Category Archives: rainbow nation

Gertruida’s Fish-in-a-Bottle Analogy

images (2).jpg“You see, in the beginning everything is small  – but that tends to change as time goes on.” Gertruida smiles at her little audience in Boggel’s Place. After their protest march on Friday, they have decided not to talk about politicians for a while – but now it’s Monday and it’s time to take stock of recent events.

“Are you talking about babies, relationships or lies, Gertruida?” Servaas brushes his bushy brows flat with a drop of beer. “Nothing new there, I’m afraid.”

“Actually – yes and no. What I’m really referring to, is the fish-in-a-bottle analogy.” Her smile widens as she enjoys the blanks stares she gets. “It’s simple, really.”

***

One day, a man noted a number of small fish in the pond near his house. They were exceptionally beautiful and exhibited all the colours of the rainbow.

“I want those fish,” he said and strolled off to find a net somewhere.

“Haven’t seen a net for ages,” his friend said when asked. “It’s not something we do. Anyway, some of those fishes are quite poisonous, I’m told. Best to leave them alone.”

But the man was determined and made up his own net with bits of string. Then he thought about a container to keep the little fishes in and once again his friend advised against it.

“If you keep fish in a container, they will need to be fed. And you’ll have to clean the thing every now and then – fish swim around in their own poo, you know?”

images (3).jpgStill, the man ignored the advice. The only container he found, was an old wine bottle – the type with little handles at the neck. It was also a very precious bottle, something that had been in the family for some time. This, the man thought, would be a great container for the fish.They’d have plenty of room to swim around in and the clear glass would display their colours beautifully to anybody who cared to look. And who cared if the fish were poisonous – they’d be safe behind the glass. Anyway, they were to be looked at, not handled or eaten.

The man started catching the fish with his net. It was slow going at first, but he soon got the hang of it and he quickly filled up the bottle with a small school of lively fish bodied. Their colours were even more remarkable inside the glass container, causing the man to puff out his chest in pride.

“Nobody in the whole, wide world has fish as beautiful as mine,” he boasted. He’d spend countless hours admiring his fish, feeding them and watching them grow.

And grow…

And grow.

In time, the fish became so big that he wanted to put them into a larger container, but there was a problem. By then the fish had grown so big that he couldn’t get then out of the bottle any longer. The neck of the bottle had been large enough when the fish were small, but now – having been fed well and grown to a considerable size – the fish could no longer negotiate their way out of the bottle.

“My fish have grown too much!” The man wailed. “They are now trapped inside my bottle. Even if I wanted to, I can no longer set them free or return them to the pond.”

And still the fish grew and grew and eventually became so big that they no longer could swim in the bottle. They just hung there, suspended in water, eating all day while their scales slowly lost their lustre.

“Oh, how ugly and fat have my beauties become! I used to be so proud of them, but now they’ve become bloated and fat and lazy – and I cannot get rid of them.” The man wept as he tried to imagine what the fish looked like before.

“You have to break the bottle,” the man’s friend suggested.”Set them free in the pond and get rid of them.”

“But my bottle! It’s such a precious bottle! I belonged to my father, and his father before him. If I break the bottle, I’b be betraying their trust and disrespect their memory.”

“And if you don’t, the fish will die in that bottle and you’ll have to wait for everything to rot away before you’ll be able to get them out – piece by piece. Either way, the bottle is doomed. Either way, the fish get out. Your choice.”

The man didn’t know what to do. In the end the fish died, they rotted away and the bottle stank to high heaven for many years afterwards.

And the man had no choice. He discarded the bottle – which nobody wanted any more – and regretted the day he first thought of catching the beautiful little fish in the pond near his house.

***

“Oh, I get it.” Vetfaan’s face lights up with excitement. “You’re talking about the cows coming home. The chickens return to the roost. And being hoist by your own petard?”

“Exactly. The ANC tried to restrict the havoc Zuma caused by closing ranks and proclaiming their unyielding support for the president. Well, a while ago this might have worked and they could have gotten away with it. But now the elephant in the room has grown too big to ignore. The fish is now too big for the bottle. The only way ahead is now to break the bottle and set Zuma free to face the music, or to remain steadfast in their support and die with him inside the bottle. Either way, the ANC is causing terrible damage to the party’s image. The darling of world politics have become the skunk.”

“You mean a junk-skunk?” Vetfaan manages a lopsided grin.

“Just so, Vetfaan, just so.” Gertruida doesn’t return the smile.

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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 SONA and #Time to face the music.

It’s been a custom for a few years now, so  – once again – Vetfaan is cajoled into predicting what (and how) the president will deliver his yearly State of the Nation  Address. To do this, he has to practice saying numbers the way only Number One can, which isn’t easy.

 

“…This year, we will spend one thousand, two million and five rands on improving the fire pool. I fully expect my cattle herd to increase by three thousand…listen carefully…three point twenty-five per cent, allowing me to pay back the money at a rate of fourteen rand and  fifty seventy every month. This will prove not only my innocence, but also my unquestionable integrity…”

“”What about the seven hundred and eleventy-three cases of corruption you are dodging?”  As this is only a practice session, Servaas feels free to interrupt. “#Pay back the money is nice, but #time to face the music, seems more appropriate now.” He waves a clenched fist in the direction of Boggel, who immediately realises it’s the old man telling the world he needs a new beer.

“Eish, you are a racist pig, Servaas. It’s people like you who make this country ungovernable – did you know that?” Vetfaan pushes an imaginary pair of glasses back onto his nose bridge. “Let me explain it to you – very slowly, so you may understand.” He now points a finger at his audience while he does a little hip-wiggle. “Look, Africa is the biggest continent in the world. It is so big, her rivers never reach the sea and it took Jan van Riebeeck more than sixe…six…sixteen hundred and…ah. Never mind. He took a long time in coming here, understand?

“Now, before Jan van Riebeeck, there was no corruption. Nothing. People never had to make laws about corruption because there was none. That is history. Go on, look it up: if you find a single law aimed against corruption before Van Riebeeck’s arrival, you can come and spend a weekend at Nkandla – free of charge.

“But then Van Riebeeck came and South Africa had to have something they never had before – laws. These laws governed the way the Dutch people lived at the Cape. Were they African laws?” He pauses for effect.  “No. They were laws imported from Europe. Why?” Again he waits a second. “Because Europe invented corruption, that’s why. One of my reading friends looked it up: it’s a Latin word. It appeared in its current form sometime in the fourtieth…er…fourteenth century – in English. Which must have been just before Van Riebeeck bought his ticket to come here. So that, I must add, is just another argument against colonialism. The Dutch and the English – they started the problems down here.”

“But what, Mister President, about the help you received during the struggle years. Were not the Brits and the Dutch deeply involved in your fight against Apartheid?”

Vetfaans eyes flash his anger. “How dare you corrupt a perfectly good argument with facts?  You must realise we had help from America and Russia as well. How could we foresee Trump becoming president? Putin, at least, is on my side. He said so, after we spoke about the nuclear powerstations. And don’t you go on believing Putin is a bad man – You’d be surprised to know how generous he was with me. He said Nkandla is nothing…for him it’s small change. The way he appreciates my friendship goes far beyond the Nkandla debt – in fact, I’ll be able to settle that score as soon as the Russian stations connect up to the power grid.”

“And the Chinese? They’re your very best buddies now? What will the Guptas say about them?”

“Servaas, you’re testing my patience here. I’ll keep my answer short. In politics you don’t have friends. Never. You have business partners, even though you’ll never admit that in public. In fact, you have to be very quiet about that. And if people start asking questions, you start talking about Jan van Riebeeck, colonialism and white monopoly. At the same time you get the illiterate vote by promising land reform, increased grants and nationalising the mines. Being president, my friend, is a question of playing the ends against the middle. Ask Donald Trump – we’ll never be friends, but I think he’d be a good African leader.”

“Aren’t you proposing more colonialism with that statement?”

Vetfaan sighs theatrically. “That’s the difference between you people and myself. You guys think in straight lines. That’s stupid.”

“…and your mind weighs up the convoluted odds of corruption, Van Riebeeck’s arrival and Putin’s generosity?”

“Servaas!” Vetfaan is so angry he almost forgets to use the right accent. “The fact that you are ignorant does not give you the luxury of an opinion, you hear? Anyway, you voted for the wrong party, so even if you had an opinion, it wouldn’t count.  And what’s wrong with Putin, anyway? Trump loves the man.”

“You seem to harbour a deep respect for Mister Trump, my president?”

“Well, his forefathers didn’t come to South Africa, did they? They went west, Van Riebeeck went east. So, he’s the opposite of Oom Jan. That makes him a good man….”

Boggel holds up a hand. “Hey you guys, stop it now. You were supposed to be funny – but the way you’re going on, will have me in tears just now – or applying for a Visa to the US of A.  I wonder if they’ll allow me in?”

Vetfaan sits back, relieved that his SONA is over. “Visa into America?  Go there and leave Rolbos? Are you completely crazy? I’d rather have Zuma than Trump.”

“And why would that be?”

“With Trump you’re never quite sure whether he is truthful or if he sticks to facts. He makes you doubt, you see?  With Zuma you don’t have that problem at all…”

“So the SONA doesn’t matter?”

“That’s right, Servaas. The SONA won’t change a thing. They’ll have the imbongi shouting the praises like in medieval times before things got a bit … more sophisticated. Then the prez will dazzle us with his ability to waltz through figures and facts without touching sides. Then you’ll have some of his friends telling you how well  he manages the stress of the highest office – even though he seems to be losing a bit of weight recently.  The opposition will scoff. And on Friday….we’ll all be just where we were on Wednesday, except for the surprise of the few who  thought the bovine faecal level couldn’t go any higher.”

Faultlines, quakes and the future

57110ec5c46188f6018b45f2.jpg“What will you do?”  Gertruida sits back with a wicked smile. “An earthquake is a distinct possibility, you know?”

Talk in Boggel’s Place has been slow recently. Discussing the government’s total lack of respect for the needs of ordinary citizens had become boring and the almost-daily political scandals have finally dulled the senses to such an extent that talking about them seemed superfluous and unnecessary. Vetfaan reckons that experiment with the frog in the luke-warm water now includes America, England, Europe, most of Africa and the Middle East. “People have become desensitised,” he said, “by being overloaded with crises and misery. We just don’t care anymore.”

That’s why Gertruida tried to get the conversation going again by broaching a new subject. So far, she’s not having much success.

“So,” Servaas takes up the bait, “you’re saying the Milnerton Fault runs through Cape Town, the Cape Flats and approaches Koeberg Nuclear Plant?”

“Yep. Koeberg is only 8 km from the fault. And that fault was the cause of the major quake in ’69 and a lesser one in 2004.  So, my question stands: what do you do when such a catastrophe hits Koeberg? It’d be similar to  Japan’s Fukushima disaster.”

“There won’t be much one could do, Gertruida. If there were a quake, there’d be  a probability of a tsunami and the potential for a radiation leak – even a melr down. Koeberg was built to withstand a Richter Scale 7 quake – but what about a 7.2 or more? They can’t predict these things, you know?”

“You’re right, Boggel.” Servaas holds out his glass for a refill. “I simply cannot understand why they built Koeberg where they did. Right next to the city and a densely populated area. And, to top it all, slap bang on a faultline.”

“There is some good news, though.” Vetfaan holds up his hand for silence. “The government and the Russians have agreed – in principle – that we need more nuclear power stations. For all we know, they’ve already concluded the most important part of the negotiations: which palms would be greased  and how are they going to fool the public into believing the deal is corruption-free.”

“I fail to see how that is good news, Vetfaan. Nuclear energy is going to cost the taxpayers trillions of dollars. Why can’t we go with renewable, cheap energy? We have a coastline with constant wind and the Karoo and Kalahari must rank as the most sunny spots on the globe. Why build nuclear stations?”

“They can’t.” Vetfaan’s smile almost reaches his ears. “There simply aren’t enough fault lines in South Africa – and those that do exist, aren’t near sufficient water supplies to feed the turbines and cool the core down.”

“You’re not making any sense, Vetfaan.” Gertruida shakes her head. The man has a tendency to go off on a completely skew angle.

“But nothing does, Gertruida. Why even plan a nuclear facility? Who benefits from that? Why the negative approach to renewable energy?” He leans closer to whisper: “I’ll tell you: because the private sector won the race for renewable energy. The government had been caught napping – again. So now, Escom tries to ignore these wind farms and solar installations, so they can  justify the building of nuclear stations. It’s a short-sighted, stupid approach.

“But…if they follow Koeberg’s example, they have to build these stations on geological fault lines. That’s why we’re establishing a new pressure group here, today.”

“Wha…?”

“Yes, my friends. Faultline Underneath New Nuclear Installations will petition the minister to remind him to build the new facilities near big cities, masses of water and on a major fault line. Once the movement has gained momentum, they’ll have no option but to pass the idea on to dear Mr Mugabe, who’ll be happy to build the station next to Kariba. There. Problem solved.”

People often think that the talk in Boggel’s Place is superficial and of no consequence. They’re wrong. While many of their arguments might rest on logical faultlines which often wreck what they considered to be brilliant debating points, some of their debates – often quite surprisingly – actually contain real solutions to very real problems.

Unfortunately, they react to the country’s problems much like you and I do. They scoff, try to joke their way out of worry, and then revert to the safe subjects, like the drought, the quota system in rugby or the SABC hearings. These, they agree, are serious matters and should not be joked about.

But if you want to see them laugh out loud, you may want to mention the famous leader who said the ruling party once had a membership of 100.2 million. That is quite an achievement for a country with a total population of approximately 55 million. That’s when Boggel will make his now-famous remark: you cannot build a successful political party on the faultline of stupidity. He says he doesn’t want to offend anybody and that the remark is neither racist nor Van Riebeeck’s fault – it’s just that he can’t wait for the results of the next election. He also says that, if that election goes wrong, it’d be worse than Koeberg melting down.

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…

The Horizon Hunter #3

The only baby picture of Mo…

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

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

Mo smiled and thanked the group at the bar.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

To be continued…

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 … ”

“Any colour, as long as it’s black…”

1910Ford-T“That’s what old Henry Ford said back then about his cars.” Gertruida folds the newspaper with a sigh. “I suppose it was acceptable in those days. We are currently far too inclined to be sensitive about these things. Just look what’s happened in Stellenbosch: two young ladies expelled for painting their faces purple. Some insist that they were doing the blackface-thing.”

“Blackface? What’s that?” As usual, Servaas displays his ignorance of trending news.

“Look, here’s the picture of the ladies, all dressed up to attend a student theme function as blackfaceinterstellar spacewomen.” She holds up the picture. “Hard to see any racist slur in that.”

“That looks like purple.” Vetfaan says after a few moments. “And they got expelled for that?”

“What’s a blackface?” Servaas persists.

“Well, you see, it’s an old theatre tradition. When white people portrayed so-called black characters, they used to paint their faces black. Many, many well-known actors did that, including  Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Irene Dunne, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Chester Morris and George E. Stone. At the sinterklaas-002time, this wasn’t seen as racist – rather it introduced audiences to Afro-American culture…or so some historians say. Remember Zwarte Piet? In the Netherlands he’s a much-loved character. Or…to be more precise…he used to be universally accepted as Santa’s helper. But, sadly or not, even his role and character has become the centre of a debate on racism. Some say it’s bad, others don’t.

“The point is this: times have changed. Things that were generally acceptable fifty years ago, are now frowned upon. Today, society does not accept the blackface on face value alone any more. The calendar has ticked over to 2016 and people are much more sensitive about these things than in the previous centuries. No longer are we prone to joke about heritage or race – it’s become a serious matter.” Gertruida finishes with a flourish, happy that she’s made her point.

Fuck white people“Um…” Kleinpiet turns to page three. “If that is true about Stellenbosch, what about these students in Johannesburg? This is the Wits law school, so they have the right to free speech, I suppose. And see what the University had to say about it: ‘The university’s management said it had been advised that legally‚ the campaign may not be a violation of Constitution‚ which provides for freedom of expression unless it constitutes incitement to cause harm. “In this instance‚ while the messages are certainly hurtful‚ we have been advised that they may not directly incite harm.’.”

“Ag, Kleinpiet, racial tension is as old as the hills, man. Since the beginning of time, people have taken to accentuate differences – colour, culture, tradition, religion – the whole lot.” Boggel serves another round, trying to ease the tension in the bar. “It’s a bit silly, really, when you think about it. Look at our country – we are all here, moulded together into a single nation. Why on earth spend so much time trying to alienate each other, while we should be working together to build a better future for later generations? You know what’s happened? We’ve lost the vision. We’re destroying the dream. If we cannot find a way to live together in harmony, we’ll destroy each other. Banning two girls with purple faces and pussyfooting about freedom of speech are just symptoms of a society grappling with deep-rooted insecurities. While we are so terribly conscious of race, we are polarising what needs to be united. I find that exceedingly sad.”

Gertruida, at loss for words for a while, eventually nods. “I’ve got two quotes for you. The one is from Robert Sobukwe, who said: . ‘The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race. In our vocabulary therefore, the word ‘race’ as applied to man, has no plural form.’ This was in 1959. The other is by Henry Ford himself: ‘I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.

“These two men made statements we can take to heart at this point in our country’s development. Sobukwe emphasised that we belong to one family. Ford maintained that our actions today determine our future – and that the past is of little consequence. Both were saying we must look ahead, not back. We should never poke fun at other cultures, that’s true, but we must stop skewing social morals, for goodness’ sakes! How can we object to purple faces and turn a blind eye to racist graffiti?

“It’s time for us all to start accepting some facts. We do have a colonial past – like most of the world. Slavery was accepted by our forefathers – it doesn’t imply that we still embrace the concept. Cecil John Rhodes did live here and he contributed both positively and negatively to history. Many individuals and groups forged the country into what it is today – from Kruger to Verwoerd – and we cannot change that history, even if we wanted to. That’s why Ford is correct: the only history worth anything, is the history we make today. I do so wish people bear that in mind whenever somebody wants to polarise society for political gain. Even our prez, when he sings about shooting the farmers.”

She falls silent, eyeing her little audience. There is another quote from Ford she’d like to tell them about, but she decides it’ll sting too much. No, better to remain silent on that one. It’ll only cause a protracted debate that’ll go around in circles forever, Still, it’s one of her favourites.

‘As long as we look to legislation to cure poverty or to abolish special privilege we are going to see poverty spread and special privilege grow…’

“…I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near…

“....It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping.”         Dan Heymann

 

 

The Porcupine and the Coconut

154768913“So now the president is offering to pay back the money – at last? After all those commissions and enquiries he simply ignored and laughed away in parliament?” Servaas puts down the paper with a sarcastic smile. “I’d say that’s mighty big-hearted of the man to eat humble pie for a change.”

“Ag, Servaas, you’re being your old facetious self again!” Gertruida throws her hands in the air in mock horror. “It’s all about not fighting the battles you cannot win. The Constitutional Court is about to hear the case and the municipal elections are just around the corner. He’s performing plastic surgery on the wrinkled face of the governing party -even though he knows it’ll leave lasting scars. Better to cut your losses than to erect a house on sand.”

“He’s good at that,” Vetfaan smiles. “Erecting things, I mean.”

They giggle about that for a while. Then Gertruida tells them of the porcupine and the coconut…

***

One day, she says, Porcupine found a coconut in the desert. Now, this was a strange thing, for the coconut was completely out of place: it simply didn’t belong there. Porcupine wondered about this, but when he shook the coconut, he heard the milk swill around inside.

“Now this thing may be very precious,” the porcupine mused, “I shall take it to my home to prove how farsighted I am. Nobody else has one like this – they’ll all admire me for being so clever to own a coconut that’ll benefit all. I’ll wait until it starts germinating, then I’ll plant it. It’ll become a huge tree, with fruit and shade.”

images (20)Oh, and how the other animals admired Porcupine’s new object! Zebra liked the hair on the surface, while Gemsbok thought it resembled the tsammas that fed him during dry seasons. Elephant sniffed at it, thought it was foreign, but still said it was a nice thing to have.

But in all communities you’ll find that not everybody accepts what others admire. Hare, for instance, asked what good does the coconut do, sitting there on a shelf in Porcupines house? And Owl, wise as always, remarked that such a thing could only bring bad luck if it were to start growing.

“Keep it on the shelf – don’t try to do anything with it. As a showpiece it’ll be okay, but if you really think planting such a tree will be useful, you’ll only be disappointed.”

And so the coconut stayed in Porcupines house, where the other animals  could see it. Although some maintained that it underlined Porcupine’s powers, after a while others started doubting it. They asked owl to explain.

“It doesn’t belong here, see?” Owl shrugged. “We are used to living in the desert. Our world is a harsh one, where you survive because you understand the circumstances. Now that coconut…well, when it starts growing, it’ll need water and nourishment and lots of care. More importantly, if Porcupine really tries to grow here, it’ll steal our precious water. And, mark my words, it may survive a good season or two – but when times are tough, or it becomes too big and thirsty,  it’ll die. And to what avail, I ask you? If anything out here can’t contribute to our well-being, it’ll simply be a thief and a scoundrel that’ll rob us of our livelihood. No, it might be a nice thing to look at, but in the end Porcupine will regret taking it home.”

Porcupine ignored such remarks, of course. Instead, it watched as the coconut sprouted a few little roots and started growing a stem.

“Oh, how beautiful my coconut is!” Porcupine was  very proud. “In all the desert, this will be the most beautiful of all things. I shall care for it, make it grow, and the others will see my powers.”

To keep the coconut alive, Porcupine had to water it every day. Whenever its roots became dry, its fragile leaves drooped and hung limp. No longer was the coconut able to sustain itself with its own milk and oil – Porcupine had to spend his days carrying water from the little fountain that supplied water to all the animals in the desert.

One day, the animals gathered to discuss the situation. Coconut was using so much water, there was almost nothing left for them.

“Let us get rid of Coconut,” Hare said. “Coconut must fall!”

Many of the other animals simply nodded, because their mouths were too dry to speak.

When Porcupine heard this, he became exceedingly angry. “We,” (Porcupine loved using the royal plural), “have brought this wonderful thing to the desert. If you do not revere Coconut for it’s beauty and power, you’ll regret it. Moreover, Coconut provides shade for you to protect you from the sun.”

“Protect? Protect!?” Hare was furious. “It has grown so high that even the birds cannot nest in its silly things it calls branches. As for us down here, it only provides shade for you. Coconut has left us with no water and no shade. You, Porcupine, have brought great hardship upon us.”

For a long time the animals only complained like this, but nobody dared face Porcupine with his terrible quills. And then, at last, the fountain dried up completely. It was no longer possible for Porcupine to sustain the tree he had planted. Some animals died. Some animals sought for a new home.

In the end, all the animals suffered.

Ever since then, Porcupine had to hide from the rest of the animals, and had to search for food at night. His wonderful Coconut had ruined his reputation as a powerful creature. Walking around in daylight, proud of the object of his power, became impossible. Instead, he became a shadowy figure of the night, causing the other animals to scorn him as he dug around for roots in the moonlight.

It took a long time, but in the end Porcupine secretly wished he had never found the coconut.

By then it was too late.

***

“Well, that’s a nice story, Gertruida. I don’t understand why you felt like telling it now, but I’m sure there’s a moral  hiding in it somehow.” Servaans beckons for another round of beers. “But to get back to the point: do you really think the prez is going to pay back the money?”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “The fountain, Servaas, has dried up. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a heavy thud one of these days. Tall trees do that when they crash to the ground.”