“I’m not sure.” It’s the first time – ever – that the townsfolk has heard Gertruida say these words. She reads the National Geographic, for goodness’ sakes!
“Well, initially there were SKY, CNN, BBC and even the SABC camped outside the hospital. Every night the newscasters said he was critical, in a serious condition, non-responsive…or something. Now we hear nothing. What happened?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Boggel shrugs as he serves another round. “Maybe he’s better? Or maybe the family doesn’t want us to bother him? Or maybe the news channels simply lost interest?”
“No way, man! That man has statues all over the world. Well, he has one in Sandton, that I know. But what happened to the flowers outside the hospital and the choirs that used to sing there?”
“You know what I find strange? It’s that the major TV stations have withdrawn and the international press has stopped asking questions. Why is that? Did somebody tell them to back off?” Precilla isn’t an expert on international relationships, but she’s not stupid. “Is there a conspiracy of silence? And if so…why?”
An uneasy silence descends on Boggel’s Place. If even Gertruida doesn’t know the answer, it’s a massive mystery indeed.
“Maybe we just missed the announcement, you know? After all, we’re a rather isolated community. Things happen out there that we never know about.” Kleipiet remembers the ban on ostrich meat he only heard after it was lifted.
“No.” Gertruida lifts an adamant finger. “There’s something strange going on. People don’t forget the Helderberg, or the farm murders, or the corruption in government.” She pauses to allow it to sink in. “People – according to the powers-that-be – are all suffering from Alzheimers. We’re supposed to forget about Selebi’s and Shaik’s medical parole. We’re supposed to think that strikes originate amongst the workers. They even expect us to believe that South Africa is fighting illegal immigration and that the government is worried about poaching. But, sadly for them, that’s not true
“Look at us. We’re living in isolation, but these questions keep cropping up even here. You think it doesn’t happen in big places like Prieska or Pofadder? We’re all wondering, but nobody has the guts to ask the question. At least we do.”
They speculate about this. Is Madiba recovering? Frozen in some morgue? Still alive and hanging on? Secretly and privately buried in the family’s sacred plot?
“I can tell you one thing for sure.” Oudoom places his empty glass on the counter for a refill. “I’m sorry for his family. Madiba deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I’m not so sure he’s getting that at the moment.”
It turns out to be a quiet night in Boggel’s Place. This is not a subject to debate about.
At the very least, they owe him the respect of compassionate silence.