Monthly Archives: October 2016

Weekly Photo Challenge: Local Faces

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South Africa has many faces, all of them local and all of them precious. In Cape Town the mood is light and smiles welcome you, inviting you to come in.

IMG_0218.JPGIn the Kalahari, !Oushe is more serious as he imparts age-old wisdoms to a boy on the verge of manhood.IMG_0288_edited-1.jpgHis name is Kobus, and he’s preparing the snoek – fresh from the cold Atlantic – for a family feast in Namaqualand.

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The descendents of the original Nama people are proud of their heritage. You’ll never get lost in this arid landscape: the Riemvasmakers are all too keen to spoil you with unselfish hospitality and will gladly point out the right route to your destination.IMG_4739.JPG

You’ll find Sefanja in the middle of nowhere, where his neat little ‘garage’ is constructed of sticks, stone and wire. Whistling an age-old tune, he can fix a punctured tyre in no time. IMG_5712.JPGThe best, most famous ‘face’ of South Africa, is quite possibly not human at all. No matter where or what or how you are right now, this is the picture that tells you where ‘home’ is. It is timeless and precious, friendly and welcoming, and it’ll always invite you in.

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The Circus Lion of Society

2B66E2C400000578-0-image-a-56_1439753878897.jpg“Isn’t it strange how some people manage to convince themselves that they  – or their deeds – are invisible? Fact is: the things you have done and said in the past, remain as historical facts. And, what’s more, we live in a digital age in which information is not only freely available, but it also spreads at the press of a button.”

“Ja, Gertruida, that is true for Trump and Zuma. No matter how much they’d like to bury the past under a heap of horse manure, there just aren’t enough horses around to help them out. Their actions – or lack thereof – remain as timeless accusations against their characters. It simply won’t fade away as the days and months roll by – in fact, they become more visible.”

“Society,” Gertruida pouts like she does when she’s in her cynical mood, “has become a circus lion, Vetfaan. We’ve been cowed into subjection, tortured to submission and dominated into impassive insensitivity.Where is that steadfast honesty and integrity our forefathers were so famous for….”

“At least some of them,” Vetfaan interjects, ignoring Gertruida’s disapproving frown.

“…and fought for so hard?” Gertruida ignores the taunt. “And, let me remind you: this never was a white or brown or black issue. Sure, we had some very bad apples spread widely through the development of our country, but somehow our spirit of adventure always had a foundation of justice to it. The Great Trek and the Freedom Struggle had more in common than meets the eye: both were quests for freedom from oppression and both were driven by men and women who sought civil justice. The methods differed, but the basic premise was the same.

“Somewhere along the line, however, we always seem to muddle things up. Power corrupts, Vetfaan, and that’s the bottom line. Too much power ends up in the very same oppression we tried to escape in the first instance.”

“That’s when we become circus lions?” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow.

“Sure. A lion is a vicious animal, a superb hunter and known as the king of the jungle. Then man comes along with a whip and beats the natural instincts out of him. The lion submits, forgets who and what he was, and becomes a plaything – a party trick to amuse the crowd. If the lion believed in himself, he’d easily overpower the man with the whip – he’d snap the ringmaster in two, jump out of the ring and go back to being a lion. But the poor animal has lost the will to fight. He’d rather jump through a few hoops to earn his measly dinner of donkey chops than roam free and live off kudu steaks.”

“Okay, so we’ve become a nation of cowards. What’s next?”

Gertruida stares at her friend for a second or two before answering.

“Time. That’s the answer. That, and the power of history. Lions don’t keep record of who growled what and when – they lack the skill of understanding history. And to them there’s no yesterday and no tomorrow – they eat, hunt and sleep as and when the need arises. We, on the other hand, cannot escape the past and are very much aware of the future.

“Nations – throughout history – have gone through periods of oppression. There have been autocrats, dictators and madmen throughout the ages, who’d thought their whips would be enough to keep the lion of society at bay.” She sighs, orders another beer and shrugs. “Name one empire – one single leader – who has survived it’s own injustices? Don’t even bother answering that, Vetfaan, we both know the answer.”

“So America and South Africa are in the same boat?”

“No, my friend. We are at the point where the lion is about to snap the whip in two. America’s circus is still in training…”

The Sad Demise of the Acrid Empire

 

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Credit: bbc.co.uk

“This thing with Mr Gordhan is simply mind boggling,” Vetfaan says as he puts down the newspaper. “Every time the government wants to bugger up the already-dead economy, they trump up some charges against the Minister of Finance. He now has to appear in court on short notice, while the case against the president – many years old –  is being studiously ignored. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Servaas shrugs. “What’s new, Vetfaan? What with quotas in sports, black economic empowerment and the burning down of universities, corruption and crime, the country is bleeding to death, anyway. Professionals have fled the country, the academics are following. Our president, the father of the nation, is too afraid to say anything about student protests and when he does, he simply says it’s a problem.”

“That’s why the Acrid Empire always fails, you guys. It’s a matter of time.” Gertruida has an enigmatic twist of her lips – is it a smile? “And if you don’t understand nature, you’ll never grasp the fact that the government is teetering about, waiting for the inevitable knockout..”

“Wha…?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you…”

***

In the beginning, the immature Acrid individuals roam about independently, making no impact on the environment. The days are lazy, with plenty to eat and time to explore. It’s a great time, with no threat offered and no threat lurking.

Of course, with so much time on their hands, they multiply – what else? More and more individuals  result in more and more and more individuals. Darwin stated that the fittest survive at their peril – once a critical mass has developed, it’d destroy the species. Too many lions, for instance, will hunt out the food supply in no time, simply because their strength is their skill in hunting. Result? The hunter has nothing left to hunt; end of the hunter…  Ergo: the very same strength which promises survival, also ensures demise.

The Acrid’s strength – and thus their weakness – is their ability to destruct. They do not respect the environment, do not attempt to maintain civil order, abhor any form of discipline and will never be interested in education. Their destructive behaviour overrrides everything and forces their neighbours to flee or starve to death. They neither understand the need for justice, nor do they care about moral values.

For some queer reason, it is wrong to criticise them – one will be called a bigot or scolded for selfishness. The liberal line of thought is that they were here first and therefore have the right to live as they’ve always done. The conservatives, on the other hand, point to the fact that, where  Acrids have been, nothing remains intact. It’s a debate that will never be settled: the Acrids are here to stay.

Lasly, Acrid society is not known to contribute to the environment in any way. Their homes are temporary; once they have destroyed everything around them, they move on to seek new places to attack.

But in the end – at last – Acrids are instrumental in their own destruction, simply because there is nothing left for them to devour. They’ve stripped the land clean of everything, crippled the economy and caused untold hardship for those unfortunate enough to have crossed their path. Their ever-increasing numbers make it impossible to sustain their way of life because they have become too numerous, their opportunities too scarce and they end up as hungry (and as dead) as those they have deprived of the most basic rights nature affords all.

***

Gertruida sits back with a frown. “And so, my friends, Acrid’s strength is Acrid’s weakness. Destruction begets destruction, leading to demise. It’s a law of nature.”

Servaas gapes at her. “Sheesh, Gertruida! That’s terrible! What are you talking about?”

“Our society,” Vetfaan says as he orders another beer. “You know Gertruida loves talking in riddles. I bet Acrid is an acronym for something.” He scowls for a moment, then brightens. “What about Aggressive Cultural, Religious, and Industrial Destruction?”

“Oh, you guys!” Gertruida throws up her hands in despair. “Not at all! How can you even think like that? I’m talking about Acrids. Real ones.”

“And what, pray, might that be?”

acridid01.jpg“The little insects Hermann August Krauss named back in the late 1800’s, you dummies. They belong to the family of Orthoptera and you see them every day. Acrididae are grasshoppers or locusts, Servaas. And I only used them to illustrate a point.

“Students go to varsity to become more skilled. If they learn destruction, they’ll destroy – because that’s what they believe is the purpose of studying. They’ll become skilled destroyers and more and more will join until there are no universities left to teach morals and ethics and discipline.

“The same thing is happening in some parts of our government. Remember, there are none as blind as those who refuse to see.

“Of course, the curriculum and instinct of destruction become a national oxymoron – the destroyers will, in the end, have nothing left to do. They are destroying their very future, just like the Acrids do.”

“You saying that our society is infested by grasshoppers?” Boggel, who always tries to be moderate and even politically correct, shakes his head. “That smacks of racism, Gertruida.”

“I. Was. Talking. About. Locusts.” Gertruida, clearly irritated, glares at the little barman. “A natural phenomenon, Boggel. A law of nature. Race has – for goodness sakes! – nothing to do with it!”

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”

***

Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

The Horizon Hunter #9

“What a sad, sad story…” Servaas watches as Mo gets into the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer. Sammie arranged a lift as far as Upington, from where Mo  will travel by air to Luanda.

“In a way, it’s happy, as well.” Gertruida tries not to look too smug. Did she not – after all – do a splendid job at unravelling the mystery of Mo’s real father? And was not her efforts worth it, just to see how much the news had meant to the man who never knew his father – who, in fact, believed him to be dead? “He’s quite excited about meeting the old man. Far as we know, he is still in good physical shape but Dr Lubovski said he had lost the will to live. When I phoned her this morning, she couldn’t hide her excitement – Mo is exactly what the old man needs right now.”

“But think of all those wasted years! Poor Gerhardus thought his wife had deserted him and never knew about his son. He didn’t even want to come back to South Africa…”

“Yes, Servaas, that’s true. But then – you must remember that, in his mind, he was abandoned by all. Why return if there’s nothing to return to? Now, of course, things might change. Mo promised to keep us up to date, didn’t he?”

“And Mo? What about his journey through life? So complicated, so…unnecessary.”

Gertruida flashes an understanding smile – the one mothers use to soothe an upset child.

“No, not unneccessary, Servaas. No journey through Life is without a purpose. There’s always a rhyme and reason.  Did you have a look at Mo’s book?”

“The Song of Life? The verses he wrote in isolation? No, I didn’t have a chance; you were in it all the time.”

“Well, it’s better than Rick Warren, more profound than Mitch Albom. I told him I’ll send it to a publisher, who – I’m sure – will latch onto it like a leech. It’s international bestseller material, I’m sure.

“Now, without the way his life turned out to be, he’d never have been able to write it. And that shepherd, Petrus, contributed remarkably much to his insight. And…don’t forget that farmer. It was no coincidence that the two of them met up – no coincidence at all! Now Mo has a half-share in a Karoo farm, a father to meet and a whole new life ahead of him.”

Servaas is still not comfortable with it all. “What about Maria, his mother?”

“Ah, yes, the mystery of it all! Who knows what fate…or destiny…has in store there?  Funny, Mo never asked about her – did you notice? Auntie Florrie brought him up and after that he took to the streets. He never knew a mother…not a real one, poor thing.”

Vetfaan brightens. “Maybe that Russian doctor….?

“Shhh, Vetfaan, don’t tempt fate. But wouldn’t it be nice, though?”

***

And so, in the end, they waved the bus off and returned to Rolbos. Mo was en route to his last horizon, and whatever answer he finds there, it’ll be the end of his search – for now..

Gertruida says Life is much like a good story: every ending is a beginning and not all endings are happy ones. Most endings, according to her, are not endings at all but  mere pauses while the next chapter is born.

And sometimes, she says, the best stories do just that: allow the audience to make up the next chapter – for there’ll always be a next, and a next, and a next to follow. Which is why, when the dust on the road to Upington settles down at last, the group returns to Boggel’s Place in a pensive mood. What will Mo find in Angola? Will he return? And what about his father?

“At least they’ll be able to talk about prisons and being locked up. Or compare notes on interrogation techniques. Or feeling rejected?”

“You are one facetious, cynical, insensitive son of a female dog, Vetfaan!” Gertruida’s smile, however, tells him she understands.  Vetfaan is only doing what most South Africans do when they’re upset – joking has become the best survival tool since 1994. “Did you notice? Mo didn’t use his Sulliman surname when he introduced himself – he said: ‘Cronje’. And that’s how I realised what he really needed – he was  searching for his roots. He was looking…for himself.”

Servaas nods. “We all are, aren’t we? Trying to understand our own stories, I mean. Figuring out the next chapter. Without it, we cannot love.”

He gets a surprised look from Gertruida, who has picked up her handbag to look for a Kleenex.

                                                                     The End