“Those Canadians,” Vetfaan said after the third peach brandy, “are a crazy lot. Imagine doing something like this in South Africa?”
“Shooting intruders? We do that all the time. Even civilians do it, but then they somethimes have to do a bit of jail-time afterwards.”
Vetfaan glares at Kleinpiet for a second. The ignorance! The backwardness! Surely Kleinpiet, like himself, replaces the batteries in his transistor radio from time to time? Why, one must keep up with the world – and the weather.
On the other hand, he thinks, listening to the radio once a week – or even a month – is more than enough. The circumstances surrounding Nkandla and the Arms deal have not changed in years – and neither has the weather. Maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on his friend.
“No man. I’m talking about that Vickers guy in Ottawa. At least you realised that, I know, but my point is not the shooting. It’s the rest. I can’t understand that.”
Even Gertruida – who knows everything – looks up in surprise. What is Vetfaan going on about? The news of the tragic events in Ottawa has dominated their conversations ever since Oscar’s incarceration – a welcome relief from an upsetting bit of history. Welcome? She shakes her head. No, that’s the wrong word. Nobody welcomes the news of terrorism, even if it happens on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Vetfaan.” With her brow knitted in an admonishing scowl, Gertruida uses her lecture tone. “That man, Kevin Vickers, is a national hero in Canada. He prevented a disaster by remaining calm, doing his duty and protecting their Prime Minister.” She turns to Servaas, who is trying to order another beer from Boggel. “Vickers is almost as old as you are, Servaas. what would you have done?”
“Um…let me see.You mean: there I am, an unknown man brandishes a gun and I have to stop him? Gee, I don’t know.” He pulls at one of the long hairs protruding from his left ear. “Well, I’d consider what would happen afterwards. First of all, the police will confiscate my gun and my licence, telling me I can never own a firearm again. Then they’ll arrest me for disturbing the peace, reckless handling of a gun in a public place, discharging the same at somebody I assumed was an intruder – but had no proof of the man’s intent, inciting racial unrest, and – of course – manslaughter, culpable homicide or murder…or any combination of the above. Consider, too, that I might have missed and hit one of the statues in the building – then they would have slapped a charge of the malicious damaging of public property on me as well.” The hair releases it’s hold on the ear, allowing Servaas to inspect it closely. At length, he concludes: “It’s not a trick question, is it? I would have run away as fast as my legs can carry me. I don’t need trouble at this stage of my life.”
Vetfaan rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’m not talking about the shooting, man! In Johannesburg they discharge guns at traffic lights just for the fun. Anybody can pull a trigger. What I’m talking about is, ” and here he waits a dramatic moment, “the gold!”
A stunned silence follows the silence.
“What gold?” The group’s question sounds like a well-rehearsed chorus.
“That thing the man carries around all day. What do you call it? That club on his shoulder?”
“It is called a mace, Vetfaan. It’s a ceremonial staff that symbolises authority.” Warming to the subject, Gertruida tells them that – originally – a mace was a club with a heavy head, used to bludgeon the enemy. “The Canadian mace looks very much like the British one, with the head consisting of four panels: the Arms of Canada, the rose of England, the harp of Ireland and the thistle of Scotland.”
“Well,” Vetfaan says with a satisfied grin – Gertruida actually strengthened his case. “It has a lot of gold in it. Can you imagine what it is worth? Must be thousands, even more.”
Kleinpiet still has a confused look. “What’s your point, Vetfaan?”
“Don’t you get it? The Canadians entrust that…mace…to a mere sergeant! It’s unthinkable! We’d never be so irresponsible in South Africa, Just stop to think about it: scrap metal is a burgeoning enterprise in our country. Cable theft halts trains and stops Johannesburg from getting water. And let me remind you: we’re talking about copper here. Not gold. No, my friends, a thing like that should be the responsibility of a general or kept locked up in a safe. If you walked down a street with that thing on your shoulder, you can be sure it’ll be melted down before the sun sets.”
Gertruida had to explain the system to Vetfaan, who finally understood more about the rank of Sergeant-at-Arms when he finished his eighth peach brandy.
“In Rolbos we’ll call him a General-at-Arms,” he concluded, an awed expression replacing the cynical smile, “and we would have bought that man a Bell’s. Goodness me, what a man! Gertruida, you have to write to that Prime Minister and tell him to promote that sergeant. I think he deserves it.”
In the end they decided – due to the protracted postal strike in the country – that such a letter won’t even reach Pofadder. So, if you walked in to Boggel’s Place over the weekend, you’ll see a photograph of Kevin Vickers on the shelf behind the till. Precilla has drawn four stars on the man’s shoulder. Over here, they insist on talking about General Vickers. Even Gertruida says it’s only fair.