The So Religious Bar of Soap

images (1)Oudoom’s sermon on pride  and ambition caused a lot of talk amongst his flock. They did have their feet on the ground and (mostly) an eye on heaven…but the scathing remarks about the country they belong to, causes more debate in Boggel’s Place than the beautiful message of humility and kindness.

“We used to be a Christian nation,” Vetfaan says while they wait for Boggel to fetch the cold beer from the cooler. “Well, if not Christian, then at least we tried to be civil. Nowadays, everything goes. Farmers get murdered, the prisons are overfull, crime is a booming industry, rape and assault are  everyday occurrences. Corruption is rife.  And yet our government insists they subscribe to biblical guidelines.”

“Ja, remember when Jacob Zuma returned from Jordan in 2003? He said he had been to the river where Jesus was baptised – and that if he looked at someone, that person would be blessed.” Gertruida goes harrumph! adding that some of his family members can confirm that. “But he also said that God was with the ANC from its inception and that they’d rule until Jesus returns. In 2009 he said: ‘People who love God must not play with their votes, they must vote for the ANC…We in the ANC know God.’ And my favourite in 2011: ‘When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven… When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card you will be let through to go to heaven … the holy ones belong to the ANC.'”

“Don’t forget Ramaphosa.” Servaas loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, like he always does when he’s angry, “He declared South Africa is a ‘a God-fearing country‘ and that the government ‘recognises the importance of the Lord‘. In the same speech he said the ANC always makes certain that they ‘stay close to God’s light.‘ and they conduct themselves ‘in accordance with what God prescribes’.

“What about the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court? He said he got a ‘signal from God’ that he had to be appointed to that position.”

They fall silent as Boggel returns with a crate of beer, causing the bent little barman to look up in surprise.

“You guys been gossiping about me?”

“No Boggel. Not gossiping and not about you.” Precilla leans over to pat him on the shoulder. “We’re lamenting, like the old Israelites did. Our leaders are no longer thinking about the words of Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika when they sing the national anthem. The blessing they ask for has more to do with bank accounts than with compassion. So we were talking about the way they use religion to achieve their goals.”

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S Thompson

“So what’s new? The old Nationalists had the church in their collective pocket as well. Remember how the Synod told everybody that Apartheid was right? And how many of our Prime Ministers had degrees in theology? South African politicians simply love telling the people how religious they are – especially when elections are just around the corner.” Boggel pauses as he slides the beers over the counter. “I read a wonderful book a while ago. The Rum diary, by Hunter S Thompson….”

“We’re discussing the political hijacking of religion in the country, Boggel, not the writings of an author I’ve never heard about!” His voice tinged with exasperation, Servaas knits his brows together in an angry scowl. “Don’t change the subject!”

“Wait,” Gertruida smiles as she holds up a restraining hand. “I think I know where Boggel is going to with this one.”

“An interesting book, to say the least. Thompson saw the way greed destroyed the lives of ordinary men and women and set about writing the novel in the early sixties. It was rejected by the publishers and only found its way to the shelves in 1998. I believe Johnny Depp discovered the manuscript amongst Thompson’s papers. The movie was made in 2011.”

“Tell them about the quote, Boggel. Go on…it’s so apt.”

Boggel blushes slightly at the encouragement, takes a deep breath while concentrating hard, and manages to recall the words Gertruida is hoping for. The words had stuck to his mind ever since he heard it first, simply because it was so absurdly true.

“It’s in the movie, Gertruida. Hunter didn’t write those words, Bruce Robinson did when he directed the film. Still, it is a fine way to reflect Hunter’s anger at the way the politicians corrupted the country.”

Afterwards, they all agree that Thompson might as well have written The Rum Diary  about South Africa. And that Robinson’s words were as true today as when the script was written.

‘This country was built on genocide and slavery, and then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.’

E volavo volavo felice
più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
mentre il mondo pian piano spariva

And I flew, flew happy
Higher the sun and even higher
While the world disappeared slowly’

In the movie Paul Kemp (Thompson in real life and played by Depp) has this to say about religion in a voiced-over scene:  “I wonder what it is you might think about our different worlds. He looked at me kinda sideways and said, “Human beings are the only creatures on Earth who claim a God, and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one. Does the world belong to no one but you?” And when he said it, I was taken aback. Not because of who was doing the talking. Because I finally understood the connection between children scavenging for food, and shiny brass plates on the front doors of banks.”

Today he might have replaced ‘banks‘ with ‘Nkandla‘.

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