Boggel’s Place has been eerily silent for the last week or two. After some welcome showers, the veld is green once more. Vetfaan and Kleinpiet have had to tend to their farms, leaving Gertruida (with a stack of National Geographics) and Boggel (polishing and repolishing the glasses) alone in the small bar. Oudoom is in Upington for a church meeting.
“Anything interesting?” Boggel glances hopefully towards Gertruida, who puts down the magazine.
“Always. I learn so much from these books. Look at the beautiful photographs of ant-hills.” She holds up the glossy page.
“That’s huge!” Boggel squints. He’ll have to see that optician in Upington sometime. “But such a lot of ants must have done a lot of damage? Must have upset a framer by destroying a lot of veld.”
Gertruida rolls her eyes. “Don’t be so negative, Boggel. You sound like the politicians who try to talk away the wave of xenophobia. Ants, I’ll have you know, are vitally important to our survival. Yes, they make a living by working hard, but the are essential for the spread of seeds. They till the land, remove dead animals and plants, clean up debris. Ants are the most numerous species in the world and have survived everything Mother Nature has thrown at them. They are Nature’s best recyclers; a veritable example to us all.”
“How can you compare ant-hills with xenophobia, Gertruida? It doesn’t make sense?”
There once lived a man who hated ants.
“Look at them! Always scurrying this way and that, never resting. They eat my crops and destroy my stores. This ground is mine, I shall not have it colonised by foreigners. I shall have to kill them all.”
His wife put down the bucket she was carrying.
“Oh, my husband! Always complaining and complaining. All you do is to watch those ants – from dawn to dusk, all day long. How many times have I asked you to dig a furrow from the river so we can have water near the house? And why is the roof still leaking? And look at the house: it’s barely big enough for the two of us, but you refuse to build on a room for the children.” She sighed. If only her husband would do something!
The man got angry and stormed out of the house. Taking a shovel, he started destroying the ant-hill next to the humble hut they lived in. The ants had no right to eat his meagre crop! He dug all day to try to demolish all the ant’s tunnels.
That night he sat down to his small bowl of porridge, hoping his wife would have calmed down. No such luck.
“There is a huge patch of ground next to the river. Why haven’t you tilled that? Why didn’t you plant enough corn there to see us through the winter? Why…”
He interrupted her rudely, telling her to shut up. He was the man, he’d make the decisions. And anyway, who was she to tell him how to farm? She didn’t know anything…
The man set out the next day to attack more and more ant-heaps. He forgot about his patch of corn, which withered away under the sun. Winter came. When at last springtime arrived, the man and his wife had starved to death.
Outside their small hut, the ants had resumed building their nest.
“That man was stupid, Gertruida. He should have cultivated his land properly and left the ants to do their job.”
“Ja, Boggel. Removing ant-heaps wasn’t the answer. Ants will survive, no matter what. The man didn’t.”
Gertruida stares out of the window as silence settles in Boggel’s Place once more. People could learn a lot from ants, she thinks. They get on with the job of living, while people are constantly blaming others for their hardship. It’s as if some people have a default setting that forces them to expect others to solve their problems – while they are content to simply complain and object to the success anybody else might have achieved.
“We’ve become a nation of ant-haters,” Boggel says as he stacks the glasses back onto their shelf. “We simply cannot cope with competition because we’re too lazy to work harder.”
Gertruida doesn’t even look up from her reading. They’ve discussed the issue many times before and there doesn’t seem to be a solution. Once a nation has slipped down the slope of unproductivity, it’ll take a miracle to reverse the trend.
“I see they’re going to teach Mandarin in our schools now.” Boggel looks at the front page of yesterday’s newspaper.. “Even teach it to the police…”
“Ja, I saw that. The real ants are coming, Boggel. If we don’t – or won’t – cultivate the land next to the river, we’ll pay the price…”