Frikkie Coetzee, that round block of muscle with the unshaved face, is arguably the most superstitious man in the Kalahari. Always gets out on the right side of the bed; avoids black cats; hates lightning and never upsets the salt at the table. Sammie once tried to sell him a cracked mirror (it was a bargain), and that’s why Frikkie never stops in Rolbos any more. He races right through town when he’s been to Upington, driving hard towards his farm near Bitterbrak. He told Vetfaan the town is in for a nasty surprise and he doesn’t want to be near when it happens.
That was five years ago, but Frikkie says that doesn’t matter. Fate doesn’t care about time. It’ll happen when it’s good and ready, just you wait and see.
But today, on this crisp winter afternoon, Frikkie didn’t depress the petrol pedal on his new bakkie when he reached Voortrekker Weg. Instead, he braked hard, slewed to a stop, and emerged from the cloud of dust with the whites of his eyes glowing like a demented Kudu’s – after the lion attached itself to its neck
“Ghost!” His frenzied shout brings the patrons in Boggel’s Place to the window, where they watch the apparently demented man storming towards Oudoom’s church. Being Wednesday, they all know Oudoom is in the middle of his weekend (clergymen have it in the middle of the week), so it’ll be only a matter of time before Frikkie will seek the safety of the only other place in town where he might find salvation. There’s no need to storm after the frightened man…he’ll come to them.
And he does.
Arms flailing, eyes wide, Frikkie runs towards Boggel’s Place when he finds out the church doors are locked. “HELP!!” He cries, “GHOST!.”
Now – one must remember that the Rolbossers are very much down-to-earth people. They don’t scare easily. Well…not usually, anyway. There was the time the dead soldiers marched through town, but that’s quite another story. So, it isn’t strange that the group in the bar finds Frikkie’s antics rather funny.
“Calm down,” Vetfaan shouts, “Gertruida looks like that when she doesn’t comb her hair.” His remark draws the expected – if almost-too-enthusiastic – slap on his cheek. “She’ll look better, later…”
“No, man! It must be Oudoom with his toga!” Kleinpiet rocks with laughter. “Or maybe he saw Platnees weeding the little graveyard.”
“It’s not a he! It’s a she!” Frikkie crashes open the door. “A she!”
“Give the man a beer. It’ll calm him down.” Boggel knows a lot about people who – let’s say – are not completely in control of themselves.
“What’s she look like? Tall? Short? Blonde? Skirt or jeans?” Even Servaas is amused.
“Invisible!” Downing the beer, Frikkies calms down somewhat.
“Then, how do you know it’s a she?”
Living in the Kalahari has many advantages. Here you won’t find daily newspapers delivered to your door, so you won’t know much about the turmoil in Croatia or Gaza, for instance. Some may argue that such ignorance isn’t a good thing, but it also means the Rolbossers don’t waste time discussing the way the country is deteriorating.
Just the other day Vetfaan chatted to the shop owner in Upington, when he had to buy a new fan belt for his tractor.
“The situation is getting worse,” the man said, “and the government won’t stop.” He was talking about the way commercial farmers are forced off their land by the many land-claims lately. “Eighty five percent! Can you believe that? Eighty five! That’s how many farms fail after being given to people who don’t have the faintest clue about farming. But…because some ancient grand-grand-grandfather lived there, these guys now claim the right to own the title. That’s like the Israeli’s saying they own the world, man! I mean, if old Abraham wasn’t so fertile and the Jews stayed in Egypt, Europe wouldn’t have been populated. And what about the Vikings? Surely they can claim England?”
The man shook his head, quoting something about the Cradle of Mankind. “If you go right back to what the scientists say, then the ancient San people ventured forth from somewhere near Mossel Bay to inhabit the world. That means the Bushmen own the world. First there, gets the land – apparently that’s the rule. Oh, that means the Americans get the moon…”
Talk like that makes Vetfaan nervous. In fact, it scares him. He’s tried to ignore the reports of once-proud homesteads reduced to rubble and the cultivated lands turned to wasteland – hoping the Kalahari would escape the scourge of politically motivated land-claims.
But recently another farmer told him how the new – government driven – farmers simply dismantle everything built up over decades, to sell as scrap. One new ‘farmer’ makes a living by renting out the farmland to squatters, he said.
Gertruida said something about the original land invaders. Old Queen Victoria sent her armies too occupy large tracks of land in the Eastern Cape – so England’s current queen must now offer compensation to the Xhosa people. Of course they all laughed at the absurdity of it all, but their laughter sounded forced and strained, even to themselves. One shouldn’t joke about such serious issues.
What would happen, Vetfaan thought, if people kept on insisting on being pawns in the government’s strategy to disown land? The consequences are too terrifying to contemplate. Like Zimbabwe, South Africa would not be able to produce enough food for the population. An exporter of goods would become an importer of essentials. The Rand would plummet. Poverty would follow. And once poverty reaches a critical level, the people can only resort to crime if they wanted to survive.
Add to that the endemic disease of strikes. Surely there are civilised structures in place to make wage negotiations more peaceful and less destructive? But no! The government made the laws and the laws are slanted towards the workers. Land owners and factory bosses are the new targets.
Servaas summed it up the other day: “Anybody who’ve done anything positive in the country, is now unwanted. And it’s not just previous generations, either. Look at the emigration of doctors, engineers and people with special skills. You’d think the government would want them to stay and build up our country. But no! Positions are simply left vacant, or somebody is appointed to sit in a chair while earning – and I use that word sarcastically – a huge salary for doing nothing.”
“You’re right, Servaas,” Gertruida sighed, “but there is another side to the argument as well. Fair living conditions and a fair salary are must-have ingredients for stability.”
“True. But there must also be fairness to the farmers.”
The debate lasted long into the night and it was only after Boggel fell asleep on his cushion beneath the counter that the patrons went home. Solving the conundrum of South Africa isn’t so easy…
It’s Gertruida who puts Frikkie out of his misery.
“You heard a voice in your bakkie. That’s nice, It’s called progress, Frikkie. That woman lives in the navigation aid the Japanese built in your vehicle. She’ll tell you where to go and how to get there. Mostly, she is right, but you still have to think for yourself.”
Old Servaas chucks a peanut into his mouth and crushes it between his gums. “Ja, you must be careful, Frikkie. Keep on following that woman can get you lost, you know? She doesn’t know all the tracks in the Kalahari, but you do.” He washes the peanut down with some beer. “It’s like us, man. The government makes all kinds of noises, but if we follow them blindly, we’re in for a hard time. Common sense, that’s what we need.”
Frikkie calms down when Gertruida explains about the GPS in his bakkie. They have a jolly old laugh at the stupid voice in the vehicle that tried to tell Frikkie to turn left into the desert. But Vetfaan? He’s the one who wanders out to Voortrekker Weg, wiping his brow and trying his best to hide his fear. Maybe, he thinks, Frikkie was right about that cracked mirror and the impending disaster.
For once, he is glad Rolbos is so small. It isn’t even on the map. Perhaps that’ll help them one day…