Category Archives: Life

Coulrophobia is alive and well..

12060d75ff7931e6cad9fc882e79b3ce.jpg“I think it started with The Joker in the Batman movies. That guy was as evil as they come, and boy, was I scared of him! Although…,” Servaas smiles wickedly, “I sort of admired his stupidity. Imagine taking on Batman? It’s a one-horse race, but still he didn’t give up. Evil would never trump Good, yet it didn’t prevent The Joker from trying.”

Gertruida nods. “Yep. A real bad guy. Wikipedia describes him as: ‘ a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor…‘ Interestingly, he associated himself with various criminal elements, like the Injustice Gang and Injustice League. In short, a very realistic figure who resonates quite remarkably with us  – almost 80 years after he was first created. Interestingly, The Joker was created on April 25, 1940, just about two years before our prez was born.”

“Amazing coincidence, Gertruida. To create such characters in the middle of WW II might represent some form of logic. I mean, while everybody is shooting at everybody else, it is only natural that that period of time gave birth to some rather strange characters. I mean, Bob Hewitt was also born in 1940.”

“Ooooh…you just can’t generalise like that, Servaas! Some good people also started life in that year. Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Kitch Christie, Eddie Barlow, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert – to name only a few.” Despite her stern tone, Gertruida pats her old friend’s shoulder. “It’s not the year, Servaas. It’s not the war. We simply have to stop blaming the past for everything – as if it absolves us from all blame and gives us the right to condemn modern society.

“The choice to become a criminal is a purposeful movement away from what is just and fair – by the individual. It is he or she who decides to swindle others in the community and steal or murder or act unlawfully. To blame it on circumstances is the original cop-out. To blame it on racism or apartheid or whatever other wrong, has become the norm – but think about it. Is it justifiable to engage in criminal activity because Jan van Riebeeck started something in the Cape, establishing a world-renowned and terribly strategic port? So successful was his endeavour that we may not breathe a word about ‘colonialism’ today.”

“That’s  Greek word, isn’t it?”

“It is. The Greek word kolon, means ‘limb’, and because of stilts, was also associated with clowns. Of course, if you say ‘kolon’ today, people hear ‘colon’ and think about the temporary store for stuff the body wants to dispose of.”

“Huh?”

“Ag Servaas! The word coulrophobia has it’s origins in the way the old Greeks amused themselves. Some men would walk about on stilts and thus try to be funny. They elongated their kolons to appear comical. They were the original clowns, see? So, in an obscure way, the word Kolon is the parent word for colony (a limb of the sovereign nation) as well as for clown.”

“So, if a colony is run by a kolon, we get coulrophobia?”

“The pathological fear of clowns? Just so, my ancient friend, just so.”

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The Pig, the Hogs and the Rest.

pig-1422160_960_720.jpgThe three little pigs grew up but they never forgot the fear and the hatred of their youth. Although the big bad wolf no longer blew houses down or threatened to eat them, the three of them insisted on building an impregnable castle, high up on a mountain. Of course, Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, insisted on being honoured as Leader.

“See how clever we are,” said the Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, “not only did I kill the wolf, but look at the luxury we now enjoy.” The clever Pig stuffed another tasty treat into his already-full mouth and grinned happily as his personal servants rushed to wipe the spittle from his chinney chin chin. “And as long as you do exactly as I say, you’ll be rewarded as well, my loyal comrades.”

They all nodded for they remembered Sitting Duck, the poor creature who once dared question Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. Sitting had asked whether it wouldn’t be fair if all the food was distributed to all the animals. Surely, Sitting argued, the poor working animals deserved reward for their hard work and loyalty. The question caused a classic Pig explosion.

“What? Reward those stupid workers? Are you completely mad? You give them a small reward and next they want my palace! You, Sitting Duck, will now leave my palace and work amongst those you admire so much. Go now! I’m sick of your pathetic face. I never want to see you again.”

So Sitting Duck left the palace to become just another of Pig’s victims. Pig had become quite famous for his temper tantrums after that and many of his erstwhile friends soon tasted the sharp whip of his wrath. But Pig didn’t care. There were many, many others waiting at the gates of his castle in the hope of being invited in. These, called Waiters, knew all too well that nobody in the castle ever did any real work and that they received much more than they’d ever need – simply by agreeing with everything Pig said.

One day, Pig decided his castle just wasn’t big enough. His many Piglettes, Piglets and other family members had become so numerous, that the rooms in the big castle were all occupied. This happened soon after the Hogs – a family from the Far East – arrived with many clever ideas and a lot of money. The Hogs were members of a little-known family of distantly related Boars, a radical group of relatives known for their cunning ways. And Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks instantly recognised their genius and agreed with everything they said.

The Hogs, however, belonged to a dark and secret society which believed in pig sacrifice. Once they befriended a pig, it was their aim to get everything such a pig had. This, they called ‘bleeding him dry’ and was the origin of the saying “bleeding like a stuck pig”.

But first the Hogs had to get Pig to play along with their plans, which Pig gladly did. Initially the Hogs kept their promises and Pig was handsomely rewarded for his cooperation. Then Pig got greedy.If the Hogs could make plans…why, so could he! And then, Pig told himself, he’d become even richer, add more rooms to his castle and be known throughout the world as The- pig-who-outwitted-them-all.

So Pig came up with The-Most-Dastardly-Plan. He was going to steal all the money in the land, with which he’d not only build a few rooms, but castles for his extended family. By then, Pig’s greedy ways had made him to believe he had the right to everything in the country and he lived like that. He could eat more than everybody else, even Wolf, way back then. No amount of anything was ever sufficient. He wanted more…always more.

And the animals outside the castle saw this and shuddered. “We must stop Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks,” they said, “for he is taking food from our mouths.” And the animals outside the castle protested and protested, while Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks stood inside his castle, laughing at them.

Then something strange happened. Some of Pig’s friends inside the castle had to admit to themselves (softly at first) that maybe, just maybe, Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, was the biggest manipulator in the land; that he used them all for only one reason: to increase his wealth.

“We had been used by Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks,” they whispered amongst themselves. “Look at the animals outside. Not a single smiling face, not a single happy creature. They all are suffering because Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks had tricked them out of their rights and their belongings.”

The more these animals whispered, the more they became convinced that something had to be done with Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. One by one, they quietly left the castle, until only the Hogs and Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks remained. That’s when the Hogs – clever as they were – decided that they had had enough. Taking everything they could, they, too, left one night.

Poor Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. He was left all alone in his huge castle and could shout (or laugh) at nobody any longer. So lonely was he that he longed for company – any company – even Wolf. But in the wide, marble-tiled corridors of his massive castle, only the mocking laughter of the Hogs remained.

And it drove Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks completely mad. He spent the rest of his days believing that he still ruled over the country, while the animals couldn’t stop ridiculing their former leader. And while the poor pig played his make-believe games, the rest of the animals started repairing the damage the Hogs had caused.

And later, much later, they all lived happily ever after.

But it took a long, long, very long time.

There’s a grave waiting…

images.jpgThe cemetery at the foot of Bokkop – outside the small town of Rolbos – is a rather lonely spot. Bearing in mind the handful of people living in town, one can understand that the cemetery cannot be compared to those in larger places like Loeriesfontein or Lekkersing. Why, the bustling community of Riemvasmaak sees far more of the extremes of human life than our little hovel in the Kalahari.

One of the most recent graves belongs to Siena, old Servaas’s sadly-departed wife. He finds solace in the memories of many years of marriage to the soft-spoken lady, as well as in the cold beers Boggel serves in the little bar. He says the one sustains the past while the other props up the present, The future? Servaas says it’s far too dark to contemplate at all..

Still, despite the relative freshness of Servaas’s loss, there is a new mound of red sand at the edge of the cemetery – just a oblong heap is sand with no cross or any other form of marking. And, because the place is visited so rarely, it is quite likely that the soft night winds will flatten the surface again before anybody should visit the grave of a departed loved one.

Now, the good people of Rolbos are not superstitious and they do not harbour gullible thoughts on irrational subjects. No, they will always find the most logical answers to the most difficult questions, like the time Gertruida questioned the decision-making prowess or our government. It was Vetfaan who reminded her that we – indeed – do not have a government in the classic sense of the word, but that we have been reduced to insignificance by a group of megalomaniacs. Good governance, he said, was an oxymoron, just like effective policing or, more recently, the term ‘public protector’.

So, should one of the Rolbossers notice the freshest grave in their burial place, he (or she) would want to know why he (or she) missed such an important event and why he (or she) didn’t have the opportunity to question Oudoom on the Church’s approach to thorny social issues. But, being summer and unbearably hot, the townsfolk spend their time in the most logical (and comfortable) place, enjoying a few cold beers and sensibly avoiding the scorching heat outside.

But it’s out there, on the plains of the vast desert, that death finally had the last say and the noble existence that once lived proudly, ceased to be. It simply had no fight left, no desire to compete against the odds that were becoming more and more unfavourable every day. Life is like that, not so? The risk of death increases with every passing minute, every hour of life that speeds by. Like a playful puppy, it keeps on crawling nearer, no matter how hard we try to ignore the inevitable.

The neglected mound next to the rusting fence is the last resting place for a pair of twins, in fact.  The inseparable Siamese siblings, Truth and Integrity rest here in eternal peace after a life-long struggle to impress upon the country the essence of their existence. Through the years they have been battered into submission – first by the Church, then by the media and finally by a succession of political leaders. Although sick, diseased, fatigued and in dire straits, the twins battled on bravely. They refused to succumb to the ever-increasing tide of scorn and lies levelled at them, prepared to fight to the last.

And they did. They fought bravely, making sure that the facts of so many lies and corrupt dealings got to the right people  at the right time; using newspapers, TV and common men and women to expose the greed and corruption eating away at the fabric of our society.

And then came the final blow; the act that killed the twins in such a cowardly manner that generations to come will hang their heads in shame. Professors in Political Science will tell the story for as long as there are students that listen, while others who had followed the liberation movement in the past, will stare at the pages of history books in shame.

Truth and Integrity might have stood a chance of survival under different circumstances. Had the country had a government of honour, the twins would have been with us still. But, with State Capture nearing completion, the final blow came with the appointment of a man to parliament who has no respect for the twins. He killed them with his tears, his lies and his desire to serve not the country, but the man who has shown a singular  and progressive lack of political insight over the past few years.

But, one must admit, the nature of Life is a strange phenomenon.Yes, the little mound of red earth will flatten as the winds caress the fine granules of red Kalahari sand away to the open plains. And yes, for a while people will forget the twins ever lived.

But…

How strange then, the fact that people forget so easily? That the odds of dying increases with every breath? And just like Truth and Integrity aren’t real people but still have died, so there are others that will have to succumb to the inevitabilities we all have to live (and die) with. Nothing remains hidden forever, just as nothing lives forever.

So, Mister President, the blood of the twins is on your hands – and those of your current favourite little friend, he of the crocodile tears and the many questions of his role in load shedding. Enjoy your season in the sun – for time marches on and Deceit and Corruption will have to die as well. The risk of that happening increases with every passing minute, Mister Commander in Chief. And when they, at last, cease to be – as they must – your family and the rest of the country will remember.

They’ll remember.

Everything.

With limitless shame.

Vetfaan’s Rules

Respect-Text-Wallpaper.jpgVetfaan grew up in the time when parents were still able to dish out a proper hiding without being charged with some violation of children’s rights. In fact, children really had no statutory rights by law – the rights they had were governed by love, compassion and rather rigid discipline. Love, because his parents cared deeply about his future. Compassion, because they wanted to bring up a boy they could be proud of – and who’d benefit whichever society he belonged to in his later life. And discipline, for it is true that a lack of discipline will result in an excess of misery and distress eventually.

So, a few things were simply accepted: no stealing, no disrespect, no lies. His parents did not read Dr Benjamin Spock’s books nor did they take note of similar opinions advocating the notion that children had an equal right to interrupt a conversation or determine how a weekend was spent. According to them, a child was…a child; an infant who still had to find his place in the community –  intellectually, financially and responsibly. Such an immature being had to be guided and helped to achieve a successful integration amongst his seniors and his peers – something which the parents believed would not happen on its own accord.

Of course, these outlandish ideas have been  discarded as medieval and improper during the intervening years, but Vetfaan remains the product of his past. When the salesperson at the Massey Ferguson franchise called him ‘old-school’, Vetfaan was immensely proud and pleased, much to the surprise of the salesman.  The one thing his parents taught him – Vetfaan says – is humility; something he maintains is the most important aspect of being a civilised human being.

“Humility is old-school,” Vetfaan is fond of saying, “because it has become highly  unfashionable to downplay your abilities. These days people tend to boast and brag; look at any CV or listen to guys describing their sport or work or cars or motorbikes; thinking a solo ego-trip impresses others. The New Way is cheap talk of results sometime in the future; the Old Way was effort first, results to follow and then allowing the results to do the talking – not you, if you follow my drift?  This new way of egotistical flamboyancy has killed the notion that humility is a good thing. People nowadays see  it as a weakness, which is terribly sad when you think about it.”

But when you get to the subject of disrespect, Vetfaan can’t stop talking. “Respect is why civilisation should work…and doesn’t. The term involves your standing in society, the interaction with superiors (and equals and those less fortunate than you), property and culture – to name only a few. You see, respect is another form of humility but at the same time it serves to prove you are in control of the situation. Eastern cultures have long held that the best leader is the humble one who respects others – a simple concept that has evaded the Western mind completely.”

But, Vetfaan maintains, the worst forms of disrespect involves abuse: of relationships, property, or religion. “Nah, I’m not going to put my foot into that one. Religion, sex and politics? Shew, that’s trouble with a capital T. All I’m saying is: while everybody is entitled to an opinion, they should respect the right of others to the same.” He does, however, feel strongly about property. “Look at what’s happening to our schools, libraries and universities – how can the burning of these be called ‘a protest’?  A protest is where you agitate for better facilities or something like that.  But burning down hostels and auditoriums  – costing millions – in the name of protest is simply a lie. Those are criminal acts which deserve to be rewarded by some serious jail-time.

“And the same goes for land reform. Sure, if the government finds a willing seller at the right price, and then awards the farm to a competent community to farm in an economically sound fashion – then I’m all for it. But to use this ability to ‘reform land’ as a political tool? That’s disrespectful towards all the voters in the country.

“That brings me to racism. Gee, man…racism is a world-wide thing – has been since forever, will be till the end of time. But…I think the term is used in a very loose way. Because I prefer my own way of life – my culture – above for instance…an Inuit’s…that doesn’t mean I hate Eskimo’s at all. I prefer biltong above whale fat – does that make me a racist? Of course not. I respect the Eskimo’s culture but I don’t have to embrace it.

“In South Africa we have a very delicate situation. Police chief after police chief gets fired because of corruption. Our president has to face more than 700 charges of corruption. The ANC keeps on blaming all ills in the country on Apartheid, while the elephants in the room are the SABC, Escom, our railroads, our schools and the decaying infrastructure. Now, I ask you: is it wrong to be critical of the guys and women in charge of these departments? Of course not. But….they happen to be black. So now, completely justifiable criticism gets tarnished with a dab of the racist brush and suddenly the objectors against poor service delivery are racists.

“That, of course, scares most whiteys off, forcing them into submission. Now: submission and humility aren’t the same thing at all. When you are humble, you earn respect. When you force submission onto somebody, that’s disrespect. Simple, true and sad… It’s called: ‘abuse’.”

***

Gertruida once asked Vetfaan whether his ‘Rules’ make him happy. He shook his head.

“It’s not about being happy, Gertruida. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about having peace of mind. And it’s about reaching out to others in the old saying: in unity is strength. We are being artificially divided. It’s time to bring back Old-School and for us to wake up…if it’s not too late already.”

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

Paul_Désiré_Trouillebert,_The_Nude_Snake_Charmer.jpg

Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

Trouillebert-servante_du_harem.jpg1 (1).jpg

 

It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

Free Giveaway: A troupe of Bumbledragons.

Whist_marker.jpg“You know, in these days of such racial sensitivity, gender questions and religious turmoil, one has to be careful whenever one opens one’s mouth. Calling somebody a donkey or an ape will force you to see a magistrate, and if ever – oh my! – you compared somebody’s intellect with that of some insect, you’ll end up in jail, I’m sure.”  Gertruida slaps down an ace on the pile of cards and collects the packet. “But really, Servaas, that was a stupid move. You cannot expect to win the trick with a king if you know the ace is still out there somewhere.”

Ever since the group at the bar became disenchanted with their endless discussions of current politics, whist has come to their rescue. This age-old card game is not as simple as it seems, and involves bit of concentration – something often lacking in most people when they consider the state of corruption in the country.

“Yes, but I thought…”

“Ag Servaas, you are the original Bumblepuppy.” Gertruida simply has to show off, knowing that the others will be puzzled by the ‘new’ word. Actually, it is not new, but has its origins way back in the 17th century.

“A what?” Vetfaan smiles – he knows he has taken the bait, but curiosity got the better of him.

“You don’t know?” With arched brows and a mocking smile, Gertruida puts down her cards. “Okay then, let me enlighten you.”

Bumblepuppy.jpgOriginally, Bumblepuppy was a game played on a slanting, flattish surface with nine holes at one end. Round pebbles  – or stones – were rolled from  the player’s end, to finish up in one of the nine numbered holes. Then the scores were tallied up and a winner declared.

“But later the word found its way into whist. You see, because they used uneven river stones to roll down that flat surface, they never could be quite sure where the stone would end up. You could score a 1 as easily as a 9 – so it really was a game of chance. In some ways, you can compare Bumblepuppy with today’s slot machines: the only thing you can be sure of, is that you have a chance to win. The odds, however, are stacked against you

whist_history.jpg“So, a Bumblepuppy is a gambler with money to burn – a careless  player about to lose. That’s why whist players took over the term a century later. When you play like Servaas, putting down your best card with the full knowledge that somebody else would trump it, you are a Bumblepuppy. Servaas could have taken the next hand if he played his 2. But no! He hasn’t been concentrating on the table, so he shot himself in the foot. His best card is now gone and he is doomed to lose this hand.”

Boggel gets up to fetch a new round. “So it’s just like recent developments in politics, then? Trump wins in America, Zuma bamboozles the public, Escoms’s people are resigning, Abraham’s got egg on his face and our ministers get manicures from rhino poachers?”

“Much the same, Boggel. Only they aren’t playing a game,  even though they are gambling.”

.Servaas slugs down some beer and  – quite uncharacteristically – burps loudly. “Bumblepuppy? Those guys? No way! They’re Bumbledragons and you can have them free.” Without apologising, he goes on. “Come on, Gertruida, deal the next hand. Give me some good cards for a change. I need them.”

“Yeah. You and a whole parliament of others. And you know what? A Bumblepuppy can never win. It takes time, but it cleans out your wallet, guaranteed. And once that happens, you have to leave the table – those are the rules.”

“So there’s hope for us? For the country, I mean?” Boggel’s hand is a good one – he’s going to win this one for sure.

“Give a Bumbler enough rope, Boggel, and he’ll lose his money…and his footing.”

And Now The Crickets Hesitate

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“No drinks today, guys. Today we’ll spend quietly, remembering a great man and one of the world’s foremost poets. We’ll listen to music and wonder about his words. And then we’ll go home, thinking we might – just might – be a little wiser.” Boggel speaks slowly while he rubs the glass rings from the counter. The news of Cohen’s death shocked him: he has always admired the words and music of the remarkable musician, writer and poet.

“Yes. He had a way of looking at life in a completely unique way – yet made it sound so…ordinary. As if we should all have seen it his way right from the start.” Gertruida sighs and then recites:

‘I met a girl and a poet.
One of them was dead
and one of them was alive.
The poet was from Peru
and the girl was a doctor.
She was taking antibiotics.
I will never forget her.’

“Welll…” Precilla hesitates, blushing at the thought. “I thought some of his poems were rather sexy. Even raunchy. I would have loved to have met him as a young man…”

‘There is no flesh so perfect
As on my lady’s bone,
And yet it seems so distant
When I am all alone:

As though she were a masterpiece
In some castled town,
That pilgrims come to visit
And priests to copy down.’

“Oh, that song ‘Suzanne’!” Vetfaan smiles sadly. “When I was much younger, it swept me along in his fantasy.”

‘And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.’

“I like his recent work more.” Boggel gets out the keys to lock up the doors. In the background, a CD emphasises his statement:

‘There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame.’

The key turns; the ancient lock crunching closed over the accumulated dust. All that remains in Boggel’s Place today, is the echo of Cohen’s words:

‘Silence

and a deeper silence

when the crickets

hesitate’

Anger Trumps Ideology

donald-trump.jpg“But she’s a better politician, having spent a lifetime in public service.” Vetfaan shakes his head. Although he considered the American election to be a choice between rubbish and nonsense, he did favour Hilary.

“I don’t want to be the one who tells you I told you so.” Gertruida’s smug smile says it all. “It never was about political ideology or foreign policy. That notion died some time ago. Look at Turkey, Brittain, Brexit and our government’s leaders. It’s simple, really: at some point the voters become so disillusioned with reality, they’d jump ship at the slightest provocation.”

“Provocation? What are you talking about?”

“Anger, Vetfaan. Anger. Deep, festering, gnawing anger. Anger at the resistence to change. Anger at leaders deciding things that affect – often negatively – the common man in the street. Anger at power-hungry politicians who enrich themselves at the expense of the poorest of the poor. Anger at corruption and lies. Anger at rising taxes when the economy is sick. Anger at governments not providing stability or listening to society’s woes. Anger, my friend, because politicians have become insensitive to the fact that they must serve the people, and not vice versa.”

“And Trump tapped into that anger?”

“Of course. America, Vetfaan, brought out an angry vote. People say they are surprised, but I’m not. America is following – and adding momentum to – a new global trend. It’s an emotional movement, but a very real one.”

“And what might that be?”

“People are tired and fed up with being ignored. Taken for granted. Opinions swept off the table. Being told what to do and what to believe – while they want to make up their own minds. That’s where politicians miss the boat, Vetfaan. They become so impressed with their positions – and the power it gives them – that they think they’re untouchable. Once that happens, democracy will appeal to people who have lost hope. They’ll want change – demand it, even – to escape from oppression. It’s happened here in the past, it’ll happen again.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “Again? How?”

“Look at our country, Vetfaan. Anger is all around us. There is racial tension. Malema’s message is one of hate. Zuma’s performance creates massive frustration. The government refuses to address the aggression in society. Rage rules the student protests, fury fuels service delivery dissent. Wrath directs xenophobia.

“Like I said: it’s a global tendency; a symptom of the time we live in; and governments ignore it at their peril.”

“Oh, my.” Vetfaan nods his thanks as Boggel serves another round. “So Trump is the tip of the iceberg?”

“Of course. Established governments will feel the aftershocks. Political parties will suffer surprising defeats.” Gertruida shrugs – some things are simply inevitable. “The world is angry, Vetfaan. And it’s going to get worse.”

“Thank goodness we’re living in Rolbos.” Boggel flashes an optimistic smile. “At least we’re not angry here.”

“Not yet, Boggel; but amen to that.” Gertruida closes her eyes, biting back the answer that almost managed to escape. Rolbos may be calm and happy on the surface, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t take notice of recent national events. The anger is there, below the surface.

Waiting….

 

“And days pass like this
Me, growing desperate
And you, you answering
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
Everytime I ask you
That when, how and where
You always reply me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
You are wasting your time
Thinking, thinking
For God’s sake
How much longer? How much longer?”
Osvaldo Farrès

The Horizon Hunter #5

000_ARP1530688.jpg“Being a free man – or a free youth – was wonderful. I went back to Aunty Florrie’s house and found out a lot had changed in the meantime. Mom called me aside that evening.”

***

“It’s been fifteen, sixteen years since your father left us, Mo. He never returned from that operation into Angola and all I know is what they tell me: missing in action. Now that it’s safe to make official enquiries, I’m still not sure what had happened to him. I must assume he’s dead – the army even offered me a pension of sorts.

“So now I’ve met this man, James February. A good man, Mo, who loves me. We want to get married.”

Mo thought it was a great idea. Mary Cronje, his mother, was not a young girl any longer – she deserved to have some love and joy in her life. Mo, however, couldn’t get himself to accept James as a father. Having grown up without such a privilege, he had learnt to fend for himself, think for himself and set his own boundaries. Anyway, his real father – of whom his mother occasionally made mention – remained an enigmatic figure in the back of his mind. He’d fantasised about the man; conflicting thoughts imagining a fearless soldier as opposed to somebody defending apartheid. At times he’d wish he had known him, at others he despised the very idea.

James February tried his best to befriend the rebellious youth, and succeeded to some degree. After all, James was a prominent political figure, somebody who commanded respect from the community. And James, knowing as he did what trauma the youth had lived through, treated Mo with great care and compassion.

Mo was now almost seventeen and James tried in vain to enroll his stepson in a technicon or even a university – but with no formal schooling, it was impossible. The solution was to appoint Mo as a personal assistant and chauffeur. At least, James reckoned, that’d keep the boy busy.

Mo’s old network of friends and contacts also welcomed him back after his imprisonment. Mo was the hero, the one who refused to divulge anything about their activities despite the severe interrogation. For a while, Mo was quite the toast of the town and feted as a minor celebrity.

The elections of 1994 saw the inevitable change in government. James was appointed on the Mayoral Committee of Cape Town. The future, it seemed, could not be anything but rosy. Had it not been for Mo’s old network, it might have been.

The problem surfaced one evening in 1998 at a local shebeen where Mo and his old friends were having a drink and chatting about the bad old days. By then, they could laugh at the hardship and the many close shaves they had had, and Mo’s story was told over and over again.

“It’s just a pity things are getting out of hand again.” This remark by Steven Plaatjies resulted in a sullen silence. Yes, it was true. The politicians were in it for their own good and rumours of rampant corruption were common. “The more things change, my friends, the more they stay the same.”

“I’ve heard some stories,” Keith Petersen nodded. “And it’s not just the ministers and high-ups. Local government is equally bad. If this goes on, the government will lose Cape Town.”

“Impossible!” Mo rose to his feet, shaking his head in disbelief. “James is working hard to improve conditions in the Cape. I know – I’m with him all the time.”

Keith laid a placating hand on Mo’s shoulder. “Listen, Mo, we’ve been friends for a long time and I wouldn’t want that to change. But…you’ll have to open your eyes, man! Already there’s talk about the possibility of the Soccer Cup coming to South Africa in 2010. Some say it’ll definitely happen. And who’s meeting with construction companies all the time? James! And why? Because he’s worried about a stadium? No way, my brother. The big guys are making deals – big deals – that’d line their pockets very nicely, thank you. Tell me Mo, you’re the chauffeur. Where have you been taking James the last few weeks?”

Mo shook his head. James? Corruption? What were they talking about? Yes, James must have visited all the major construction companies in the Cape, but he thought…

“Look, these things are planned years in advance. Remember Lucy Adams, the auntie who’s a cleaner in the premier’s office? Well, she has to throw out the trash every day. And boy! The stuff she finds in the wastepaper baskets! No we,” Kieth pointed at the rest of the group, “didn’t want to talk about it – especially not you – but now it’s become too much. You’ll have to help us, Mo, otherwise everything we fought for will go down the drain.

“You see, apparently the premier, the mayor and certain officials – James is amongst them – are skimming a lot of money from different projects. But now they’ve become greedy – they want more and they think they’re untouchable. The big prize is the Soccer World Cup, with Cape Town being one of the host cities. It seems as if there are people out there that’d do anything t make that happen. They want to get a piece of the action while most people are still wondering if the soccer will really come our way. The way I read it – it’s already in the bag. Money, Mo, is what is at stake. The World Cup is a mere sideshow.

“Aunty Lucy is great and she finds papers. But you, Mo, are right on the spot. Keep your eyes and ears open. If our suspicions prove to be correct, we’ll have to go high to stop these corrupt deals. Maybe…even to to the president.”

Steven Plaatjies agreed. “Mo, you’ve been tortured. We’ve fought hard. In the old days, we ran around selling dagga – that was nothing but a way to survive. Then they promised us a better life – and have you seen any difference? I haven’t. It’s because our politicians don’t care a owl’s hoot about us common people. They sit in their air-conditioned offices, wheeling and dealing and filling their wallets. We have to stop this.”

And Mo, only barely an adult, found the tears welling up. Did not James buy that big BMW just the other day? And did he not promise a holiday in Mauritius over Christmas? What about the diamond earrings he gave Mary?

The next day after work, he visited Achmad Sulliman. If anybody knew about crime in Cape Town, the drug lord of the city was sure to know. Achmad was careful how he chose his words, but he was as honest as he could have been with the boy he had rescued as a baby.

That was the night Mo’s journey really started.

 To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”

***

Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.

 ***

Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…