Author Archives: Amos van der Merwe

About Amos van der Merwe

Writer

The Horizon Hunter #3

The only baby picture of Mo…

“I’m back,” Mo said as he sat down, overstating the obvious. “I thought about what Gertruida had said, so I returned. That is, if you guys will have me. I hope you do…”

Boggel pushed a can of Coke over the counter. “Rolbos has always been open to all. The only ones who left, were the ones that wanted to. In fact, we welcome newcomers – we get tired of Vetfaan complaining about his old Land Rover all the time.”

Mo smiled and thanked the group at the bar.

“I owe you more than the superficial background I gave when I first stopped by. Let me tell you my story…”

***

Mo’s father, Gerhardt Frederikus Cronje, prided himself ons his ancestry, which included (according to him), Pieter Arnoldus Cronjé, the (in)famous Boer general in the Anglo-Boer war. Pieter, as it is well-known, was thought to be a brilliant tactician, who captured Leander Starr Jameson of the Jameson Raid at Doornkop. His fame grew during the ensuing war, with the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking. During the battle of Modderfontein he caused heavy British losses, but his surrender at Paardeberg signalled the end of the Boer resistance. Gerhardt never mentioned this last bit of history, of course.

Thus, when the Border War escalated in the 60’s and 70’s, Gerhardt did not think twice about volunteering to ‘drive out the terrorists’. He joined the infantry and rose to the rank of lieutenant. In October 1975, the South African army advanced into southern Angola with the Zulu Taskforce. While this move was an all-out success, it did incur casualties. Gerhardus Cronje was listed as MIA.

Back in Boksburg, his pregnant wife waited anxiously for news of her husband’s situation. None came.  Her impatience turned to fury…

Maria Francina Jacobs was not your average soldier’s wife. She had a secret that only Gerhardt knew about. She was the product of a marriage between Mohammed Sulliman, a trader on the Cape Flats, and Maria September, the daughter of a Norwegian tourist and what is discreetly noted as a ‘lady of the night’. Maria Francina, due to that unpredictable lottery genes play, passed as white in the old South Africa. She met Gerhardt as a waitress in a restaurant in Cape Town, and was carried away by his kindness and humour.

Relationships share one common trait: fascination. Gerhardt was fascinated by the beauty of the waitress hovering near his table; she was in awe of the command he had over his friends he had invited to celebrate his 21’st birthday. It didn’t take long for the two of them to acknowledge the spark between them and a date followed the next evening.

It was a classic boy-meets-girl-falls-in-love story. The Mixed Marriages Act and Gerhardt’s family could not stop them. Denied the right to be legally married, they moved to Boksburg where they were not only accepted by the community as being married, but more importantly, also as being another ‘white’ couple.

Maria’s acceptance by society was, of course, dependent on Gerhardt being at her side. Without Gerhardt, it would be a matter of time before her deception was uncovered. Her fury at her common-law husband going missing on the border stemmed both from her frustration at his defending the country (and its laws) as well as her fear of being exposed – not only as an unmarried woman, but as not being white as well.

The weeks became months. The initial outpouring of sympathy for the plight of the lovely wife of Gerhardt slowly waned and reality set in. The crunch came when her pregnancy reached full term and she had to be admitted to hospital. There, she reminded them of Gerhardt’s sacrifice to serve his country – and then said she had lost her identity documents. That, at least, got her to the maternity ward where her son was born. Then his birth had to be registered.

Maria knew she had no chance of registering the infant without her producing some form of identification. At first she tried to see the officials with only a copy of Gerhardt’s papers, but they insisted on proof of identity for her as well. She said she’d go home and look for it again and fled the offices.

There was nothing else to do. She left Boksburg on the late-night train to Cape Town to rejoin her own family on the flats. Of course she left no forwarding address.

Maria found refuge with her brother, Achmad Sulliman, who arranged a room for her in the house of a friend in Atlantis. Here, mother and child could live quietly and avoid the scrutiny of the apartheid officials.

And here, too, she had no hope of hearing about her husband, Gerhardt, through official channels ever again.

***

“So, you see,” Mo said as he pushed his empty glass over to Boggel – emphatically, almost angrily, “even before I was born, I didn’t fit in. I am part Afrikaner, part Norwegian, part prostitute and part Coloured. My father was a soldier for a inhumane regime, my mother a fake.

“And that, my friends, was only the start…” He sat back, seemingly fatigued by recounting his sad history. “There was more to follow…”

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #2

mandela21.jpgMo, the man of such mixed ancestry and culture, had never doubted that his passage through life would be an arduous one – to understate the obvious. His very name already suggested  – in fact: implied – a lifetime of being an In Between Man; the huge misfit in a society so diverse that even the norm was impossible to define.

So, as he walked out of the little town of Rolbos, one can understand that he felt somewhat elated. The time he had spent in the bar with the townsfolk was quite possibly the best respite he had had for a number of years; for they all sat down together, debated (without resorting to heated arguments) and tried to make sense of what passed as civilisation at the time. They had their differences, of course: Servaas, as the arch-conservative and Gertruida who tended to be more liberal (open-minded, as she termed it), could not agree on the principle of free tertiary education for all.

“Look, if you have the potential, you should be able to obtain a degree,” Gertruida had been adamant about that.

images (21).jpg

Credit: laafriquemedia.biz

Servaas could not be swayed. “Yeah? Then you’ll have more riff-raff burning down university halls and libraries! Tell me, Mrs Know-it-all, how does it make sense to protest in favour of education while you destroy the very facility you want to study at? Those kids aren’t students – they’re hooligans. You want to hand out free, substandard degrees to everybody – just to keep the youths happy? What do you think the international acceptance of our degrees would be? I’ll tell you: they’ll smirk and ignore our graduates as idiots. No, you have to earn a degree, Gertruida – that involves time spent on your backside, studying… and not jumping around to some moronic chant, brandishing a box of matches.”

Vetfaan then asked the question they could not agree on: “Is tertiary education a right…or a privilege?”

Boggel had intervened and told them to relax – it wasn’t the students fault. “It’s a question of monkey see, monkey do, guys. Those students grew up in households where protesting was the only way to survive. At first they protested against apartheid – and we all agree that was a justified cause. Then the country settled down for a ‘new democracy’ and everything went pear-shaped all over again. The politicians promised the world and delivered a pebble – and all the while they helped themselves to the goodies in the state’s candy store. So, the parents took to the streets again. Nothing happened. They burnt municipal buildings. Nothing happened. They murdered politicians…and still nothing happened. Despite everything, the poor people had to put up with inadequate hospitals, inferior and overcrowded schools, almost non-existent service delivery, horrible sanitation and a future filled with worse conditions than they ever had in the past. Protests were the only way to draw attention to their lot and that’s what they did.

“So these kids – the students – have this as the template for change. Burn, destroy and intimidate. It’s proven successful – to various degrees – for their parents, so why not do it themselves? It is another form of township justice, a social kangaroo court of a society frustrated beyond all reasonable bounds.”

“But that doesn’t make it right, Boggel. Why must Rhodes fall, fees fall, tolls fall…and Zuma remain unscathed?”

“Wrong, Servaas. Zuma will fall. If history insists on remembering Verwoerd as the architect of apartheid, then future generations will read about the corrupt king who destroyed Mandela’s legacy.”

The conversation drifted this way and that until they all agreed that the country was in an in-between state. Gertruida summed it up.

“Death and birth share certain similarities. It may be painful. It may be slow. To the impatient it takes far too long. To the optimist, it may hold hope. In the end, it’s an inevitable process with a certain outcome. The only answer is patience – and the expectation of change. It’ll come, you’ll see.”

Mo sat down under the big old thorn tree next to the road with a smile hovering about his lips while he contemplated an unexpected thought.

“Why do I have to keep on searching for answers? Why slog away day after day, hoping for an answer beyond the horizon?  Did Gertruida not say something about the vulnerability of mothers?”

Yes, he can recall her exact words:

A mother is most vulnerable at birth. She is stripped of all dignity and completely defenseless. What is happening in the country today? I’ll tell you: she’s giving birth. It’s a painful process without dignity or respect. She’s crying out for help and understanding. The infant she’ll bear, will be a helpless struggler, unable to comprehend the challenges it’ll have to face in the future. It’s a bleak picture – but not without hope.

“So we’ll just have to be midwives, Mo. Instead of condemning her, we should ease the pain; support her in her hour of need. Understanding the process is already half the cure. And if we do, we’ll have to lend a helping hand to rear the newborn infant and guide it to maturity.

“You see, Mo, the country is just like you – an unenviable mix of rich and poor; an amalgamation of gene pools, cultures and beliefs. It is unique but at the same time, a picture of what is happening across the globe. We’re in the process now – it cannot be stopped. 

“The future? Ah, my dear Mo, it’s as bright – or as dark – as we choose it to be. It’s up to us.”

Mo got up slowly, the smile wider now. Why journey farther in a futile search? No, he finally had found the other side of the horizon. He gathered his few belongings and returned to the road. Not for a moment did he wonder what the Rolbossers would say when he – once again – pushed open those swing doors of Boggel’s Place.

The Horizon Hunter

Je-Suis-mo_edited-1.jpg In this time of extreme racial ultrasensitivity, it would be so very wrong to speculate about the background of the newcomer who stopped by for a while in Boggel’s Place. The heart-shaped face suggested a San ancestry, but the almost-straight hair did not fit in with that assumption. His two piercingly blue eyes sat astride the broad nasal bridge and above the generous lips. As for skin colour, one might consider words like beige or coffee or even sandy.

The rest of the man was rather unremarkable. Neither fat nor thin, tall nor short, and definitely not all that handsome but still quite charming, he fitted into that vague grouping we would term as ‘medium’ or ‘average’.

When he pushed open the swing doors of Boggel’s bar, the conversation – quite naturally – ceased as they all turned to see who it was. The man took off his weathered hat, smiled apologetically and asked if he might have a glass of water. Gertruida – as curious as always – immediately invited him to sit down with them and ordered a Coke for the new guest in their midst.

“I am Mohammed Cronje,” he answered when asked, “from down south. I travel for a living. Call me Mo.”

Servaas knitted his bushy brows together. “Travel? For a living? What do you do – write articles for magazines?” Servaas dismissed the idea the moment he asked the question; Mo quite obviously had no vehicle and his clothes needed a wash desperately.

Mo’s lips twitched upward in a fleeting smile, exposing a set of perfectly white teeth. “No. Nothing grand like that. I’m a hunter of horizons. That’s what I do.”

Now, even Gertruida (who knows everything), has never come across a horizon hunter before, so she had to ask.

“It started when I was young – maybe when I realised I was … different  …. way back when I  was a boy. All around me were kids who belonged, see? Either to a family of a culture or a church. But me? I was an social orphan, the runt of the social litter…”

“I’m one too,” Boggel interrupted, “I understand.”

Mo turned to Boggel, taking in the deformed figure. “Yes, maybe you do to some degree. But you are fortunate, I think. Being physically disabled is certainly a drawback, but it does not exclude you from society. In fact, it scores high on the sympathy scale these days. Me? I’m an in between person: I fit in nowhere. I’m a misnomer, a cultural oxymoron. There’s no niche I can claim as my own.

“So, that’s why.” He sighed. “I started searching for a place where I might fit in. Always have believed that there must be a somewhere – just beyond the skyline – where I will feel comfortable with the people around me. That’s why I travel. That’s what I hope for.”

“But Mo,” Boggel opened another can of Coke, “we’re all people, aren’t we? Some display various hues, others cling to different religions. Even if we don’t look or act like the majority, we can’t deny the fact that – in the end – we’re all individuals. Each of us is unique and special; each of us deserves to be respected for who and what we are, don’t we?”

 Mo shrugged sadly. “Maybe that’s just beyond the political horizon, Boggel. But look at what has happened in the world we live in today: people are categorised, defined, analysed, and classified – in order to see if you fit in with the so-called norm or majority. Then the majority becomes a faceless, ill-defined mass to exclude those who stand out. And boy! Society has become such experts at exclusion! It is as if people detest those that dare to be or look or believe differently.

“So the world on this side of the horizon is a much diseased animal, my friends. I do not belong here. I need to keep going until I reach the other side.”

They debated the state of the current social order in the world for a while, then Mo got up, shook their hands and wandered down Voortrekker Weg. “I have to go. It’s out there, somewhere…”

“He’s a strange cat,” Servaas said, staring at his empty glass.

“No, Servaas. He’s the most normal person to have visited us in a long time.” Gertruida stared at the diminutive figure at the edge of the town. “In fact – he is believing in what most people in the country – even the world – are hoping for. And you? You’re doing exactly what he is so aware of: you’ve just described him as ‘crazy’ – meaning he doesn’t fit in with the so-called normal society. ”

Boggel  nodded. “Mo? He’s us, isn’t he? And we perpetuate our political and cultural differences by harping on the past history and our future fears instead of celebrating the uniqueness of just being ourselves.”

“Je suis Mo?” Gertruida had that all-knowing look.

Vetfaan surprised her with a nod of his own. “Oui…”

Nine Toes’ Penny

1010396.jpgThe day Nine Toes disappeared in the Kalahari remains shrouded in mystery. Gertruida says there has to be a logical explanation, but Servaas – in an uncharacteristic pensive way – reckons one should never dabble with superstition or magic. Vetfaan dismisses the whole episode as a myth while Boggel only smiles and reminds them that the Kalahari is a great keeper of secrets.

Nine Toes, the Bushman, used to visit Rolbos occasionally. Way back then, he’d saunter in to Boggel’s Place with a casual smile and a cheerful greeting. He did this when he had something to sell: sometimes a few strings of beads, at others something more significant like an old coin or a rusted pocket knife. He’d explain these finds by telling them about the abandoned wagons of the old Dorslandtrekkers – the Afrikaners that that tried to escape British rule by trekking to Angola through the merciless desert which killed so many of them.

“There are wagons out there, Mister Boggel, just like the people left them. Eish! Many of them are almost worn away by the wind and the sun by now, but some things remain – if you knew where to dig in the sand. In the rusted tins and leather sacks, one may find strange things.” And with that, he’d hold out a handful of Kruger Pounds or maybe a ring or a necklace.

Nine Toes was rather aptly named. Many years ago a surprise meeting with a cobra – in the dead of the night – resulted in the snake being decapitated and a young Bushman contemplating his rapidly swelling big toe. He knew what would happen once the poison spread and did the only thing he could. When Vetfaan once said he didn’t believe a word of that story, Nine Toes produced the evidence the next time he visited Rolbos. The shrivelled up, dried-out toe silenced his critic completely.

Servaas had tried – many times – to find out where Nine Toes’ wagons were, but the man shook his head.

“Mister Servaas, leave those wagons to rest where they are. They supply me with a means to survive and they deserve to be undisturbed. There are graves there, too. Six of them. Long ago they had wooden crosses with names but now only the rocks on them tell you where they are. Four small ones, two big ones. And the spirits? They are there, too. They talk to me. They don’t want to be disturbed.”

Now that, of course, drew a sharp rebuke from Oudoom; but Nine Toes remained unfazed. He wasn’t talking about ghosts, he said, but spirits. There was a difference, he maintained.

“A ghost has a body, a face, a voice. When a ghost touches you, his fingers burn like ice. But a spirit…no body. No voice. A spirit can move right through you and you’ll never know. But take time, Mister Servaas, to sit down and talk with a spirit, and you’ll get an answer; not in words, but here.” He tapped the side of his head. “Spirits are soft, mostly kind and always ready to listen.”

Servaas scoffed, which only made Nine Toes shrug. An ignorant, sceptic old man could not be blamed for not believing him, after all. Oudoom remarked that that was the problem with the world those days: people believed in the most absurd things. No, Nine Toes countered, that was wrong.

“We must welcome the spirits, Mister Oudoom. They share this world with us. Sometimes they go away – I don’t know where – but then they return again. I’ve heard you people talking about angels – it’s the same thing, I think. Only, the spirits I know of don’t have wings and they don’t shine. They are. That’s all. Like the wind, they don’t move with feet. But just like you can feel the wind, I can feel the spirits. Eyes can’t see them, no, only your heart.”

Gertruida reckoned that one must not dismiss such arguments. Africa is a continent of superstition and myth – which may overlap remarkably with reality. “It’s a state of mind,” she said, “a way of thinking. We are, truth be told, the result of our upbringing. You grow up in a Christian home, so you never question the ideology. The same thing applies to all religions and certain philosophies: they get so ingrained in your mind that you never take time to dissect what – exactly – you believe in.” She smiled at that point and made a dismissive gesture. “Live and let live, I say. If Nine Toes believes in spirits, let him be. We’re not going to change it.”

But Nine Toes wasn’t finished. “Sometimes we house those spirits. They stay here.” He thumped his chest. “Other times, they live in animals. Snakes house bad spirits. Strong spirits prefer lions. My father is an elephant.”

That was one bridge too far. The group at the bar fell silent and stared at the ceiling. Arguing with Nine Toes would have been an exercise in futility – agreeing with him, equally unthinkable.

***

Then, yesterday morning, a strange thing happened. During the night, Vrede barked so much that Boggel had to get up. He checked his bedroom, the house, the street outside…nothing.

But that morning, a copper coin– obviously old – was found on Boggel’s veranda. Boggel picked it up and placed it on the counter. Gertruida came in a while later and gasped.

“Where on earth did you find this, Boggel?”

“Oh, on the doorstep. Somebody must have dropped it.”

“No way, Boggel! This is an 1853 penny with the bust of young Queen Victoria. Very rare. Nobody carries such coins about in their pockets! It’s a collector’s item.”

As Boggel turned the coin over, Vrede started barking again outside. Vetfaan came in and asked what was bothering the dog.

“Dunno. He’s been acting strangely since midnight. Bark, bark, bark all the time.”

“Well, he’s outside now, hair on his neck all erect, barking at the ground.”

Gertruida got up suddenly and walked out. Then she called them all over.

“Look, a print.” She pointed at the track in the sandy sidewalk. Vrede was standing a yard away, obviously annoyed at the spoor.Eyes fixed on the track, there was no mistaking what was irritating the town’s dog.

“Mmm…interesting.” Vetfaan bent down to have a better look. “It’s a brown hyena. Been a long time since last I saw one in the area.”

9 toes.jpgAnd so the group went back to the bar to have a cold one and chat about the strange coin Boggel had found.

Which is a pity.

Had they looked at the spoor a little more closely, they would have noticed a missing toe. And then, when the months went by and their favourite Bushman never showed up again, they would have understood.

Vetfaan’s Angoraphobia

Spang-Angora-Rabbit-1024x768.jpgThis fear of Angora rabbits is unique to our burly farmer in the Kalahari, and it is still as real and acute as it was when he found the dead rabbit staring back at him with unseeing eyes in the kraal that used to house his sheep. It’s a story nobody dares tell in Boggel’s Place, for it reminds them of the time they all hoped for a better South Africa, way back, after the ’94 elections. That’s the time when everybody invested heavily in tinned food, bottled water, guns and religion. It’s also the time Vetfaan sold his entire sheep flock to the ANC.

We all know elections are never free and rarely democratic. The voter is captured by some ideology or policy he thinks will benefit him personally. The ANC knew this (they still do) and handed out T-shirts and free meals at their rallies. A well-clothed voter with a full tummy does not care what rhetoric is blared out over the loudhailer – immediate needs are far more important than some ideology and promises that’ll fade away in a few week’s time. So, when the elections loomed on the horizon, the future ruling party used the funds they got from well-wishing sympathisers in Europe, England and the USA, very wisely. A man arrived on Vetfaan’s farm with a suitcase full of money and a fleet of trucks.

“We need your sheep, Mister Vetfaan. All of them. It’s for our meetings in the Northern Cape, see? We need to feed the masses on a diet of meat and political jargon. If they understand the first bit, the second part is unimportant.”

Vetfaan is a realist. He knew where the elections were going to take the country. So, he counted the money, suppressed a surprised whistle and made the deal.

The results of the election is a matter of historical fact. However, the results of Vetfaan’s transaction are far more traumatic than the effect of the Weapons Scandal and Nkandla combined. When he realised he had a suitcase full of money, a farm and a completely empty kraal, Vetfaan approached Gertruida for advice. As always, she had a unique plan.

“Angora rabbits, Vetfaan. They multiply faster than the president’s wives, you can shear them four times a year and they’ll eat hay and some Kalahari bushes. Lots of good nourishment for a hungry, reproducing rabbit all around us, Vetfaan, and the price of that wool is far better than a sheep’s. The fibre is much in demand right around the world; you’ll be able to export and benefit from the fall in the rand. It makes sense, don’t you think?”

To cut a long story short: that’s what Vetfaan did. His flock of Angora rabbits was the talk of the district. The old kraal was spruced up and soon housed a myriad of hopping, long-haired rabbits – mostly doing what rabbits do best. His flock grew at an alarming rate.

Platnees, however. would have absolutely nothing to do with the furry animals. “Eish! Those things are the tokoloshe, Mister Vetfaan. They’re not rabbits like we have in the Kalahari – look at them! They are bad, bad news, you’ll see!” Platnees put more bricks under the legs of his bed, burnt some herbs and consulted his ancestors. They confirmed his worst fears: the rabbits were gremlins from another time; they represented evil spirits with ominous intentions.

Enter now the young Vrede, the town’s dog, who had developed a liking in Kleinpiet. Although it was generally agreed that the dog didn’t belong to anybody in particular, Vrede seemed to prefer Kleinpiet’s leftovers and spent most of his time next to Kleinpiet’s back door. Vrede, the ex-police dog, was the result of careful breeding over many years. He had been trained to identify crooks, criminals and other corrupt officials. But somewhere in his illustrious ancestry, a champion rabbit-chaser had left his mark on Vrede’s genes. It was an instinct he could not deny or suppress – he simply couldn’t help himself.

So, when the dry west wind carried the scent of rabbits over to Kleinpiet’s back door, Vrede sneaked over to Vetfaan’s kraal to help himself to a tasty meal. Vetfaan wasn’t amused.

“Your bloody dog ate one of my rabbits, Kleinpiet. That’ll be R600, thank you very much.”

Kleinpiet paid up – for the first rabbit. But when Vrede’s excursions resulted in more rabbits being dinner for the hapless hound, Kleinpiet pleaded poverty. Arguments ensued. A long-standing friendship almost got wrecked on the rocks of Vrede’s instinctive drive to supplement his diet with tasty rabbit meat. Kleinpiet tried to rescue the situation by keeping Vrede indoors at night and on a leash during the day. For a full two weeks nothing happened.

And then…

One dark and quiet night, Vrede managed to get out once more. The next morning he presented Kleinpiet with a very dead rabbit. Oh, how he scolded that poor mutt, calling him the names of all the politicians he could remember! Vrede, cocking his head to one side, tried to look contrite at first but started growling softly after a while. Being reprimanded for following his instincts was one thing – but having to endure comparison with the new leaders of the country did not sit well on his conscience. Kleinpiet’s tirade eventually blew itself out  and the two of them sat down on his veranda to contemplate the prize Vrede had brought home. Platnees walked by at that moment, saw the rabbit and ran off, shouting that he knew those things were omens of doom.

“Tokoloshe, Mister Kleinpiet, that one is evil! If you killed it, it comes back for revenge. Hai! Bad luck, bad, bad, bad luck!”

Kleinpiet was beyond despair as he watched Platnees race off. What will Vetfaan do? Shoot Vrede? Bad luck, indeed!

Noooo! He’d have to make a plan.

So he did.

Kleinpiet inspected the  fluffy body; there were only a few superficial bite marks and a lot of doggy slobber all over the corpse – causing a lot of red Kalahari sand to stick to it. Okay…think! Using some of Precilla’s left-over shampoo, he went to work in the bath before going on a hunt for her brushes and hair dryer. Three hours later he sat back to view his handiwork.

The rabbit, he concluded, looked even better in death than when he was hopping around in that dusty old kraal! Then he had to wait for the cover of night to carry out the next step – returning the rejuvinated but still deceased rabbit to his rightful place on Vetfaan’s property. As most of the crazy plans the Rolbossers dream up end in some type of catastrophe, it is quite surprising that Kleinpiet managed to carry out this part of his campaign without a hitch. The spruced-up rabbit was placed next to the feeding trough in the kraal, propped up by a strategic rock to keep it sitting upright. Vetfaan would wake up the next morning, find that the poor little animal had died from natural causes and be none the wiser…

Not to be…

Kleinpiet was just having his second rusk with his first mug of coffee, admiring the sunrise, when a very upset Vetfaan shuddered his old Land Rover to a halt in front of the veranda. Kleinpiet wiped away a bead of sweat and locked Vrede in the bedroom.

“Charlie! Charlie died!” Vetfaan cried as he stormed up the steps leading to the veranda. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

Kleinpiet managed to look puzzled. “Wha…?”

“My prize stud, my sire of a multitude, the king of the roost, is no more. Blew out his last breath. Copped it. Took the fast elevator upstairs. Followed the white light. The damn rabbit died, dammit!”

Kleinpiet suppressed a smile – this was going according to plan. Great! He made sympathetic sounds. “Charlie? That was his name? Shame man! But you have other males, don’t you?”

“That’s not the point, Kleinpiet. You don’t understand! That thing died. He was dead!”

“Calm down, Fanie. Have some coffee.”

“He must have pumped the well dry, poor thing.” Vetfaan’s eyes were wild, worried and surprised all at the same time. He settled down somewhat after some coffee. “Three days ago, I picked him up. Dead as a doornail. Stiff as a rod. Hell, man, I was upset but what could I do?  Poor thing! Well, the least I could do was to bury him good and proper – which I did. Put a little cross on the grave and even some flowers.

“Then, this morning, there he was, sitting next to the feeding trough with the females sniffing at him. I checked his grave – it’s been opened, the flowers scattered all over the placed and the cross gone.” Vetfaan took a deep breath. “That rabbit rose from his grave, Kleinpiet!”

Kleinpiet didn’t know what to say but somehow managed to keep his face straight. “Um…maybe Platnees is right, you know?”

***

If you visited Vetfaan today, you’d notice that he went back to farming with sheep – much to Platnees’s relief. In Boggel’s Place you won’t dare say anything good about Angora rabbits – an uncomfortable silence will follow. Vetfaan hates it when they remind him of Charlie, the dead rabbit that insisted on a last meal.

Gertruida, however, once remarked that Charlie was much like the ruling party today – dead but still sitting at the feeding trough. She also said they mustn’t ignore stories of tokoloshes and evil spirits, especially not when the newspapers carried headlines like we’ve seen lately.

The strange thing is that even Kleinpiet now agrees with Platnees. On dark, quiet nights, a strange, furry animal occasionally hopped over the sparse little lawn in front of Kleinpiet’s veranda. It seemed a bit agitated, sniffing here and sniffing there – as if it was looking for something. On Platnees’s advice, Kleinpiet once took a much-chewed wooden cross from its hiding place behind his wardrobe to put it on the grass. He swears he saw the apparition snatch it up in its tiny hands before running off.

Of course, he has never breathed a word about this – but then again: nobody has ever asked him about the bricks under the legs of his bed, either.

The Jackal in our Midst…

KAROO.jpg“I’ve read another one of Lawrence Green’s books last week,” Servaas says slowly as he puts down the paper. “Titled ‘Karoo’, it tells the story of the region in the fifties. What I found most intriguing,, was the tale of a Mr J.S. van Pletsen, a farmer in the area. He raised a jackal and kept him like one would keep a dog. Highly intelligent, the creature was. But, as he grew older, he started biting the other dogs on the farm. He would not, for instance, let them near his food bowl. And he’d eat the other dog’s food – as if he never had enough. Eat as he might, he just couldn’t satisfy his hunger. He’d steal mice from the farmer’s cat, raid the pantry and kill chickens at random.

“Now this jackal, you must realise, grew up with a litter of pups from the farmer’s dog. He acted like a dog, looked a bit like a dog and learnt tricks like a dog. In fact, when he was younger, he could pass as a dog. But then he grew up and he became what he was designed to be – a marauding scavenger. He simply could not deny his heritage or the message conveyed by his instincts and genes. They say a leopard can’t change his spots, but neither can a jackal.”

“Yes, I read that book – fascinating stuff, like all of Green’s books.” Gertruida – who knows everything, isn’t about to be outdone. “In it he tells another story; this one about Broken Toe, the cleverest jackal of them all.

“His tracks were first noticed on a farm in the Riversdale district, in 1924 if I remember correctly. Characteristic, they were, with one toe obviously crooked. Man, that jackal was a killer! He wasn’t satisfied with killing enough to eat – oh no! He would wade into a flock of sheep and kill at random, just for the sake of killing. His range included a large tract of land and he terrorised the farmers until they put a handsome reward on his head. It didn’t help, of course. Broken Toe was far too clever. They organised dogs, hunting expeditions and hired professional hunters – and still Broken Toe eluded them all. For eleven years that jackal had the farmers at his mercy; he struck when and where his fancy took him. Poison and traps were useless.

“Only a lucky shot by a hunter from Darling, a certain Mr Fick, ended Broken Toe’s reign in 1935. By that time the tally of his victims stood at 4000 sheep and an untold number of chickens. His identity was confirmed by the broken toe he had sustained as a pup – in a trap – and Fick claimed the reward.”

“A remarkable story, indeed, Gertruida. I also enjoyed his telling about the one jackal hunt where all the farmers got together to get rid of the jackal threat. Six hundred men on horseback, armed with rifles, shotguns and even dynamite, were accompanied by what Green describes as an army of dogs. At the end of the hunt, only nine jackals had been killed and one farmer was wounded by a charge of buckshot in the butt.”

Vetfaan has been listening with a smile hovering on his lips. “Jackal? Yes, they’ve been around forever. They steal, kill, maim, raid and cause mayhem. Devious critters, hard to catch, even harder to get rid of.  And it’s not just the animal jackals I’m talking about. We have several in our own species, as well. In fact, we’ve got a whole party full of them.”

“Ye-e-e-s.” Servaas nods slowly, following Vetfaan’s drift. “Our Broken Toe is the one with the shower, isn’t he?”

Hennie Kirstein’s Well

Credit: radionz.co.nz

They still talk about Hennie Kirstein. About him and the girl and the way he disappeared.

Not often, though – simply because the story has so many endings and nobody is quite sure what had happened after the honeymoon. Some (like old Servaas) are convinced that leaving Hennie’s farm caused a fast exit in the Vertical Elevator; but others (like Precilla) believe differently. The ensuing argument usually ends in an icy silence in Boggel’s Place, something that the patrons prefer to avoid. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t think about the handsome young man they used to envy.

Hennie, you see, had the midas touch, although it came to him by accident. He started with his small flock of sheep on the farm nobody wanted, It was haunted, they said, after Oom Ferreira fell down the well he was digging. He drowned in the middle of the driest, most desolate and isolated part of the Kalahari. Hard to believe? Maybe. But that’s what happened.

At the auction afterwards, only Hennie rocked up and bought the farm for a pittance. He had just enough money left to buy a few sheep and settled down to wait for the next lambing season. The farmers in the area predicted failure, but there must have been something in that water of the well that affected his sheep. No ewe had a single lamb. After the first season Hennie went to Upington to change the farm’s name from Alles Verloren to Tweeling. 

At the end of his second year on the farm, Hennie imported a  ram and a couple of ewes – prime stock everybody said would break him financially. Not so. Within the next two years he was able to host auctions that made his neighbours swallow their words. Hennie was on his way to becoming the richest farmer in the Northern Cape.

Everybody agrees that Hennie should have stuck to farming: then the outcome might have been a happy one. However, Hennie noticed a strange phenomenon, long before it became the subject of so much speculation. He naturally considered the fact that his prize ram – now valued at many times the original cost – would eventually cease to be the magnificent fertile animal it used to be. (This is true for humans, as well). At the age of four, the ram had it’s full set of teeth (four pairs of incisors, neatly stacked close to each other) and Hennie expected the decline to become evident as soon as the teeth started chipping and falling out – which should have happened in the next four years or so. That, he decided, would be the time to sell the ram.

But it didn’t happen. His ram – affectionately called Pumper – not only kept his teeth, but he also continued with unabated enthusiasm to do what he did best. The ewes of the flock seemed to adore the ram, bleating sadly around the sturdy pen Hennie had built to protect Pumper from being overwhelmed by the anxious mothers-to-be. At the age of 11, when even the strongest rams pack up to depart to the pasture-in-the-sky, Pumper was still fathering twins in most of his amorous relationships. (Which Hennie applauded as a work of art. He often boasted that his ram was a master seducer, even to the point of baa-ing softly to his conquests after the act – like a real gentleman should.)

Hennie wondered about his ram a lot. His virility, his fertility, his refusal to grow weary and old…and then he thought about old Oom Ferreira’s well. And then it dawned on him…

It happened when he attended the yearly auction in the eighth year of his farm. Not given to frequent visits to Rolbos or Upington, Hennie lived quietly on Tweeling and rarely saw the other farmers of the district. That year, as he stood listening to the auctioneer’s rattle driving the prices sky high, he looked at the other farmers. Stared intently. And went inside to look at the mirror above the washbasin. And gasped.

The other farmers were getting older, with wrinkles and bald heads and liver spots. He, on the other hand, looked like he had just come out of school. His beard was still fuzzy, his skin as smooth as the day he fantasized about the pigtailed girl in Standard 8, and his stomach as flat as it was when he played wing for the first team. In short – he wasn’t showing the signs of aging the other farmers endured so stoically.

It had to be the water from the well. What else? By the twelfth year his observations were more acute than ever. Pumper was in his prime. And yes, he, Hennie, was still as handsome and as young as ever. His neighbours, sadly, were getting about with replaced hips, used canes to lean on and had servants bring chairs to the auctions. His well – where Oom Ferreira drowned – was the source of….everlasting youth? Could it be?

But, since the well only provided enough water for him and the sheep, Hennie kept quiet and watched his bank balance grow,

This, as every handsome and wealthy bachelor knows, is a very bad thing. There is no stronger aphrodisiac to a would-be spinster than the number of zeroes on the little piece of paper the bank sends out every month to such rare gentlemen. Hennie later considered Pumper to be lucky to be kept safe in his sturdy pen – he, Hennie, didn’t have  that privilege. The buxom ladies came a-calling in droves and he had to be rude at times to get rid of them.

Until Bessie Cronje rocked up. She was different. Shy, demure, pretty, only slightly curvy and the greenest eyes you ever saw. What tipped the scales in her favour? Who knows? Gertruida reckons it was because Bessie wasn’t interested in money – she had inherited the Cronje millions; money made by printing T-shirts for the various political parties in South Africa. (No self-respecting political gathering is complete without T-shirt handouts and free food) Anyway, Bessie arrived in her Bentley, dressed in jeans and a high-necked blouse, and told him she wanted to settle down, make her husband happy and generally be a pleasure to have around.

So, her approach was unpretentious, honest and very, very effective. Hennie fell for her faster than Oom Ferreira descended down his well. The two of them were married by Oudoom in a very private ceremony on the farm, attended by Gertruida and Precilla as bridesmaids and witnesses. Gertruida, who never lies, says that Hennie looked more handsome than ever on that day.

It was the postcard that set the tongues wagging. Taken on the beach in Mauritius, it shows the honeymoon couple tanning happily, each with a tall glass festooned by a little umbrella. If you looked closely, you’d see a little worried smile on Bessies lips. And Hennie? Why is his brow furrowed so deeply, his hair suddenly tinged with grey?

“I tell you, that man needed his farm’s water. Stopping drinking it caused his body to age at a rapid rate. Mother Nature had been tricked for a while, but as soon as he stopped drinking from that well, the years took their revenge. I’m sure he never made it back – probably ended up in a geriatric institution somewhere.” Servaas runs a tired hand over his withered face. “You can’t fool Time, my friends.”

“Ag no, Servaas. I’m sure Bessie had twins and they settled somewhere peacefully. Why stay in the Kalahari if you can lounge around in luxury somewhere? Yep, settled down and lived happily ever after, that’s what happened.” Ever the romantic optimist, Precilla’s emphatic statement sounds a bit desperate even to herself.

Hennie’s farm is still out there, lost in the arid landscape of the vast Kalahari. The flock had been sold, except for the ram which disappeared mysteriously on the day before the sale. Kleinpiet says that, on some full moon nights, you can hear the bleating of a young ram near that well – and that usually makes his listeners laugh.

Not happy laughter, mind you – more like the impolite grunts people make upon hearing a bad joke. Just like we do when the president tells us that the ANC will rule until Jesus returns. One thing is sure, however: Uncle Zumzum would like to know about that well – he’s certainly aging far too fast to still be around when that happens.

Our Golden Granny

ans.jpg

Wayde with coach, Ans Botha

“Not just granny, guys.” Gertruida raises her glass. ” great-grandmother. Of four, for good measure. She should get something for this…the Order of Tafelberg or something.”

“Ja, maybe the Van Riebeeck Medal.” Servaas is his old cynical self again. “If old Jan didn’t stop at the Cape, there would have been no Botha’s or Van Niekerks. It’s all his fault, as usual. That man should be held accountable – or honoured, depending on how you see history.”

“You think Zuma and company will mention our old history when he congratulates the athlete? Of course not! After the beating they took at the polls recently, they’ll be oh so proud of this son of the African soil. For once they’ll leave Van Riebeeck out of this and try to use his achievements to divert attention away from corruption and Nkandla.”

“Be that as it may, I think Tannie Ans deserves a pat on the shoulder. Most people at her age seem to consider their lives spent. She has shown us what Golden Years should be all about: not the steady decline into oblivion, but reaching for gold at the Olympics.” Gertruida sighs happily – she just loves a feel-good story. “Can you imagine how proud she must be? A crowning achievement on 50 years of coaching athletics! Wow! ”

“Ja, that’s great. But tell me: how did she do it?”

“In a very un-South African way, Servaas. She is a strict disciplinarian. Her athletes have to stick to her rules and follow her guidance. Add to that the fact that very few people actually know much about the old lady, and you have an unique mix of experience, humility, strength of character and ambition. Not many of these characteristics are common in parliament, but she has them all.

“The funny thing is: her athletes love it. They don’t go about protesting that the Olympics is a colonial thing or that disadvantaged athletes must get a head start. No quibbling about starting in Lane 8, just because you feel discriminated against. You get what you achieve through hard work; many, many hours of training and quite a number of setbacks. You listen to good advice and stick to strict schedules.

“So, hats off to Wayde – he’s done what no man has ever done before…ever! That is surely something we all can admire and respect. But to me, guys, Tannie Ans is an example of what people in this country should strive for: we have to help each other to help ourselves. She actually acknowledges that she stays so young because of her athletes: as much as she inspires them, so much they do for her. It’s give and take, no excuses and no holds barred. For that, she deserves her own gold medal.”

“I disagree.” Servaas knits his bushy brows together in a mischievous frown when Gertruida stares at him.

“Why on earth for?”

“She’s not just an example for old and young in South Africa, Gertruida. She’s a case in point for the whole world. I think there are many races in Life, Gertruida – some span the passage of many years, others take only a few seconds. Not all of them get rewarded with medals, either. Now, when I listen to you, I realise how special it must be to wait fifty long, hard, coaching years to get to that gold medal in Rio. Can you imagine the effort, the successes, the failures, the heartache and joy those  years must have held?

“She might be a great coach, but there’s something more: she’s an inspiration – to me, to older people and to so many young people who still have the courage to dream.”

Gertruida smiles, nods and orders a new round. “We have a new golden boy in South African athletics and we are so very proud of what he’s done. Now Tannie Ans must guide him gently in the arena of fame he now enters. I’m sure she will.”

Vetfaan bangs open the door to Boggel’s Place, his eyes wide with excitement.

“Have you heard? It’s absolutely amazing!”

“”It is, Vetfaan. Come on, sit down. We’re about to drink a toast to Tannie Ans.”

“Ans? Ans? What are you talking about? Wayde just broke…”

Gertruida’s smile widens. “My point, exactly.”

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Morning Olympics

In the quest for Olympic gold, Africa must be a favourite for the Breaking of Day competition….

c.jpg

Her sunrises can be fast or slow, gradual or intense – but always a small miracle of nature.

IMG_5490.JPG

Animals know that dawn will conquer night’s darkness, announcing the new day.

IMG_2890.JPG

On the banks of rivers, birds will sing their praises, celebrating, calling, chirping in the misty light filtering through the haze.

IMG_0323.JPG

And man will, like he must, rekindle last night’s embers to brew a mug of coffee.

IMG_0275.JPG

Others aren’t so spoilt – a long, cool, drink will slake that night-thirst just as well.

108_0900.JPG

Jep…Africa should be assured of a podium finish – even the King thinks so.

The Problem with Democracy

“I am the biggest,” Elephant said, “you need protection. So it’s only natural that you must vote for me.”

x66.jpg

“Oh no,” Jackal countered. “You guys need somebody clever as a leader. Look, I know where to get food for free! I am your only choice.”

Mrs Ball's.jpg

“You’re all ssso ssstupid and sssilly!” Snake’s disgusted voice silenced the argument for a while. “You need to have a leader who is in touch with matters on ground level! Forget the lofty argumentsss…vote for me!”

521.jpg

“Oh, shut your traps!” Lion had enough! “I represent royalty! I have a reputation! How can you not vote for me?”

109_0958.JPG

But, sadly, the voters didn’t care. The drought had brought on a terrible famine.  Hunger and fear – so much more that policies – made them vote for the candidate who had no intention of fulfilling his promises. When Baboon promised green pastures, plenty of rain, freedom to do what they want – and said that all animals would have equal rights, he knew it would be impossible to deliver. “The carnivores,” he said, “are the criminals. They steal our land and eat us. When I’m in charge, there’ll be peace. I’ll get rid of them.” Of course, he couldn’t look them in the eye…

b1.jpg

And so, when the day of the election dawned, all the animals voted. Monkey, being the most numerous of all, had the biggest say in the outcome.

m1.jpg

There was chaos afterwards. There was no free food, no strong animal to guard them, no freedom and plenty of fear.

IMG_0232.JPG

“That’s the problem with elections,” Secretary Bird sighed. “Smoke and mirrors. Promises of change? Hah! When will we learn to vote with for good, upright individuals who have already served the community, shown that they really care and proved that they are qualified to deliver on their promises? Sadly, we get what we vote for: lots of words and no change. It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent. It’s the ones most responsive to change. Darwin said it and we still don’t get it.”

IMG_0129.JPG