Author Archives: Amos van der Merwe

About Amos van der Merwe


Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries

This challenge isn’t a simple one. It got me thinking about how important it is to nurture Hope.

b4All too often, we are faced with a featureless horizon. This is called depression, the empty feeling of despair.


It’s as if the light is sucked from our days, with darkness threatening to obliterate the dreams we used to have. That’s when the wrongs of the past come rushing in and we relive – over and over again – those incidents that cut so deeply into our hearts.

b5That’s the time to gather the last bit of courage, even if it means exploring the unknown. Go on, fight back. Draw a line. Pack a row of stones to keep the desert out. It might seem insignificant, but it does confirm your resolve to tidy up your mind. And look: those stones aren’t huge rocks; they simply represent the many small acts of determination – getting up, being kind, forgiving the past, forgetting anger, embracing those near to you…and daring to love again.

b6And lo! Suddenly the scene changes as  a new day dawns with an unexpected rainbow. Depression simply can’t be beaten by staying in the desert – it involves a journey of many miles, step by step – to reach the hope you once thought you had lost.

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#6)

Childrens Home 1 copy“He said he we could expect him today,” Vetfaan says as he watches the sun approaching the western horizon.

“The day isn’t done yet.” Boggel slides over a new beer to the burly farmer. “I like Herman. If he said he’d be here, I believe him. He’s a straight shooter.”

It’s been six weeks since they returned from that extraordinary visit to Kimberley. The events they lived through have provided them with ample material to talk about – in fact, even the performance of the Springboks in England had to take a backseat.

“They sure took care of that minister,” Servaas says for the umpteenth time. “Not very imaginative, as usual. Calling it a botched hijacking is so old-school! Ten years ago one expected at least some suspects to be taken into custody, but this time the police didn’t even bother. It’s like that Dewani case – somehow it simply got smoothed over. Still, it was a nice funeral and all that.”

“At least he got what he deserved,” Kleinpiet shrugs. “Just like Herman and the businessman from Kimberley. They blamed a faulty gas connection, which is more original, I’d say. I think the two of them must have suffered a lot in that fire; but we’ll never know. There wasn’t even enough left of them to do proper forensics, so the cause of death is a guess at best. And  Bertus must have pulled a few strings with the insurance company. Their refusal to pay out because of the negligence of the owner was a stroke of genius. I hear the place was auctioned off yesterday – wonder who bought up a burnt-down ranch?”

The conversation is suddenly interrupted by the barking of Vrede, the town’s dog. They know what it means: he’s heard an approaching vehicle. Herman! He’s kept his word… Storming outside, they are thrilled to see the new Land Rover – with an unfamiliar logo on the door – coming to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. When the old man gets out, they can’t help staring.

“Herman?” Gertruida gasps at the transformation. The unkempt old man is no more. Dressed in a smart suit, he looks ten years younger. He’s had his hair cut, the beard is gone and the moustache is neatly trimmed. Has he had some dental work done? “Gosh! You look great!”

Herman Grove walks over with a brilliant smile before hugging her and shaking hands with the men. Everybody starts talking at the same time, but he holds up a hand.

“Lets go inside, shall we? I am as dry as a bone, tired as a dog and hungry as a wolf!” Gone, too, is the uncertainty, the stammer and the down-cast look. This is a new Herman, a revived man, whose eyes shine with enthusiasm. Life – very obviously – has a completely new meaning and purpose for the erstwhile directionless man. The men are obviously impressed, but Gertruida can’t keep her eyes off him.

Boggel serves a generous round and places bowls of biltong and  peanuts on the counter. Having gathered around Herman, the Rolbossers eagerly await his tale. He complies with a happy grin.

“Well, you know how Bertus explained it all? He said we had to remain silent about those….events…and that he’d sort out the ID fiasco? And that bit about the overseas accounts?”

Yes, they nod, of course they remember. Bertus told them that the government preferred to keep everything at arm’s length – they didn’t want to get involved, especially not with their own minister running an international child trafficking cartel. The money was safe and sound, deposited in the name of Herman Grove in the banks in the Cayman Islands and Zurich. “If, for instance, a man arrived at the bank and presented an authentic ID and passport, he would theoretically be able to withdraw all the money from those accounts, not so? Such a person could then return to South Africa, pay his taxes on income earned abroad, and be left with a considerable amount to spend as he pleased. This is not something one would advertise, of course, but who knows what a difference this could make to the life of a lonely old man?” They remember the off-hand way Bertus said this, his features completely neutral, as if he was talking to himself. After that, Bertus greeted them all cordially, wished them a safe journey home and left them standing there in the empty office in the hospital.

“It was a piece of cake, I tell you. Bertus must have pulled a few strings. When I arrived back at the airport, the customs people drew me aside. They had all the papers ready and I simply had to sign. They knew exactly how much I withdrew from those accounts and sorted out the tax there and then. Very smooth, extremely efficient. Didn’t take half an hour. I walked out in the sunshine a rich man!”

Vrede, who has been begging at his feet, lets out a happy yelp as Herman feeds him some biltong.

“So, what are your plans, Herman? I see you’ve had a make-over and bought a Landy?”

“And that’s not all Gertruida. I put in a bid on that ranch yesterday and am now the proud owner of a prime piece of land. There are horses, chalets, a dam, a lovely swimming pool…and a burnt-down lodge. This, I am working on. The builders will be on site by Monday. It’s amazing what you can do if money isn’t a problem.”

“Wow! You’re going to farm?” Vetfaan wonders about this. Herman – the solar geyser salesman – has no experience of farming, after all.

“Oh, no, my friends. That farm is going to change. Part of it is going to be allocated to be developed as a solar energy setup. Quite big, if I say so myself. Bertus was tremendous – when I phoned him about my plans, he sorted out the approval and everything within a week. He’s a very influential man, that one.”

“And the rest of the farm, Herman?” Gertruida has to know.

“A safe haven for homeless children, Gertruida. There are thousands of them in the country. They’ll be housed, fed, and schooled right there on the property. Maybe I won’t be able to help all the kids in need, but those that I can accommodate, I will – and they’ll have a better future, thanks to Kromhout and Myrtle.”

Gertruida is aware of the tears welling up, but she doesn’t care. How rare it is that heinous crimes produce such wonderful results? Evil turned to good; heartache, the source of hope? Herman could have used the money himself, but he chose not to…

“You’re a good man, Herman Grove,” she says softly, desperately trying to keep her voice even.

“Ja,” Vetfaan smiles, “now the two of you must unwed, hey? That’s the only bit of the situation that hasn’t been cleared up properly yet.”

And Gertruida, with a wan smile that belies her true feelings, nods slowly. “Yes,” she whispers, “I suppose so…” She meets Herman’s gaze and is almost not surprised when he suddenly turns away to stare at the last red glow of sunset.

The End.

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#5 )

image074Bertus Cronje, former intelligence officer and now advisor to the commissioner of police, is a man who has seen it all. Blood, gore and mutilated bodies have long ceased to upset him. He simply refuses to allow emotion in his work, simply because it makes it so much easier. But here, now, faced with the sad-and-dismayed expressions on the group’s faces, he finds himself amazed to share some of their feelings.

“Yes, well…” he swallows hard, “I know how upsetting all this might be. Hardus Kromhout is a psychopath with absolutely no sympathy for his fellow man.” The sentence strikes him as odd. Has he not become something like that?  Has his lifelong fight with crime and his involvement with subterfuge scraped through the thin veneer of the pretence all people use to create an acceptable society? Is the factor missing in the world of today, not exactly that: a responsibility to feel other’s discomfort? He shakes his head. No, these thoughts must be explored later…if at all. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that you cannot imagine the way such people live. They care for nothing. Their only object is to control others, and all too often that implies money and power. Kromhout had power over these children. He got money for them – lots of it. Result: one happy psychopath…if he were able to experience happiness, that is…”

“But you have him in custody, don’t you?” Gertruida has to know.

“Unfortunately – or not – the answer is no. Let me explain…”

Bertus tells them that he put out an alert for anybody travelling with Gertruida’s or Herman’s passport. By sheer luck he struck gold almost immediately, when a woman with Gertruida’s details passed through customs at O.R. Tambo Airport near Johannesburg.

“It happens like that sometimes. You can work a case for years and years and get nowhere. And then – very rarely – a case simply bursts wide open without any effort at all. The luck of the draw, I suppose. I gave instructions to detain her and I immediately went there. She was travelling under your name, Gertruida, and so I alerted the airport to be on the lookout for the man using  Herman’s details – but he apparently passed through customs ahead of her and  was nowhere to be found.

“Well, I sat down with Myrtle and had a...little chat...with her.” Gertruida has to smile at the choice of words. She knows exactly how Bertus would have approached the woman. Subtle tactics can be so much more effective than torture. A short lecture on the lack of security in the country’s prisons, the threat of having to share a cell filled with criminals, the prevalence of AIDS…one doesn’t have to spell out  anything – imagination is the most powerful tool in any experienced interrogator’s hands.”Eventually she agreed to cooperate, in return for which I promised her a lighter sentence and a single cell. I calmed her down and had her phone Kromhout, saying that there’s been a problem. She couldn’t meet him at the long-term parking lot where they were supposed to reunite, as the airport had received a bomb threat. She told him she was in the toilets when the police sealed off the area, but that they weren’t too worried. It was most probably a hoax, she told him. Be that as it may, she’s just waiting for the police to give the all clear, then she’d be out of there. Maybe, she suggested, Kromhout should rather clear out. The place was crawling with police – very subtle, most in plain clothes, very careful not to cause panic – and she didn’t want to draw attention to either of them. Go on, she said, I’ll catch up in Kimberley.”

“So they stayed here all the time? In Kimberley, where they started all of this?”

“Yes, Servaas, and with good reason, too. You see, they were in cahoots with the gentleman Kromhout originally approached when the idea of child trafficking was hatched. Not only is he a prominent businessman in town, but he is part of an international cartel involved in the smuggling of children. The market is huge, especially in the East. These children are sorted over there: either they are sold to childless couples, or they are brought up to be addicted sex slaves. On average, the Kromhouts netted $100,000 per child they delivered, of which 25% went to our local kingpin.

“So, Kimberley was their head office, with the two of them appointed as ‘managers’ on the extensive ranch this kingpin has in the district. All above board, nothing illegal.”

“Phew! So you got them both?”

“Not yet. We’re tailing Kromhout as we speak. He’s in town all right, but we want to nab the both of them when they meet. A few minutes ago I had Myrtle phone him again. She told him she has a little girl with her – picked up in Johannesburg – and they must plan the next trip. So we expect Kromhout to go out to the ranch, meet up with his contact and wait for Myrtle. Then, my friends, we would have them all.”

An uncomfortable silence settles in the room. Then:

“Bertus, I appreciate all that you’ve done. But why bring us here? You could have smoothed the situation over, talked about it on the phone, whatever. Why are we here?”

“Gertruida, you know how this works. I have to swear you to silence. You see, the kingpin we know of, is not the head of the snake. That person is in parliament – a very, very influential figure. The political fall-out of such a revalation is unthinkable and the government simply cannot afford yet another scandal. You may not – under any circumstances – ever breathe a word about this”. He pauses, weighing up his next statement carefully. ” In a few day’s time the country will mourn the loss – in a tragic accident – of a stalwart of our democracy. We have to keep this under wraps, people. Not a word. Accidents are easy to arrange.”

The group facing Bertus listens to the message hidden on those words. Yes, they understand. No, they don’t want to be involved in any ‘accidents’. They Herman holds up a hand.


“Yes, I know, Herman. You’re still ‘married’ to Gertruida. I have the most extraordinary proposal for the two of you…”

The glint in his eyes should have warned them. Nothing Bertus does is ever straightforward…or completely above board…

(To be continued…)

“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’,
In a fancy dining car,
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee,
And smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’,
I know I can’t be free,”

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#4)

homeless-girlVetfaan has to hide a smile – despite the circumstances – when Gertruida meets the woman who stole her name. Not only does the rotund, short thief  contrast dramatically with the trim figure of Gertruida; the more comical feature is the difference in their facial expressions. Gertruida, normally in control and often with a sparkle of mirth in her eyes, now stands transfixed with her lips pursed in anger. The other lady’s expression of guilt and humiliation is all too obvious to ignore.

“Gertruida, this is Myrtle Kromhout, nee Botha. She used to be a clerk here from 2007 till 2010. We had her singing all morning.” Bertus lifts an eyebrow as she shuffles to a stop a yard or two from Gertruida. “An interesting story she told us, even if it is so disgusting. The men will take her to the cells now. I’ve already spoken to the magistrate – she won’t get bail.” He now turns to Myrtle with a cynical sneer. “Enjoy your stay with us, Mrs. Kromhout.”

The group watches as the woman is led away to the waiting police van.

“How…?” Gertruida still has difficulty in expressing her thoughts.

Bertus suggests they go inside, where he leads them to an unoccupied office.

“Myrtle Botha was a nobody with no prospects. She filed reports and patient’s files in the store room down the passage. Not having finished school, she knew she was facing a lifetime with dusty files in the dimly lit room. As you can imagine, a girl with her looks couldn’t hope to snare a well-to-do bachelor, either.

“So, one day, sergeant Kromhout walked into her store room, wanting details on a man who had been admitted after being shot during a burglary. The policeman seemed to be a kind, warm-hearted young man and Myrtle tried her best to impress him. She handed over the file, saying something nice. He responded by asking her if she’d like to have coffee with him after work. She was overjoyed.

“And so it started. Kromhout, apparently, was the local station’s fingerprint man and filled in whenever the short-staffed police service needed him to help out. Sometimes he’d be needed in the charge office; at others he’d be on patrol…and so on. He had the run of the place, see?

“But the man also had a darker side. He dreamed of a life of luxury, something he’d never have as a sergeant. Coming from a poor family – just like Myrtle – he’d been toying with the idea of using other people’s money to make his life easier. At first he took money from the wallets of the accused in the cells – nothing much, but enough to whet his appetite. Having free access to the evidence room and the safe where they kept belongings, he’d help himself to a tenner here and a hundred there.

“When he met Myrtle, it was a question of spontaneous combustion. A match made in hell. On that first date – right in the beginning – they both bemoaned their individual lots.The conversation drifted from complaining to possible solutions. More dates followed. And…eventually…they hit upon the idea of identity theft. Could they become ‘other people’ and so escape the long arm of the law? But how? What could they do with stolen identities?

“Myrtle says it was Hardus Kromhout’s idea. We’ll never know for sure, will we? Anyway, stealing identities was one thing…what about stealing real people? They laughed at the idea in the beginning, but then they hit upon stealing children. Hardus had recently been involved in the investigation of a missing child and had followed some leads. He thought he had a very good clue who was behind the disappearance, but had no proof.”

Bertus sighs heavily before telling them that the sergeant met with the man he suspected and instead of apprehending the criminal, he asked him for advice.

“They set to work, then. Kromhout used his connections to create new identities for him and Myrtle. She supplied the information on Gertruida and Herman Grove – two patients with no next of kin and therefore less risky. The fingerprints were more difficult, but if a filing clerk went from ward to ward to pick up documents and files, nobody lifted an eyebrow if she took a glass from the bedside. With Kromhout’s free range in the police station, he easily concocted false affidavits for the “stolen” ID’s. I’m not sure how he managed to get the marriage certificate, but if you knew the right people at Home Affairs, nothing is impossible. They did get married in real life, as well, in 2010 – but I suspect that was part or the ploy: they could be the Kromhout…or the Grove…couple whenever it suited them to assume a certain identity.

“They didn’t stop there. Being somebody else isn’t going to make you money. So Myrtle set the second phase of their plan into action – she stole the information on three babies that were born in the hospital.” Bertus waits for the gasps of dismay to quieten before continuing. “It’s easy, you see? A baby gets born. A father rocks up at Home Affairs with the proof. They register your child. One, two three… The clerk doing the registration has no idea who your wife is, but you have all the documentation ready. They were deviously clever in this, too. They registered the births a week later in Bloemfontein, citing complications at birth and illness in the family as reasons for the delay and the different place.

“And there you have it: Mr. and Mrs. Kromhout, now Mrs and Mrs Grove, with their lovely little family of three children. Now, with unabridged birth certificates ready, they’d cross the border at Komatiepoort, drive to Maputo, catch a plane to Singapore with their little kid in tow…and sell him or her.”

“How…?” It’s Vetfaan’s turn to be speechless.

“Children disappear all the time, Vetfaan. But here’s how they went about it: in 2010 they both quit their jobs – and soon after that, they did their first ‘run’. They always just took one child, but used different birth certificates, depending on whether it was a boy or a girl. Apparently they tried to take two boys once, but it turned out to be too much of an effort.  Still, it was a lucrative enterprise. Myrtle says they toured the country after that..Pick up a seemingly homeless child, spoil him with sweets, a nice room in a nice hotel and tell him his mommy and daddy are so happy that he can go on this luxury holiday with his uncle and aunt. The kid has no idea that his name has changed, but the passport and documentation is perfect for border control.

“So you nab a kid in Polokwane, another in the Free State and maybe one in Durban. Always a different place and never too near to anywhere they’ve ‘worked’ at before. The police won’t connect these disappearances and there’s no reason to suspect the Grove family on their way to Mozambique.”

“And they did this over and over again?”

“Yes Servaas. In the beginning they used younger children, but as the birth certificates aged, so did their victims. They now used four-year olds.”

Servaas says a words that usually upsets Oudoom – but this time he nods his approval.

“What about Kromhout, then?”

“Ah…that’s the juicy bit. Let me tell you…”

(To be continued…)

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#3)



Gertruida withdraws into herself despite the buzz in the bar. The situation just doesn’t make sense. Married to this stranger – and children, too? Visits to Singapore and accounts in tax havens?


Herman Grove is equally baffled, but he is the center of attention amongst the group at the counter. Servaas has done a good job at interrogating their visitor and everybody agrees that his story is true. Somehow – for some reason – he and Gertruida are the victims of identity theft, simply because they shared time in Kimberley hospital in 2009. It seems as if that is the only time their worlds connected in the past…

“That points a finger at the time in the hospital…or, more precisely…at the people who worked there. It’s unlikely to be one of the doctors or even the nursing staff; mostly because they were in different wards and had different nurses taking care of them. The point of confluence – in a manner of speaking – is the admissions area. That’s what I think.” Servaas has appointed himself as chief analyst, surprising even Gertruida.

“I think Bertus is exploring the possibility, Servaas.” Gertruida rejoins the group at the bar and accepts the beer Boggel pushes over to her with a grateful smile. “I must say: I’m surprised at his enthusiasm. Yes, we worked together a long time ago, but I only expected him to be mildly interested. But no! He jumped into this case, boots and all.”

“Well, I think we should at least phone the hospital and hear what they have to say.”

“And say what, Servaas? That we want a list of the admin staff in 2009? Because two patients think they did something wrong?”

Before the argument heats up, the phone rings again. This time the conversation lasts only a few seconds.

“Well, Servaas, you might be right.” Gertruida almost manages to not look embarrassed. “Bertus wants us to meet him at the hospital. In kimberley, tomorrow at noon. He says he’s on to something.”


Having decided that there is no longer any reason to speculate, the patrons in Boggels Place settle down to yet another round of beers. Ironically, Gertruida finds herself next to Herman, who is anxious to learn more about Rolbos in general – and Gertruida in particular. Like he says: even though the two of them aren’t married, it doesn’t mean they must remain strangers.

It is a well-known fact that alcohol is the best social lubricant ever invented by mankind. Herman turns out to be a very funny man, who regales the little crowd with the stories of his life. That’s the other thing about alcohol, of course: it is  a concentrated form of liquid self confidence. Herman, the uncertain, stuttering man that walked into Boggel’s Place a few hours ago, has changed into an eloquent story-teller. At first he seemed surprised that his audience enjoyed his humor, but as the evening drags on, he becomes more and more comfortable.

Herman even – after telling them about the farmer who thought solar energy was a Satanic invention to bring Ra into the homes of unsuspecting buyers – laughed so much that Gertruida had to reach over to help him stay on his bar stool. He then surprised them all by getting off his chair, hugging Gertruida and kissing her cheek. To prove he’s sober, he closed his eyes and stood on one foot. This time even Gertruida’s steadying hand didn’t help much as he staggered this way and that before landing in Vetfaan’s arms.

“Time to go home, chaps.” Oudoom, the least bleary-eyed of them all, holds up a hand. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow, and a good night’s rest won’t do any harm. As I see it, the newly-weds can either decide to spend their first night in each other’s arms, or Herman can come and sleep on my couch.”

Herman, of course, does the right thing…


And so we find the group, jammed into Vetfaan’s Land Rover, entering the grounds of Kimberley Hospital at about 11 am the next day. Herman is the only one still complaining about a hangover, while the Rolbossers all seem happy to continue where they’ve left off the previous night. The cooler box crammed between Boggel’s knees is almost empty.

Gertruida is the first to scramble out. She’s recognised Bertus Cronje sitting on a bench under a tree next to the parking lot and rushes over to greet her old friend. They share a laugh at the way the years have changed them – Bertus being twice the size he used to be and Gertruida still as trim as ever – before she introduces Bertus to the rest.

“Well, let me get straight to the point,” Bertus takes charge immediately. “I have been retained as a consultant to the new police commissioner. The government insists on appointing the most inappropriate people to high posts, then they have to shore up the person with old-timers who know the ropes. They don’t advertise this, of course, but it seems the only way to create a semblance of efficiency.

“Now, we’ve been worried about identity theft for some time now. Not any old identity theft, mind you – identity theft with an extremely worrying undertone. This I will explain in a moment.

“I’ve had several investigators going through the records here, and it seems that only two people had their details used: Gertruida and Herman. About a month after their respective discharges, two separate individuals approached Home Affairs, informing them that their identity cards got stolen. Identical stories, with police statements, docket numbers and everything. This is something Home Affairs hears every day, of course, and so new ID documents were issued in both cases, complete with the supplied photographs. The fingerprints on their cards, incidentally, are identical to the real ones. I think it was lifted off something you must have handled while you were in hospital – cutlery or a glass or something.

“The facts spoke for themselves: there were two people involved. One person had to have access to the details – and the fingerprints – in hospital; while the other had to be able to create the case dockets and be involved with the copying of the finger prints.

“The rest, like the famous detective said, was elementary, my dear friends. Oh, they were devilishly clever and carried out their dastardly plans with masterful planning. Had it not been for your help, they would maybe never have been caught. “

Bertus pauses and looks up as two burly policemen lead a middle-aged woman from the hospital.

“Ah yes,” he beams proudly, “Gertruida, I’d like you to meet Gertruida. Shake hands with your namesake, will you? It’s not often that you get to meet yourself…”

(To be continued…)

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#2)

ID Smart Card.websiteBeing married – according to the State – to somebody you’ve never even met, is worse than having a crooked president you didn’t vote for. That’s the consensus in Boggel’s Place, where lively debate replaced the icy silence of a while ago. Suddenly they were faced with something completely so unexpected and so strange, that they simply had to order round after round from the bent little man behind the counter while discussing what needed to be done.

“I think they should simply shack up and enjoy the experience. In fact, they’ve just saved themselves a lot of money – do you know what a wedding costs these days?”

“Ja, and what a pleasure to skip the uncertainty of that first night! Phew! They can go straight ahead to the anniversaries – that’s so much more fun.”

“Awww…shame. They missed their own honeymoon!”

Of course Gertruida isn’t amused. No matter how hard she tries to steer the conversation towards a possible solution, the others refuse to let up on their quirky remarks.

“I-I don’t want to interrupt…” Herman holds up an uncertain hand. He is surprised at the silence that follows his interjection and seems to have trouble composing his thoughts. “B-but aren’t you guys miss the point here? Me and poor Gertruida are not married at all. I don’t know her…as far as I can remember.”

“Okay.” As usual, Oudoom is the sympathetic one. “Lets get to that. Tell us about your accident and the amnesia?”

Herman accepts a beer from Boggel while he tries to remember the details. “I struck a kudu with my bakkie. On the road between Potchefstroom and Kimberley. I was a rep, you see? For a solar geyser company. Did well in those days when ESCOM started having trouble. Well, I don’t remember much after the kudu rearranged my pickup’s bonnet, but I woke up in Kimberley’s hospital not knowing who I was or how I got there. After about three months, my mind started clearing and I thought I was pretty normal. Lost my job, though. I bought a new pickup with the insurance money and started out on my own. And…here I am. Not much to tell.”

“And when was this?” Gertruida sits up sharply as she starts to realise something very important. Could there – after all – be a connection?

“W-well….it was in the beginning of 2009, in January.”

“On a Sunday?”

“Why, y-yes! I remember now. I was on my way to pick up supplies in Kimberley – for the next week’s work, you know? And…oh yes…it was the second Sunday of the year.”

Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)“Well done, Herman!” Gertruida beams her satisfaction. This could be no coincidence! “That would make it the 11th. I remember that date for two reasons. Firstly: it was the day Captain Sullenberger made that fantastic emergency landing in the Hudson River after some birds flew into the aircraft’s engines. US Airways flight 1549. Quite a miracle, that was. Not a single life was lost.

“The second reason is more personal. I was admitted to hospital with a grumbling appendix and had an emergency op that evening.” She pauses dramatically. “…In Kimberley Hospital.”

“What?” Boggel is the first to grasp the significance.

“I don’t know, but I guess it cannot be a coincidence. At least it puts you both in the same place at the same time.” Servaas knits his bushy brows together while they all start talking together at the same time and has to wait quite a while for an opportunity to go on. “When you get admitted to hospital, they take all your details, don’t they?”

“Of course, Servaas. ID, address, medical aid, next of kin…”

“And who did you put up as next of kin?”

Gertruida shakes her head. “I didn’t. At that stage Ferdinand was gone and my parents had passed on. I left the space blank. Being there for an appendicectomy wasn’t considered a life-threatening condition, I suppose, so nobody worried about it.”

“And you, Herman? Did you have next of kin?”

“I-I  didn’t fill in any forms. Couldn’t, you see? First I was unconscious and then I couldn’t remember. They did have my driver’s licence though. Must have worked from that to figure out who I am. Anyway, I’m a loner, you see? No family to speak of. A distant cousin lives in Australia, but that’s all.”

Gertruida starts pacing the length of the counter while thinking out loud. “Two people in the same hospital on the same day. One an insignificant rep for solar geysers; the other an ex-government employee with no fixed employment. And then, six years later, they find out they’re married – according to the State. Now…either that is just another example of the current state of chaos at Home Affairs, or…not. If not…then something real strange is afoot.”

The telephone interrupts her summary of possibilities. Boggel answers, hands the phone to Gertruida and they all try to make sense of the fragmented conversation that follows.

“Yes…oh, hello Bertus.” Holding a hand over the mouthpiece, she mouths that it’s her old friend who is helping them with the dilemma. “Oh….oh my….What?….No, certainly not!! I don’t believe this…Oh my word….” She remains silent, listening to the voice telling her more. Then, in a strained voice, she says goodbye and replaces the receiver.

“Herman and I…have three children. Two boys, one girl. And, according to Bertus, we have been travelling to Singapore regularly for the last three years.” Gertruida shoots a questioning glance at Herman, who shrugs and shakes his head. “Also, Herman has bank accounts in Zurich and the Cayman Islands..apparently rather substantial accounts.”

For the first time that morning, Herman bursts out laughing. “M-Me? M-Money? You have to be joking! I get by, yes, but only just. I do have a bank account,” he says as if justifying himself, “with a little money in it – but nothing to get excited about.”

“Then, my friends, all this cannot be a coincidence or a mix up at Home Affairs. This is a classical case of identity theft.” Gertruida seems more composed now. “And….something horribly ominous is at the bottom of this. Bertus says he is waiting for more info and he’ll phone again later. I’m sure it won’t be good news…”

(To be continued…)

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#1)

4535793911_204x219Whenever you walk in to Boggel’s Place to find an icy silence, it’s best to make a sharp U-turn, take the steps down to Voortrekker Weg and go and sit on the old bench in front of the church. At least you’ll be able to enjoy a different type of quiet there and feel the sun warming up the day after a cold Kalahari night.

Today is one of those days.

Gertruida started it all by saying something about the president. Now – no matter from which side of the window you’re looking through, the view remains dismal; almost like the veld in winter. Moreover, after months and months of trying to be optimistic, the group in the bar finally gave up and chose to remain silent rather than rehashing all those previous conversations.

Realising her mistake, Gertruida sulks in her corner while the rest refuse to look in her direction. This is, as we all know, a typical Afrikaner way of going about difficult situations: if something really scratches the paint off your tractor, you either joke about it or remain silent.

Vetfaan arrives late after fixing the carburettor on his Massey Fergusson again this morning. He, too, is in a foul mood because the tractor still won’t start. He pushes open the door to Boggel’s Place, hoping to find his friends chatting happily about the weekend’s rugby. Instead, he is met with the stony silence following Gertruida’s remark. This doesn’t help to lift his mood.

Maybe that’s the way this Monday would have ended, too, if a run-down pickup didn’t rattle down Voortrekker Weg at that moment. Vetfaan does the obligatory U-turn to stare at the dilapidated vehicle as it trundles to a stop next to the church. He watches as a grizzled old man gets out, scratches at his unkempt grey hair and kicks the front wheel. Preferring to take a chance with the visitor, Vetfaan walks over.


“Ja, man. I’m fed up with this old thing.” He almost misses his next kick at the front wheel, recovers his balance and smiles apologetically. “I’m Herman Grove. Came all the way from Kimberley to see a lady called Gertruida. You wouldn’t know her, would you?”

“Of course I do. Why…what…?” Vetfaan doesn’t want to pry, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

“It seems she might be related to me, see? Apparently we’re married.”

This is enough to make Vetfaan smile.  Gertruida? Married to this old geezer? Now that’s something to get Boggel’s Place buzzing again. Taking Herman by the arm, he leads the new arrival to Boggel’s Place.

“Ladi-i-e-es and gentlemen! Please welcome Mister Herman Grove, the esteemed husband of our dear Gertruida! Boggel…a round on the house, please!”

You get the same reaction in the bar when South Africa loses to Japan. Disbelief, shock, horror and a tinge of cynical suspicion that this isn’t happening. What? Gertruida married? And she never breathed a word…?

“I-I-It’s not like that. Or at least, I d-don’t know.” Herman stammers. “I-I just had to find out, that’s all.”

“Harrumph! This isn’t funny, you guys!” Gertruida, sure that somebody wants to make fun of her, glares at the group. “Of all things…”

“Y-you’re Gertruida?”

“No, you prankster, I’m Joan of Arc. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” Even Boggel blanches at the tone of her voice.

“I-I’m sorry. But that’s what Home Affairs said when I wanted to renew my ID.  On their records they have it that we’re married. I don’t recall ever being married, you see? A few years ago I had an accident and developed a touch of amnesia – but it was a temporary thing and I thought I recovered completely. Now, Home Affairs are adamant that they’re right, so I suppose I could have forgotten. I-I’m so terribly sorry.”

For the first time in her life, Gertruida simply stands there, gaping, not knowing what to say.


“Yes, that’s what they told me. But I can’t remember, you see? It’s so confusing.”

Gertruida takes a deep breath, another long, good look at Herman, shakes her head and finally finds something sensible to say.

“Give me your ID, let me see.”

The new ID card with Herman’s name and details gets handed over. She stares at it for a long time.

“You’re much older than I am,” she says eventually.


“But you have the same date of birth?”

And so they start to unravel the mystery. It soon transpires that they share a birthday, but that they were born a decade apart. Somehow old Herman never noticed that his ID number is wrong on the card.

“But that’s only the number, Gertruida? What about the wedding – did you forget that, too?” Vetfaan can’t stop smiling.

“They’ve bungled up the whole thing, man! Can’t you see? They gave this man the wrong ID number, and even managed to connect his number with mine, somehow.  According to them, he’s ten years younger and married – wrong on both accounts.”

“S-s-so we’re not betrothed? You sure?”

Oudoom, who has been following the conversation, starts sniggering. “I love this! If it’s of any help, I can unmarry you, Gertruida. How about it?”

It takes about an hour to sort things out. Gertruida phones Bertus Cronje, an old colleague from her days in National Intelligence, who gets hold of a senior official at Home Affairs. Yes, they’ve made a mistake. Yes, they’re sorry. They’ll send the correct ID card.

“And this nonsense of being married?” Gertruida’s relief is obvious, but she want’s to be sure.

“That…er…is more difficult.” The official tries to sound sympathetic. “We’ll have to check the records to see why this has happened, and that might take time. I’m sure we’ll set the record straight soon enough, though – but in the meantime the marriage seems to be official. However, as soon as we find out how this happened, a divorce could be arranged quite easily.”

“But. I’m. Not. Married. To. This. Man!” Despite her best efforts, Gertruida can’t keep her voice even.

“I understand your frustration, Madam. But I have to follow the correct channels. Please be patient.”

Gertruida slams down the phone and wipes an angry tear from her cheek.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll sort this out. T-together.”

Gertruida looks up into Herman’s kind eyes, Then she bursts out in tears.

(To be continued)

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory



“It takes great skill – and a lot of determination – to lose that way. I mean, it’s not any old Springbok side that’d manage that, I can tell you.”

“That might be true, Vetfaan, but really! It’s becoming a South African habit, man! At first it was only the cricket team that carried the Choker’s Badge, but now it seems endemic. While some of our swimmers and tennis stars insist on being contrary by winning, we’ve developed a wonderful knack of losing – even our soccer team is on that bandwagon now.”

“I think it’s a special talent we’ve developed – the result of years and years of practice. Once we were the most developed country in Africa and in 1994 the world praised us for doing the right thing. Then Mandela picked up the ball and started running. He passed it on to Mbeki, who stumbled a bit because the team didn’t understand the rules. And then it was Zuma’s turn. He was supposed to be the speedster who’d cut through the opposition and score a few winning tries. What happened?” Servaas pauses dramatically before going on: “History happened, that’s what.”

“There’s a difference between sport and politics, Servaas. In sport your fans have a voice. They tell you what they think. If you played badly, the press roasts you. Commentators will be scathing in their criticism, and TV crews will broadcast your failures to a public that won’t hesitate to contribute their two cent’s worth. Remember, too, that sport stars aren’t paid by your taxes – they generally earn their own way through TV rights and other income from their respective clubs and unions. And, if you don’t perform, you get the boot…simple as that.” Gertruida is lecturing again. “But government? The public pays their salaries. And if the ruling party doesn’t deliver on its promises,  it is so much worse than fifteen chaps losing a game they should have won. Sadly, being booted out of politics isn’t a common South African tradition.”

“But that is why we have more and more violent protests in the country, Gertruida,” Servaas interrupts her lecture with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Even their fans are fed up.”

12019759_10207331775882988_7528779832144092590_n“My point exactly. Even the protestors are losers. What do you manage by burning the very same buses you have to use to get to work? Or by burning a library that was supposed to help kids get through school? Or by ransacking municipal offices? I can go on, but the point is this: destroying infrastructure only serves to impoverish the people that already have so little. The losers end up losing even more.”

“I get it.” Vetfaan sits back while signalling for another beer. “You’re saying we should leave the Springboks to get on with the job, while we must find a way of constructive protesting? And if we’re not happy with the situation inside the country, we should change the government?” He purses his lips in deep thought. “Nope, that won’t work.”

He gets a “Why?” chorus as Boggel pushes a full glass towards him.

“Well, as sports fans, we live with the result and use it as motivation to do better. You wait and see. The Springboks have lost a battle, but the war is far from over. We can be gracious in defeat, but that doesn’t mean we accept that our team is now a permanent national embarrassment. Come Saturday, and we’ll all be crowded around Boggel’s radio once again, wearing green and shouting at the ref. That’s the difference: sport is for entertainment.

“But politics? It’s the lifeblood of the country. And we’ve been bleeding for a long time. My take? Enjoy the rugby, at least that’s real.

“When I say we should change the government and it won’t work, it’s because our national sport isn’t rugby or soccer. It has become the Blame Game. Nobody’s being held responsible any longer. If t isn’t Jan van Riebeeck, it’s Apartheid. And if it isn’t that, they blame some poor official, who gets a golden handshake. Rugby has rules, my friends. It is governed by strict laws and the referee has the final say. Politics isn’t like that at all.”


An uninformed visitor to Boggel’s Place might find the group at the bar difficult to follow. They have an uncanny knack of stringing together seemingly unrelated opinions as they pass the time in idle conversation. After all, a comparison between the Springboks and the government is illogical, to say the least.

As Vetfaan sums it up: “Eish, guys! At least the Springboks have an opportunity to set things right again…”

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Dove behind the Grid. (A short, short story)

Once upon a time (long, long ago) people lived in harmony. Kindness was considered more important than conflict. And the white dove – the sacred sign of peace – flew over the expanse of Earth, bringing a message of quiet humility to all.

d1Then Man started arguing about religion…

The end.