North West University. Credit: enca
“Is it,” Vetfaan muses, “a privilege or a right to study?”
Gertruida sits back, deep in thought. Then: “It is one of the most difficult questions you’ve asked in all these years, Vetfaan. “Privilege” involves exclusion of some to the benefit of others. “Right” implies the opposite. I’ve often thought there should be something in between, like ‘a rightful privilege’ or something.”
“What I don’t understand,” Vetfaan continues, “is that students are burning down universities – while they’re there to study. It makes no sense at all.”
“That, my friend, is smoke and mirrors. Have you heard the president admonish the students? Has the government made an unequivocal statement, condemning the destruction, the torching and the disruption happening on campuses?” She hesitates before answering herself. “No! The government is worried like never before. They’re going to take a whipping when the municipal elections come about later this year. They simply cannot afford to alienate the youth of the country.”
“Afford? Afford? My foot, Gertruida. That means we have to foot the bill with our tax money.Can I afford it – that’s the question?”
“I wonder,” Servaas lets the words dangle in the air before completing the sentence, “what these protests cost us every day. I mean: the prez says they’ll host fewer parties in the coming year, and that’s great. But in the meantime the country is burning. Busses, trains, libraries, municipal offices…you name it and the vandals are there with petrol and matches. This isn’t a mere Nkandla we’re talking about – the totals must be staggering billions, not millions.”
“It’s the old story, Servaas. Remember the saying:You become your parents? How you were brought up will determine who and what you’ll be as an adult. If you see your parents and leaders acting in a certain way, you naturally assume that’s the accepted norm. Look at our political leadership – and then ask yourself whether the youth, alone – are to blame.
“Whenever some political parties hold marches, destruction follows. It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. What is worse, is that politicians create expectations with promises they know they’ll never deliver upon. The destruction we should be talking about, isn’t about buildings, roads and vehicles – it’s about lives being wrecked by the absence of proper leadership.” Gertrida sighs. “I so wish the politicians realised that.”
“Okay, then I’ll make the State of the Nation Address I would have liked to hear.” Vetfaan gets up, tries to laugh like the prez, and adjusts his imagined glasses with his middle finger. “Compatriots, fellow South Africans and countrymen. Today I’m going to tell it like it is.
“Hehehe…destruction of property is unlawful. It’s a criminal act. No matter how angry you are, two wrongs don’t make a right. By burning down universities, you are not creating a better future, are you? From now on, all individuals who cause damage of any sort to property – governmental or private – will be liable to compensate for that loss. Let me remind you that we have laws in place for exactly that. The fact that I’ve been reluctant to prosecute perpetrators in this regard, is shameful to say the least! In fact, it was downright stupid to allow the situation to deteriorate to this level, and I take full responsibility for the lack of proper leadership and discipline.
“Furthermore, I realise that I’ve lied about many things – even right here in this parliament. I expected you to believe me, just as the many, many people that’ll still want to vote for us in the upcoming elections. To those faithful followers, I want to say thank you, but no thank you. Do not vote the same way you did before. That’s a sure way to destroy even more buildings and cripple the infrastructure worse than in the past. We are on a certain road to self destruction and we have to make a sharp U-turn or face the consequences.
“Then, fellow countrymen, I have instructed the police to have no mercy with murderers, rapists, molesters, and other corrupt officials. Planning for a high security prison in the most inhospitable area of the country is in advanced stage. Prisoners will in the future have no voting rights either. Forget about medical care, nice overalls and a bed. Prison isn’t a hotel. The ablebodied will be put to work wherever we need them – twelve hour days with no minimum wage – cheap labour. If you took part in any activity that harmed society, you will be forced to contribute to society again before you are allowed back on the streets. In this way, we can maintain and service roads, railways, sewerage farms and other infrastructural elements in need of work.
“Also, my friends, we are declaring a war on rubbish and litter. How can we expect our countrymen to be proud citizens who want to protect their environment, when government never does anything to educate the masses? Throwing rubbish in the streets, scattering plastic bags all over the veld and heaping up trash everywhere is certainly not conducive to a civilised society. From now on, if you throw your KFC box out of your car’s window, you’ll be forced to help clean up the shanty towns around our cities.
“That brings me back to education. Children must be able to attend schools where they are efficiently and properly educated in not only the basics of reading, writing and maths, but where a sense of responsibility is instilled into them. They must learn that all actions have reactions. If they boycott schools, they’re the ones who suffer – and society is only the poorer for that. Ubuntu isn’t just a word, compatriots. We cannot sit here in the luxury of parliament while the children out there are being neglected. If they are disadvantaged, my fiends, we are disadvantaged, too. We’ll leave a legacy of shame if we don’t make a stand on this.
“You’ll notice that I haven’t said anything about our economy. It’s not necessary. Once we repair the fabric of our society, the economy will correct itself. What that means, is this: it’s no use making laws and promises when the average man in the street has no hope, no pride and no sense of responsibility.
“It’s about freedom, you see. Freedom doesn’t mean you are free to do anything or say anything. Freedom comes at great cost, compatriots. It’s an expensive luxury – and I’m not talking about money here. It requires us to embrace responsibility – something that’s been sadly lacking in these chambers ever since I’ve taken over the reins. And responsibility will cost everyone of us something: some will have to own up to corruption, others will maybe have to admit to lacklustre performances and still others may have to vacate their seats due to incompetence. These are harsh words, my friends, but absolutely necessary.
“And lastly, I have taken a firm decision to lead by example. In the words of the opposition, I now bid you all goodbye. I’ll retire to the nice house you’ve kindly built for me and from now on laze in the firepool or tend to my chickens. Bye bye…”
In all the years Boggel has been running the bar, he’s never heard an applause like the one that follows when Vetfaan sits down.
‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…‘