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When a photograph changes the world…

Credtit: Reuters

Credtit: Reuters

“I refuse to look at that,” Vetfaan says as he closes the newspaper. “It’s such a sad, sad, sad picture. Somehow it tells me how sick the world has become, and I don’t want to be reminded.”

“That’s exactly why one should look at it, Vetfaan. We need to be reminded that society can simply not go on as if nothing has happened. We have to acknowledge the tragedy taking place in the Mediterranean – it is a mirror that forces us to take a good, long, hard look at what we’ve become.”

“Yes, Gertruida, I remember that other picture of the child and the vulture. It told me more about the circumstances in Sudan than all the reports in the newspapers.”

vulture-child“Oh, the one that Kevin Carter took?” Gertruida remembers all too well the famous photograph taken by the legendary South African. “He won the Pulitzer, I think. He captured – in a split-second and a single shot – the entire tragedy of the war and the famine up there. That photograph wasn’t just a picture, it was a message to us all.”

“Ah, but do you recall the girl with the penetrating eyes? Man, that was a haunting picture as well!”

afghan“You mean the photo of the Afghan girl? Sharbat Gula? Her picture was taken in 1985 by Steve McCurry and her enigmatic look conveyed so much! In her eyes, people saw despair, pain, uncertainty, even a plea for help and support. Some saw hatred there, others saw love. 

“They found her again after 17 years and National Geographic ran the story. At least we know she survived…which is more than we can say about that poor child in Sudan. Nobody knows whether she survived – but the chances are slim.”

“The problem with these photos,” Oudoom says, “is that they capture something that has already happened. We palmer1acannot change that. And, in this age where we live in denial and find all kinds of ways to explain away our guilt, photographs are brutally honest in the way it depicts horror, shame or tragedy. Look at the furore caused by that dentist in America. If that photograph didn’t start circulating  around the world, nobody would have known…or cared.”

“The world is an ostrich, Oudoom. We’re tortoises, hiding in a shell. When something horrible happens, we simply retreat to a safe place, close our eyes, and try to ignore the obvious.”

2013_06_21_075820_6_att00038“But there’s something more.” Servaas closes his eyes  as he formulates his thoughts. “I don’t understand why some images get to be these iconic photos, while others – equally strong and powerful – get ignored completely. Why don’t the pictures of the farm murders in South Africa go viral? Or, for that matter, the decay of the government’s so-called land reforms? “

2013_06_21_075820_7_att00041“Maybe society has the ability to filter what we take note of? You know? We get bombarded with so much bad news, that we have developed a  defence mechanism to protect us. And then, every so often, a graphic picture worms it’s way through the cracks and hits us with such honesty, that we are unable to block it out. That’s why photographs are so important: instead of the subjective reporting and opinions – so often pure propaganda – we are fed every day, a photograph is an objective reminder that you cannot fool all the people, all of the time. Pictures don’t lie. They tell the story of a thousand words in a single image. They force you to acknowledge reality.”

Vetfaan opens the newspaper again, unable to block out the picture in his mind. It’s just a picture, he tells himselfof something that happened far away. Just another picture…

Gertruida leans over to offer her small, white handkerchief, but Vetfaan ignores it. He’ll need something much stronger, something much bigger, before that image fades away.

If it ever does…

The Diary (#5)



I had a dream last night. A very vivid one, the details of which remain imprinted on my mind as if I had lived through every moment of it.

I felt that I was a spectator of the first moment of time. Initially there was only darkness, but then a spectacular array of light – green, yellow, blue, red – exploded and millions and millions  fragments of light scattered into the darkness. One of these fragments enlarged and became the Earth, And then it, in turn, exploded and formed many Earths. I couldn’t count them, but they sort of drifted away from each other before merging again.

Well, ‘merging’ isn’t the right word. Those worlds came together, but stayed apart. I don’t know how to explain it… It was like a herd of Springboks – while they move as one, graze together and basically act as a single group, they still remain individuals forming a larger whole. Something like that happened when the different Earths came together. There were many different Earths, but they formed one single entity. And then the dream drew me closer and I was standing on Kubu Island. In  my dream I looked out at the salt pan, and it ceased to be a barren place: it became a sea….a sea of faces, and all of them were mine. 

I couldn’t understand, so I asked the sea why all the faces were me? And then the different faces – all of them me – they all answered…and the answers were different for every face.

When I woke up, I was covered in sweat. I felt more confused than ever. And then I remembered the three Kubu Islands the old man drew in the sand. And it clicked.

We live on Earth. Our Earth. But out there, or in here, there are many other Earths. And each of them are made up of everybody and anybody that lives or ever lived. On this Earth, I am me. On the other Earths, there are many more of me. It doesn’t make sense, does it? But like there are many Kubus, there are many Earths and each Earth has a me, and everybody else.

The reason, I realised, why the old man wiped out Kubu in one of his drawings, is that things are different on the different Earths. Why? Obviously Nature is a relatively constant phenomenon. Weather patterns follow an unwritten set of rules. The Earth’s crust is subjected to changes which have scientific bases. So the way the Earth develops, is maybe similar on all the Earths.

But people, now… There are no rules for people, are there? Even small decisions or seemingly insignificant discoveries may change the world a lot. If, for instance, antibiotics had been discovered a hundred years before that doctor did tests on the piece of rotting bread, then thousands – if not millions – of people would have lived longer and contributed to society’s progress or downfall. What would have happened if Hitler lived in the 1700’s? Or if Lincoln died as a baby?

Sooo…if there are more than one Earth, there’d be as many histories as there are human whims…

Despite the terrible fatigue, I called the old man over. I drew his pictures in the sand, wiped out one, and nodded to show him I understand. He smiled. Then he redrew the Kubu I wiped out and pointed at me. He proceeded to take the little bag of herbs from his quiver, looked at me in a questioning way and spoke at length. Of course I couldn’t understand. He took to his drawings again, and sketched two stick-men in the sand. He pointed at them and pointed at the two of us. Yes, I got that: the two men on the sand represented the two of us. He drew the herb’s bag, then made the one stick-man hand it to the other. He then wiped out one, leaving a solitary stick-man in the sand. He pointed at this one, then pointed at himself.

I felt strange at that point. Strange and tired and excited all at once. The old man wanted me to take the last dose of herbs, but obviously something will happen to me. This time, his drawing was telling me, I wasn’t coming back. Why would I do that? 

Right then, the young woman joined us on the sand. Her eyes were bright and she spoke in an excited tone with the old man. His replies were calm and soothing, but he obviously agreed to something she asked. Without another word, she led me to their shelter. 


multiverse2“Gosh!” Gertruida takes a deep breath. “This is about parallel universes, the multiverse and other dimensions. Even time travel. Most astounding, I’d say.”

“Most deranged, I you asked me.” Vetfaan slugged back some peach brandy. “Mad people can be very convincing, you know? And they experience stuff – completely irrational stuff – as real. They sort of create their own reality and will be so convinced about it, that they’d be absolutely sure the rest of the world is crazy for not believing it. I don’t for one moment think he was normal when he wrote this.”

Gertruida puts on a Mona Lisa smile when she lays the diary on the counter. “Maybe you’re right, Vetfaan. But you remember how this diary was found, don’t you?”

“Of course. Some warden found it.”

“So we were told by the man that brought the diary here. So, I checked.” Her lips now form a thin, straight line. “There are no wardens at Kubu, Vetfaan. Only a type of overseer-caretaker from the local community. and he knows absolutely nothing about a book being found there.”

“But the guy who brought the book?”

“Yes. Him. The chap who initialled the receipt J.V. Oldish guy, grey hair, weatherbeaten face. With the same initials as Jakobus Visagie, known as Koos or, otherwise, Spook…”

“Oh, hogwash, Gertruida! You think it was Spook, himself? Not even a fertile brain such as yours can explain why he brought it to us, then!”

“If I’m right, Vetfaan, it’ll be in the diary. And then you’ll owe me an apology.” With a withering glance at Vetfaan , she silenced the burly farmer before taking up the book again.

(To be continued….)

Stoney Steenkamp’s Dream Factory (#3)

IMG_2578“It’s simple, really.” Stoney finally caved in and agreed to share his secret – but only after Gertruida swore she’d never breathe a word.

“Look at what’s happening in the country. All day, every day, we are bombarded with bad news. Corruption. Bribery. Farm murders. ESCOM. Strikes. Social unrests and protests. Police brutality. Municipalities going bankrupt due to inefficiency. E-tolls. Petrol prices going through the roof because the Rand is worth peanuts. Education and nursing. It’s almost as if the fabric of our society has unravelled and we are a lost nation.”

Gertruida nods. “So….?”

“What do we do about it?” He waits a second before answering his own question. “Nothing. We do nothing. We belong to a section of society that has been rendered powerless by history. No matter what you or I say, it’ll be labelled as ‘racist’ or blamed on Apartheid. And what do we do? We accept it. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned into accepting the blame for other’s mistakes. We have accepted our fate as a lost generation, just like a springbok stops running once the lion has its neck in his jaws. It’s still alive, but it knows what’ll happen next.”

“Thanks for the psychoanalysis, Stoney, but how does this tie in with your dream factory?”

“Look, there are two major opposing emotions at play here. Fear…and ecstasy. Poles apart, the outer borders of being an intelligent being. Add to that the power of suggestion.”

0 (1)Gertruida knows a lot about suggestion. Subliminal suggestion is why we follow – mindlessly so – the adverts we are bombarded with in the media every day. We get sensitised to believe certain products, and we get desensitised about other aspects of life. The trick is, she knows, to convey a message confidently and repeatedly – eventually the individual will follow the lead of whoever expresses a certain view. Advertising agencies and governments take full advantage of this simple fact and lulls the populace into buying certain products or accepting certain policies. The more aggressive the proponent and the less questioning the audience…and the more the message will be driven home with devastating accuracy.

“So, every time before you went to sleep, we had a good chat about what you could expect. Suggestion. Your brain now gears itself to think along those lines and it helps you to dream specific stuff. But that’s only the add-on. The real stuff is in the chocolate.”

By now, Gertruida cannot contain herself any longer. “Ye-e-e-s…?”

“Look, I’ve had a lot of time to look after my sheep. If they graze near the river, the flock is restless at night. However, when they feed on the stunted bushes near the hill, they are as content as our president when the Speaker silences the opposition. Now, that set me thinking. There must be something they eat that controls their moods.”

“So you found new herbs?”

Stoney smiles wryly. “No, Gertruida. I tried everything. Twigs, leaves, roots, branches. Mashed them, chewed them, cooked them…and nothing. Got diarrhoea once or twice, but that’s all. There’s something that happens in the sheep that doesn’t happen in humans. And that’s when it struck me: whatever happens, happens inside the sheep’s digestive tract…that’s where the answer lies. And whatever happens there, gets absorbed, affecting the sheep’s mood. And….some of it would be present whenever the sheep gets rid of whatever is left in its tummy.”

“Oh. My. Word!”

“Ja, Gertruida. Chocolate-coated droppings. Marvellously simple, eh? I thought it out all by myself.”

He waits until Gertruida stops gagging before offering her a double peach brandy.

“From then on, it was easy. I had the two opposing emotions: happy and scared. It’s just a question of getting the mix right. The river…er…product produced horrible nightmares. Called it Devil Drops. The hillside stuff gave the ultimate happy dream – which turns out to be rather erotic quite often. Those are Happy Crappies. More of the one and less of the other gave me a spectrum of possibilities.” He goes ‘ping’ and imitates a little lightbulb above his head. “Genius, right?”

“But, for goodness sakes, you can’t go about selling sheep droppings to people? It’s unethical, to say the very least.”

“Of course I don’t. I grind it up in a paste, boil it to get rid of parasites, en then roll it into little balls before coating it with chocolate. It’s a wonderfully simple process.” Gertruida’s horrified face makes him pause. “What…?”

“Listen, Stoney, you’re on thin ice here. If the Medical Council finds out what you’re doing – or any other authority you can think of – they’ll slap you in jail for so long, you’ll never see a single sheep again for the rest of your life. If I were you, I’d approach a pharmaceutical company and let them do some proper research. That’s the only way…”


Gertruida often remarks about how we live in a strange society. We have laws prescribing what food and medicine we are allowed to ingest – and even more laws prohibiting other products. But, she says, we have no laws protecting us from the bulldust we have to hear and see in the media every day. It’s not okay to take sheep droppings coated with chocolate, but political offal is fed to us without even a sugar coating.

She reckons Stoney is onto something, though. Imagine a parliament full of Happy Crappies?

She really gets angry at this from time to time. That’s when she locks her front door to take one of her precious but dwindling supply of sleepy-chocolates (as she calls them). The Rolbossers know the signs – especially when she arrives at Boggel’s Place wearing a brilliant – if tired – smile the next day…

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”


lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”


“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#9)

Robinson R66 small 1“Don’t get up,” Gertruida hisses. “Just sit where we are and let’s see what happens. If they land, I’ll handle it.”

Gertruida is one of those rare persons that relish awkward situations. During her time at National Intelligence, she was the one to bring calm to the negotiations in Dakar and London. Whenever a discussion threatened to get out of hand, she was the voice of reason, placating the flaring tempers by sheer logic. Now, she realises, she might be facing one of the most challenging scenarios of her life. She is sure Liar’s adversaries have some government connection – especially after Liar mentioned that they said something about  ‘Pretoria’. Who…? She’s mulling the thought in her mind when the helicopter approaches the group, hovers some distance off, and then lands.

“It’s a Robinson R66, five-seater, but only this one only carries the pilot and two passengers.” Vetfaans whisper sounds strained after the rotors stop turning. He remembers seeing one at  the recent agricultural show in Upington, where it was on exhibit as part of a game lodge’s display. He also remembers the R10-million price tag.

The two passengers alighting from the craft could not be more dissimilar. The one man striding purposefully to them seems to have been built out of circles: round body and face stuck on podgy legs. Number Two, panting a few yards behind, is tall, reedy and his face looks like it’s been flattened by a sudden stop against a solid object.

Roundface stops a few yards away, surveys the group and lets his gaze rest on Liar.

“You failed to keep your appointment, Mister Louw. I’m disappointed.”

Liar doesn’t bat an eyelid. “I lied,” he says quietly.

Gertruida wants to say something but Flatface shuts her up. “Nobody interrupts the Boss, understand?” He whips out a snub-nosed .38 to emphasise his point. Gertruida closes her mouth with an audible click of her teeth.

“Why, Mister Louw? Why force me to go to the expense of hiring this chopper and searching for you?  It is so childish to play games with us – in fact, it’s downright stupid!”

“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” Boggel flinches as Flatface swivels to point the gun at him.

“Who I am, is of no consequence. Who I represent, is important.” Roundface ponders the question for a second before going on. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. As soon as Mister Louw has shown us the location of his mine, our problem is solved. So….Mister Louw…?”

Liar shrugs. “No mine, sorry. Not out here.”

“You have been sending diamonds worth millions to Antwerp, receiving the money from a bank in London.  We know that. And you’re the only one doing that from this region. We have contacts with the Reserve Bank, Mister Louw, you can’t fool us.”

“Ag! Diamonds? You think I dig for diamonds? Boy, are you guys confused! Who sends out diamonds in lead-lined boxes, huh?”  Liar’s honest and incredulous stare seems to upset Roundface. “In fact, I’ve got the manufacturer of those boxes right here. Ask him, his name is Servaas.”

“What…?” Roundface glares at Servaas.

Servaas has never worked with lead, let alone built boxes with the material. The old man now crosses his fingers as he nods. “Sure, been making those boxes for years now. And you know what, L…Klasie never pays me. Always promises, promises. Last time I told him it’s the last time. That’s why I’m here, to demand payment – he owes me ….let me see…just over two thousand rand. It’s a lot of money.”

“Lead boxes?”

“Yessir!” Liar is in his stride now, quite comfortable in the talent he’s developed over the years. “Radioactive Boron. Very rare. There’s an outcrop not far from where we are right now. Highly radioactive, a rare El-Ac material.”

“El-Ac…what the hell is that?”

Liar rolls his eyes at the stupidity of the round man. “Electron-Accelerator material. sir.” Seeing the big man still gaping at him, he continues. “When an El-Ac substance is brought into contact with one of the halogen gasses, like Chlorine for instance, it speeds up the electrons. It’s just one of those strange phenomenons of Nature. Now – and this is important – there are scientists that are very interested in doing such things…speeding up electrons…in Switzerland somewhere….”

Higgs at CERN

Higgs at CERN

“The place is CERN, where they’re trying to find the Higgs-boson.” Gertruida interrupts. By now their two visitors are clearly off balance. “That’s the particle that holds the key to how energy is turned into mass.”

“But there is a problem,” Liar continues, eyeing the men carefully. “The radioactive Boron has certain….effects on the male physiology. Bad effects. If you come into contact with it, it’ll…er…change you.”

Roundface has lost his threatening demeanour.  All he had to do was to find the source of some diamonds, and now…? “Change? Change? What change?”

“Um…you know?”Liar shoots an apologetic glance towards Gertruida. “Er…let me put it this way. Here I am, working all alone. Never been interested in a woman all my life. Isn’t that strange?”

“”It takes away your…manhood?”

Liar nods cheerfully. “Never missed it. Just as if it never existed, you know? It’s a wonderful freedom.”

Roundface turns to his companion and an urgent, whispered conversation follows.

“I think we’ve been misinformed,” he says at last. “The reports mentioned diamonds…”

“Oh, please! Sending over legit diamonds with a trusted courier doesn’t raise eyebrows. But…have you ever tried to mark such a parcel as “Radioactive Material”? Nobody would touch it.” Liar’s contempt at their ignorance drips from the words.

Gertruida tries again. “So, who sent you, anyway?”

A thoroughly deflated Roundface sits down heavily. “I can’t tell you that. All I can say is that a very important man is interested in acquiring a lot of money, and get it quickly. We work for him. He needs the money urgently.”

“Why? Because of some recent developments?” A glimmer of understanding appears in Gertruida’s eyes.

“Yes. Some men need to be paid off. To keep quiet. There’s nothing money can’t buy, see? So our boss…well, he has a friend in the Reserve Bank, Asked him about individuals who receive large amounts of money from overseas, especially if such individuals seemed to be working alone and if they  might be persuaded to share their income. He – the Boss – doesn’t want to send out money from South Africa; the exchange regulations are just too strict for the large amounts needed in these transactions. Diamonds are easy to transport and can be exchanged for currency anywhere in the world – it’ll solve a lot of problems.  Mister Louw came up trumps – diamonds, no family, working alone…understand? But diamonds…yes! This radioactive stuff? No!”

“That’s a hare-brained scheme, Sir.”  Gertruida goes tut-tut.This man, your boss, wouldn’t be associated with some sport, would he? Like soccer, for instance?”

Roundface doesn’t answer. He gets up slowly to plod back to the helicopter, motioning his companion to follow.

The group on the ground waits for the helicopter to lift off before collapsing in laughter.

(To be continued…)

Trusting Liar (#7)

lancaster_desert_500Klasie (liar) Louw remembers the fights, the blows, and the screams all too vividly. Herman would return from yet another trip into the Kalahari in the most foul of moods, empty-handed. He blamed Nikolaas. He blamed Mattie. He scolded young Klasie, often adding a hiding for good measure. He liked to shout at them, telling them they ruined his life.


“Then, just after my eleventh birthday, it happened again. Mom stood her ground for a while, but Herman wouldn’t let up. He called her names…horrible names. Then he felled her with a vicious uppercut, straight to the chin, She fell backwards, hitting her head on the sorting table. I knew then that he had killed her.”

Liar is sobbing now, reliving the most horrible moments of his life.

“I was hiding under the bed at the time. Walter’s pistol – the one he had used to kill the snake – was under Mom’s pillow. I don’t remember much of what happened. When I came to my senses, Herman was down, flat on the ground, bleeding from his chest. In his last breath he cursed me, saying I’m a bastard and a low-life scum.”


The boy didn’t know what to do. His mother was dead and he had just killed his stepfather. He was still sitting there when a trader stopped by, like he did once a month. The trader – Harry Isaacs – took one look at the scene and rushed off to Upington to report the incident to the police. 

A constable was dispatched to investigate. His report:

I, Constable Abel Malherbe, arrived at the claim of Herman Louw at 3 pm on the 3rd of August 1954. On my arrival I found a boy – Nikolaas Louw (called Klasie) sitting on a camp bed in the hut on the premises. He wasn’t able to speak and I assume he was born deaf and dumb. I also found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Louw. Mrs Louw appears to have died from a blow to her head, although she had multiple other bruises. Mr Louw had a gunshot wound to his chest. A pistol was on the floor between the two bodies.

My conclusion merely states the obvious. Mr Louw is a known felon with multiple convictions, including assault. It appears that he was attacking Mrs Louw when she fired the pistol in self-defence. There was nothing on the scene to suggest any other explanation. 

The boy is clearly incapable of comprehensible speech and unable to assist any further investigation. He’ll need to be taken to a foster home. My superior officer suggested the facility in Worcester.


A. Malherbe.


School for the deaf, Worcester.

School for the deaf, Worcester.

“And so I was sent to the School for the Deaf in Worcester. For a while it suited me just fine. For the first time in my life, I had a warm bed, clean linen and three proper meals a day. I didn’t have to dig up the banks of the Orange River and I wasn’t afraid that Herman would rock up and beat me. All I had to do, was act deaf and dumb. 

“That’s where my lying really took off. I had them all fooled for three long years – the best years of my life. Then, one day, I overheard the teachers discussing me. They were concerned, they said, that I might have more hearing than I gave out to have. That I might be pretending because I was an orphan. That they’d get a special doctor to come and test me, just to make sure…

louw“That night I ran away. I returned to the only place I know: my stepfather’s claim. I was only fourteen, but big and strong. I managed to convince the local magistrate that I was the legal heir to Herman’s claim and that he had been a known prospector in the Kalahari. He checked the records, found Constable Malherbe’s report, and took pity on me. How he did it, I’m not sure – but in the end he handed me a piece of paper that gave me the right to ‘investigate and prospect mineral possibilities in the region’. He even paid the fee…”

“But didn’t he ask you where you had been all that time?”

“He did, Servaas. I told him I had been taken care of by an aunt in Cape Town, but that she had passed away. Without the licence, I said, I would have no income and no means to support myself. He asked about inheritance, and for once I told the truth: my ‘aunt’ had left me nothing.” A wry smile lightened his features for a second. “The rest were – just like you’ve become accustomed to me – pure lies.”

Servaas scratches his head, overawed by the tale of woe. “So you’ve been looking for the wreck all these years – almost six decades of searching?”

“Oh, I found the wreck, all right. It’s not far from here.” He points up the valley between the two large dunes. “But there was a flood in 1956. One of those rare thunderstorms that turned this valley into a mass of swirling water. It washed over the wreck and almost buried it. It took me some time, but eventually I uncovered enough to examine the wreckage. The boxes were gone. For a while I thought my stepfather had found it, but then I discovered a diamond some distance off. Then another.

“What happened was that the flood washed away the boxes, scattering the stones down the ‘river’ it had formed.” He sighs. “And that’s why I’ve been busy here all my life – searching, searching, searching for the lost treasure of Walter Kempf amongst these dunes…”

“And finding diamonds here and there?”

“Yes. I’ve found two hundred and thirty-six stones so far. It’d fill one small box. There must be much more still…”

“But who are the people in the plane and the chopper?” Vetfaan lets his eyes roam the empty skies. “Why…?”

“It’s some government men. Bad ones. Once they know where to look, they’ll probably kill me.”

“But…how did they know?”

“SARS…the revenue people. They got onto my trail after the last packet I sent to London. When I went to the bank in Upington to check on the payment, they were waiting for me outside the bank. They said they wanted to make me an offer I can’t refuse.”


“I refused.”

(to be continued)

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”


Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.


“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”

Half-mens vs Willow

Amos van der Merwe:

Being busy with a time-consuming biography, I reblog this old story to keep Boggel busy behind his counter…

Originally posted on Rolbos ©:

The arid wasteland of the Kalahari contains many surprises. Fountains of clear water occur in the most unlikely places, although most of them are hidden below the sand. It requires a thorough knowledge of nature to know where to look for the life-saving little reservoir, which often will supply a mouthful of two before the water disappears at the bottom of the little well you dug. The area is home to the graceful oryx, the gentle tortoise and thousands of elegant springbuck. Here too, the spoor of last night’s lion will circle your campfire (when you discover a jackal made off with your biltong) in the morning.

Vetfaan knows all about these things, of course. He left his supplies safely locked up in his bakkie before turning in. Now, with the dawn edging out the night, he emerges from his tent to add a few sticks to the still-glowing embers…

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Je Suis Charlie

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Rolbos is about satire. It’s a fun blog that takes swipes at those in authority and pokes fun at serious matters. As such, Rolbos relies on freedom of speech to convey its message.

It is thus with great sadness that Rolbos extends its sincerest condolences to the families and friends of Stéphane Charbonnier and the fine cartoonists who worked at Charlie Hebdo.

Rolbos may only be a small blog by an author of little repute, but the principle endures: satire is a way to call people to pay attention to the world they live in. Yes, we laugh at the mistakes and blunderings of politicians and others who aspire to fame, but the underlying serious nature of these actions may never be ignored.

My prayers are with those left behind. May you find the strength to forgive the terrorists who will never understand that – to live in the small world we inhabit – we have to stop taking ourselves so seriously.

And for God’s sake, stop using Him as an excuse for killing people.