When the long, black limo stops in front of Boggel’s Place, the conversation stops as the patrons all rush to the window. A limo? Here? Gertruida mumbles something about bad news always arriving in grand style, while good news usually sneaks in the back door; but the rest of the customers pay her no mind as they watch the large man being helped out by the chauffeur.
“That’s the….” Oudoom tries to place the familiar face, but the name escapes him.
“It’s the Minister of Public Works. Or Woman’s Affairs.” Servaas finished his beer when he turns back to the counter. Both these ministers have been the subjects of lengthy debates: the one because of the involvement with Nkandla, the other because they all agreed that the president was the best candidate for the portfolio. In the end, they couldn’t decide which had the more difficult job.
“But what’s he doing in Rolbos?” Gertruida doesn’t like surprises. She has to know everything, so it isn’t surprising that she is the one to go outside to welcome the new arrival. They watch as she tries three of the official languages before realising the man only understands English.
“They’re inspecting the town, guys,” she says when she returns, “apparently we’re short-listed as one of the possible sites for a new airport.” To their astonishment, she goes on to explain that Rolbos, Grootdrink and Upington are situated in favourable places to establish an international airport, being – as they are – in line with the route to and from the north. “They want to push the Northern Cape as a tourist destination, see? The Kgalagadi Transfrontier park isn’t far off, there are lots of wineries and then there is the Augrabies Falls, of course.”
“But that would mean…” Vetfaan doesn’t even want to finish the sentence.
“Exactly, Vetfaan. Houses, hotels, lots of people, parking lots. Rolbos as we know it, will cease to be. We’ll become a ….city.” Gertruida whispers the last word, horrified at the thought.
They watch as the minister struts up and down the short stretch of Voortrekker Weg, apparently visualising the new developments that would have to follow the construction of the aerodrome.
“We have to stop him.” Boggel wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. “But how…?
“Let’s invite him in and talk to him. Maybe we’ll come to some arrangement.” Gertruida gets up again. “If we don’t, you’ll pay for your drinks in Dollars at some Marriott hotel soon.”
“Talking? You want to try talking to a parliamentarian? That’s like trying to sell sand in the Kalahari, man! Well…you go and have your chat. In the meantime, we’ll work out a better plan.” When Vetfaan sees Gertruida hesitate, he shoos her out.
The minister is a perfect example of a South African parliamentarian. His suit is tailored to fit the huge girth, his smile the typical politician’s: lips curled upwards, perfect teeth displayed, while the eyes remain cold and calculating. Yes, he wouldn’t mind something cool, thank you. When they enter Boggel’s Place, Gertruida is mildly surprised to find they are the only customers. So much for Vetfaan’s bravado! Scooting off to leave her to handle the situation alone…
“The government may be spending a lot of money here,” the minister says after the second beer, “it’ll transform your lives. New roads, improved infrastructure, an inflow of tourists and capital. Yes, you people will benefit greatly.”
“But you wouldn’t consider tackling such a huge project without thinking about the benefits…for yourself, I mean. Hopefully there’ll be a little something to sweeten the deal?” Gertruida, being her old cynical and direct old self.
“Oh.” The minister eyes her with new interest. This woman’s insight is amazing! “Yes.” He nurses the new beer Boggel has put in front of him. “It’s actually for Number One. The Prez, you see? He has some….problems…”
Gertruida has that uncanny ability to make people talk to her. She has perfected the harmless look – an older spinster in a nothing-town. No need to worry about security leaks here.
“You see, the prez is facing a difficult time. Everybody is shouting that he must pay back the money he…ah…misappropriated…for Nkandla. Even in the ruling party there are some who think he should go. And then, once he doesn’t have the protection of the loyal cadres, he might have to face the corruption issues surrounding the Arms Deal as well. Add to that a lavish lifestyle, too many wives and two dozen kids, and you realise this man is going to need cash – a lot of it.”
Gertruida nods. “Yes, and I don’t think the ESCOM crisis is helping much.”
The minister puffs up his cheeks and lets the air out, flapping his lips in a horsey sound. “Don’t even talk about that. Once the public realises the complete fiasco – bad planning, no maintenance, the way we export power to neighbouring countries while switching off our own economy – they’ll demand that he steps down.” A wan smile hovers on his lips. “Let’s face it: in any other country heads would have rolled. Here, we can at least rely on the masses. They don’t know the detail, you see… And even if they did, they won’t risk losing their pensions, the social grants and the way we’ve been pampering them with T-shirts and free food at rallies. But big business? Now there’s a different kettle of fish! The pressure is mounting.”
The door bangs open, making the minister whirl around in shocked surprise. For a moment he thought the sound was a gunshot. (To be fair: conditioned reflexes are hard to modify. The minister stays in Gauteng, after all)
Gertruida has to fight hard to keep a straight face. Vetfaan, Kleinpiet and Servaas have put on their Sunday suits. Where did they get the sunglasses and hats? Servaas is actually smoking a cigar! The trio ignores Gertruida and forms a semicircle around the minister. Boggel almost feels sorry for the man as he watches his eyes bulge, his lips tremble.
Even stranger than their appearance is the way Servaas changed his voice. Marlon Brando would have been proud.
“I hear you plan to upset our little….enterprise. We take a dim view of that. You should have talked to us first…” Servaas inhales the pungent smoke, coughs wheezily and continues in his raspy tone. “But you are a busy man, I suppose. No time to plan everything properly, eh? So, here’s the deal. We will accept 50% of the kickback as a sufficient apology.”
The minister does a goldfish imitation while he tries to recover. Who are these men?
“Oh, sorry.” Gertruida manages to keep her voice level. Being a Godfather fan ever since she saw the movie for the first time in 1972, she immediately grasped what the men were up to. “Minister, this is misters Smith, Wesson and Glock. They…run…things around here.”
“A lucrative one. It’s secret. If I told you, Mister Glock would have to kill you. Thats messy. Wesson hates cleaning floors. Better you don’t know.”
The minister swallows hard but manages to compose himself a bit.
“You can’t come in here and threaten me! I-I’m a minister.”
“Just shows you how powerful we are. To us, you are just an irritation.” Servaas shrugs. “We don’t care, you see? Now…I’ve made you an offer you can’t refuse. Either take it, or get out of town.”
On quiet days, Vetfaan plays the chauffeur while Kleinpiet takes on the role of the minister. Servaas, of course, has made Don Corleone’s role his own. And then they entertain the little crowd in the bar with a reenactment of the impromptu play: The Minister’s Departure. Vetfaan always makes the old Land Rover’s wheels spin when he races the minister out of town, just like it happened on the day the real minister left Rolbos.
Oh, come on! There’s no airport near Rolbos – but the upgrade of Upington’s facility is progressing nicely, thank you.