Vetfaan is halfway through his third rendition of the Radetsky March (quick tempo) when he has to stop. The lyrics for the last few minutes have been constant.
Thump! – General – Thump! – Matotsi – Thump – General – Thump – Matotsi….
Vetfaan is getting bored and thirsty – he can’t do Radetsky, the thumping…and drink beer.
“Enough, Fanie, I think we’ve got all the information we need.” Fanny lays a soothing hand on the big man’s shoulder. “Gertruida, how about phoning that general or something?”
The name the man gave – over and over again between Vetfaan’s nose-tapping – is General Matotsi. Nothing more.
“Who is this general? Never heard of him.” Vetfaan downs the beer, sighs and turns to his victim. Fortunately for him, Gertruida clears her throat.
“I know about him,” she says, which isn’t surprising as she knows everything, “He runs one of the less known government agencies. The Department of Education and Deployment – DEAD.
“Well, it is aptly named, one must admit. Although they are officially supposed to re-educate dissenting ANC members and then deploy them somewhere useful, that isn’t the whole story. Their education – or rather: re-education – is aimed at much more sinister causes. They will invoke township violence…for instance.”
Seeing the puzzled looks, she takes a sip before explaining. “Look. Say you’re the government and in charge of the whole country…except the Western Cape. And the Western Cape is an embarrassment because it runs so smoothly. No Marikanas there. No corruption. Much less crime. No e-Toll. The schools get their books on time and outperform all the other provinces where the ANC tries to tell the people what a good job they’re doing. The Western Cape, you may say, is a thorn in the governments side.
“So, they make a plan. Get a few farm labourers and promise them money and immunity. Get them to burn a few tractors and protest about their wages – the very same wages the ANC imposed on the farmers in the first place. Get the people to complain about the free houses they received. Establish gangs in the Cape Flats and help them procure drugs to destabilise the community.
“DEAD’s main job is to discredit anybody who opposes the ANC. Any means, any method…provided it is done in such a fashion that nobody connects it to the government.” She sighs. “Just like BOSS did. History, my friends, repeating itself.
“But…they also do other stuff. Secret things for the government. Like…if you want information that is so sensitive you don’t want the usual organs of state handle it. For instance: sniffing out the traitors of the 80’s, or digging up Apartheid injustices – anonymously, at arms length.
“So, Vetfaan, I think you must take up your musical career and ask your nice guest why they are interested in Elsie? What danger does a widowed white woman pose to the mighty ANC?”
“Noooooo!!!!” The man lets out a strangled cry. “Please. I don’t know!”
“Did you know,” Gertruida asks when Vetfaan starts up the nose-drumming again, “That Johann Strauss was commissioned to write the march to commemorate Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz‘s famous victory at Custoza in 1848? He was an excellent military leader and had been retired a few years before the battle. The war against Milan was a great burden on the Austrians and it even seemed as if they were going to be defeated. Then, – voila! – they recalled on the 82-year old general and he turned the tide. When the victorious soldiers returned to Vienna, they sang “Alter Tanz aus Wien“ – a catchy tune that caught Strauss’ attention. This inspired the composer to pen down one of the happiest marches in history.” Gertruida exhibits her uncanny powers of concentration by delivering her little speech, completely ignoring the background noise of the hapless agent.
“Please! –thump! – Please – thump – Make – thump! – The man –thump! – Stop!”
“Okeydokey.” Vetfaan lifts the agent’s face from the counter. “Want to say something? Don’t let me interrupt you…”
Sniffing loudly, the man tells them that he knows very little. The department is worried that some information might leak out. Elsie is – as far as he knows – busy investigating something that causes the main brass in the ruling party to become extremely worried. They want her to stop. His general, he says, told them to scare her off. It’s got something to do with ANC finances. And that, he swears on his mother’s eyes, is all he knows.
“I’ll tell you what.” Vetfaan grins at the red nose. “Why don’t we cut the cable ties on your little friend here? We’ll ask him nicely if he doesn’t want to fetch the illustrious general, and bring him to Rolbos. You’ll remain as our guest, of course. Then we have a nice little chat with the general, and you all go home. Hmmm? What do you think?
“Or else we can take nice photos of the two of you and ask a newspaper if they’d like to go for the Front Page of the Year award? Don’t worry, we’ll comb your hair and wipe your nose for the photo – just to make you guys presentable, see? I’m sure General Matotsi would simply love that. Publicity never hurt a politician – and even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. I’m sure he’ll want to reward you afterwards. Maybe even give you free lodging for the rest of your life – if you know what I mean?”
//Xuiram stares at the giant, arched rock. Yes, it is exactly the way he remembers it. The sandy little beach, the giant waves, the rugged coastline…
They don’t talk. They don’t have to. Here, at the arched rock, words aren’t necessary. After the arduous trek across the sand and the arid terrain, they are only too grateful to arrive at last. Grateful…and thirsty. They only have one ostrich shell full of water left.
//Xuiram sits down on the beach, gathering his family around him. They sit motionless, still, waiting for the spirit-world to welcome them.
A sudden gush of wind stirs the sand around them. Overhead the clouds gather to obscure the sun. Is this a good sign? Are they being rejected?
Then the drops start falling. At first //Xuiram thinks he is mistaken, but then the first sheet of heavy rain sweeps the beach. The torrent increases, causing rivulets to stream across the beach. //Xuiram gets up. They have been blessed, far more than they deserved. Clapping his hands together in thanks, he leads his family to the only shelter he can see: a shallow cave in the rocks on the shore line.
General Matotsi arrives the next day. Not by car, as Vetfaan would have thought, but by helicopter.
“Is he really a general?” Boggel glances through the window. The short man with the pot belly and pointed face doesn’t look like a general to him. The eyes are set too high and wide on the sloping forehead, the ears too tiny, the mouth too small for the prominent lips. “He looks like he belongs in a fishbowl.”
“Concentrate on his rank, Boggel, not his looks.” Gertruida hides an impish smile. “This is going to be interesting…”