Monthly Archives: January 2016

When Time Stands Still

 

Steeple-Replacement-Guided-by-Church-Specialities-Professionals-at-Norton-PresbyterianIt started as another of those days.

As usual, Servaas woke up, groaned, held his throbbing head for a few minutes, sighed, got up (very slowly, holding on to the strategically placed chair to steady himself), brushed his false teeth and slicked down the obstinate hairs of his bushy brows. Then he dressed, had a mug of coffee (to wash down the aspirin) and  went outside, crossed the street and sat down wearily on the old bench on Boggel’s verandah. And as usual, he looked up to the old clock on the church steeple to check the time every now and then. Up to that point, his daily routine was unchanged and pretty much normal.

Then he realised that he’d been sitting there for quite some time, but the hands of the  clock still stood at a few minutes after twelve.

Twelve? The clock stopped just after midnight?

It couldn’t be, for goodness sakes! Judging by the sun (he had to squint because of his hangover), it should be about ten or eleven; Boggel should have been there long ago to open up the little bar. Looking up and down the street, he also noticed that Sammie hadn’t opened his shop either. And Vrede, the town’s dog, was nowhere to be seen.

Now, this posed a few rather uncomfortable questions to the old man. Where were everybody? He considered that they might have all overslept, but then a strange and unwelcome thought seeped to the surface of his painful and troubled mind. If they’re not around, waiting for Boggel, they could all be…dead? Suppose the rapture occurred and he, Servaas, didn’t make the grade? Midnight…it had happened at midnight! The thought made him sit up straighter.

Impossible! He had been an elder in Oudoom’s congregation since before Mandela was freed. And he even stopped shouting at the TV whenever the president spoke. (Truth be told: Gertruida warned him that such language would see him being sent downstairs when he meets St Peter). Well, maybe he hadn’t been a paragon of virtue, but still – his intentions were usually at least 60% good, weren’t they? In the old days, that used to be a first class pass. Not a distinction, mind you, but clearly way above the class average…

But why, then, the static hands of the clock? Is it not so that time would cease to exist when the world ends? No clocks in eternity, no sir! Pearly gates and sidewalks of gold, yes – but no clocks or watches or any form of chronometer would be necessary in Heaven. No need. Eternity means you’re never late.

But suppose – just suppose – he was late for the rapture? Or that he was forgotten? Who did one call under such circumstances?

And then again…Oudoom did speak to him last month. About his drinking. Oudoom was most kind about it, reminding him that an occasional tipple was quite alright, but that moderation was the hallmark of drinking discipline. And – Oudoom reminded him – he should remember that he was the senior member of the congregation; people looked up to him for guidance. “You are important to this congregation, Servaas; you are the example that the others follow.”

Well, that might be true, but…

Servaas tried to think about a good reason. Surely the other Rolbossers understood his loneliness? Excused his intake of Cactus Jack because he needed the drink to sleep? To escape from the terrible vacuum of solitude that crept into his life after Siena passed on?

And Siena…oh Lord! If he missed the rapture, Siena would be all alone up there – wherever up there might be – and she’d be profoundly ashamed that he missed the Salvation Bus. What would the other angels say if they knew her husband, a respected elder, had been left behind because of his habits?

Servaas got up and walked purposefully to the church. There’s only one way to protest against the situation. He’d go to the front pew, sink down on his arthritic knees, and beg for a second chance. Maybe the Second Coming is just that – the last chance to join the others.

Servaas never prays impulsively. He arranges his prayers the way they should be: first a salutation and praise; then thanks for being blessed with so much, followed by a request or two (or more, especially after another presidential speech); then more praise and a very respectful ‘Amen’. When he walked into the church, he had the words ready. He’d protest with great diplomacy – admitting that the second bottle of Cactus Jack last night was a mere little oversight, a small glitch in the way he was thinking at the time; and that Siena mustn’t think badly of him, please? Surely she’d understand that he wasn’t drinking to sin on purpose? He just took to taking a snort or two to dull the pain of solitude – and to make the politics of the day seem less important than getting to bed?

Servaas was holding on to the front pew to arrange his aged frame into a kneeling position when a voice spoke to him.

“Servaas? Servaas? Why, I didn’t expect to see you here today. It’s only Friday, you know. Service is only on Sunday, remember?”

Servaas felt a chill run through his body. Lost…he was lost. Protest wouldn’t help, but still he was at the point of saying it was all a terrible  mistake and that he’d been left behind by accident, when he looked up…into the questioning eyes of Oudoom.

He gaped. “You too, Oudoom? They left you behind as well?”

Oudom smiled. “Ja, they did. I’m glad, too. That trip is no pleasure. It’s a long way and today is going to be another scorcher.”

Servaas didn’t understand. “Where we’re going, could be hotter still, Oudoom. I’m worried.”

“Nah, we’ll amble over to Boggel’s and have a cold one. He’s left the keys with me.”

Oudoom, Servaas realised, was much to cheerful for a left-behind. “You…you’re going to have a beer? On this day? Now? Despite everything?”

“Of course, Servaas. What else? With everybody gone, I’d like the company. Hate drinking alone, you know? It’s the first sign of slipping down that slippery slope to being a problem drinker.”

“But…what about the others? They drink as much as I do – and they’re not here anymore.”

Oudoom looked down at the worried face f his favourite elder. What was bothering the old man? He seemed so…confused?

“Look Servaas, they’ll be back this afternoon. The battery of the clock on the steeple needed replacing and Boggel had to stock up for the weekend. They all left before dawn and Vrede went along for the ride. I asked whether they’d like to take you along, but Sammie said you needed the sleep. But look, here’s the key. Let’s go, I’m rather thirsty.”

Oudoom often remarks that the ways of the Lord are mysterious.

They are indeed. Servaas stopped drinking that day. For a full hour he sat there, sipping his Sprite, while Oudoom enjoyed his lager. Then they listened to the news and the latest statement by the president.

“Mind if I have the usual, Oudoom? And get you a fresh one, while I’m at it? I’ll write it up on my tab.”

And so, life returned to normal in the little town of Rolbos. Tonight Boggel will peek at the clock on the steeple before announcing the last round. Servaas will be in a reflective mood, and tell everybody that nobody knows when the last round will be. He’ll get a few curious glances for that, but he’ll ignore it and smile at himself.

Ja, Siena will understand.

“In life everything is folly
which does not bring pleasure.
Let us be happy, fleeting and rapid
is the delight of love;
it is a flower which blooms and dies,
which can no longer be enjoyed.”

La Traviata by Giusseppe Verdi

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimism…

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. – Nelson Mandela.

This is true, especially in Africa, where the sun is such a prominent presence. But it cuts deeper than merely the physical, doesn’t it?

c2Mothers guard their young with  worried frowns. What about tomorrow? What dangers lurk in the shadows of the night? How shall I manage?IMG_4786The young bachelor is lost and lonely – will he find that special someone, that ultimate mate to share his life with? How does one go about it? How to avoid the many mistakes waiting in the future? And…will he be good enough to match what she has to offer?

IMG_4846Camouflaged in the desert, the chameleon might well ask what has happened to the trees? His family has it so good, so easy – and he has to make do with so little. Does that mean he didn’t make the grade; that he is being punished for something? The pessimist is prone to depression –  will he give up, surrender, and slink away to mope in the vast empty space around him?

IMG_5000a.jpgIndeed, Life regularly seems to turn her back to us, leaving us wondering what it’s all about.

IMG_5116aWith so many predators around, any single individual becomes prone to doubt. Life seems to blur as we tend to consider the problems bigger than the solutions. Is there – when all is said and done – any sense in going on? Should one not just wallow in the profound pessimism that surrounds us, give up…and die?

IMG_4670But then – oh, the bliss! – we look up at the sun and don’t get blinded by its rays. For look, there is the promise; the rainbow; bringing hope. It lures us on and on, for no matter how heavily pessimism weighs us down, it’s darkness can never outshine the brightness of hope.

In the words of Helen Keller – arguably the epitome of optimism and an example to us all: “Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”

 

Gertruida’s new National Anthem

zuma-must-fall-CPT-tourist.width-370“The old one is nice,” Gertruida shrugs, “but what does it say? Every nation is dependent on God’s grace and blessing – that’s true.  And we should be loyal and proud of who and what we are. So, in my book, our National Anthem – as beautiful as it is – doesn’t imply anything unique or new. I mean: every song should have a message, shouldn’t it? Something fresh and inspiring that’d encourage people to forge a better future.”

Gertruida does this sometimes. She’d make an outrageous statement – completely out of the blue – and then wait to see what the others do with it. Sometimes this habit unleashes heated debates, which helps them pass the time of day. One can never be sure if she is really serious or whether she’s just rattling their cages for the fun.

“Look, Gertruida, I grew up with Die Stem before politics intervened. We sang it in school, at funerals and in the army. I never thought it’d become such a political controversy, yet I understand that people wanted to incorporate other verses to include the entire community. But…I’ve become used to N’kosi Sikelel and quite like the song. Now you want to change it…again?”

“Calm down, Vetfaan! Look, let me try to explain…” Gertruida takes a long sip from her glass before continuing. “Okay. When you hear ‘rugby’, what do you see?”

“Why, the Springboks, of course?”

“And people overseas? If you say ‘Johannesburg’, what do they think?”

“Um…gold?”

“Well done, Vetfaan.” Gertruida beams her pride at the burly farmer’s answers. “And Kimberley?”

“Diamonds!”

“Great going Vetfaan. The point is: when you mention a name or a place, you immediately associate it with some mental picture in your mind.That’s the way our brains are wired. Now let’s take a step to the left and follow another line of thought.”

This, too, is typical of the convoluted way Gertruida’s mind works. Straight lines, she always maintains, are for fence wires.

“We are stuck with arguably the most unpopular president in our democratic history. Madiba was a wise leader. Mbeki was clever. But currently we have a clown that laughs his way through parliament. Have you listened to what even the children say about our esteemed First Person?”

 

Vetfaan collapses in a fit of laughter. “Really? If the kids can see through the farce, why do people still vote for him?

“Oh! People! I guess they voted in good faith for the Madiba dream to continue. They trusted the ANC, believing the political party was there for them. Nobody – really, nobody, especially not the majority of the voters – foresaw the chaos that would follow the last election. Who could have predicted the fiasco of corruption, lawlessness, the virtual bankruptcy of our airlines, ESCOM, the railways, the postal services? And what about housing,  our roads and the lack of service delivery? Look at our airforce and navy. Even the education sector is collapsing.  If people had known what they were voting for, they would have been more careful about where they drew their crosses.”

“No argument there, Gertruida. But what has that to do with a new anthem?”

“An anthem is a song. A song has a message. That’s important to remember. Now…back to the questions.” She flashes an encouraging smile. “When you say: ‘South Africa’, what do foreigners think or see? Let me help you here:  who is the Face of South Africa?”

Vetfaan’s response is immediate. “Madiba. They see Mandela.”

“But he’s dead, Vetfaan. You have to choose a living person, one that interacts with the rest of the world right now.”

Vetfaan blanches. “Oh, my….you mean? Really? Our president? Gosh no! That’d be grossly unfair! We have such wonderful people here – kind, wise, caring people. Like, maybe Desmond Tutu for instance. Writers like Adam Small. Singers and songwriters like Johnny Clegg and P J Powers. We’ve got doctors, scientists, philosophers…and Boggel, of course. Why would a German or an American associate our country with Zuma?”

“Because the majority chose him, dummy. He’s the Number One, The Leader, The Face of South Africa.”

Vetfaan slumps down on the counter, holding his head in his hands. “Gimme a Cactus Jack, Boggel. I desperately need one now!” He looks up with a bewildered frown. “So a new anthem will change all that?”

“That’s what I think, Vetfaan. An anthem is a message to the world. We tell the world out there who we are and what we strive for.Listen to this: it’s more catchy than God Save the Queen, has more rhythm than Advance Australia Fair, and easier to sing than Chichewa. No disrespect to those countries, mind you, but it’s such an easy song – the whole country knows the words already.

“Most importantly, this song tells the story of where we are right now, and what we want to see happening in the near future. As far as anthems go, I think this one will be very popular.”

Vetfaan listens. Smiles. Slaps Gertruida’s back. Orders a round on the house. Yes, dear Gertruida has a way of shaking things up in Boggel’s Place. If only she could do the same on a much larger stage…

(Author’s note: This is a satirical piece, using fictional characters to voice fictional opinions. The National Anthems of various countries are not ridiculed, neither is any disrespect implied. The #zumamustfall hashtag has, however, gained unprecedented popularity in the social media, and is here addressed in the way it should – tongue-in-cheek with a wink and a smile.)

The Man from BBE

images (19) copy“That must be Mister Ball, ” Boggel says as the line of dust on the road to Rolbos nears the town. “I wonder what – exactly – does he want? Said he had to come to do business, but that was all. He sounded rather strangely pompous as if he expected us to fall for some sales talk. Something about empowerment and compliance – couldn’t make out head or tail…”

They’ve talked about the visit ever since the telephone call a week ago. Servaas reckons it has to be a government thing, because they seem to be creating more and more agencies to regulate businesses and organisations. “It’s their way of creating jobs, see?” Servaas gets upset about the way the government insists on appointing inept and unqualified people to positions of power – officials who do not have the faintest idea of what they should be doing, anyway.

Gertruida has been hard at work, too. Using the skills she had picked up in her days with National Intelligence, she created a perfect copy of a liquor licence  – something Boggel has never bothered to apply for. That, of course, is a completely different story, and one that has been told a long time ago. Still, if the government wants to see that piece of paper, she’ll have it ready for them.

The black BMW purrs down Voortrekker Weg (still misspelled after all these years) and comes to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. A chauffeur in a perfectly pressed suit jumps out to open the back door for a remarkable man. Remarkable? Maybe not the right word. Astounding might be more appropriate. The huge figure emerging from the vehicle is, indeed, typical of the average government employee – built like an over-sized teapot with a soccer ball head and frog-like eyes. He, too, is dressed in a suit; but how he managed to squeeze his massive bulk into the clothes, is a mystery. Maybe one should not be so critical about Chinese material -it really stretches!

“Mister Ball…?” Boggel steps forward to shake the large man’s meaty hand.

“Just call me Black. All my friends do.” The lips scarcely move, but a gold tooth manages to wink at Boggel. The voice is alarmingly high-pitched, making Gertruida wonder about the man’s hormonal balance.

“Black?”

“Yes. Black. Black Ball. That’s me.” He tries bow slightly and almost manage, too. He hands over his card, which states that Black Ball is the managing director of BBE – Black Ball Enterprises. Underneath, in smaller letters: already 

“Come on in, er…um…Black. You’ll need something cool after driving through the heat.”

“No. No drinking. I’m here on business and I don’t have time to waste. Where can we talk?”

Boggel leads the man inside, where they have to place two chairs next to each other to accommodate the large frame.

“Let me get straight to the point here. You guys need protection. I can offer you this…at a very reasonable rate. You have a choice: work with me, or not. If not…well, the consequences could be rather …uncomfortable. Even painful.” Black pulls a face to emphasise the point.

Now look. You don’t talk like this in Rolbos. Never. It’s not done. Especially not if Vetfaan has had to overhaul his old Landy again – for the second time already this year. This time it was the head gasket, which necessitated a vigorous scrub-down with petrol to get rid of the treacle-like oil that clung to everything. The scrub-down was for Vetfaan, of course, resulting in his cheeks being even more rosy than usual.

“Now look here, mister…”

“Black, just call me Black.”

“Well, Black, I think you have the wrong address. We’re not interested in bribing our way out of your trouble. We’ve got rifles, pistols, a few revolvers and Vrede, our dog. We need protection? My foot! You and who are going to protect us?” Vetfaan gets up to tower over the sitting giant.

“Of course you need protection! Everybody does. Guns won’t help you.” Black spreads his hands in front him. He doesn’t have to say it – his incredulous expression tells them it’d be very stupid not to co-operate. “Look, it’s the way things are in the country.” Now his voice is an octave higher, almost pleading. “I go from town to town and everywhere I’m welcomed with open arms. But you? Sheesh! I feel like you people don’t like me! And here I am, offering you a lifeline in these troubled days…and you don’t want it?”

A troubled silence descends on the group in the bar. Boggel coughs, looks up at the ceiling, and wonders how he can defuse the situation. Sure, they had been a bit apprehensive about the visit, but this is worse than even Servaas’ worst fears. This isn’t the usual governmental mess – this is criminal extortion… He’ll have to get the large man to relax – maybe they can work something out without Vetfaan losing his temper. That would certainly bring on a gang of tattooed ex-bouncers and a bunch of ululating ladies. Hard to say which is worse…

“Look..er…Black. What does your protection cost? Let’s talk about this, man?”

“It’s very cheap. Really.” This time, the snake-like eyes seem to glimmer with…hope?  He certainly sounds more eager now. “Way below what you’ll pay in Upington, for instance. And you’ll have my personal assurance of quality. When I’ve got you covered, you’re as safe as can be. I’ve never had a complaint about quality.” He shakes the large head. “No sir. Never.”

Gertruida sits up suddenly.

“Um…Black? Your protection? Can you give us a demonstration of it?” She smiles her most charming smile. “Please?”

Black calls his chauffeur over to give him instructions.

What happened next in Boggel’s Place, will remain a source of hilarity as long as  Boggel is there to serve his customers. He insists on keeping the complementary sample on the shelf behind the till.

***

“Who would have guessed?” Vetfaan whistles as he slaps his hands together. “Of all things! And there I was, ready to take the poor man out, hey?”

“Always a good idea to listen before you act, Vetfaan? Gertruida tries to sound stern but the twinkle in her eyes tells him she’s not serious. “Hey, it’s the New South Africa – everybody is just trying to make ends meet. I felt rather sorry for him, but he does seem successful enough.”

Sadly, Black Ball failed to make a sale in Rolbos today. Servaas said he was to old, Gertruida pleaded menopause and Vetfaan said something about celibacy.

In bigger towns like Kenhardt and Pofadder, Black might be able to sell his wares. But in a small place like Rolbos? You see, after a certain age – especially if you’re from a more conservative background -some people simply do not use the stuff. They’re fun to blow up and Vetfaan even filled one with water; but to actually use it for its intended purpose would be worth a lot of bragging rights in Boggel’s Place. Only – here everybody knows everybody else’s business, hence they’ll know when a bragger is lying through his teeth. It’s not that they don’t want to use condoms…they simply can’t any more…

Shame..

 

Calculating Racism

wpid-1177012_977770“If I’m proud of who I am, does that make me a racist?” Vetfaan folds the newspaper to show the others the front page.  The headlines contain the usual mix of politics, murders and price increases. “I mean, it’s as if the country just can’t let go of the past – it’s all about black and white. Still, I am who I am. My family is my family.But whenever the politicians rant about Apartheid and how the whites stole the land from the blacks, I can’t help feeling angry.”

“It’s a difficult one, Vetfaan.” Gertruida pushes the newspaper away with a dismissive gesture. “Unless you start reading up on mathematics. That’s the only way. As long as we insist on dividing the nation – or the world – up according to the amount of pigment in your skin, we’re lost. Of course, history is important; it shows us what not to do. But we never learn, do we?”

Gertruida is fond of making statements like this. She’ll mix theory, history and current affairs in a few sentences, and then sit back and watch the others trying to digest what she has just said.

“Huh?” Servaas shakes his head. “You’ve lost me again, Gertruida.”

Gertruida smiles triumphantly and starts explaining. “Look, a certain German mathematician had the same problems with the issues of the day, way back in the seventeenth century. His name was Leibnitz, and he wanted to create an encyclopedia in which everything was awarded a set of numbers. Everything – from fruit to religion – would be represented by a number and that would define the exact nature of the subject under scrutiny. Bertrand Russell wrote about it in 1807, and I’ll try to quote from memory: ‘If controversies arise, there would be no more need of disputation between two philosophers than two accountants. For it would be suffice to take their pens in their hands, to sit down to their desks and say to each other : Let us calculate.'”

“But that’s impossible, Gertruida! You can’t assign a figure to everything? Who decides a goat is number 265 and a car is 1098? Can you imagine if an American gets only number 105, while a Russian gets – say – 1098765? There’ll be endless arguments about getting into the top 100.”

“No Servaas, not like that. The number isn’t of any numerical value – it’s a tag. That tag will take into account what the object is, what it does and how it lives. So hypothetically,  no matter whether you’re German of Japanese, if you write down 158730, everyone will know it’s an adult female elephant with a six-month-old calf, grazing on the grass in central Zambia. The number, according to Leibnitz, will define exactly what is being spoken about.”

Servaas scowls, thinking that this will mean an endless dictionary of numbers. “I still say it’s too far-fetched to be practical. If everybody spoke this mathematical language, nobody will understand what is being said…”

_84018027_binary_code_thinkstock“Unless you’re a machine, Servaas.” Gertruida interrupts the old man gently. “A machine, programmed to think in numbers – and only two of them. Zero and one; the binary language of computers.

“You see, Leibnitz didn’t know it, but he was one of the mathematicians who started the quest for artificial intelligence. His idea might have taken a few hundred years to mature and become practical, but his basic argument was right.”

“Now, how does this solve racism? Surely the problem is more complex than a set of ones and zeroes? And moreover, you can’t expect a computer to solve personal issues like these? Machines have no emotion!”

“Bingo, Servaas! I’m glad you finally understand the basic fault of being human. We attach emotion to everything – not a number. So we seek out people, places and events that make us feel happy and secure – while we avoid those that make us uncomfortable. In fact, we simply hate discomfort. We react with our emotions while we seek fulfillment. Humans, my friend, are wired to avoid situations that rattle the bars around our comfort zones. We get angry when it happens. We rage against the misfortunes of life. And we end up hating those that threaten our existence.”

“Sooo…”

“So politicians rely on fear and hate to keep them in power. As long as they can generate enough unease about the present and the future, voters will go for the easiest road back to their isolated cocoons of comfort. But…to do that, the government needs the past – desperately. They’ll keep on pointing fingers while diligently avoiding some thorny questions. For instance: this country didn’t belong to any specific black nation in the past. The blacks came down from the north, and stole territory from the San and Khoi people. The original hunter-gatherers were hunted down and destroyed.  And tell me: have you ever heard about restitution for these people? No – the government blames the whites and that’s the end of the argument.”

“But that’s the story of the Aborigines and the American Indians, not forgetting the Incas and a whole history book full of other examples – like England and a number of European countries.”

“That’s true, Servaas. But mostly – not in all cases, though – those countries have moved on – or are moving on. For them, the past is the past. They have accepted that no war in the past has been without casualties, but that constantly creating fear and guilt won’t help building a better future. In an advanced society, history serves as a guide – not as a whip.”

“So, am I a racist for clinging to my identity?” Vetfaan still hasn’t heard the answer to his question.

“No, you’re normal.” Gertruida reaches over to tap him on the shoulder. “Without knowing who you are, which culture you belong to and what you believe in, you might as well be a frog. The proviso is, of course, that you cannot deny anybody else the right to his or her identities. Once you get to that point, racism disappears and hope starts blooming.”

“It’ll take a long time…” Servaas muses.

“Indeed, Servaas. Remember Apartheid? They used laws to force down an inhuman policy, based on race. History is simply repeating itself in the country. You can’t use laws to change people’s opinions. That’s a heart-thing – it happens in here.” She taps her ample chest. “That happens when we leave emotion out of the equation, look at the issues objectively, and start calculating. Leibnitz was right.”

“Are you saying I should be allowed to be a proud Afrikaner – despite the government’s rhetoric?”

“Yip, you should. But only if you grant the same for those around you.”

“And that’ll make us the Rainbow Nation?”

“Rainbows only appear after the storm has passed, Verfaan. As long as the clouds are building up and the wind is howling, you won’t see a rainbow. Not in nature, and not in society. One day, we’ll start calculating – and hopefully get to the right answer at last.”

Weekly Phot Challenge: Lioness vs Gravity

“I am,” the lioness said, “the queen of all around me. I rule supreme. In fact, I get to choose where I sleep, and nobody – and nothing – will disturb my well-earned rest.”110_1026

Right then, a big, ripe marula fell on to her head. The lioness looked around in surprise.

110_1025

“What..who..dared do that? I said no disturbance! In plain English! What can be unclear about that?” (Growl!!!)

110_1053

“It’s called gravity, you stupid. What goes up, must come down. It’s true for everything, even for lionesses with an ego problem.” The long-suffering lion was bemused, to say the least.

110_1028The lioness asked her sister, who said the same thing. “And don’t always argue with our husband. You may be queen, but he is the king. Come on down and stop making a fool out of yourself.”

110_1030 “Oh, all right. I’ll come down, but not because of a stupid law of nature. I’ll come down – regally – because I want to.”

l1

“Oh don’t be such a sourpuss,” the sister scolded the disgruntled lioness. “Come, I’ve got our husband’s Master Card and I’ve just returned from the spa. Why don’t we do some retail therapy? I saw some Impala nearby…”

IMG_5444The lion was much saddened when he heard that. Bank balances, he knew, were just like Marulas. And his dear lioness, much like gravity. His balance was going to go one way…down!

Rumours, lies and other news…

mugabeslp“Is Mugabe ill?”

Vetfaan’s question silences them all.

“You mean mentally…or really. Like in physically?” Servaas seems quite happy to accept either.

“No, man. Like in a coronary or something. There’s a rumour circulating. Some even maintain that he didn’t survive a massive heart attack.”

“Lies, lies, despicable lies.” Gertruida goes harrumph and winks at Boggel for another beer. “You’ll hear plenty of them. Some of them are more untrue than others, though.”

“All lies are untrue, Gertruida. It’s like pregnancy: it either is, or is not. No half measures there. Ask Oudoom – he maintains all sins are equal.”

“You have to understand politics…and Africa. The two combine to make a heady mix of fact and fiction. It is extremely rare to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Every rumour and every statement represents a subjective opinion, which often has to be diluted a bit to make it more palatable. Those in power want to remain in power, so they feed the masses what they want to hear.”

“Being dead isn’t a subjective opinion or condition, Gertruida! It’s a fact. Now, either the man is still with us, alive and kicking, or not. I take your point, though – you can possibly be half-alive and still rule. It’s like being half stupid and still being able to quote clever people – sometimes it happens.”

Gertruida smiles. “Okay – here’s how they’ll handle a situation where a long-serving president passes away. At first they’ll say nothing. Behind the scenes there’ll be a massive scurrying to get a new leader in place. There’ll be denials and silences. There’s even a possibility of a pre-recorded TV-interview to create the impression that the reports are false.

“But of course, should there be doubts about his ability to sign cheques or handle chopsticks, the government would have to appoint an interim president – and that, apparently, has happened. Whichever way it pans out, it’ll most probably be much the same scenario as what happened to Mandela: rumours of his death preceded the official announcement by days…even weeks. So, who knows?”

“But then,” Servaas frowns, “things are going to be better in Zim. I mean, with Bob gone, they’ll have a new lease n life?”

“Politics and Africa, my friend; you have to understand them. A president stands on the shoulders of many men and women – he cannot get to that position without support. In fact, a president is only the face in a chair – the real rulers are neatly tucked away under the table. Do you think Mugabe or Zuma or any other president stays awake at night, worrying about policies? Not a chance! The power behind the throne is what it’s all about. Follow the money and you’ll discover who really runs the government. Take away the president…and a new puppet emerges from behind the curtain. It’s all just a show, Servaas, and the masses are entertained by what they want to see.”

“I still don’t know…” Vetfaan starts, but Gertruida interrupts him.

“It doesn’t matter, Vetfaan. It simply doesn’t…”

Vetfaan sighs. Gertruida is right again. The only thing that may possibly change in Africa in the next year, is the spelling on the ANC birthday cake.

cake

Vetfaan’s Dung Beetles

dungBeetle

Credit: landcareaustralia

 “Congratulations!” Kleinpiet reaches over to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “That’ll make a considerable contribution to your retirement fund. In recognition of this exceptional feat, you may have the honour of paying for our drinks tonight.”

“Shees, you guys, am I relieved!” Vetfaan sits down, a Cheshire smile all over his face. “I almost lost hope.”

“Ja, I saw that bull a month ago – couldn’t believe it was only one animal!  That size! I’ve never seen a bull so fat.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Boggel pushes the glasses over to his customers. “What you call ‘in a good condition’?”

“The problem was,” Kleinpiet explains dramatically, “that the poor beast was in such an exceptional condition – as you call it – that he simply couldn’t perform his…er…professional duties.” He makes a suggestive gesture to help Boggel understand. “See?”

“But as I understand it, that bull was the only financially promising prospect on the farm? What are you going to do to generate income for the rest of the year?”

“That’s true, Boggel.” Vetfaan’s face shines with pleasure. “But I’m investing now. Dung beetles. It’s the hottest thing in the wild-life industry at the moment. It’s absolutely amazing what big game ranches will pay for a batch of the little creatures. I guess I can make a 50% profit on my profit from the bull.”

“Dung beetles?” Gertruida shakes her head. “Don’t know too much about those. You get endocoprid, that lay their eggs insode the dung, paracoprids with eggs below the dung, kleptocoprids that steal other beetles’ dung and telecoprid, the beetles with the rolling balls.  They navigate by the milky way and the sun and they’re all coprophages, meaning they ingest faeces…”

“Much like us and the SABC?”

“Don’t be facetious, Kleinpiet.  Anyway, they are vitally important in the ecosystem. The world would be covered with faeces if it were not for them. Can you  imagine the parasites, pests and diseases the animal world would have to deal with – not forgetting ourselves, of course – if no dung beetles axisted? They’re most effective: within 20 minutes of the dung hitting the ground, the little insects are on the job. Most marvellous creatures, if you ask me.”

“And now they’re endangered, so anybody with a supply of them is in the pound seats. Not only am I contributing to the survival of an essential creature, but I’m also providing a service to the game farmers. They desperately need to increase their beetle population to keep the environment safe  for the animals they breed. I am,” Vetfaan says importantly, “a conservationist and an entrepreneur.”

“Farming with dung beetles, eh?” Servaas raises his bushy eyebrows. “Then you’ll have to increase your dung production.”

“Done, Oom Servaas. That’s how I got my bull to lose weight.”

This remark makes even Gertruida sit up in surprise.

“Wha…?”

“Look, that bull was grossly overweight. He just had this massive appetite, see? So I had two choices: either decrease his lust for food,,,or increase his..er…output. Simple mathematics. Weightwatchers 101.”

“So you put him on a strict diet with lots of exercise? “

“Nah. Well, I tried the diet thing, but he got so depressed that I had to give him extra food. And exercise? Have you ever told a bull to start jogging?” Vetfaan smirks. “No, I put our president on him.”

Vetfaan waits for the surprised gasps to settle down.

“Look, you fight fire with fire – not so? So to get a bull to increase his natural output, you got to feed him more of the same. Bull poo in, bull poo out – like the scientists tell us. But how? I racked my brains until our prez fired the minister of finance. Then I listened to him trying to explain that the freefall  of our money had nothing to do with that – and that people overreacted to the news. He is, he said, an unfortunate victim of circumstances in which he had no role to play. He maintained that the weak Rand is purely the result of inevitable market forces and that people are politicising a normal occurrence.  To his credit: he stopped short of blaming Apartheid, which was a pleasant change.

“It struck me then. And it worked.”

“But how, Vetfaan?”

“Why, it was easy. I played the recording of the speech to the bull. Over and over again. Not only did the poor beast lose his appetite, but he increased his output dramatically. Bull poo begets bull poo, see? Simple. And now I have a mountain of the stuff and the beetles are breeding like crazy. In fact, I’m considering buying a few young bulls to keep up the feedstock; the upcoming municipal elections are going to provide plenty of speeches I can play back to them.”

***

Rolbos is such a backward little place in the middle of nowhere. If ever you should stop there, you’d find a small group of people huddled around one of the tiny tables on Boggel’s verandah. You’d probably think they’re just locals, having a beer – and maybe you’d be right.

But sometimes – just sometimes – they’re the only ones in the country who concentrate on the future and not the past.

And dung beetles? Where else would people mention the humble family of Scarabaeinae in contrast with the brilliance of a country’s leader – in the same breath? It might be funny, but it does leave a whiff of halitosis, doesn’t it?

Just goes to show: appearances can be misleading – just like politics..

The Gift of The Little Drummer Boy

little-drummer-boy-album-cover“At last,” Servaas sighs as he tears ‘December’ from the calendar above the counter in Boggel’s Place. “I simply cannot listen to that silly tune any longer.”

As usual, Servaas is in a bad mood in the beginning of the year. He says he’s just gotten used to writing 2015 on his cheques and now it’ll take weeks before he gets 2016 on every one. Gertruida laughs at this, knowing it isn’t true: Servaas simply doesn’t want to add another year to his age.

“Oh shus, you old sourpuss! Christmas and New Year is a time to count your blessings, man! Cheer up and have another Cactus Jack…”

“It’s the tune with all those barumpapapum’s in it. It’s like the composer didn’t have enough words for the music, so it’s barumpapapum this and barumpapum that. And it’s been on the radio since November. Argh! I can’t stand it!” He knits his brows together and stares angrily at the old transistor radio on the shelf. “At least we’ll have eleven months of peace now…”

“But it’s such a beautiful story, Servaas. A little boy with a drum, no gifts to offer the newborn Christ, and then the solution: he plays his best for Him. So sweet, actually.”

Servaas shrugs. He’s not going to grace the debate by adding to it.

“Did you know, Servaas, that it’s one of the most popular modern Christmas songs?  However. it has its roots way, way back. If I remember correctly, it’s based on the 13th-century medieval legend by Gautier de Coincy, in about 1220, called Le jongleur de Notre-Dame. The story tells of a juggler who became a monk and the French author,  Anatole France, published it again in 1892. Beautifully written, the legend sketches the events on Christmas day, when all the monks in the monastery offered gifts to the statue of Mary.  However, the juggler was too poor to buy one and had nothing fancy to offer. What to do? When it was his turn to lay down a gift in front of Mary, he stepped up and did what he does best: juggle.

“The other monks were furious…but then a miracle happened. The statue came alive, and smiled at the monk. Oh, the  surprise on the other monks’ faces! One moment they’re scolding the poor juggler, the next they realise the importance of honesty. If you give your best to Him – however insignificant it might be – there is joy in heaven!”

“Thanks for the lecture, Professor Gertruida. I don’t need it.”

“Oh yes, you do, Servaas. Katherine Kennicott Davis wrote the song in the middle of WW II, in 1941 and called it The Carol of the Drum. That song evolved into the popular song we know today. Incidentally, the Trapp Singers – the family made famous by The Sound of Music – made the first recording. You’ll remember that an earlier generation of the Trapps were responsible for the preservation of Silent Night.

“The point, Servaas, is this: something out of antiquity resurfaced after centuries to bring joy and hope to us today. The message is simple, but strong. Be who you are – the best you, you can be – and that is good enough. No need for pretence and glamour – just be simply who and what you are. For that, you get a smile from Him.”

Servaas keeps on staring at the radio.

“Oh, and one more thing, Servaas. If your mood is the only thing you can offer Heaven today, I doubt if you will be smiled on. The song is a challenge, my friend: it asks you to offer the best in you at all times. Your gift to those around you are as important as the drum the little boy played, or the apples the poor juggler tossed up in the air. If it is given with a joyous heart, it is the most precious thing you can bestow on others… Think about that and stop glaring at the radio. It’s not going to help anything to be angry about a song…or will you keep on spoiling the day by being childish?”

Servaas goes ‘harrumph’. Then he blushes.

Then, to everybody’s surprise, he starts drumming on the counter with his fingers…