!Xuiram returns to the collapsed Holy Cave whenever the rain allows. He knows that’s when the fountain will seep water to the surface and he’ll be safe.
On these rare occasions, he’ll watch the gulls, the waves, the clouds…and contemplate the deeper mysteries of Life. It is after one of these trips that he returns to the desert with a message:
“This place will remain ours forever. Nobody will take it away from us. Men will come, but won’t understand it’s meaning until it’s too late.”
And when the people ask him about it, and he shakes his head, saying even he doesn’t understand it completely.
The Arch Rock, Bogenfels, is indeed a place of mystery and wonder. It is also a place of fear and death. The laminated layers of sedimentary rock should no be able to form such a formidable structure. But it did, and is there for all to see.
Over the aeons of time, the generations following !Xuiram made occasional pilgrimages to the rock arch – when the rains and the veld allowed. Initially these treks happened once a year, but with time the droughts became worse and the rains stayed away. The visits became epic, once-in-a-lifetime journeys, characterised by hardship and determined perseverance.
One thing remained the same, however: once at the rock, the pilgrims would not speak. Not a word. They’d spend the time (determined by how much water was around) in deep meditation. Some might call it prayer, others will scoff. But there, at Bogenfels, the little clan of Bushmen opened up their minds to communicate.
It’s hard to say. The Universe? God? Ancestors? Or are these entities all the same thing: the composite of many small things where sand and grass and water and fish and man combine to form a unity? What is striking – in contrast to the singular God-person relationship of modern churches – is that these primitive individuals included everything in their meditation. They did this effortlessly, as if there is no other way of thinking about life and death and the existence of what we shall become afterwards. It is, they’d tell you, all the same thing – and then stare at you in an unbelieving way because you struggle to put it all together.
In later years, missionaries tried to stop these pilgrimages, calling them unbiblical and pagan. The Bushmen, they said, used Bogenfels as a place to practice the occult and their magical spells.
The missionaries never succeeded.
1943 – Bogenfels
When at last a steamship arrives to pick up the survivors, Captain Wilmott is the last to leave. There is a very good reason for this – he needs to hide the box.
His orders on leaving Walvis Bay with the sealed box were crystal clear: on arrival in Cape Town, he’d be met by South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Wilmott knows exactly what he looks like, just like most South Africans do. The smiling eyes, the small moustache, the disarming manner. Yes, there’d be no problem knowing who to give the box to.
And he would have done exactly that, except for the small matter of curiosity. Why, he wondered the previous evening, all the secrecy? There are diplomatic couriers, an efficient postal service and maybe hundreds of trusted men and women who could have gotten the parcel to Cape Town in half the time and much less risk? Whatever it is, he reckoned in the darkness, it must be unusual, extremely secret and so ,,, different … that the usual channels weren’t even considered. Or, if the were, they were discarded as problematic.
Another thought nagged at his mind. He is, after all, a naval officer. As such, he is expected to follow orders. That is good and well…but why then didn’t they entrust the package to a South African ship, under South African command? Or an army convoy? Did they not trust their own men? Or does the box hold something the South African government wants to be so secret, that even their own men must never know about it?
No, he argued, they’re doing it this way to leave no trace of what they’ve done – whoever they might be. And there, in the shade of Bogenfels, the captain contemplated these things…and opened the box.
That’s why he decided to hide the container. There are hundreds of small caves scattered through the rising ridges above the water, and it is here that he secreted the find away. He’ll come back later. Some day. He’ll come back… In the meantime, he’ll simply state that the box was lost with the ship. Nobody will blame him, or suspect anything…
Only, he didn’t. The Curse of Bogenfels wouldn’t let him. On his next trip to Singapore, he contracted Malaria and died before his new ship reached the nearest civilised harbour.
Boggel’s Place, 2014
“Ja, the old Nationalist government did everything to get their hands on money. Developing a home-made atom bomb proved to be far more expensive than they thought. Buying arms and ammunition had to be done through middlemen, who became fabulously rich during the process. The Stander Gang was set up, and provided some ready cash. Rhino horn and ivory were traded with the Eastern Block. Newspapers were bought, the Citizen was funded, and the advertising income flowed into government coffers.”
Gertruida nods. “And that is where the Smit family fits in, isn’t it?” It really is a question rather than a statement.
“Yes…” Elsie seems hesitant, not sure if she should divulge everything. Well, she’s come this fare, might as well… “It all tied up with getting funds to safe havens. Switzerland, with its unique and neutral banking system, was a perfect choice. Here the government had several – some think hundreds – of secret accounts. They paid secret money from secret accounts into other secret accounts. Once again, clever middlemen handled these transactions and it became almost impossible to trace who paid who for what. You had to be very, very clever to unravel that conundrum…”
Gertruida nods. “Enter Robert Smit…”
“Exactly. Here was a financial guru, somebody who understood international finances. He had been, you’ll remember, our country’s ambassador to the International Monetary Fund, and was tipped to be the next Minister of Finance. He also operated a front company – Santam International – which moved vast sums of money overseas. So he knew about such things. He understood these matters. And he also stumbled across some extremely irregular transactions.
“Upon investigating these accounts, Smit discovered a massive fund linked to something called the Radical Action United Taskforce – something he’d never heard about. Who – what – was this? And why did they have an account not reflected in any official system? Black funds weren’t strange in those days and were mostly controlled by the generals with the president often only vaguely aware of its existence. But this fund – unaccounted for anywhere else – was so large that it made Smit stay up nights to trace the money trail from start to end.”
“Ja well, no fine.” Vetfaan is being old impatient self. “What has this to do with the ship that sank near Bogenfels? And how does it tie up with your father’s disappearance? Surely the president, the Smit murders and the border war had nothing to do with this?”
Elsie smiles the patient way patient mothers smile when a toddler asks the sixth ‘why?’.
“It has everything to do with it. Everything. That’s why I’m here…”