Category Archives: South Africa

Coulrophobia is alive and well..

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s  Greek word, isn’t it?”

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

“Huh?”

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

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

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

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The Pig, the Hogs and the Rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Rolbos Declaration

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Credit: Daily Maverick

We, the citizens of the minor little small town of Rolbos, wish to express our appreciation to all who have ensured the imminent release of the previous Public Protector’s report on the alleged misconduct of our president. Due to her fearless approach, the truth is now out: the rot of corruption has eaten to the core of our government.

 

We also wish to make known our dismay at the number of lawyers and other legal practitioners who have assisted some elected officials to conduct their affairs at a less than ethical level.

Furthermore, we fail to understand why so many, for so long, have stood by quietly, while all around them Rome was burning. Ministers and other officials, even the NEC, must have known how corrupt individuals managed their affairs. Was their silence due to some form of complicity? Did they, too, benefit from the prevailing criminality of (supposedly) their superiors? How deep, indeed, did the rot spread? Given the vigorous defense and support the president had received in the past, we are left with the overwhelming suspicion that the High Court in Pretoria  today only touched upon the tip of a very sick iceberg.

On a more positive note, we anticipate huge changes in the political scene of our country. Indeed, the recent municipal elections already suggested a massive change in the political mood of society. While the more loyal rats may choose to cling to the sinking SS Zuma, intelligent politicians (yes, we believe – despite evidence to the contrary – such individuals exist) will be gathering around the lifeboats and any other floating flotsam and jetsam left, soon after the boiler room explodes.

We pledge our support to any and all members of society who believe in a brighter future for our country. And, please, we urge all citizens to respect the lives and property of those who want to contribute towards hope, constructive engagement and peace. Venting anger and frustration on the already-crumbling infrastructure, will only make the road to recovery more inaccessible.

And finally, as a gesture of our sincere appreciation, we hereby offer the Freedom of Rolbos to the remarkable lady who had the guts to do her job with due diligence.

We salute you, Advocate Madonsela, and wish you all the best for the future. One day, when you are president, Rolbos will boast that we were the first to step forward and invite you to come and enjoy the freedom of our unique little town . Our esteemed barman – himself a man of integrity and honour – has already gathered the citizens in a guard of honour. While you may not find the time to visit us in the near future, we are quite prepared to wait.

After waiting for more than a decade for something to give us hope, a few weeks or months won’t make a difference. May we suggest the weekend after the president finally resigns? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful celebration – a true Kalahari Party?

The Circus Lion of Society

2B66E2C400000578-0-image-a-56_1439753878897.jpg“Isn’t it strange how some people manage to convince themselves that they  – or their deeds – are invisible? Fact is: the things you have done and said in the past, remain as historical facts. And, what’s more, we live in a digital age in which information is not only freely available, but it also spreads at the press of a button.”

“Ja, Gertruida, that is true for Trump and Zuma. No matter how much they’d like to bury the past under a heap of horse manure, there just aren’t enough horses around to help them out. Their actions – or lack thereof – remain as timeless accusations against their characters. It simply won’t fade away as the days and months roll by – in fact, they become more visible.”

“Society,” Gertruida pouts like she does when she’s in her cynical mood, “has become a circus lion, Vetfaan. We’ve been cowed into subjection, tortured to submission and dominated into impassive insensitivity.Where is that steadfast honesty and integrity our forefathers were so famous for….”

“At least some of them,” Vetfaan interjects, ignoring Gertruida’s disapproving frown.

“…and fought for so hard?” Gertruida ignores the taunt. “And, let me remind you: this never was a white or brown or black issue. Sure, we had some very bad apples spread widely through the development of our country, but somehow our spirit of adventure always had a foundation of justice to it. The Great Trek and the Freedom Struggle had more in common than meets the eye: both were quests for freedom from oppression and both were driven by men and women who sought civil justice. The methods differed, but the basic premise was the same.

“Somewhere along the line, however, we always seem to muddle things up. Power corrupts, Vetfaan, and that’s the bottom line. Too much power ends up in the very same oppression we tried to escape in the first instance.”

“That’s when we become circus lions?” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow.

“Sure. A lion is a vicious animal, a superb hunter and known as the king of the jungle. Then man comes along with a whip and beats the natural instincts out of him. The lion submits, forgets who and what he was, and becomes a plaything – a party trick to amuse the crowd. If the lion believed in himself, he’d easily overpower the man with the whip – he’d snap the ringmaster in two, jump out of the ring and go back to being a lion. But the poor animal has lost the will to fight. He’d rather jump through a few hoops to earn his measly dinner of donkey chops than roam free and live off kudu steaks.”

“Okay, so we’ve become a nation of cowards. What’s next?”

Gertruida stares at her friend for a second or two before answering.

“Time. That’s the answer. That, and the power of history. Lions don’t keep record of who growled what and when – they lack the skill of understanding history. And to them there’s no yesterday and no tomorrow – they eat, hunt and sleep as and when the need arises. We, on the other hand, cannot escape the past and are very much aware of the future.

“Nations – throughout history – have gone through periods of oppression. There have been autocrats, dictators and madmen throughout the ages, who’d thought their whips would be enough to keep the lion of society at bay.” She sighs, orders another beer and shrugs. “Name one empire – one single leader – who has survived it’s own injustices? Don’t even bother answering that, Vetfaan, we both know the answer.”

“So America and South Africa are in the same boat?”

“No, my friend. We are at the point where the lion is about to snap the whip in two. America’s circus is still in training…”

‘Survivor’ in the Kalahari?

survivor-logo.jpg“We need tourism.”

Gertruida’s remark makes them all sit up. While they are used to her coming up with some very strange ideas, this one strikes them as particularly odd. When Servaas – rather cautiously – reminds her that they have chosen to live in Rolbos especially, to escape the madness other people accept as ‘civilisation’ (at the same time reminding her of the dangers posed by foreigners like ISIS and Trump), Gertruida simply shrugged.

“Look, it’s a question of economics. We need a new borehole and the potholes in Voortrekker Weg needs filling. We have two choices: either we slash away at our budgets for sitting around in Boggel’s Place, or we get other people to pay for our amenities. I don’t know about you, Servaas, but I’d prefer the second option.”

Of course, this makes a huge lot of sense to the group at the bar. Why fork out good money when visitors would not only solve their problems with the infrastructure, but also boost Boggel’s profit…which in turn would reduce the cost per glass? Simple mathematics. They all nod.

“But how? We have a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Sure, we have plenty of sand and a lot of sunshine, but that would not draw tourists – for that they go to Etosha and Kgalagadi, where people get to see animals and lodge in luxury. We can’t compete with that.” Vetfaan shrugs. “Unless they want to see sheep, that is.”

“That’d only draw people from New Zealand, Vetfaan. We don’t want that after the game on Saturday.”

“No, we have to create an event. Something that’d catch the attention of people. And if we get TV-coverage, that’d generate a lot of money.” Boggel likes the idea. “Maybe a literary festival or a music show or something.”

“Yeah right! People are going to drive all the way from Prieska to read a book in Boggel’s Place? Or do you want them to listen to some old records? I’ve got one of Jim Reeves…”

“Nope. Don’t be cynical, Servaas. Boggel has the right idea, though. People plus TV equals income. More of either multiplies the result. The hottest thing on TV these days, is a reality show – something scary or gaudy or quite abnormal – like the American presidential debates or Survivor.”

Of course she has to explain the Survivor concept to the patrons in Boggel’s Place. The outlandish idea of exposing teams or perfectly normal people to completely insane conditions makes no sense to Kleinpiet.

“So – you ask people to pay money to participate, then you get them to pay for accommodation and food, then you make them suffer beyond human endurance, then the TV companies show it to some overweight couch potatoes sipping beer….and then you get paid millions?”

“Exactly, Kleinpiet. All we have to do is to write a proposal and get BBC of CNN interested. The rest is up to them. We sit back and count the money…”

Like most ideas generated after a few beers in Boggel’s Place, this one gets analysed with great care. Yes, they all agree, this is a sure thing – provided they come up with a novel concept. Their final proposal gets drafted that same evening.

“So, there we are. A nice little list of items with enough endurance and fear to make millions want to watch.” Gertruida glares – somewhat bleary-eyed – at the paper.

1. Sheep Dog Imitation: the team has to round up a flock of scattered sheep and chase the flock through a gate.

2. The Ostrich Race: grabbing eggs from the roosting ostrich on Kleinpiet’s farm.

3. The Kudu Relay Run: team loaded on Vetfaan’s Land Rover, with one runner chasing a kudu. When the runner tires, he gets on the Landy while another runner takes his place. Judging will involve both distance and time to catch up with the antelope.

4 The Great Lion Escape – this item still needs refining.

“I think it is a great proposal, but item 5 is just too scary to include, guys.We cannot really expect even the strongest of the strongest to endure so much pain. I think it’s inhumane.” She glances up to see if they all agree.

“No, I think this is the item that’ll draw the audience.” Servaas manages not to slur his words. “Look, we need to be real and convincing – viewers have to identify with, and understand what the contestants are going through. This one will make them want to cry, puke and bash their heads against any available wall. It’ll make them extremely angry and inconsolably sad. I think it’s a winner.”

“Shees, Servaas – you are not only a true cynic, you are the reincarnation of Machiavelli! Okay then, we’ll keep it.”

***

Two months goes by without a response from the TV moguls.

“I told you: it’s much too painful. We should have stuck to the first four items.” Gertruida smiles sadly. “But…we gave it a good try. In the meantime we’ll just have to swerve around the potholes.”

“Ja.” Vetfaan sighs. “Item 5: making the contestants sit through the South Africa – New Zealand game to see who can suffer through the entire match? Truth be told. I couldn’t. I don’t think anybody should live through it again. It’s like harakiri with a blunt saw.”

The Horizon Hunter #6

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Cape Town, 1998

Mo’s smile was gone by then. Remembering the conversation with Achmad had been bad enough – but talking about it was worse.

“You know, that man – the one who helped me get a name – well, he listened to my concerns and I remember him sitting back with a condescending smile. He told me – rather bluntly, I must add – to grow up.”

***

“What’s your problem, Mo? Do you think you’d get anywhere with the current government under the current conditions? We’re the in-between people, son. We’re not black. We’re not white. We’re a minority in numbers as well as political importance.

“Political power belongs to the north – to the Zulus and the Xhosas and the others. In the Cape you have a different racial spread, resulting in our opinions being trashed by the majority. The only power we have, is the power of money – but how do we get that? With Black Empowerment, the big money quite naturally goes up north.

“But we? We have gangs and drugs and a lot of very clever people. The government is made up of men and women with very little experience and almost no insight in the long-term expectations of common people; they want to dig into the cookie jar as deep as they can get, while they are in a position of power. So, influential businessmen – and not the white variety – are all too happy to voice their support for the government and they do it loudly. They get rewarded with contracts that earn them millions.

“And how do they ingratiate themselves with the powers that be? By cutting them in – shuffling a generous share under the table, see? It’s the most logical thing to do.

“That’s why some of us in the Cape use our brains and play the game. James has read the script, Mo. If he doesn’t play ball, he’s out on his ear.”

So what was the price of integrity, Mo asked? Ahmad laughed at that.  “Integrity? She’s a prostitute, Mo. Throw money at her and she lies down with a smile.”

***

“I can’t remember leaving Ahmad’s house. When I calmed down, I was walking along Adderley Street and I looked around. Cape Town’s streets were filled with litter and beggars. There were whores everywhere, giving me a hopeful eye. I thought back on the bad old days and remembered how clean the place used to be, how orderly everything functioned.

“And I felt the way Cape Town looked that evening.

Sea Point Promenade.jpg“Later, I sat down on the promenade and watched the white foam on the waves roll in. I was, I realised, a nobody. I had no father, no schooling, no prospects. I was part Christian and part Muslim. My genes were a mosaic; my name borrowed from an uncle. And the lofty ideals of freedom and fairness? Ah yes, those were only nice ideas, stuff only kids believe in.”

Realisation hit hard. Those terrible days in the damp and lonely cell; the nights of torture and his steadfast refusal to tell the authorities anything – it had been a pointless rebellion. He had been the protector of a system that was destroying the country. Yes, Mandela was still there, but his term of office was almost over – and who will the corrupt government appoint then? There were no great leaders to fill Madiba’s shoes, were there?

In his dark thoughts, three facts stood out quite clearly: the struggle had been in vain and the future promised only a decay of what was still left. That…and the point that he was a nobody with nowhere to go. His loyalty to the cause and dedication to change had born the most despicable fruit. His life, he realised, had been wasted.

“I went home that night. Told my mother that I needed time out. Explained how I felt. She actually understood, much to my surprise. Then I packed a rucksack, took the little money I had, and walked out of Atlantis.

“I’ve never been back.”

***

On the balmy evening of 6 March 1998, Cape Town rocked to the music of Sixto Rodriguez in the sold-out Bellville Velodrome. He sang about escaping reality. It was a stunning performance by the enigmatic and improbable artist and the audience loved it.

Outside Cape Town, a young man stood next to the N2, his thumb in the air and tears on his cheeks. He didn’t sing about escaping – he was attempting to.

To be continued…

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 #2

mandela21.jpgMo, the man of such mixed ancestry and culture, had never doubted that his passage through life would be an arduous one – to understate the obvious. His very name already suggested  – in fact: implied – a lifetime of being an In Between Man; the huge misfit in a society so diverse that even the norm was impossible to define.

So, as he walked out of the little town of Rolbos, one can understand that he felt somewhat elated. The time he had spent in the bar with the townsfolk was quite possibly the best respite he had had for a number of years; for they all sat down together, debated (without resorting to heated arguments) and tried to make sense of what passed as civilisation at the time. They had their differences, of course: Servaas, as the arch-conservative and Gertruida who tended to be more liberal (open-minded, as she termed it), could not agree on the principle of free tertiary education for all.

“Look, if you have the potential, you should be able to obtain a degree,” Gertruida had been adamant about that.

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Credit: laafriquemedia.biz

Servaas could not be swayed. “Yeah? Then you’ll have more riff-raff burning down university halls and libraries! Tell me, Mrs Know-it-all, how does it make sense to protest in favour of education while you destroy the very facility you want to study at? Those kids aren’t students – they’re hooligans. You want to hand out free, substandard degrees to everybody – just to keep the youths happy? What do you think the international acceptance of our degrees would be? I’ll tell you: they’ll smirk and ignore our graduates as idiots. No, you have to earn a degree, Gertruida – that involves time spent on your backside, studying… and not jumping around to some moronic chant, brandishing a box of matches.”

Vetfaan then asked the question they could not agree on: “Is tertiary education a right…or a privilege?”

Boggel had intervened and told them to relax – it wasn’t the students fault. “It’s a question of monkey see, monkey do, guys. Those students grew up in households where protesting was the only way to survive. At first they protested against apartheid – and we all agree that was a justified cause. Then the country settled down for a ‘new democracy’ and everything went pear-shaped all over again. The politicians promised the world and delivered a pebble – and all the while they helped themselves to the goodies in the state’s candy store. So, the parents took to the streets again. Nothing happened. They burnt municipal buildings. Nothing happened. They murdered politicians…and still nothing happened. Despite everything, the poor people had to put up with inadequate hospitals, inferior and overcrowded schools, almost non-existent service delivery, horrible sanitation and a future filled with worse conditions than they ever had in the past. Protests were the only way to draw attention to their lot and that’s what they did.

“So these kids – the students – have this as the template for change. Burn, destroy and intimidate. It’s proven successful – to various degrees – for their parents, so why not do it themselves? It is another form of township justice, a social kangaroo court of a society frustrated beyond all reasonable bounds.”

“But that doesn’t make it right, Boggel. Why must Rhodes fall, fees fall, tolls fall…and Zuma remain unscathed?”

“Wrong, Servaas. Zuma will fall. If history insists on remembering Verwoerd as the architect of apartheid, then future generations will read about the corrupt king who destroyed Mandela’s legacy.”

The conversation drifted this way and that until they all agreed that the country was in an in-between state. Gertruida summed it up.

“Death and birth share certain similarities. It may be painful. It may be slow. To the impatient it takes far too long. To the optimist, it may hold hope. In the end, it’s an inevitable process with a certain outcome. The only answer is patience – and the expectation of change. It’ll come, you’ll see.”

Mo sat down under the big old thorn tree next to the road with a smile hovering about his lips while he contemplated an unexpected thought.

“Why do I have to keep on searching for answers? Why slog away day after day, hoping for an answer beyond the horizon?  Did Gertruida not say something about the vulnerability of mothers?”

Yes, he can recall her exact words:

A mother is most vulnerable at birth. She is stripped of all dignity and completely defenseless. What is happening in the country today? I’ll tell you: she’s giving birth. It’s a painful process without dignity or respect. She’s crying out for help and understanding. The infant she’ll bear, will be a helpless struggler, unable to comprehend the challenges it’ll have to face in the future. It’s a bleak picture – but not without hope.

“So we’ll just have to be midwives, Mo. Instead of condemning her, we should ease the pain; support her in her hour of need. Understanding the process is already half the cure. And if we do, we’ll have to lend a helping hand to rear the newborn infant and guide it to maturity.

“You see, Mo, the country is just like you – an unenviable mix of rich and poor; an amalgamation of gene pools, cultures and beliefs. It is unique but at the same time, a picture of what is happening across the globe. We’re in the process now – it cannot be stopped. 

“The future? Ah, my dear Mo, it’s as bright – or as dark – as we choose it to be. It’s up to us.”

Mo got up slowly, the smile wider now. Why journey farther in a futile search? No, he finally had found the other side of the horizon. He gathered his few belongings and returned to the road. Not for a moment did he wonder what the Rolbossers would say when he – once again – pushed open those swing doors of Boggel’s Place.

Nine Toes’ Penny

1010396.jpgThe day Nine Toes disappeared in the Kalahari remains shrouded in mystery. Gertruida says there has to be a logical explanation, but Servaas – in an uncharacteristic pensive way – reckons one should never dabble with superstition or magic. Vetfaan dismisses the whole episode as a myth while Boggel only smiles and reminds them that the Kalahari is a great keeper of secrets.

Nine Toes, the Bushman, used to visit Rolbos occasionally. Way back then, he’d saunter in to Boggel’s Place with a casual smile and a cheerful greeting. He did this when he had something to sell: sometimes a few strings of beads, at others something more significant like an old coin or a rusted pocket knife. He’d explain these finds by telling them about the abandoned wagons of the old Dorslandtrekkers – the Afrikaners that that tried to escape British rule by trekking to Angola through the merciless desert which killed so many of them.

“There are wagons out there, Mister Boggel, just like the people left them. Eish! Many of them are almost worn away by the wind and the sun by now, but some things remain – if you knew where to dig in the sand. In the rusted tins and leather sacks, one may find strange things.” And with that, he’d hold out a handful of Kruger Pounds or maybe a ring or a necklace.

Nine Toes was rather aptly named. Many years ago a surprise meeting with a cobra – in the dead of the night – resulted in the snake being decapitated and a young Bushman contemplating his rapidly swelling big toe. He knew what would happen once the poison spread and did the only thing he could. When Vetfaan once said he didn’t believe a word of that story, Nine Toes produced the evidence the next time he visited Rolbos. The shrivelled up, dried-out toe silenced his critic completely.

Servaas had tried – many times – to find out where Nine Toes’ wagons were, but the man shook his head.

“Mister Servaas, leave those wagons to rest where they are. They supply me with a means to survive and they deserve to be undisturbed. There are graves there, too. Six of them. Long ago they had wooden crosses with names but now only the rocks on them tell you where they are. Four small ones, two big ones. And the spirits? They are there, too. They talk to me. They don’t want to be disturbed.”

Now that, of course, drew a sharp rebuke from Oudoom; but Nine Toes remained unfazed. He wasn’t talking about ghosts, he said, but spirits. There was a difference, he maintained.

“A ghost has a body, a face, a voice. When a ghost touches you, his fingers burn like ice. But a spirit…no body. No voice. A spirit can move right through you and you’ll never know. But take time, Mister Servaas, to sit down and talk with a spirit, and you’ll get an answer; not in words, but here.” He tapped the side of his head. “Spirits are soft, mostly kind and always ready to listen.”

Servaas scoffed, which only made Nine Toes shrug. An ignorant, sceptic old man could not be blamed for not believing him, after all. Oudoom remarked that that was the problem with the world those days: people believed in the most absurd things. No, Nine Toes countered, that was wrong.

“We must welcome the spirits, Mister Oudoom. They share this world with us. Sometimes they go away – I don’t know where – but then they return again. I’ve heard you people talking about angels – it’s the same thing, I think. Only, the spirits I know of don’t have wings and they don’t shine. They are. That’s all. Like the wind, they don’t move with feet. But just like you can feel the wind, I can feel the spirits. Eyes can’t see them, no, only your heart.”

Gertruida reckoned that one must not dismiss such arguments. Africa is a continent of superstition and myth – which may overlap remarkably with reality. “It’s a state of mind,” she said, “a way of thinking. We are, truth be told, the result of our upbringing. You grow up in a Christian home, so you never question the ideology. The same thing applies to all religions and certain philosophies: they get so ingrained in your mind that you never take time to dissect what – exactly – you believe in.” She smiled at that point and made a dismissive gesture. “Live and let live, I say. If Nine Toes believes in spirits, let him be. We’re not going to change it.”

But Nine Toes wasn’t finished. “Sometimes we house those spirits. They stay here.” He thumped his chest. “Other times, they live in animals. Snakes house bad spirits. Strong spirits prefer lions. My father is an elephant.”

That was one bridge too far. The group at the bar fell silent and stared at the ceiling. Arguing with Nine Toes would have been an exercise in futility – agreeing with him, equally unthinkable.

***

Then, yesterday morning, a strange thing happened. During the night, Vrede barked so much that Boggel had to get up. He checked his bedroom, the house, the street outside…nothing.

But that morning, a copper coin– obviously old – was found on Boggel’s veranda. Boggel picked it up and placed it on the counter. Gertruida came in a while later and gasped.

“Where on earth did you find this, Boggel?”

“Oh, on the doorstep. Somebody must have dropped it.”

“No way, Boggel! This is an 1853 penny with the bust of young Queen Victoria. Very rare. Nobody carries such coins about in their pockets! It’s a collector’s item.”

As Boggel turned the coin over, Vrede started barking again outside. Vetfaan came in and asked what was bothering the dog.

“Dunno. He’s been acting strangely since midnight. Bark, bark, bark all the time.”

“Well, he’s outside now, hair on his neck all erect, barking at the ground.”

Gertruida got up suddenly and walked out. Then she called them all over.

“Look, a print.” She pointed at the track in the sandy sidewalk. Vrede was standing a yard away, obviously annoyed at the spoor.Eyes fixed on the track, there was no mistaking what was irritating the town’s dog.

“Mmm…interesting.” Vetfaan bent down to have a better look. “It’s a brown hyena. Been a long time since last I saw one in the area.”

9 toes.jpgAnd so the group went back to the bar to have a cold one and chat about the strange coin Boggel had found.

Which is a pity.

Had they looked at the spoor a little more closely, they would have noticed a missing toe. And then, when the months went by and their favourite Bushman never showed up again, they would have understood.