The Man with the Stick

xenophobia-poster a“They tell a story,” Gertruida says after Boggel switched off the radio, “up in North Africa. About the treacherous nature of man.”

She waits, knowing they’d want to hear more. The news of the horrendous xenophobic attacks caused them all to fall silent as they searched for words to describe their feelings. Yes, the government proved once again their inability to grasp the reasons behind the attacks, failing to act timeously to the repeated warning signs over the last few years. Most of the unrest during this time coincided with the burning and looting of foreigner’s shops, a fact the authorities chose to ignore. Xenophobic tendencies were evident as far back as the Marikana incident and even before that. But, always too keen to please the masses they need to vote them in power, the government remained silent about these crimes.

“Ag, go on, Gertruida. Tell us. We know you want to.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. Although he is mildly interested, his mind dwells on the sudden nature of recent events. Why did the authorities not see this coming? Surely there should be enough ears on the ground to pick up rumblings of such impending disasters? Or is there something more sinister behind these attacks? He doesn’t believe in the so-called ‘third force theory‘ – no, somebody or something must have orchestrated these attacks to occur in such a wide-spread manner.

Oudoom nodded his encouragement. Anything to divert their thoughts from the mess in ESCOM and the national airline, the corruption in the police, the disastrous land reforms, the state of the roads, the failure of service delivery…

“Well….”

****

Once upon a time a kind man found a baby snake in the veld. He picked it up and took it home, as it quite obviously was an orphan. The snake was well-cared for and eventually grew up to be a big, healthy adult.

Oh, he loved that snake! It kept the rodents away from the corn and scared off the rabbits that eyed the vegetable garden. But the snake watched his kind master and wondered…

Then, one day, the snake wrapped itself around the man’s neck. Just like that, out of the blue. “You say you’re a kind man, and yes, you’ve fed me well. But in reality you are ungrateful and selfish. You raised me to serve you, not because you were compassionate. I shall kill you for that.”

“Oh, no!” The man cried. “Of course I’m grateful. Ask the ox.”

The ox chewed it’s cud and thought about the whip that drives him to pull the plough. “No, you’re not.”

The man panicked. “Well, the ox isn’t a clever animal. Ask the cow. Go on, ask her…she’ll tell you.”

The cow cast her big, brown eyes on the man and moo-ed softly. “That man pulls my udder and takes my milk – every day. For my whole life, he’ll just steal my milk. And when I run dry, he’ll kill me and eat me. No, man is ungrateful and selfish.”

Desperate, the man told the snake to ask the tree.

The tree didn’t hesitate. While it rustled it’s leaves, it whispered: “Man isn’t grateful. He eats my fruit and sits in my shade. One day he’ll chop me down and burn me for cooking his meals. Grateful? Oh please….”

The man’s wife had been standing outside the door, listening. Knowing that the snake will kill her husband, she went in and started making the snake’s favourite dish with cream and porridge.  The snake hesitated at first, but then let go of the man to eat the meal the woman had placed on the floor. 

“Quick, now is your chance!” The woman handed a stick to her husband, who hit the snake repeatedly until it died.

****

“Gee, Gertruida, is that it? The whole story?” Kleinpiet shakes his head. What a horrible story!

“That’s the way they tell it in Kenya, Kleinpiet. It’s typical of the stories you find up north – they leave you to complete the narrative after the storyteller falls silent.” Gertruida smiles her all-knowing, superior smile; always keen to show off her vast knowledge. “In this case the story leads you to examine the concept of kindness and gratitude while it exposes the greed of man. The ox, the cow and the tree gave unselfishly, but in the end man will destroy them, too.  It also makes one realise that we have to examine our actions carefully – we have to look at ourselves as others see us. You may think you are such a hero, but in reality your motivation may be selfish greed.”

“I still think it’s sad. Why kill the snake?”

“Because the snake asked the wrong question, Kleinpiet. Because the snake looked and saw how lazy the man was. The man was simply using everything around him to do his work and to enrich himself. You know what? The man became so embarrassed when he realised the snake was right, he killed it. A dead snake can’t spread the word…”

“But the word was spread. You’ve just told the story?”

“Yes, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida suddenly looks old and tired. “The story will always escape, no matter how hard you try to kill it. That’s what the news was all about.”

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