Author Archives: Amos van der Merwe

About Amos van der Merwe

Writer

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

 

Weekly Photo Challenge – Cherry on Top

He’s been walking for a day-and-a-half; if he doesn’t find water, the desert would have won. But…he knows the area and he knows the tradition of his people. If only he could see their marker, he’d be alright.

Ah…there it is!

IMG_0200.JPG

To a stranger, it’s just a heap of twigs. Nothing to stand out in the barren wilderness. He knows better…

IMG_0201.JPG

First, he’ll thank the unknown man who did this. Then, carefully and with the necessary respect, he’ll remove the camouflage.

IMG_0203.JPG

Uncovering the hidden treasure needs time and patience. Breaking the egg would be disastrous.

IMG_0204.JPG

Is it dry? Has the water evaporated? Noo…there it is – the cherry on top! Cool, clear, water.

b1.jpg

Now he has to do the right thing: find the man who hid the water, thank him…and then fill up the ostrich egg again.

 

The Big Herd Syndrome

image-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8.png“I thought England would choose to remain in the European Union,” Servaas says as hy sips his beer. It’s been a quiet morning in Boggel’s Place; Vetfaan is tinkering with the tractor’s engine again and Gertruida must still return from Upington, where she went to get more wool. The blanket she’s crocheting is coming on nicely indeed;  it’s going to be another long, cold winter.

“Ag, I don’t know, Servaas. Whether they’re in or out doesn’t bother me. But you know the English – they’re a proud nation. Or at least…they were. There was a time they ruled the world and now they’re just a small island. Who cares?”

“Money cares, that’s what. The City of London is an economic hub, Boggel. They pull a lot of strings and expect a lot of people to jump when they do. This isn’t good news for the financial world – and we’re not going to escape the effects of this vote.”

They fall silent as the lorry from Kalahari Vervoer stops in front of Sammy’s Shop. When Gertruida gets out on the passenger side, Servaas brightens.

“She’s bummed a lift back! Vetfaan will be pleased; he was supposed to fetch her tomorrow. And…I’d love to hear what her opinion is.”

Within minutes, Gertruida has to listen to a barrage of questions.

“Okay, okay, you guys. Let me tell you a story. ”

***

Once upon a time – long ago – Zebra had a bright idea.

“Look, we are always scared of Lion and Leopard. Why, as soon as I lower my head to eat some grass, I have to look up again to check out the vicinity.  And when I want to drink water, I can only manage the tiniest mouthful before I have to do the same.

“Now you, Giraffe and Kudu, you have the same problem. So do you, Springbuck and Klipspringer. Even big, strong, Buffalo suffers the same fate.The threat, my friends, is universal – we all are in danger of being the main dish on the supper table of our enemies every day.

“Now, here’s what I suggest: let’s group together and become one big, happy herd. Some could be on the lookout while the others eat and drink in peace. We’ll share feeding, drinking and lookout duties amongst us rather than having to do it all by ourselves. Huh? What do you say?”

The other animals thought about Zebra’s suggestion and couldn’t decide.

“Well, then we’ll vote on this.That’s the only way we’d know whether it’s a good idea or not.” Little Duiker, the most agile of them all, didn’t like such long meetings. There were places to go, things to do.

The animals voted. Yes, the majority said, it’s better if they herd together.

Zebra’s plan worked well for a while. The animals shared lookout duties and they felt safe. Then, something strange happened. Due to a drought in the Baboon Territory, the baboons started looking for a better place to live. When they heard about the Big Herd, they headed that way in big numbers.

“We want what you have,” Baboon told Zebra. “It’s only fair. We are all animals, aren’t we? Go on, share your good fortune with us.”

“But you’re not an antelope, Mister Baboon. You guys don’t eat like us; you dig up the soil to get to scorpions and things that live underground. We only eat bits of grass here and there, allowing the veld to recover again. But…once you’re finished eating, the veld won’t be the same until after it rains once more.

“No, Mister Baboon, I’m sorry but we can’t allow you here.”

“Gee, how selfish!” Gentle Eland shook his head. “How can you be like that? Poor Baboon has nowhere to go; you can’t refuse to give him some shelter and food? No, I think Baboon deserves some compassion. He should stay.”

Now, by that time, the herd had become extremely large. Antelopes of all shapes and sizes grazed alongside each other and the news of Baboon’s plight soon became a topic of serious discussion. Most of the animals seemed to be in favour of allowing Baboon to stay, but Zebra put his hoof down.

“Then I’ll leave. I’ll take my chances. You guys want Baboon to stay? Why, go ahead and be my guest. I shall find my own piece of veld to graze. Goodbye and good riddance!”

The other animals thought Zebra was being stupid and welcomed Baboon with bright smiles.

“Shame, we feel sorry for you,” they told Baboon. “Come, we’ve gathered some berries for you.”

Now, it didn’t take too long for them to realise that Zebra was right. Baboon’s destructive way of feeding soon had the veld bare of grass. Worse, Baboon even started telling them that the veld was his, and they had no right to tell him where to feed. When the animals grumbled about this, Baboon threatened to fill up the watering hole with stones.

“He’ll never do that,” Kudu said. “Did we not help when he was starving? No, he’s just bluffing.”

But Baboon wasn’t bluffing. When the animals went for a drink the next day, they found a great heap of stones where the water once was.  The Big Herd was disappointed, angry and disillusioned all at once.

“It’s your fault,” Kudu told Eland.

“But…I thought Buffalo was supposed to guard the hole?”

“No, it was Klipspringer’s turn…or was it Duiker?”

The herd had become too big. While Zebra was there, he kept an orderly roster of guard duties; but when he left, nobody stepped up to do that. In the ensuing argument, Kudu butted Eland with his giant horns. Eland stomped on Klipspringer. And Duiker, the most agile of them all, simply ran off to search for Zebra.

***

“You see, the idea of a communal unity seemed like a great idea in the beginning. But the animals ignored one important aspect: they were all different. They ate different sorts of plants. Every specie had it’s own habits. And they all liked the company of their own type. Antelopes come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Zebra has stripes for camouflage, Kudu has horns to fight with and Buffalo is big and strong. Herding them together was a mistake – while they felt safer, they had to give up who and what they were.

“Then, when Baboon showed up, he not only ruined their peaceful co-existence, he also made them aware of their differences.

“A big herd, Servaas, can’t last forever. At some point they have to split up to retain their identities and ways of life. Today you’ll find small herds scattered here and there, because that is the way to deal with outside threats. A smaller herd needs less water and grass, escapes danger with greater ease and can travel farther with less problems.

“It is true for animals. It is true for the UK. It will be true for the European Union…and eventually, after the veld has been destroyed, for South Africa.”

 

 

 

Whatever happened to Old School?

man-opening-door-for-lady-e1313090426170“That was close,” Vetfaan says as he sits down at the bar. “I was almost arrested in Prieska, man! Gimme a beer!”

Now, anybody who knows Vetfaan, knows he likes to stay on the right side of the law. Policemen and lawyers tend to make him nervous, especially when he returns from his biltong-gathering excursions. He maintains he has never poached a single Kudu – he only uses the meat from recently deceased animals. Although the cause of death might be disputed, he insists it should be listed as another case of lead poisoning.

“Been out hunting again, have you?”  Boggel’s secret admiration for Yoda surfaces from time to time. “Trouble you should have.”

“Nah, it’s not that.” The burly farmer swallows half to contents of the glass, burps with gusto and plonks down his drink. “Sexual harassment! Can you believe that? At my age!”

“Pleased, you should be.”

“Ag, Boggel, snap out of it! I only told the girl at KFC she has beautiful eyes. Next thing I know, Constable Kiewiet arrives and gives me a talking-to. He would have arrested me, but I reminded him of the last time we met.”

That story had done the rounds a few months ago. Kiewiet stopped Vetfaan’s pick-up one evening and found two recently deceased Springbok carcasses under a tarpaulin. When he got excited about his discovery, Vetfaan cleverly diverted his attention by reminding the constable of the fact that he – the policeman – would not be able to pin the demise of the poor animals on him, the innocent farmer who came across their pathetic remains. Why, he – Vetfaan – was on his way to the police station with the evidence of some individual’s (or individuals’) dastardly deed to shoot at defenceless and unarmed creatures.

The constable agreed that, indeed, Vetfaan had made a strong case for further investigation. Vetfaan suggested that they discuss the matter like gentlemen should, over a beer and maybe a bite to eat. This they did, right there, next to the road. Afterwards, Vetfaan mentioned the fact that Kiewiet had partaken in the unlawful act of consuming evidence. It was then mutually agreed that maybe – just maybe – it would be unwise to pursue the matter further. Case closed.

“Lucky, you were.”

“You know, Boggel, I don’t get it. What happened to good old chivalry? These days you dare not compliment a lady. You may not even sneak a peek at a shapely figure – it’s called invasion of privacy these days, and put on the same pedestal as abuse. Laying a comforting hand on an upset shoulder, is suddenly equal to fondling. Where is this all going to end?”

“Called gender equality, it is. Rights for humans. Laws for privacy. Not allowed to abuse, you are.”

Vetfaan shrugs. “You’re right, of course. Society seems to think that everybody is the same. If you say somebody is black, you’re a racist. If you smile at a woman, you’re a sexist. When you talk about labourers, you’re elitist. And…you are completely politically incorrect to talk about blindness, physical impairments or mental instability.

“Everybody suddenly got on the Discrimination Wagon. It’s as if society became so oversensitive about…issues…that we dare not mention them anymore. No, society wants us all to believe there are no differences in colour, gender or ability. Society wants us all the be the same; but let me remind you: equality has nothing to do with being the same. Unlike politicians want to tell us, we’re not a colourless, cultureless society believing in every religion ever invented. I’m white. Kiewiet is black. He’s a Muslim, I’m Christian. He votes for the ANC and I’d rather die than do that. We are, Boggel, and never will be, the same.”

“But respect him, you do?”

“Of course! He’s a human just like me. He has dreams and goals. He lives, loves and functions just like I do. What I’m saying, Boggel, is that the human race consists of two sexes, a multitude of cultures and a spectrum of colours. Each of us are precious. But…why make us fit into the same little box? Why can’t we stand back in wonder, celebrating diversity and acknowledging obvious differences without adding the word ‘discrimination’ to everything?”

“Everything backward, we have?”

“Yes, Boggel. There was a time when a compliment didn’t land you in trouble. When a handsome man or a beautiful woman didn’t feel threatened when somebody said something nice. When opening a door for a lady wasn’t called abuse, or when being courteous and friendly didn’t imply sexal impropriety.”

“Old school, you are.”

“Yep, Boggel. And very much out of fashion I am. Another beer you give.”

 

Alive and Well…

ams-history“It’s been awfully quiet lately.” Servaas burps as he orders a fresh beer.

“Ja, people think nothing happens here any more.” Raising a questioning eyebrow, Vetfaan turns to Gertruida. “What’s up? Has he stopped writing? Gone walkabout? Emigrated? Long holiday? Contemplating his navel?”

“Oh no!” As usual, Gertruida has all the answers. “He’s been spending lots of time at his keyboard. Lots! But, he says, it’ll all be revealed soon.”

“Oh?” Boggel closes the empty drawer of the till. “That’s nice. I’m sorry to interrupt, guys, but it’s the end of the month. You have to settle your tabs.”

They ignore the little bent man…like they always do when he reminds them that the only thing in life you get for free, is the Vrede’s landmine in the middle of Voortrekker Weg every morning.

“So what is he writing?”

“Ah, it’s the story of a man who made international history a few years back. It’s got everything. Poor boy, an outcast, struggles with politics, love and rejection. He gets a chance to change the world…and then he does.”

“Is he a local chappie?” Vetfaan loves to hear that not everything in South Africa is falling apart. “Please don’t tell me it’s about Zuma of Malema?”

“Oh no! Not a political figure, although politics features quite prominently in the man’s life. No – he was just a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who  made good. Like our stories, it’s a feel-good tale of determination, perseverance, a bit of good luck and a breakthrough. Oh, and love against all odds. It makes fascinating reading.”

“Yeah?” Servaas isn’t impressed. “That sounds rather common to all men, I’d say. I had a tough time convincing Siena to shack up with me, too…”

“Which is quite understandable, given your looks.” They all laugh at Kleinpiet’s interjection before turning to Gertruida again.

“And there’s a small chance – maybe more than that – of a movie. In fact, the storyline is so intriguing, it’d be a crime not to film it.”  Even Servaas sits up when Gertruida informs them about this. “Yes, a movie. We have such wonderful, real-life South African stories. People read about our economy going for junk status. They watch our parliament becoming a joke. Our president single handedly wins the competition to be the most ridiculed man in the country. Malema frightens the whites and Zuma scares the blacks.

“But where – oh where! – are the good stories? We need to be reminded of a once-proud nation which produced remarkable men – sometimes against all odds. Instead of allowing us to sink deeper into a muddy depression, we should be reminded that no situation – no political rhetoric – has the right to dump the nation into junk status. If it happens to the economy, that’s beyond your and my control. But…each of us is the captain of his own ship.

“That’s what the story is all about. Maybe you’ll read about it soon. Maybe you’ll see it on the big screen. It’s a  story we must all take note of. Essential reading, I’ll call it.”

“Well…who is it about? A real person?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. He’s real.” Gertruida suddenly looks sad. “But he won’t tell me the name. I can guess, but I really don’t know…”

The group at the bar stares at Gertruida in shocked silence. Gertruida doesn’t know? That’s a first!

“…But I’ll find out, believe you me! I’ve got my ear on the ground. Pretty soon I’ll know his name – then I’ll tell you.”

“Don’t you have a clue?”

“I do, Servaas. I’ll play you a song … ”

The Wounded Buffalo of Society

Alfred_Jacob_Miller_-_Wounded_Buffalo_-_Walters_37194056

Wounded Buffalo: Alfred J Miller

“Told you.” Gertruida switches off the radio. “The ANC is in a corner. No way they can afford to fire their own president – they’ll just create an impossible situation for themselves. I mean: he’s also the president of the ANC, remember? He dishes out the goodies and they all want some.  On the other hand, the ANC isn’t stupid; they are all too aware of the fall-out of the series of scandals Zuma has landed them in. The only thing they can do now, is damage control.”

“Shew, Gertruida. Why can’t he just resign, like the Iceland guy did? Take the honourable way out and get it over with. As things stand now, we’re in for mass action, strikes, marches, protests and civil unrest. The government has prodded the sleeping giant of society for too long and they’re waking up with a headache – and they don’t like that. The cost of mass action is going to be more than the mere building of a private home in Nkandla.”

“Resign, Servaas? After the way they got rid of Mbeki? No, Zuma will sing his songs, dance his dances and giggle his way through all this. I’m guessing, but the cost of the upgrades at Nkandla won’t even put a dent in the savings he’s accumulated after 1994 – and especially after he became president.. Money isn’t the object. Remember, he used to be in charge of intelligence in the ANC – he knows all the secrets and he’s wielding that knowledge with great finesse. You cross that man at your own peril. He’s got the power, the contacts, the money and don’t forget: he holds the keys to many opportunities. He’s in the game for all the wrong reasons – and that’s why they can’t get rid of him.”

Servaas sighs. The great promise of democracy has turned into a curse of a one-party state. Whichever way he looks at the future, he simply cannot see much hope. And if he feels like this, how much more would the poverty stricken masses be despondent at the prospect of a bleak future?

“They’ll burn a few more libraries, I suppose.”

“Yes, Servaas, just like the government burnt the constitution. Tit for tat.”

“It’s like that buffalo the hunter wounded a few years back, remember?”

Gertruida looks up sharply. Yes, she remembers the incident that happened  on the farm in Limpopo. Vetfaan’s distant nephew owned a hunting farm in the Bushveld, where overseas hunters paid handsomely to hunt a variety of game. During the hunting season of 2013, a hunter got excited and shot at a huge buffalo, wounding it in the shoulder area. The buffalo went for the hunter. Vetfaan’s nephew realised what was happening and tried to bring the charging beast down with a head shot. The bullet glanced off a horn. Another shot went wide. This all happened in a fraction of a second.

The buffalo, enraged and in pain, wasn’t going to stop. The foreign hunter was going to die. Vetfaan’s nephew then ran from his hiding place, positioning himself for a better shot – the very last chance to save the hunter. The buffalo swerved, suddenly focussing on the new adversary.

“He died heroically, didn’t he? Poor chap. But at least he saved that stupid hunter’s life.”

Servaas nods. “That’s exactly my point. A good man died to save a stupid one. And now the ANC is doing the same thing. They’re positioning themselves between a wounded  society and a stupid hunter. Only: this political buffalo is not as fast as that one in the Bushveld. It’s a slow, ponderous animal – but once it focusses on a prey, it won’t give up until it’s trampled its enemy to death. It happened to every empire you can think of – from Babylon to the Romans and the British Empire. King Leopoldt, Reagan, prime ministers and presidents – history is littered with the corpses of men and women who thought they could outsmart the system. Fortunately, the buffalo always wins…”

He gets a fondly surprised smile from Gertruida. Yes, old Servaas has seen governments and parties come and go. He, like the rest of the population, is no stranger to change.

Vetfaan walks in, dusts his hat and sits down with an expectant wink. Time for a beer; he’s been servicing his old Landy and it’s hot out there.

“The weather is changing,” he says conversationally. “The wind is picking up.”

“It is, Vetfaan. It surely is…”

When Panama comes to Prieska

panama-papers.jpgEverybody knows Kroek Knoetze – although they’ll never use his gossip name whenever he’s introduced. He’s one of those guys blessed with both physical as well as legal muscles. A former Mister Monster (an unofficial barefisted competition with no holds barred, resulting in several contenders facing hefty medical bills.), it is also said (but never verified) that he also holds a PhD in law. He never chose to practice as an advocate, however. He simply set up a small office on the outskirts of Prieska, where he refused to see the occasional desperate housewife or disgruntled spouse. His main activity – according to local know-it-all, Hessie Houdtbeck – concerns shady deals involving land distribution to BEE companies.

“Has he been back?” Servaas glances at Vetfaan when he walks in. “I believe he saw you two days ago?”

Vetfaan smiles back. “No, and he won’t be. He’s in Switzerland now, according to what Gertruida tells me.”

“But he wanted to buy up your farm. Land redistribution, as I understand it.”

“Ja, that’s right.But I think he’s lost interest.”

Gertruida comes to the rescue. “Come on, Vetfaan, tell him the whole story. You know Servaas has been to Upington for the past few days – in fact, he left just before your meeting with Kroek. Be nice and tell him the story.”

The burly farmer sighs – he doesn’t like to brag; but when Gertruida tells you to speak up, you’d better do it. Otherwise she’ll inform Servaas about the events, and she has a way of dramatising things.

“Well, it went like this: he rocked up with a stack of papers, telling me to sign. I told him there was no claim on my farm. He disagreed, using a lot of Latin I didn’t understand, and kept on insisting that I sign the documents. I told him I lost my glasses and couldn’t read the fine print. He said I needn’t worry about it. I said I always worry about fine print. He offered to read it – more Latin.

“At that point I became fed up and asked him to leave. He wasn’t keen. Now he’s having a sort-of animal operation in Switzerland.”

“It’s called a rhinoplasty, Vetfaan. It’s for his nose.”

“Well, we know he’s not there for his nose alone, Gertruida. It’s about that chap they arrested at the airport when he tried to leave for London. The one that was going to tell the world about the family that hijacked our president – and his family – and the political party. That happened right after I convinced him to return to Prieska. And just before the Panama Papers got in the news. That’s why he’s there, not his nose. Anyway, it wasn’t broken that bad – just a bit out of shape, if you asked me.”

“Whoa! Did you break Kroek’s nose? And you haven’t got a bruise to show? Now that’s impressive!” Servaas raises his bushy eyebrows in appreciation. “Most impressive, I’d say.”

“You haven’t been listening, Servaas. Here’s the South African link with Mossack Fonseca. There was bound to be one, don’t you think? With Zuma’s family allegedly leaking millions out of the country, they had to have somebody locally to help them with the transactions. And if Kroek was involved, it explains his rapid exit…” Gertruida still loves international intrigue and is regularly updated by her former colleagues.

“You actually broke his nose? Shees, man, it should be on the TV! To beat Kroek in a fistfight….wow!” Servaas winks at Boggel. “That deserves a round on the house.”

***

Rolbos is like this. The world is filled with Kroeks and Fonsecas and people who explore every which way to corrupt the system – and they get away with it, just like our own leaders in parliament do.

But to break Mister Monster’s nose? Now that really is big news.

And deserves a round on the house.

***

“Big day in Parliament today,” Gertruida tries to get the conversation going amidst the free drinks. “They’re trying to get rid of Zuma.”

“What….?” Servaas peers myopically at her. “Oh.” He shakes his head, trying to focus, gives up and smiles. “Won’t happen. Not until Vetfaan talks to Kroek again…”