‘When Susan was twenty-one, she and Francina were sitting on their porch one sunny spring morning. Life was sweet. CJ Jnr wrote home every week, telling them about his happy life as game ranger. Because he had grown up among the mix of cultures in the Kalahari, he found working with Zulus quite easy. The two women were talking about his latest letter when Francina felt a twitch of pain on the left side of her neck. Her hand went up to examine the area. And then she felt the lump.’
Gertruida says – because she knows – that Life is never a straight line. Just when you think you’re winning the game, the winger drops the ball five yards short of the tryline. Or the guy at silly point drops a sitter. Or somebody says something about expropriation of land without compensation. She says these mishaps are important, otherwise we’d never know when to be happy.
‘The nearest doctor was in Upington, a certain young man who’d just started practicing there. Geel used the pickup they normally utilised for the natural remedy herbs, to transport the two women to see the man. What they imagined would be a short consultation, turned into a week-long’s worth of agony.’
Francina had an extremely malignant form of breast cancer. Because it had spread, there was no sense in trying to operate on the tumour. Some journals contained articles on a new field of medicine, but chemotherapy was not widely available – maybe at teaching hospitals for selected cases, but definitely not for a terminal patient in the faraway Kalahari. The young doctor, Herman Viljee, sympathised – but he was also honest in the most kindly manner.
‘It is a matter of time, Mrs Bothma, I’m sorry. I can help you with pain and support you and the family in any way I can, but the outcome of this is predictable.’ And then he spent two precious hours, explaining again and again the results of the biopsy he had done, the pathologists report, and the prognosis.
‘Men are such predictable animals,’ Gertruida says in her knowing way. ‘No matter what the circumstances are, they are always aware of gender. These days the world is trying to rid itself from sexism, but that is a lost cause. The day a man does not respect the beauty of a woman; or doesn’t step back at a door, or doesn’t compliment elegance – why, that’s the day we all deny who and what we are. The key, of course, is the word ‘respect’.
‘Be that as it may, Doctor Viljee could not but help noticing the innocent beauty of Susan Bothma at his patient’s side. In those days doctors were very much aware of ethics and what was considered to be proper. Viljee took note, that’s all. But deep inside (if he were completely honest with himself) he promised himself that he’d like to see her again in the future, when the time for such advances was appropriate.’
Geel took the women back to the village. A paper bag full of morphine drops and aspirin tablets sat on the seat between Francina and Susan. There wasn’t much to say. To discuss such matters was to try to avoid the ultimate outcome. It was time to absorb, reflect, rebel and accept – and that is exactly what the corrugated road to the village afforded them.
However, when they arrived back home, the aged old Andries was waiting on the steps of the stoep of their house.
‘I know, Miss Fransie. I had a dream. And I’m sorry.’ He held both Francina’s hands in his as the tears streaked down his dust-coloured cheeks. ‘But life comes and life goes. Seasons. Once we are young and once we are old – if we are lucky to live through the years. We should never be afraid of the journey, Miss Fransie. Every step is a blessing, even the hard ones.’
And, oh! He said, he’d already spoken to Mister CJ. There was no need to hide anything – they were in this together. The journey wasn’t for just one person. They’d see: the journey would bless them all.
‘And so it was,’ Gertruida says. ‘Viljee’s medication helped, but it was Andries’s remedies – especially his root-cure – which relieved the pain and anxiety Francina lived through in the next three months or so. She took solace in what she saw: how everybody took care of CJ and how the villagers showered them with love and affection. The morning before she died, she called everybody together, blessed them and bid them goodbye. Then she called Andries and told him it was time. The old medicine man simply nodded. He knew what to do.
‘It was during a prayer at the funeral service, led by Oudoom in Upington, that Susan felt her hand being taken by somebody sitting down next to her. She peeked. And that’s when she knew: it was going to be alright.’
‘To describe the mindset of the Bothma family back then, you only have to consider what the average farmer feels like today.’ Gertruida makes a vague gesture with her free hand (the other holding a cold one, despite Tannie Zuma’s decrees). ‘Abandoned. Forlorn. Angry. Depressed. Like today’s farmers, they were realists. The war was drawing to a close after more than 11,000 South Africans – Black, White and Coloureds – died in battle. We simply do not know how many casualties our forces suffered, nor how many struggled with mental illness afterwards. What is known, is that the Afrikaners were fed up with the Smuts government.
‘Of course CJ and his family didn’t want to return to their previous lives. CJ Snr was incapacitated in the worst possible way, Francina was afraid that the Smuts people would jail her again and little CJ Jnr did not want to leave the village-life they had become accustomed to. When the legendary Peter Stark – the famous White Bushman of South West Africa – was 15, CJ, too, was learning the intricate culture of the Damaras, the San and the Hereros. He stood with his two feet planted in two cultural kraals – Western and the heady mix of African ways and histories. Lastly, CJ Snr felt embarrassed and guilty about his war wounds – appearing in public would have been just too painful.
‘Still the nightmares continued. One night, after a particularly violent nightmare-storm – this one ending in blood welling up from the ground – Francina soothed her husband like she usually did. What was unusual that night, was CJ’s response. He often complained that the dreams were frightfully terrible, making his feelings of guilt and incapacity even worse. A man should weather these storms, not so? A real man doesn’t sob himself awake in the middle of the night and then expect his wife to comfort him? A real hero has two legs and a string of medals.
‘Francina understood all these things. And then, on that wonderfully fateful night, she proceeded to prove to her husband that he was still the same man that left for Egypt in uniform.’ Gertruida sighs dramatically. ‘You men are all the same. Primitive, simple-minded creatures. Once your ego get stroked, you plop over in a blissful slumber. And that, gentlemen, is exactly what happened that night. Little Susan Bothma was born in that same hut, nine months later.’
Servaas raised an eyebrow. So this is the Susan that would have a relationship with Herman Viljee…interesting!
The years that followed, were as peaceful as one could wish for. The Bothmas adapted to life in the Kalahari and the Riemvasmakers adapted to them. A house was built next to the huts – the first of many to follow. The natural remedy and CJ’s courier business continued to thrive under the care of Geel and Mister Gibson. A healthy trickle of cash flowed into the village’s coffers, where CJ saw to it that there was a fair distribution among the villagers. CJ Jnr grew into a strapping young man and little Susan was the darling of everybody.
While South Africa drifted sideways and backward on the tide of inappropriate legislation, Jan Smuts lost the 1948 election and the Nationalists eyed the prospect of a republic. Unfortunately, that is not all they did. History would judge the leaders of that time harshly, and rightly so.
Malan and Strijdom used the churches, the newspapers and the radios to re-educate an entire nation. Blatant propaganda focused on the danger of communism and the deterioration of independent African states. The progressive destruction of the country’s motto – ‘Ex Unitate Vires’, In unity lies our Strength – created an unbridgeable divide between the peoples who live in this beautiful country.
‘CJ Jnr wanted to see the world, but he had no formal education. Francina and Geel had taught him to read and write, and he had a natural aptitude for numbers. His father knew the boy could not spend his life in the village. Life in the city was not an option. In the end he wrote – without much hope – a letter to Ian Player, a war veteran like himself, who at that time worked in the Natal Parks Board, one of the early South African efforts to conserve game, nature and the environment.
‘Much to CJ’s surprise and Francina’s joy, Player not only answered the letter, but also invited CJ Jnr to come and see him. The rest, you guys know, is history. CJ Jnr was a fierce fighter for RR – the NPO he started. Rhino Rescue remains testimony to his singleminded goal in life to protect those huge pachyderms from extintion. He died in his eighties, peaceful and content with his contribution to Life on Earth.’
Gertruida wipes away a tear. ‘At least he had that, didn’t he? His father died in the sixties, a rather fortunate situation, for he was spared the hardship and anguish of the forced removal of the Riemvasmakers from their ancestral grounds. He did, however, witness the wonderful relationship between little Susan Bothma and Herman Viljee. I suppose one may think that he died in peace, despite the loss of Francina, the poor man.’
The group at the bar sits up. ‘Francina died? Why?’
To be continued…
Giuseppe Verdi: Va pensiero
Some of the words:
|Arpa d’or dei fatidici vati,||Golden harp of our prophets,|
|perché muta dal salice pendi?||why do you hang silently on the willow?|
|Le memorie nel petto raccendi,||Rekindle the memories of our hearts,|
|ci favella del tempo che fu!||and speak of the times gone by!|
‘The Smuts government had a problem, see?’ Gertruida, with her vast knowledge of everything, tries to sketch the situation in South Africa when CJ Snr returned. ‘With their pro-British stance, they lost a lot of Afrikaner support. In fact, had they not involved the country in World War II, we might never have had a policy of Apartheid. The Nationalists rallied the common voters behind them to oust Smuts in 1948, but only developed their racial policies in the 50’s and 60’s.
‘Be that as it may, Smuts was no fool. He could not allow CJ Bothma to return as a martyr. Having lost a leg and the function of his right arm, CJ’s injuries made him the perfect frontman for those opposed to the war. After all, was his wife not in prison for exactly that? If the Ossewabrandwag got their hands on the injured soldier, it would be another painful thorn in the side of the government.’
Smuts was a brilliant tactician. He arranged a hero’s welcome for Rifleman Bothma, the brave soldier who had helped the Allies to be victorious over the evil Germans. Even back in 1943, governments the world over relied on propaganda, twisted news and indoctrination. They hated – just as the politicians of today – to confuse a good piece of fake news with real facts.
The problem with Francina also received attention. Smuts pardoned her, sent her shopping for a stunning outfit and saw to it that she was waiting on the pier when her husband was wheeled off the Athlone Castle. A battery of photographers from the Argus, Sunday Times, Landstem and Brandwag waited behind a guard of honour to supply more fodder for the propaganda mill. Even the overseas press was present.
The photographs told the story. Francina, standing alone in her new dress. The infantry battalion forming the guard of honour. In the background, the mayor of Cape Town, two beaming generals, a military band and several religious leaders. The canon on Signal Hill boomed seven times, sending up clouds of smoke. And then, arriving in a black limousine: Smuts himself, to deliver a moving welcome speech. All this appeared in print and on the radio. Nobody said anything about Francina’s pale countenance, the twisted white little handkerchief in her hands, or the tears that streaked silently over the sallow cheeks.
Most of the news articles also mentioned the generosity of the government in booking the ‘fortunate couple’ in at the luxurious Mount Nelson Hotel.
‘That evening, when at last they were alone, Francina lay down on the bed, holding CJ as if she never wanted to let go. By then, the shock of his appearance had worn off and she no longer avoided looking her husband in the eye.’ Gertruida shakes her head. How brave that woman must have been! First possibility that her husband was dead and then the resistance movement. Then jail. Then this – the remnant of the man she used to know. ‘Of course we don’t know what they said to each other that night. What we do know is this: the next morning when Smuts had planned an interview on radio for them, the officials found no trace of the couple in their luxurious Mount Nelson room. They had disappeared during the night. Poof! Just like that, they were gone!’
To be continued…
‘Nobody, especially the colonial power of England, ever managed to subdue the Afrikaners, you know.’ Gertruida – who knows everything – frowns. ‘Not the English, especially, after the way they treated women and children during the Anglo-Boer War. South Africans have a very long memory, understand – all of us – and we nourish and care for our personal grudges with great compassion.
‘So, during WW II, many Afrikaners objected to fighting for England. They formed the Ossewabrandwag and a paramilitary force called the Stormjaers and made their objections very clear.
‘Well, initially, Francina didn’t care much for these groups. She concentrated on her work at the hospital and cared for CJ Jnr. But then CJ, the father of her son, disappeared in the Sahara conflict. The last she had heard of him, was a postcard from a place she never had heard of – El-Alemein. And then she heard about the big fight there on the radio…and CJ disappeared. Now, if you really, really wanted to upset an Afrikaner woman, you disrupt the harmony in her house. You want trouble, you do that. It was bad enough that CJ was sent to North Africa, but fearing him to be dead made her mad.’
For a while – the first two months after CJ’s disappearance – Francina went about her daily tasks in a fog of automated actions. She nursed without passion. At night she put little CJ Jnr to bed without a bedtime story or a prayer. She hardly slept, fearing somebody would come with news and she’s miss the knock on the door. The matron at the hospital called her in, sympathised, but told her to stay at home. Patients were complaining she said. Francina just nodded, and like the automation she had become, went home to sit in front of the radio.
It is there she heard the news bulletin.
‘Prime Minister Smuts once again urged the Ossewabrandwag and their leader, Mister Johannes van Rensburg, the erstwhile Secretary of Justice, to refrain from any anti-government actions. He called on the movement to stop dividing the country along pro- and anti-colonial lines. Smuts also reiterated that the full force of the state would be directed against the Stormjaers, which again cut the telephone lines between Johannesburg and Cape Town last night.’
Joining these forces would not bring CJ back, that much Francina knew. The objective in her mind then was to hurt the hand that snatched her husband from her side.
‘It was quite easy to slot in with the Ossewabrandwag. The secret organisation wasn’t such a big secret amongst the Afrikaners. Somebody knew somebody else who had a contact and soon Francina was visited by a man and a woman. They talked. They listened. And they approved her joining the fight against the English. Francina’s anger suited the Ossewabrandwag well. They needed trustworthy footsoldiers. After the top echelons were consulted, Francina was inducted in the Stormjaers with the oath: ‘If I retreat, shoot me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me’.
‘Her first mission was to observe the blowing up of a power line outside Boksburg. This was to have been her initiation and the start of more serious missions. To dynamite a pylon in the middle of the veld, under the cover of complete darkness, should have been an easy mission.’ Gertruida snorts. ‘But, the best laid plans of mice and men…’
The police were waiting for them they were all caught. The next day a very brief appearance in court resulted in a verdict of guilty. Francina and her comrades were sentenced to six months in prison, with hard labour. It could have been worse. Had they blown up that pylon, they might have been hanged for treason.
‘But what about the boy, little CJ?’ Precilla wipes away a tear. “What about the poor little boy?”
To be continued…
‘CJ was one of the first to start coughing in September 1918. At first he thought it was the usual cold or flu he was prone to, running around in the wind and rain while doing his errands like he did. But then he got sick. Really, really sick. It was the best thing that ever happened to him.’
When Gertruida tells a story like this, Boggel always arranges with Precilla to bring in snacks – meat pies, sandwiches and biltong. It is good for business. The whole town is there to listen and they like to drink something while eating and listening. Gertruida – who knows everything – knows she will be served free of charge. Boggel says it’s her commission.
Anyway, the Rolbossers had nowhere to go. Upington and Grootdrink were still in lockdown, so there was no sense in leaving the town. Boggel has a well-stocked store-room. Why leave? Especially when there is such a good story to share.
CJ never considered going to hospital. When he got sick, the big wave of Spanish Flu cases hadn’t hit South Africa yet. In fact, very few people knew anything at that stage about the flu that would terminate the lives of half-a-million South Africans. He was also fortunate that he got the earlier, milder form of the disease. It was the later mutation that was so lethal. With so many mouths to feed and so many street children to look after, his errand business – a primitive courier service – did not allow for any luxuries. If you got sick, you got in to bed and waited for the fever to go.
But this flu was different. It didn’t want to go. CJ got sicker by the day and started coughing up green phlegm. That’s when the little yellow child, the one they called Geel, offered to help. He was one of the fasted runners CJ had, a reliable young teenager with lively eyes and a ready smile.
Geel could speak enough English to get by, but his first choice was the language of the Khomani people. His father was from the Kalahari from where he had traveled, much like Loser, first to Kimberley and then to Johannesburg. Geel never mentioned his mother, who apparently stayed behind. His father, Tsung (actually !Kung), worked as a helper for a butcher on Market Square.
‘You need father’s help. He know sickness.’
CJ scoffed. ‘Your father? The meat-man? What – is he a doctor now?’
‘No. No doc-ter. Father will help.’
CJ remained skeptical. The discussion went nowhere. Geel did not understand why CJ was speaking about a white man’s shaman. Why, was he not offering the wisdom of his very own father? Why would CJ be so disrespectful to his family?
‘Forget I speak of father. You go doc-ter. I don’t see you no more.’ Geel left CJ lying in a pool of sweat and left in a huff. Two days later CJ sent a message, pleading with Geel to fetch his father.
Tsung was maybe 40 years old, but looked to be 80. He was shrivelled, wrinkled, bent and arthritic. He arrived at CJ’s shanty after work, just as the sun was setting in the west. He did not introduce himself as he sat down – on the floor – next to the bed. He sat there for a long time, just looking at the sick white man and listening to his breathing. He never touched him at all, nor did he say anything. After what seemed an eternity, he got up quietly and left. CJ would have laughed if he wasn’t so ill.
The next morning Geel arrived with a small pouch filled with a rather pungent powder. He was so short of breath and weak that he only managed a weak ‘What?‘
‘Father sent, He say you may die. Maybe. Perhaps. This is help. You make so.’ Geel imitated the action of somebody taking snuff, taking an imaginary pinch and sniffing the powder. CJ tried it. He almost passed out coughing.
‘The story goes that he first almost died coughing before he coughed himself back to health.’ Gertruida is obviously enjoying the story as much as her audience. ‘But, two days later the fever broke and the next day he started feeling better. There was no doubt about it, the powder did magic. He sent Geel to fetch his father, thinking to thank him. Geel would have none of it. He said if you wanted to thank somebody, you went to him. It was rude to summon somebody who helped you.
‘Well, CJ got up, walked to market square and apologised to Tsung. He said he was doing things the white man’s way, which may certainly seem rude. But, more than just saying sorry, he also expressed his thanks. Tsung smiled and nodded. Yes, he said that’s allright.
‘Then CJ did the smartest thing in all his life. He asked Tsung what was in that powder. That one question changed his life. Forever.’
To be continued…
Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that all winds are not necessarily sad. There are, for instance, Happy Winds which are completely different to the Dismal variety. Happy Winds are frivolous and naughty. They get into papers and hair and skirts. You’d recognise a Happy Wind instantly, she says, simply because its effect will make you smile.
Happy Winds also bring relief and joy as it fulfills promises (like rain), which Dismal winds never do. When you get Gertruida talking about these winds, she always tells the story of Herman Viljee and little Susan Bothma. She says it describes exactly what a Happy Wind is capable of.
Susan Bothma was a petite young lady with an athletic body and a strong mind. Born to an older couple – after years of trying to fall pregnant – she was spoiled from day one. Her room was spacious and overflowed with Teddies, soft toys, lights of various colours and soft music. The Bothma’s were an extremely rich and clever family. Their fortune was built up over many generations, starting with some shares Great-great Grandfather Loser Bothma won in a poker game in Kimberley.
Loser Bothma lived up to his name all his life. Nothing he tried ever worked or turned out to be even moderately successful. Maybe because he had nothing to lose and maybe because he was an eternal optimist, he was also a habitual gambler. The only certain thing about his gambling, was the inevitable outcome.
In 1891 he was 52 years old, digging for diamonds as a humble labourer in somebody else’s claim. (It is still unsure who owned that claim, although the family believes it was Cecil Rhodes himself). Loser knew he was way past his prime and that his later years would be spent in abject poverty. And then, one day, as he shoveled one dejected spadeful of dusty gravel after the other on to the sieve, a little gust of wind changed his fortune in the blink of an eye. He noticed the spark of reflected sunlight first and when he forced his aching back to bend a bit further, he picked up a pure blue diamond the size of his thumb. It was perfect in every way.
Of course, the diamond didn’t belong to him. But… the claim had delivered only a few, inferior quality, diamonds in the past. He was working alone. And nobody saw him pocket the stone. He went home to his dilapidated tent that night to sit down beneath the torn canvas and to consider what to do. There was no way he could claim the diamond as his own to sell; people knew him and who he worked for. A diamond that pure of that size would be impossible to sell without divulging its true origin.
For once in his life, Loser made the right decision. He buried the diamond under his mattress and continued working on the claim. He did find two or three small, insignificant diamonds, which he duly delivered to (the family believes) Mr Rhodes. And then, when his time was up, he folded his tent, stuffed the diamond in his pocket and left for the Witwatersrand, where gold fever was at its height.
Loser was careful. He had a few pounds and the clothes on his back, as well as a donkey to carry the tent, his mattress and a few pots and pans. He reached Johannesburg, pitched his tent and started looking around. At last, he heard about the gentlemen at the Rand Club. They were rich, he heard, and had a penchant for gambling – especially poker. This was, as his name indicated, a game he was most familiar with.
And so, on the evening of a warm day in December, 1894, Loser presented himself at the club and asked if he could join the game.
‘One must bear in mind,’ Gertruida says – because she knows everything, ‘that Loser was dressed in the only clothes he had. He was dirty and dusty and his hair was all over the place. The doorman threatened to throw him out. Loser showed his diamond. At that precise moment Alfred Beit arrived at the door. He, Rhodes, Wernher and Herman Ecksteen was planning on a leisurely evening of friendly poker. He saw the diamond, the scruffy, down-and-out miner and immediately invited Loser in.
One game and one game only, was offered to Loser. ‘The highest hand wins. No comebacks, no second chances.’ Beit smiled the way a hyena would. Easy game, easy prey and easy winnings. And the buy-in, Beit said, would be £ 5000, just about the price for the diamond – quite incidentally. Loser was to hand over his diamond, but Beit said everybody else was good for the credit. When Loser objected, Rhodes sent the barmaid downstairs to fetch his valise from the safe, guarded by an armed employee. The man came back to check. Rhodes raised his voice. The valise was on the table a minute later.
‘There,’ Rhodes said. selecting a document from the briefcase, ‘satisfied now?” It was a share certificate was worth just over £ 5000.
Loser swallowed hard and nodded.
They sat down in plush chairs on the first floor of the building with a beautiful view of Marshall’s Township, Loser’s opponent was selected by drawing lots. Beit won and sat down opposite to Loser.
The cards were shuffled, Loser was offered the cut and the cards were dealt in a way Loser had never seen before – five open cards in the middle with two face down in front of both players.
‘Make up the best hand of five cards and decide if you’re in. Once both players are prepared to play, the highest hand will win.’ Ecksteen, the dealer, smiled so his gold tooth showed. ‘Mister Bothma?”
Loser checked his two cards, careful not to show them to the others. He had two Kings. It was a good hand. He nodded. Beit smiled.
Beit nodded and carefully replaced his cards on the table. Just then, a Happy Wind breezed through the open window, ruffling the cards on the table. Loser saw the two aces in Beit’s hand.
‘Gentlemen, show your cards.’
Gertruida knows more about Texas Hold’em poker than what Loser did. His two kings were weaker than Beit’s two aces. ‘He stood up to go, so used was he to losing, but in those days gentlemen played like gentlemen. It was Rhodes who pointed out that a third king was laying there, face up, amongst the five open cards. Loser had a triple to Beit’s double. He had not only retained his diamond, but he also had won the share certificate in the De Beer’s Mining Company – doubling his fortune.’
Beit was gracious in defeat. ‘He offered to buy the diamond for £ 5000, which Loser was happy to do. He wanted cash for the diamond and that’s what he got. Plus the shares. However, unbeknownst to him, Beit sold the diamond the next day for double that figure, ensuring everybody ended up winners.’
Vetfaan gets up, stretches, and smiles. ‘So that’s how a Happy Wind got its name?
‘No Vetfaan, not at all. That would only come years later. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.’
To be continued…
It is not often that Rolbos rolls out the red carpet to bestow The Freedom of Rolbos on an individual. In fact, it was almost four years ago we honoured a special lady with our gratitude. Now we turn to England to salute Captain Sir Tom Moore.
Sir, at the age of one hundred, you are an example to all of us. When we locked down and your country struggled with the Covid onslaught, you embarked on the most memorable campaign of your military career. You showed us that we are so prone to finding fault and complaining, that we neglect the spirit of hope we used to have. You proved that age is no barrier for innovation and enthusiasm. And you did it all by yourself without any help. The more than £32,000,000 you collected to help your country through the crisis pales in comparison with the upwelling of goodness and kindness you rekindled in a battle-weary nation. Indeed, you are an example we should all follow. Remembering that small gestures may initiate a butterfly-effect, might just encourage us to look at Mandela Day with new eyes.
It is in great humility we offer you the Freedom of Rolbos.
You certainly deserve it, Sir.
‘At last, a minister with common sense.’ Gertruida smiles brightly as she puts down the newspaper. ‘Maroela Moola – or whatever his name is – has made a very wise decision.’
When things quieten down in Boggel’s Place, somebody will do this. They’ll make a remark and leave it hanging in the air. They call it chat-phishing and it works every time.
Boggel does the honours and asks her why?
‘It’s the taxi windows, man. They can now legally overload a taxi as long as the windows are open by at least 5 cm.’
‘And that is wise because…?’ Vetfaan has been very critical of the government’s handling of the Covid situation. ‘Does he think that’d stop the spread of the virus?’
‘Oh shush! Nothing stops that microbe, especially when you cram 14 people into a minibus! Nope, this isn’t about Covid at all. Think about the great service the minister is doing for the people.’
This time, she gets a chorus of ‘why?’s .
‘Look, the average person produces about 0,6 to 1,8 litres of intestinal gas – mainly methane – every day. Average that to 1 litre per person per day, just to make it easy. Times that by 14 passengers and 1 driver, then a taxi full of passengers produces 360 liters of gas – mainly toxic methane – per day. But they don’t spend 24 hours in the taxi, do they? With the state of our roads in mind, the load shedding and the stolen traffic lights, the average commuter spends at least an hour in a taxi every day. That means he gets exposed to 15 liters of methane per day. So, by forcing taxi’s to open windows by a fraction, the minister is saving lives. Pure logic, chaps, anybody who knows anything about intestinal gas production would have understood the minister immediately.’
‘Ah..’ Boggel nods as he serves another round. ‘I think you stole that idea from America’s Burger King. They’re saving the world by combating global warming, aren’t they?’
‘Yep, you got me!’ Gertruida laughs. ‘That advert of theirs really got the people talking! Imagine people worrying about cow flatulence and the effect of the atmosphere.’ She allows the remark to sink in. In Rolbos Vetfaan has the only cow – their precious supply of fresh milk – and nobody has yet complained about her enteric contribution to the Rolbos environment.
‘Ja, I read that too,’ Boggel says, ‘and I saw that they plan to feed their cows with a lemon-grass supplement to diminish their …er…poop. They even have an advert out with a boy singing the praises of colonic flora. Not very socially sensitive, if you asked me. It’s like Oudoom preaching about politics. Or Sersant Dreyer doing breath tests on us.’
‘It does suggest a solution to our current state of the nation, Boggel. I know Potjies Curry, the head chef at the parliamentary restaurant in Cape Town. If he starts adding lemon grass to his dishes, there’d be less hot air being vented on national TV. And that might just increase the logic to bullshit ratio we have to digest every day.’
‘You tell him that, Gertie. Save our country’s precious souls. Not from cow poop, no. From methane overdose – the political type.’
‘The problem with Gertruida,’ Boggel sighs, ‘is that she’s right all the time. And she understands the great international power-play better than most.’
‘You talking about China again?’ The frown on Vetfaan’s face tells a story. ‘We all know those guys are colonising Africa – and gaining influence all over the show. I mean, Gertruida talks about their so-called ‘investments’ in infrastructure, military and agriculture all the time. And, she says, it’s not because they are a charity organisation – they’re in it for themselves.’
He gets a nod from Boggel, ‘You’re right, of course. Like all clever investors, they want a return on their investments. Like: We’ll build you a road, but we want your diamonds. Or tobacco. Or we want to export a few of our countrymen to live and trade amongst you guys. And then, after a few decades, we’ll have you in our pockets completely..’
‘Ug. We’ve got enough problems as it is, Boggel. Imagine Uncle Jacob combining forces with Beijing…’
‘Well, according to Gertruida, your president is already in bed with both the Russians and the Chinese. This, she says, is both good and bad.’ Boggel lets the statement drift away in silence. Vetfaan – not the most patient of men – has to prompt him to go on. ‘Well, Vetfaan, it’s like this: First off – it’s bad because we’re selling off crown jewels to line our leaders’ pockets. But there is a silver lining…’
‘Oh, come on, Boggel! Get on with it.’
‘In recent years two major things have happened almost without anybody saying much about the herd of elephants that brought into the room. You see, the world is moving towards a Mafia-like state. International crime syndicates operate on a global scale – these include religious fanatics, the pirate ships that cruise the oceans, money laundering by respected companies and unholy alliances between politics and economic forces. These, you may know, combine to keep dictators in power while the international community turns a blind eye. Look, for instance, how South Africa and Zuma and the African Union tolerated Mugabe’s antics, his mass-murders and the rigged elections for 30 years. How do you explain that? It’s a game of crooked thrones, my friend.
‘Anyway, there’s another aspect that contributes to our little metaphorical elephant herd: there’s no honour amongst crooks no more. The big boys want their pound of flesh and they want it on time. They’ll give you a bit of money, but they want it – and more – back. The days of free handouts are over – the name of the game now is: I’ll scratch your back, but you’ll return the favour many times, over and over. And if you don’t…’
Vetfaan leans forward with a glint in the eye. ‘Yes? What then?’
‘Well, China showed their hand with Mugabe. Gertruida says there’ll be a ripple-effect, because there’s no way that such a thing happens without it influencing the entire region. Also, the two big powers at play here is in competition with each other. A game of international tag, if you like.’
‘So what will happen? Will China lean on our president?’
‘No, Vetfaan. Gertruida says it is far worse than that. Russia will…’
‘First they woo you. Then they screw you?’
‘True Vetfaan. The guys singing to you, are in uniform. Never forget that.’