The Horizon Hunter #8

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Cuban Prison

Mo seemed to have rested well that night. He dreamed about a huge green pasture where he and Petrus looked after some very fat sheep. They were chatting and laughing a lot. That’s why, when he walked into Boggel’s Place the next morning, his trademark smile was firmly in place.

Gertruida then surprised – astounded! – him with her news.

One must never underestimate Gertruida’s abilities: as an ex-intelligence service agent, she has kept contact with many an old colleague – and they, with her. Recently, for instance, she was approached to give her opinion about a report a profiler had drawn up about the CEO of the national broadcaster. Not only could she expand on the report, but she also advised how to get rid of the man. Although it is not common knowledge at this stage, her strategy was spot-on.

Be that as it may, Gertruida only waited for the usual ‘good-mornings’ to quieten down before telling the group that she had been rather busy during the night.

“I contacted one of my old friends at Intelligence, who referred me to a certain Pablo de Nobriga in Luanda. He said Pablo would know, or find out – and he did.”

***

During the action of Task Force Zulu, Gerhardus Cronje got detached from his patrol during a skirmish. It didn’t take long for the soldier to find himself surrounded by FAPLA troops and he was forced to surrender. The Cuban advisors were excited to get their hands on a prisoner of war and decided to keep his presence in Luanda under wraps while they interrogated the soldier.

He, of course, knew very little of strategic importance, but still it took many weeks before they believed him. Gerhardus was then transferred to Cuba, to be kept in jail as a trump card if ever the need to exchange prisoners of war arose. There, in the cells of  Combinado del Este prison in Havana, he remained for the next fifteen long years. It wasn’t quite clear whether his long stay was the result of a bureaucratic bungle or maybe an oversight while the officials concentrated on the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in the end Gerhardus seemed to have been forgotten – for a while.

During his sojourn in prison, Gerhardus kept himself busy by learning Spanish and Portuguese, while teaching English to the inmates. The conditions were atrocious, the food horrible and regular beatings followed any transgressions. Despite this, the authorities took note of the prisoner – who seemed to have accepted his fate, obeyed the rules and kept the other inmates occupied with his language lessons. This, they thought, was benefiting the prisoners as well as making their task as wardens a bit easier.

Gerhardus was later ‘promoted’ to the Chief Warden’s office, where he helped with the admin – especially regarding correspondence with their Headquarters and the government. So trusted was he that he eventually had a cell to himself – not as solitary confinement, but as a reward for services rendered and good conduct. Here he had a bed to himself, a minute window and a few books. It took the chief warden – Lt. Col. Carlos Pedro Quintana – several months to become friendly with the prisoner, but Gerhardus’s easy demeanor eventually won the guard over.

Then, when he was sure it was safe to ask, Gerhardus approached Quintana with a request. Please, may he send a Christmas card to his wife? He’d had no contact with her since he was taken prisoner, he said, and she would not know whether he is alive or not. Surprisingly, the warden agreed. A card was sent, carefully worded so that the South African authorities wouldn’t know who sent it – Gerhardus signed it simply ‘Gerkie’, knowing Maria would understand. Two months later it was returned, undelivered because nobody of that name lived at the address. The addressee was no longer there – and there was no forwarding address.

“It happens.” Quintana said in his abrupt manner. “Women cannot be trusted. The man goes away, the woman starts looking around. I see it every day” The warden tried to smile. “But, like you say: many fishes in the sea.”

The news almost destroyed Gerhardus Cronje. His wife…gone? Back to her parents? He tried another letter, which was never answered. Neither the next or the next. He didn’t know that there was no postal delivery in Atlantis and that his efforts to contact Maria simply ended up in an incinerator in Cape Town.

In the end, Gerhardus resigned himself to the fact that Maria had moved on. With no means to contact her,she must have assumed him dead. The soldier did try to convince Quintana to contact Defence Headquarters in Pretoria, but that effort almost got him locked up in one of the dark holes they used for solitary confinement. His presence in Cuba was a secret – Cuba repeatedly denied holding any South African soldiers prisoner. Any official enquiries would have resulted in a diplomatic scandal.

After about ten years in Cuba, Gerhardus gave up hope. By that time he firmly believed that he had lost Maria forever and that his country of birth had forgotten all about him. The only place he knew  was the prison and the only language he spoke, was Spanish and Portuguese.

Quintana called him to the office one night late.

“Look, the war is drawing to a close. Nobody won, but the hostilities are ceasing. Luanda needs somebody with knowledge of Afrikaans to negotiate an exchange of prisoners.”

Gerhardus grabbed at the chance to get back on African soil. He was under the impression that he’d be one of the prisoners to be released or exchanged and gave his full cooperation. Once in Luanda, however, he found out how badly mistaken he was.

Gerhardus was taken to a small room. A a chair and telephone-like instrument on a little table were the only furnishings. When he asked, he was told to listen with the earpiece, and translate whatever he heard in Portuguese. The negotiators on the Angolan side was worried that the Afrikaans-speaking delegation would use their own language when talking amongst themselves and thus put the Angolan side at a disadvantage; so they had bugged the table at which the South Africans would sit. Still, Gerhardus believed his freedom was imminent and still he cooperated fully.

***

“So, you see Mo, your father was very much alive at that point, believing he would be returned to his country. The negotiations went well, the exchange of prisoners was arranged…and your father was returned to the jail in Lunada. Why he wasn’t included in the deal, is a mystery. Maybe both sides held back what they believed to be an ace in the hole.

“There are reports, stating Gerhardus’s anger and frustration at the time. The friendly, docile man became obtuse and aggressive. Emotional outbursts followed and he had to be confined to a padded cell, which only served to make matters worse.  Eventually, believing him to be going insane, he was referred to a psychiatric institute, the Hospital Psiquiátrico De Luanda.

 “There he was placed under the care of Dr Veronica Lubovski, a Russian psychiatrist, who had stayed behind when the Russian advisors returned to Moscow. She had fallen in love with Africa, the balmy climate and the lush countryside.

“I tried finding out more, Mo, but the trail almost ends there. Dr Lubovski, it seems, is a rather wealthy woman and she owns one of the largest banana plantations in Angola. Well, the hospital records show that she had convinced the authorities – this was in 1995 – that her patient would be better off under her personal care and in a more relaxed environment. So, almost the last traces of Gerhardus Cronje I found, was that he was discharged from hospital, and that he now resides on the farm of Dr Lubovski. I tried to find out more, but other than that he is still alive and living there, I cannot really tell.”

***

By the time Gertruida had finished, Mo was as white as a sheet and completely shocked.

” My father? Alive? Insane?”

“Yes, alive, Mo…oh, and there’s one more thing…”

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #7

Copy-1-of-IMG_1418_1-300x225.jpgBy this time, Gertruida had a puzzled frown – something unusual for the woman who used her formidable logic to analyze issues. Servaas noticed this and leant over.

“What’s wrong, Gertruida?”

“I think I know…” She whispered back. ” But I think I know how this must end.’

Mo didn’t notice the exchange. He was lost in his narration; the pain of remembering isolating him in a bubble of words.

***

“I must have stood next to that road for half the night. At first the traffic was fast and heavy, but later – when the night’s cold had already almost frozen my uplifted thumb – the stream of cars became a trickle…and then, nothing. I had almost given up hope, when a dilapidated Datsun stopped. The man leant over, opened the door and told me to get the hell in, it was cold.”

The Datsun belonged to Frederik Claaste, a farmer eking out a living in the barren Karoo near Prieska. After the usual chat – introductions and weather – Frederik asked the obvious question.

“I’m not sure, Oom.” Mo, indeed, had no idea where he was going. He needed time; he needed to escape the festering loneliness inside his mind; he needed to make a new beginning somewhere, where skin colour and politics didn’t determine your future. He tried to explain and it wasn’t until Beaufort West that Frederik finally grasped the magnitude of Mo’s problems.

“So you see yourself as a martyr, then?”

Mo thought about this. Yes, he was half an orphan, half a Christian, half white and…completely lost. He had contributed – in his small, unique way – to end apartheid and had endured a lengthy and painful interrogation. Did that make him a martyr? He shook his head.

“No, Oom, I don’t suppose do. I did what I did because I believed in it. In reality, I had no choice, did I? I’m not sure about God, but it seems as if I was dealt a losing hand of cards. I’ll just have to get used to it.”

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Three Sisters. Credit: Johannkochart.com

And then, with the early morning sun peeking over the silhouette of the Three Sisters, Frderik stopped next to the road to address the dishevelled young man next to him.

“Look, Son, Life will take you where you have to be. Oh, you can wriggle this way and crawl that way, but in the end you’ll arrive at what was destined for you right from the start. Everything you’ve lived through have contributed to where you are now and it’s no coincidence that I happened to pick you up.

“Us farmers in the Karoo have to learn – at an early age – that you cannot unravel the mystery of Life at all. Hardship will come, even tragedy. We stare at a cloudless sky and watch our flocks starve. But then, when it rains, the dams fill up and the Karoo turns green. There’s no logic to it and no way of explaining why – but we know there’s a season for grieving and a season to rejoice. The point is this: whatever season you are in – it’ll pass. Remember that. Laughter is great, but it’s temporary. Tears are sad, but it doesn’t last forever.

“So, you’ve had a hard time? I’m really sorry to hear that. But…you are a traveller on a predestined path, Mo. You’re on your way. There,” Frederik pointed at the horizon, “somewhere, you’ll find peace. You’ll understand. And then you’ll realise that everything had a purpose…”

The rest of the journey passed in silence as Mo contemplated those words. What, then, had been the purpose? Why the convoluted path? Could God or Allah or whichever deity reigned over everything, not have chosen a straighter, more logical route?

“You’ll have to stay.” Frederik’s firm tone made told Mo he had no choice. “There is a cottage I don’t use and you can help me with the sheep. And…you’ll meet Petrus Kruiper, the wisest man you’ll ever  get to know. He’s the shepherd. He knows everything.”

***

Gertruida smiled at this irony. How often did wisdom and cleverness not get equated with university degrees and professors – and how seldom was that true?  She completely understood Frederik’s statement – a simple shepherd; a man living so near nature, would have been just the right medicine for Mo’s troubled mind.

“Yes, I can understand that,” she interrupted Mo’s story. “Human nature and everyday hardships combine to confuse most of us, most of the time. But for an unschooled person, somebody who doesn’t want to analyze and  measure the logic of Life, events unfold as they must. People like that lead happy lives because they don’t ask questions – life goes on. Tragedy and laughter are essential to make us realise what joy and grief Life may hold. It’s the contrast that paints the picture.”

Sometimes Gertruida’s remarks confuse her listeners – that was one of them.

Servaas ignored the interjection. “So you became a shepherd?”

“Yes. And I met Petrus. He became a father to me when I needed it most.”

“Oh? And what did he teach you?”

“Lots of things. To journey through life. To distinguish between asking questions and searching. There is a huge difference in the meaning and purpose of those two. It took time, of course, for me to grasp that, but he was patient. He told me about his San ancestors and how they were almost wiped out. And he said that it is in humility that greatness is found. Acceptance is better than rebellion – especially when fate steers you in an uncertain direction. That’s why, he said, the sacrifices of his forefathers were not in vain. His family, he said, would rise again to claim their rightful place in society; but it’ll take time. Many years. Possibly decades or centuries – but he doesn’t care. Their path leads to a future horizon and it was his duty to walk that road with his head held high.”

“He taught you to believe?”

“Yes.”

“And then…?”

“He took me to a place in the Kalahari. A secret place next to a fountain. And he told me to stay there until everything settled in my mind.  ‘Write down your thoughts, Mo. Write a book. And read those thoughts over and over again to determine whether they are true or not.'” Mo’s smile was back. “So I did. Called my book ‘The Song of Life’ and filled it with verses. And when I was finished – it took me years – I returned to Frederik’s farm.

“He was quite old then and struggled to manage everything. I offered to help. He told me it was destined to be like that. So I worked on the farm while his strength slowly waned.” Mo shrugged. “He died last month and we buried him next to the sheep kraal, just like he wanted. He left the farm to me and Petrus. I told Petrus to get all of his extended family there and settle them on the farm – he has two brothers and a sister. And I realised he had been right: his belief in the future of his family had been vindicated. As for me? I realised my time to continue my journey had come. I mustn’t ask questions, but I must also not stop searching.

“And that’s how I ended up here…”

At that point, Gertruida got up with that look on her face. “You stay right here in Rolbos, Mo. I have a few calls to make. Hopefully, I’ll have some answers for you tomorrow…”

To be continued…

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 #4

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #3

The only baby picture of Mo…

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

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

Mo smiled and thanked the group at the bar.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

To be continued…

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.

The Horizon Hunter

Je-Suis-mo_edited-1.jpg In this time of extreme racial ultrasensitivity, it would be so very wrong to speculate about the background of the newcomer who stopped by for a while in Boggel’s Place. The heart-shaped face suggested a San ancestry, but the almost-straight hair did not fit in with that assumption. His two piercingly blue eyes sat astride the broad nasal bridge and above the generous lips. As for skin colour, one might consider words like beige or coffee or even sandy.

The rest of the man was rather unremarkable. Neither fat nor thin, tall nor short, and definitely not all that handsome but still quite charming, he fitted into that vague grouping we would term as ‘medium’ or ‘average’.

When he pushed open the swing doors of Boggel’s bar, the conversation – quite naturally – ceased as they all turned to see who it was. The man took off his weathered hat, smiled apologetically and asked if he might have a glass of water. Gertruida – as curious as always – immediately invited him to sit down with them and ordered a Coke for the new guest in their midst.

“I am Mohammed Cronje,” he answered when asked, “from down south. I travel for a living. Call me Mo.”

Servaas knitted his bushy brows together. “Travel? For a living? What do you do – write articles for magazines?” Servaas dismissed the idea the moment he asked the question; Mo quite obviously had no vehicle and his clothes needed a wash desperately.

Mo’s lips twitched upward in a fleeting smile, exposing a set of perfectly white teeth. “No. Nothing grand like that. I’m a hunter of horizons. That’s what I do.”

Now, even Gertruida (who knows everything), has never come across a horizon hunter before, so she had to ask.

“It started when I was young – maybe when I realised I was … different  …. way back when I  was a boy. All around me were kids who belonged, see? Either to a family of a culture or a church. But me? I was an social orphan, the runt of the social litter…”

“I’m one too,” Boggel interrupted, “I understand.”

Mo turned to Boggel, taking in the deformed figure. “Yes, maybe you do to some degree. But you are fortunate, I think. Being physically disabled is certainly a drawback, but it does not exclude you from society. In fact, it scores high on the sympathy scale these days. Me? I’m an in between person: I fit in nowhere. I’m a misnomer, a cultural oxymoron. There’s no niche I can claim as my own.

“So, that’s why.” He sighed. “I started searching for a place where I might fit in. Always have believed that there must be a somewhere – just beyond the skyline – where I will feel comfortable with the people around me. That’s why I travel. That’s what I hope for.”

“But Mo,” Boggel opened another can of Coke, “we’re all people, aren’t we? Some display various hues, others cling to different religions. Even if we don’t look or act like the majority, we can’t deny the fact that – in the end – we’re all individuals. Each of us is unique and special; each of us deserves to be respected for who and what we are, don’t we?”

 Mo shrugged sadly. “Maybe that’s just beyond the political horizon, Boggel. But look at what has happened in the world we live in today: people are categorised, defined, analysed, and classified – in order to see if you fit in with the so-called norm or majority. Then the majority becomes a faceless, ill-defined mass to exclude those who stand out. And boy! Society has become such experts at exclusion! It is as if people detest those that dare to be or look or believe differently.

“So the world on this side of the horizon is a much diseased animal, my friends. I do not belong here. I need to keep going until I reach the other side.”

They debated the state of the current social order in the world for a while, then Mo got up, shook their hands and wandered down Voortrekker Weg. “I have to go. It’s out there, somewhere…”

“He’s a strange cat,” Servaas said, staring at his empty glass.

“No, Servaas. He’s the most normal person to have visited us in a long time.” Gertruida stared at the diminutive figure at the edge of the town. “In fact – he is believing in what most people in the country – even the world – are hoping for. And you? You’re doing exactly what he is so aware of: you’ve just described him as ‘crazy’ – meaning he doesn’t fit in with the so-called normal society. ”

Boggel  nodded. “Mo? He’s us, isn’t he? And we perpetuate our political and cultural differences by harping on the past history and our future fears instead of celebrating the uniqueness of just being ourselves.”

“Je suis Mo?” Gertruida had that all-knowing look.

Vetfaan surprised her with a nod of his own. “Oui…”

To be continued…

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.

Vetfaan’s Angoraphobia

Spang-Angora-Rabbit-1024x768.jpgThis fear of Angora rabbits is unique to our burly farmer in the Kalahari, and it is still as real and acute as it was when he found the dead rabbit staring back at him with unseeing eyes in the kraal that used to house his sheep. It’s a story nobody dares tell in Boggel’s Place, for it reminds them of the time they all hoped for a better South Africa, way back, after the ’94 elections. That’s the time when everybody invested heavily in tinned food, bottled water, guns and religion. It’s also the time Vetfaan sold his entire sheep flock to the ANC.

We all know elections are never free and rarely democratic. The voter is captured by some ideology or policy he thinks will benefit him personally. The ANC knew this (they still do) and handed out T-shirts and free meals at their rallies. A well-clothed voter with a full tummy does not care what rhetoric is blared out over the loudhailer – immediate needs are far more important than some ideology and promises that’ll fade away in a few week’s time. So, when the elections loomed on the horizon, the future ruling party used the funds they got from well-wishing sympathisers in Europe, England and the USA, very wisely. A man arrived on Vetfaan’s farm with a suitcase full of money and a fleet of trucks.

“We need your sheep, Mister Vetfaan. All of them. It’s for our meetings in the Northern Cape, see? We need to feed the masses on a diet of meat and political jargon. If they understand the first bit, the second part is unimportant.”

Vetfaan is a realist. He knew where the elections were going to take the country. So, he counted the money, suppressed a surprised whistle and made the deal.

The results of the election is a matter of historical fact. However, the results of Vetfaan’s transaction are far more traumatic than the effect of the Weapons Scandal and Nkandla combined. When he realised he had a suitcase full of money, a farm and a completely empty kraal, Vetfaan approached Gertruida for advice. As always, she had a unique plan.

“Angora rabbits, Vetfaan. They multiply faster than the president’s wives, you can shear them four times a year and they’ll eat hay and some Kalahari bushes. Lots of good nourishment for a hungry, reproducing rabbit all around us, Vetfaan, and the price of that wool is far better than a sheep’s. The fibre is much in demand right around the world; you’ll be able to export and benefit from the fall in the rand. It makes sense, don’t you think?”

To cut a long story short: that’s what Vetfaan did. His flock of Angora rabbits was the talk of the district. The old kraal was spruced up and soon housed a myriad of hopping, long-haired rabbits – mostly doing what rabbits do best. His flock grew at an alarming rate.

Platnees, however. would have absolutely nothing to do with the furry animals. “Eish! Those things are the tokoloshe, Mister Vetfaan. They’re not rabbits like we have in the Kalahari – look at them! They are bad, bad news, you’ll see!” Platnees put more bricks under the legs of his bed, burnt some herbs and consulted his ancestors. They confirmed his worst fears: the rabbits were gremlins from another time; they represented evil spirits with ominous intentions.

Enter now the young Vrede, the town’s dog, who had developed a liking in Kleinpiet. Although it was generally agreed that the dog didn’t belong to anybody in particular, Vrede seemed to prefer Kleinpiet’s leftovers and spent most of his time next to Kleinpiet’s back door. Vrede, the ex-police dog, was the result of careful breeding over many years. He had been trained to identify crooks, criminals and other corrupt officials. But somewhere in his illustrious ancestry, a champion rabbit-chaser had left his mark on Vrede’s genes. It was an instinct he could not deny or suppress – he simply couldn’t help himself.

So, when the dry west wind carried the scent of rabbits over to Kleinpiet’s back door, Vrede sneaked over to Vetfaan’s kraal to help himself to a tasty meal. Vetfaan wasn’t amused.

“Your bloody dog ate one of my rabbits, Kleinpiet. That’ll be R600, thank you very much.”

Kleinpiet paid up – for the first rabbit. But when Vrede’s excursions resulted in more rabbits being dinner for the hapless hound, Kleinpiet pleaded poverty. Arguments ensued. A long-standing friendship almost got wrecked on the rocks of Vrede’s instinctive drive to supplement his diet with tasty rabbit meat. Kleinpiet tried to rescue the situation by keeping Vrede indoors at night and on a leash during the day. For a full two weeks nothing happened.

And then…

One dark and quiet night, Vrede managed to get out once more. The next morning he presented Kleinpiet with a very dead rabbit. Oh, how he scolded that poor mutt, calling him the names of all the politicians he could remember! Vrede, cocking his head to one side, tried to look contrite at first but started growling softly after a while. Being reprimanded for following his instincts was one thing – but having to endure comparison with the new leaders of the country did not sit well on his conscience. Kleinpiet’s tirade eventually blew itself out  and the two of them sat down on his veranda to contemplate the prize Vrede had brought home. Platnees walked by at that moment, saw the rabbit and ran off, shouting that he knew those things were omens of doom.

“Tokoloshe, Mister Kleinpiet, that one is evil! If you killed it, it comes back for revenge. Hai! Bad luck, bad, bad, bad luck!”

Kleinpiet was beyond despair as he watched Platnees race off. What will Vetfaan do? Shoot Vrede? Bad luck, indeed!

Noooo! He’d have to make a plan.

So he did.

Kleinpiet inspected the  fluffy body; there were only a few superficial bite marks and a lot of doggy slobber all over the corpse – causing a lot of red Kalahari sand to stick to it. Okay…think! Using some of Precilla’s left-over shampoo, he went to work in the bath before going on a hunt for her brushes and hair dryer. Three hours later he sat back to view his handiwork.

The rabbit, he concluded, looked even better in death than when he was hopping around in that dusty old kraal! Then he had to wait for the cover of night to carry out the next step – returning the rejuvinated but still deceased rabbit to his rightful place on Vetfaan’s property. As most of the crazy plans the Rolbossers dream up end in some type of catastrophe, it is quite surprising that Kleinpiet managed to carry out this part of his campaign without a hitch. The spruced-up rabbit was placed next to the feeding trough in the kraal, propped up by a strategic rock to keep it sitting upright. Vetfaan would wake up the next morning, find that the poor little animal had died from natural causes and be none the wiser…

Not to be…

Kleinpiet was just having his second rusk with his first mug of coffee, admiring the sunrise, when a very upset Vetfaan shuddered his old Land Rover to a halt in front of the veranda. Kleinpiet wiped away a bead of sweat and locked Vrede in the bedroom.

“Charlie! Charlie died!” Vetfaan cried as he stormed up the steps leading to the veranda. “I saw it with my own eyes!”

Kleinpiet managed to look puzzled. “Wha…?”

“My prize stud, my sire of a multitude, the king of the roost, is no more. Blew out his last breath. Copped it. Took the fast elevator upstairs. Followed the white light. The damn rabbit died, dammit!”

Kleinpiet suppressed a smile – this was going according to plan. Great! He made sympathetic sounds. “Charlie? That was his name? Shame man! But you have other males, don’t you?”

“That’s not the point, Kleinpiet. You don’t understand! That thing died. He was dead!”

“Calm down, Fanie. Have some coffee.”

“He must have pumped the well dry, poor thing.” Vetfaan’s eyes were wild, worried and surprised all at the same time. He settled down somewhat after some coffee. “Three days ago, I picked him up. Dead as a doornail. Stiff as a rod. Hell, man, I was upset but what could I do?  Poor thing! Well, the least I could do was to bury him good and proper – which I did. Put a little cross on the grave and even some flowers.

“Then, this morning, there he was, sitting next to the feeding trough with the females sniffing at him. I checked his grave – it’s been opened, the flowers scattered all over the placed and the cross gone.” Vetfaan took a deep breath. “That rabbit rose from his grave, Kleinpiet!”

Kleinpiet didn’t know what to say but somehow managed to keep his face straight. “Um…maybe Platnees is right, you know?”

***

If you visited Vetfaan today, you’d notice that he went back to farming with sheep – much to Platnees’s relief. In Boggel’s Place you won’t dare say anything good about Angora rabbits – an uncomfortable silence will follow. Vetfaan hates it when they remind him of Charlie, the dead rabbit that insisted on a last meal.

Gertruida, however, once remarked that Charlie was much like the ruling party today – dead but still sitting at the feeding trough. She also said they mustn’t ignore stories of tokoloshes and evil spirits, especially not when the newspapers carried headlines like we’ve seen lately.

The strange thing is that even Kleinpiet now agrees with Platnees. On dark, quiet nights, a strange, furry animal occasionally hopped over the sparse little lawn in front of Kleinpiet’s veranda. It seemed a bit agitated, sniffing here and sniffing there – as if it was looking for something. On Platnees’s advice, Kleinpiet once took a much-chewed wooden cross from its hiding place behind his wardrobe to put it on the grass. He swears he saw the apparition snatch it up in its tiny hands before running off.

Of course, he has never breathed a word about this – but then again: nobody has ever asked him about the bricks under the legs of his bed, either.