more, for the veld supplied all they needed and the grass was sweet and the water was plentiful.
But the Eland wanted more. They became numerous and fat, yet they complained as they chewed the grass, demanding more and more as each day passed. And the grass cried out, saying this is unfair, they need more water to grow faster. Then the grass sent a bird to the clouds, demanding more rain; for how must they supply food to all these animals if the rain limited their growth?
Well, the clouds listened to the bird, and called a meeting.
‘Ah,’ Thundercloud said, ‘it takes a lot of energy to make all that lightning. Somebody has to pay. I can’t do it all by myself.’
‘Sure thing.’ This was Frivolous Cloud, the joker of them all. He usually rolled across the sky, raising false hopes. ‘I can keep on rolling by, you only have to follow me.’
Grumble Cloud, Thundercloud’s personal Imbongi, sighed. ‘ No, I demand more recognition. I’m always the fool to lead others to the spot where they then get all the honour and praise. I’m fed up. If I’m not allowed to rain – and be praised for my efforts – then I refuse to cooperate.’
‘It’s your ego.’ The disgust was clearly visible on Fleecy Cloud’s face. She’s the sexy one everybody else was chasing all the time. ‘You only want the glory, but you don’t want to do the work.’
‘And what about you? You try to look glamorous all the time, and that’s all there is to you. All face and no effort. Tell me: when last did you rain, anyway?’ Grumble let out a few deep-throated rumbles – his signature sound which everybody knew meant nothing.
That’s when Cumulus Cloud held up the regal column of authority.
‘Stop it, and stop it now. I hereby decree that you all be banned from the Kalahari. Because you are so consumed with pride, you shall venture there no longer. The grass will die. Only the hardiest succulents will survive on the few drops I choose to allow there; when it pleases me to do so. The rest of you shall not cooperate in this region any longer. If you venture this way, it’ll be as single clouds – no longer as a team.
‘And you know what’ll happen? All the Eland that used to feed here, will leave. They’ll tell each other what a horrible place this has become and seek new pastures. Only the Gemsbok will remain to guard this place. I shall supply him with two spears as horns, so long and so sharp, that no other animal will dare challenge him. As for the Eland, I’ll give him short, strange horns as a sign of how much his greed has cost him.
‘As for the land, I’ll leave the scorpions and snakes to live there, to remind people about the dangerous poison contained in the acts of greed.’
Cumulus rose high, evaporating as it approached its father, the Sun.
And the Kalahari became a desert.
As usual, an uncomfortable silence follows Gertruida’s speech. She has a way of making the customers in Boggel’s Place stop their humorous banter by forcing reality back into the confines of the small bar.
“I don’t understand,” Servaas bunches his bushy brows together in a puzzled look, “what has this to do with politics and Obama and South Africa?”
“Everything, dear Servaas, everything. There is too little grass. Too many fat Eland. And, because trade unions – they guys that have to ensure continued and improved production – are constantly fighting about higher wages and shorter hours and not doing what they’re supposed to do.
“So Obama came here, made all the right noises, and left. Do you think anything is going to change?” Gertruida sighs as she signals for a new drink. “When the Obamas and the helicopters and the CIA leave to continue their trip through Africa, they’ll leave South Africa just like they found us – a desert where hope used to grow.
“The Kalahari is fortunate. The Gemsbok still survive there, but in the rest of the country they were poached by Corruption.”
Way out in the desert, near The Valley of the Buried Wagon, a lone Oryx sips the brackish water from a secret pool next to a rock. Straightening up, it sniffs the air.
It won’t rain soon…