“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.
“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.
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.