Rumours, lies and other news…

mugabeslp“Is Mugabe ill?”

Vetfaan’s question silences them all.

“You mean mentally…or really. Like in physically?” Servaas seems quite happy to accept either.

“No, man. Like in a coronary or something. There’s a rumour circulating. Some even maintain that he didn’t survive a massive heart attack.”

“Lies, lies, despicable lies.” Gertruida goes harrumph and winks at Boggel for another beer. “You’ll hear plenty of them. Some of them are more untrue than others, though.”

“All lies are untrue, Gertruida. It’s like pregnancy: it either is, or is not. No half measures there. Ask Oudoom – he maintains all sins are equal.”

“You have to understand politics…and Africa. The two combine to make a heady mix of fact and fiction. It is extremely rare to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Every rumour and every statement represents a subjective opinion, which often has to be diluted a bit to make it more palatable. Those in power want to remain in power, so they feed the masses what they want to hear.”

“Being dead isn’t a subjective opinion or condition, Gertruida! It’s a fact. Now, either the man is still with us, alive and kicking, or not. I take your point, though – you can possibly be half-alive and still rule. It’s like being half stupid and still being able to quote clever people – sometimes it happens.”

Gertruida smiles. “Okay – here’s how they’ll handle a situation where a long-serving president passes away. At first they’ll say nothing. Behind the scenes there’ll be a massive scurrying to get a new leader in place. There’ll be denials and silences. There’s even a possibility of a pre-recorded TV-interview to create the impression that the reports are false.

“But of course, should there be doubts about his ability to sign cheques or handle chopsticks, the government would have to appoint an interim president – and that, apparently, has happened. Whichever way it pans out, it’ll most probably be much the same scenario as what happened to Mandela: rumours of his death preceded the official announcement by days…even weeks. So, who knows?”

“But then,” Servaas frowns, “things are going to be better in Zim. I mean, with Bob gone, they’ll have a new lease n life?”

“Politics and Africa, my friend; you have to understand them. A president stands on the shoulders of many men and women – he cannot get to that position without support. In fact, a president is only the face in a chair – the real rulers are neatly tucked away under the table. Do you think Mugabe or Zuma or any other president stays awake at night, worrying about policies? Not a chance! The power behind the throne is what it’s all about. Follow the money and you’ll discover who really runs the government. Take away the president…and a new puppet emerges from behind the curtain. It’s all just a show, Servaas, and the masses are entertained by what they want to see.”

“I still don’t know…” Vetfaan starts, but Gertruida interrupts him.

“It doesn’t matter, Vetfaan. It simply doesn’t…”

Vetfaan sighs. Gertruida is right again. The only thing that may possibly change in Africa in the next year, is the spelling on the ANC birthday cake.

cake

Vetfaan’s Dung Beetles

dungBeetle

Credit: landcareaustralia

 “Congratulations!” Kleinpiet reaches over to shake Vetfaan’s hand. “That’ll make a considerable contribution to your retirement fund. In recognition of this exceptional feat, you may have the honour of paying for our drinks tonight.”

“Shees, you guys, am I relieved!” Vetfaan sits down, a Cheshire smile all over his face. “I almost lost hope.”

“Ja, I saw that bull a month ago – couldn’t believe it was only one animal!  That size! I’ve never seen a bull so fat.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Boggel pushes the glasses over to his customers. “What you call ‘in a good condition’?”

“The problem was,” Kleinpiet explains dramatically, “that the poor beast was in such an exceptional condition – as you call it – that he simply couldn’t perform his…er…professional duties.” He makes a suggestive gesture to help Boggel understand. “See?”

“But as I understand it, that bull was the only financially promising prospect on the farm? What are you going to do to generate income for the rest of the year?”

“That’s true, Boggel.” Vetfaan’s face shines with pleasure. “But I’m investing now. Dung beetles. It’s the hottest thing in the wild-life industry at the moment. It’s absolutely amazing what big game ranches will pay for a batch of the little creatures. I guess I can make a 50% profit on my profit from the bull.”

“Dung beetles?” Gertruida shakes her head. “Don’t know too much about those. You get endocoprid, that lay their eggs insode the dung, paracoprids with eggs below the dung, kleptocoprids that steal other beetles’ dung and telecoprid, the beetles with the rolling balls.  They navigate by the milky way and the sun and they’re all coprophages, meaning they ingest faeces…”

“Much like us and the SABC?”

“Don’t be facetious, Kleinpiet.  Anyway, they are vitally important in the ecosystem. The world would be covered with faeces if it were not for them. Can you  imagine the parasites, pests and diseases the animal world would have to deal with – not forgetting ourselves, of course – if no dung beetles axisted? They’re most effective: within 20 minutes of the dung hitting the ground, the little insects are on the job. Most marvellous creatures, if you ask me.”

“And now they’re endangered, so anybody with a supply of them is in the pound seats. Not only am I contributing to the survival of an essential creature, but I’m also providing a service to the game farmers. They desperately need to increase their beetle population to keep the environment safe  for the animals they breed. I am,” Vetfaan says importantly, “a conservationist and an entrepreneur.”

“Farming with dung beetles, eh?” Servaas raises his bushy eyebrows. “Then you’ll have to increase your dung production.”

“Done, Oom Servaas. That’s how I got my bull to lose weight.”

This remark makes even Gertruida sit up in surprise.

“Wha…?”

“Look, that bull was grossly overweight. He just had this massive appetite, see? So I had two choices: either decrease his lust for food,,,or increase his..er…output. Simple mathematics. Weightwatchers 101.”

“So you put him on a strict diet with lots of exercise? “

“Nah. Well, I tried the diet thing, but he got so depressed that I had to give him extra food. And exercise? Have you ever told a bull to start jogging?” Vetfaan smirks. “No, I put our president on him.”

Vetfaan waits for the surprised gasps to settle down.

“Look, you fight fire with fire – not so? So to get a bull to increase his natural output, you got to feed him more of the same. Bull poo in, bull poo out – like the scientists tell us. But how? I racked my brains until our prez fired the minister of finance. Then I listened to him trying to explain that the freefall  of our money had nothing to do with that – and that people overreacted to the news. He is, he said, an unfortunate victim of circumstances in which he had no role to play. He maintained that the weak Rand is purely the result of inevitable market forces and that people are politicising a normal occurrence.  To his credit: he stopped short of blaming Apartheid, which was a pleasant change.

“It struck me then. And it worked.”

“But how, Vetfaan?”

“Why, it was easy. I played the recording of the speech to the bull. Over and over again. Not only did the poor beast lose his appetite, but he increased his output dramatically. Bull poo begets bull poo, see? Simple. And now I have a mountain of the stuff and the beetles are breeding like crazy. In fact, I’m considering buying a few young bulls to keep up the feedstock; the upcoming municipal elections are going to provide plenty of speeches I can play back to them.”

***

Rolbos is such a backward little place in the middle of nowhere. If ever you should stop there, you’d find a small group of people huddled around one of the tiny tables on Boggel’s verandah. You’d probably think they’re just locals, having a beer – and maybe you’d be right.

But sometimes – just sometimes – they’re the only ones in the country who concentrate on the future and not the past.

And dung beetles? Where else would people mention the humble family of Scarabaeinae in contrast with the brilliance of a country’s leader – in the same breath? It might be funny, but it does leave a whiff of halitosis, doesn’t it?

Just goes to show: appearances can be misleading – just like politics..

The Gift of The Little Drummer Boy

little-drummer-boy-album-cover“At last,” Servaas sighs as he tears ‘December’ from the calendar above the counter in Boggel’s Place. “I simply cannot listen to that silly tune any longer.”

As usual, Servaas is in a bad mood in the beginning of the year. He says he’s just gotten used to writing 2015 on his cheques and now it’ll take weeks before he gets 2016 on every one. Gertruida laughs at this, knowing it isn’t true: Servaas simply doesn’t want to add another year to his age.

“Oh shus, you old sourpuss! Christmas and New Year is a time to count your blessings, man! Cheer up and have another Cactus Jack…”

“It’s the tune with all those barumpapapum’s in it. It’s like the composer didn’t have enough words for the music, so it’s barumpapapum this and barumpapum that. And it’s been on the radio since November. Argh! I can’t stand it!” He knits his brows together and stares angrily at the old transistor radio on the shelf. “At least we’ll have eleven months of peace now…”

“But it’s such a beautiful story, Servaas. A little boy with a drum, no gifts to offer the newborn Christ, and then the solution: he plays his best for Him. So sweet, actually.”

Servaas shrugs. He’s not going to grace the debate by adding to it.

“Did you know, Servaas, that it’s one of the most popular modern Christmas songs?  However. it has its roots way, way back. If I remember correctly, it’s based on the 13th-century medieval legend by Gautier de Coincy, in about 1220, called Le jongleur de Notre-Dame. The story tells of a juggler who became a monk and the French author,  Anatole France, published it again in 1892. Beautifully written, the legend sketches the events on Christmas day, when all the monks in the monastery offered gifts to the statue of Mary.  However, the juggler was too poor to buy one and had nothing fancy to offer. What to do? When it was his turn to lay down a gift in front of Mary, he stepped up and did what he does best: juggle.

“The other monks were furious…but then a miracle happened. The statue came alive, and smiled at the monk. Oh, the  surprise on the other monks’ faces! One moment they’re scolding the poor juggler, the next they realise the importance of honesty. If you give your best to Him – however insignificant it might be – there is joy in heaven!”

“Thanks for the lecture, Professor Gertruida. I don’t need it.”

“Oh yes, you do, Servaas. Katherine Kennicott Davis wrote the song in the middle of WW II, in 1941 and called it The Carol of the Drum. That song evolved into the popular song we know today. Incidentally, the Trapp Singers – the family made famous by The Sound of Music – made the first recording. You’ll remember that an earlier generation of the Trapps were responsible for the preservation of Silent Night.

“The point, Servaas, is this: something out of antiquity resurfaced after centuries to bring joy and hope to us today. The message is simple, but strong. Be who you are – the best you, you can be – and that is good enough. No need for pretence and glamour – just be simply who and what you are. For that, you get a smile from Him.”

Servaas keeps on staring at the radio.

“Oh, and one more thing, Servaas. If your mood is the only thing you can offer Heaven today, I doubt if you will be smiled on. The song is a challenge, my friend: it asks you to offer the best in you at all times. Your gift to those around you are as important as the drum the little boy played, or the apples the poor juggler tossed up in the air. If it is given with a joyous heart, it is the most precious thing you can bestow on others… Think about that and stop glaring at the radio. It’s not going to help anything to be angry about a song…or will you keep on spoiling the day by being childish?”

Servaas goes ‘harrumph’. Then he blushes.

Then, to everybody’s surprise, he starts drumming on the counter with his fingers…

 

Vetfaan’s New Year

Gertruida always says you mustn’t underestimate the creativity of a desperate man. Look at our president, she says. Whenever he can’t answer questions, he simply laughs his way out of trouble. And when his inability to prepare a speech becomes too obvious, he tries to bamboozle his audience with his own interpretation of the numerical system. Gertruida reckons he’s the only man alive to revise the age-old custom of counting properly.

Now, if you looked carefully at the little crowd of people gathered in Boggel’s Place to celebrate Old Year’s Eve, you’d notice the stranger hanging on to the counter. That’s Fines Visagie, the notorious speedcop from Prieska. You’d find that odd; not only because he’s a sworn tee-totaller, but as the most unpopular figure next to the tarred road between Grootdrink and Upington, he’s the most unlikely guest in Rolbos.

The thing about Fines is that he’ll never turn a blind eye – and that Vetfaan’s old Land Rover is a source of infinite and obvious joy to him. He’ll stop Vetfaan every time the burly farmer goes to town – and every time…every time…he’ll find something amiss with the aging vehicle. He’ll start his meticulous inspection at the front bumper, checking whether Vetfaan fixed the rusting bolts keeping it attached to the corroded chassis. From there he’ll work his way backward, checking everything from tyre pressure to the battery terminals. Of course, the old vehicle has never had safety belts, which only adds to the figure of the fine every time.

This morning, as usual, Vetfaan was stopped once again by Fines, just outside Grootdrink. It’s been uncommonly hot in the Northern Cape lately and Fines was in no mood for idle chatter. Vetfaan, however, had different ideas.

He was desperate, you see?

As usual, no greetings were exchanged. Vetfaan sat, stony-faced, staring straight ahead. He did hiccup once or twice and fumbled quite a lot to get his licence from his wallet.

“But you saw my licenche last week, Finesh.”

This made the officer look up sharply.

“You been drinking?”

“Who, me?”

Fines didn’t answer.

“Nah..nevah touscha stuff. Ba…bad for your health.” (Hiccup)

Fines would have nothing of it. He made Vetfaan get out of the Landy and asked him to stand on one foot. Vetfaan fell over.

“You are drunk, man!” Fines seemed most pleased with the situation. “Have you been drinking and driving as well?”

Vetfaan focussed his eyes on a spot an inch above Fines’ head and shook his own, slowly. “Huh-uh.”

klipdrift_gold-228x228Fines looked into the cab and fished out a brandy bottle.

“And what, Vetfaan, is this?”

“Wa…wat…water.” Vetfaan finally got the word right.

An argument ensued as to the content of the bottle during which Vetfaan maintained it was only pure Orange River water. Fines looked at the swaying Vetfaan and told him to pull the other one.

“Well, then,” Vetfaan rocked back and forth while concentrating to talk. “Hava look yourshelf. Tashte it. You’ll shee.”

Fines looked that the bottle, sniffed at the top, and frowned. “Water? My foot! Look at the label! This is alcohol – pure and simple.. You can fuel Koeberg with this.”

Vetfaan shook  his head. “Huh-uh. Wa…water. S’true.”

Fines unscrewed the top, sniffed, and put the bottle to his lips.

That’s when Kleinpiet took the photograph with his new cellphone. He had been waiting patiently below the tarpaulin over the back seat of the Landy for that exact moment.

Vetfaan, suddenly as sober as Oudoom on a Sunday morning, laughed out loud.

“Gotcha, you scoundrel. Drinking on duty. Wait till the Mminister of Transport sees this. We’ll send him the picture and then you’ll never stop any of our vehicles again for the rest of your life! Well done, Kleinpiet!”

“But…but it’s ….only water!” Fines stuttered. “I tasted it! Water!”

“I told you it was water, Fines. But will the minister listen to you? He’ll take one look at this photo and suspend you for life. Getting sloshed in uniform is ample reason to fire you, indeed.”

“No, wait, you guys. Please man. I’m only doing my job.”

“Your job is to keep our roads safe. Sure, this Landy is old, but I take good care of it. I serviced it myself last summer and the brakes are good. And have I ever caused an accident? But you? You ignore all the unroadworthy taxis shuddering by at tremendous speeds because you’re afraid of being called a racist. So now you target us farmers because you want to keep the record of the most profitable officer in the Kalahari.”

“Ja, you see, we emptied the brandy in to the water bottle here,” Kleinpiet holds up the plastic bottle, “and Vetfaan tricked you into raising the Klipdrift bottle to your lips. We know that. You know that…but the minister doesn’t.”

Fines pleaded desperately. To facilitate proceedings, Vetfaan suggested they had a nip rom the plastic bottle.

And now Fines is holding on to the counter, telling everybody what a good upschtanding citizhen Vetfaan is. Vetfaan takes a bow and asks him whether he’ll ever stop him again.

When Fines answers, he sounds uncommonly like our president – come to think about it.

 

Singing in the Silence

IMG_5907I suppose you can say that I knew him well. At least, that’s what you’d expect when you write somebody’s biography, after all. We did spend days talking, months in chatting about what had been written and what still needs to be done. It took almost six years. You learn a lot about somebody under such circumstances.

At times I thought he exaggerated some incidents, especially when he joked about himself. At others, I got the impression that he underplayed his role in other people’s lives.Yet, when checking up on these stories ( a biographer’s second priority – the first is grammar!), I was always surprised at the accuracy of his memories.  He surely had joy. He had fun. And he had a season in the sun…

He did make mistakes in his life – like we all do. In talking about these he was brutally honest, often with an acceptance that he not only learnt from them but that he also had to shoulder the responsibilities associated with them. I find solace in the thought that maybe – in a very small way – talking and writing about his life contributed to healing some of the rifts that invariably follow well-intended but flawed steps in life.

But we had fun as well. In the process of setting down a lifetime in mere words (such an unfair project to condense three score and ten on a few pages!), he’d take a break, get out the blue guitar and sing. I’d have a glass of wine. Ever the professional, he’d make absolutely sure that the guitar was in tune before caressing a melody from the instrument. An audience of one or an audience of many didn’t make a difference; his performance had to be perfect every time.

During one of his visits, he composed the music for a CD that was released later. It contained his adaption of some of the most famous love poems in Afrikaans. During that time it was impossible to start with his life story before ten of eleven – he’d work on the compositions from six until then before announcing his readiness to continue. Whenever it came to music, his dedicated professionalism and discipline never wavered.

And now his story has been told, the book is on the shelves, and it’s there for all to read. His one regret was that it was impossible to include all the people that meant so much to him. There were many famous individuals who touched his life – but it were the chance meetings with fans and friends that meant especially much to him. These meetings often blossomed into friendships that existed till his death. The support he and his family received during his last few days, remains testimony to his charisma and ability to reach out to friends and starngers alike.

The way his family rallied during his final days, deserves mention. Those readers who know his story, will realise how precious this must have been for him.

And now that famous voice is silent. We talked about death quite a lot, almost always including the question about what will be sung in heaven. Will there be choirs? Individual performers? Or will it be an entirely new adventure to discover the music of angels? Whatever it is, I find it easy to imagine him up there, adding his rich tenor to the melody of eternity.

He leaves us with such a wonderful legacy. The songs he sung – both old and new – will add spice to our days in future. The memories he made with so many people will add to that whenever his CD’s are played. A few years from now, people won’t remember him for the cancer he struggled with or the politics of his youth. They’ll stop what they’re doing when his songs are played, smile sadly, and say: “He enriched our lives with that voice. He made us laugh with the silly ditties. His rendition of Heimwee made us cry. But you know what? That man could sing. And he did…”

The voice is silent.

But his song goes on.

No ‘Happy Holidays’ here

linux-christmas“I don’t like it.” Vetfaan points at the Upington Liquor Store’s pamphlet, advertising the specials for the season.

“I do. Look: the beer is a bargain.” Kleinpiet smiles.

“Not the beer, man. It says here: ‘Happy Holidays’.” Vetfaan frowns. “Whatever happened to Merry Christmas?”

“Politically incorrect, my friend. It’s not fashionable to advertise your religion any more. It’s like BEE – if you don’t comply with the norm, you don’t do business. Christmas is seen as an excluding factor in society these days; you have to respect other religions, too. So, ‘Merry Christmas’ is no longer acceptable.” Gertruida sighs. “It was so much simpler in the old days…”

“But what about Ramadan? Are they going to wish those guys ‘Happy Fasting’ now? Or ‘Happy Candles’ when it’s the Festival of Lights? And what about ‘Happy Adulthood’ for Sammie’s nephew’s bar mitzvah?  What’s with the ‘Happy’, anyway?”

“Good question,” Oudoom says. “‘Happy’ is such a nonsensical word. It’s the name of one of the Seven Dwarfs, isn’t it? One of these days somebody from the Association of National Cretins will demand compensation for the abuse of the poor midget’s name. It’s all so politicized these days. Even Father Christmas flies in the face of gender equality…and who says he’s got to be a fat, middle-aged, bearded chap with a booming laugh? And don’t get me started on carols either; Jingle Bells and White Christmas doesn’t really convey the wonder of what we’re celebrating.” He hums the tune and does a little jig around his chair. “Not very pious, see,” he says as he sits down again.

“Well,” Vetfaan gets up to make his point, “I’m sticking to the Afrikaans, which is what Christmas should be about, anyway. ‘Geseënde Kersfees’ says something about blessing and grace – for everybody. When I shake somebody’s hand with that wish, I’m not trying to advertise religion. I’m merely confirming a universal faith. We all believe in something, and that’s okay. Words like ‘halaal’ and ‘kosher’ don’t offend me; simply because I respect the way other people go about their lives. Surely it’s not too much to ask that they see my wish as a gesture of goodwill?”

Oudoom nods and drops the frivolous attitude. “Goodwill to all. Yes, that’s what it’s about. You can go on a happy holiday in the Drakensberg or Kruger Park – that’s fine. Happy holidays are for summer days , braaivleis and lots of fun. Geseënde Kersfees is about celebrating God’s love for us all.”

The group in Boggel’s Place falls silent while they contemplate the grace and mercy  of the Christmas message. It is – they’ll all agree – a concept that has been commercialised and watered down to such an extent that many people simply miss the point of it all.

But, despite the political frowns and all the other objectors, the people of Rolbos – all of them -unite in wishing every reader a Geseënd Kersfees. May this time be a time of grace and blessing; allowing peace, love and goodwill to flourish amidst the turmoil of a world we all hope will be a better place next year.

Rolbos will be back in the new year, but if you feel like reading up on a miracle in the meantime: read the story of Silent Night. It really is one of the best Christmas stories ever.

An Interview with an Ailing Man (In Afrikaans)

kleur-1000This post is directed at all people who love that most beautiful language, Afrikaans.

This interview was broadcast this week. It is in Afrikaans, and the reason for posting it here, is to reach out to the many, many expats living all over the world.

‘Kleur’, the biography, concerns the life of Randall Charles Wicomb. It traces his childhood years against the background of Apartheid – and the battle his mother fought to ensure that the word ‘European’ appeared on his birth certificate. The book explores his life, his loves, and his terminal cancer. It tells of his musical achievements and the long and winding road in the search of identity. In the end, it’s a poignant tale of a man who looks back, remembering the good times, but not shying away from those incidents that caused hurt and sadness. Between the smiles and the tears, the book aims to convey a simple message: we all belong to the human family. And also…enjoy life; we don’t live forever.

Photo Challenge: Transitional Normality.

We all start life filled with hopeand innocence. Oh, parents mean well, don’t they? But how can anyone prepare a child to live in a world where hope and innocence are so easily lost? Teaching a child to be a ‘normal’ member of society often leads to a life of pretence – you have to act, speak, talk and exercise your choices in an ‘acceptable’ manner; denying the instinct to be an individual with unique characteristics.

t1We grow up, losing much along the way. And then we get to that point in the woods, where the two roads diverge, just like Robert Frost promised it would…

t4

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…’

t3Of course we choose one…expecting to find rest, comfort, good fortune…and possibly, Love. That is, after all, the promise of ‘normality’…isn’t it?

t2Sadly, all too often these dreams are shattered by the thorny seat we eventually find ourselves in. Here the dreams of a quiet life, ‘normal’ relationships and peace are shattered by the reality of the outcome of our choices. Pretending to be content, just isn’t good enough any more.

IMG_2528That’s when we begin to realise: ‘normal’ doesn’t mean a thing. It’s time to shun pretence and follow the heart. If it raises a few eyebrows, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

t5And then, having lost so much and found so little – we start afresh: finding happiness in simplicity; hope in reality and love in the most unexpected place. Love isn’t out there, waiting for us to find it; love has all along been  inside us; the sad  prisoner of pretence. Only once those walls are shattered, can we reclaim the hope and innocence we were born with. That’s when we dance on sunshine…

Back to the future

breekyster 2010 045A fridge, like we all know, is an essential requirement in our everyday survival. Warm beer just isn’t healthy – especially so in the Kalahari. So, when Boggel’s trusty old fridge suddenly gave up the ghost, his customers were devastated. It’d take two weeks for another cooler to arrive with Kalahari Vervoer, which means the end of civilisation as they know it. The mood in Boggel’s Place is dark, the conversation stopped and even Vrede doesn’t seem interested in the piece of biltong Sevaas chucked his way.

“I suppose this is the end of the line,” Vetfaan sighs, “there’s just no reason to go on…”

A long, depressed silence follows the remark. A life without cold beer in Boggel’s Place? Impossible!

“Ice.” Gertruida whispers the word. “We need ice! In the old days of Kolman’s Kop and Kimberley, they delivered huge blocks of ice to the house. Somebody must simply drive to Upington and get us some.” A smile lights up her face. “Simple, isn’t it? Problem solved.”

“Yes, and by the time we get back here, we’ll have a tub of water.” Vetfaan’s remark isn’t unfounded – it’s been terribly hot lately. “We won’t get back quick enough, even if my Land Rover makes good time…which it usually doesn’t.”

“Ja,” Servaas joins in. “It’s just like the situation in the country. There is enough ice in Upington, but we won’t get it back here where it’s needed.”

“How can you compare Boggel’s fridge to the country’s problems, Servaas? That fridge is much more important than the political mayhem, the bankruptcy of SAA, the wrong trains from Spain, ESCOM’s bottomless pit and the student protests combined…and you know that!”

“Jup…those are serious matters, indeed, Gertruida…and that’s my point. We have enough money in the country – what with taxes being what they are – but the real stuff doesn’t get to the people who need them. We thought Nkandla was bad, until the pres started showing interest in a new super-plane for himself. As usual, he giggled his way through questions and told everybody he knew nothing about such things.

“The point is this: it’s no use having ice in Upington, if we cannot get it here. And there are endless protests because people are cheated out of a brighter future. It’s the same thing…”

“Maybe we could drive over to Ben Bitterbrak’s place – he’s got a solar panel to keep him going. Quite a nice arrangement, if you asked me. He’s using sunshine to keep him happy…and it’s not only free, but it works!” Vetfaan eyes the case of warm beers, shudders, and goes on: “Of course, he might not want to help; stingy old bugger that he is.”

breekyster 2010 049“On my farm I haver a cooler room, guys!” Kleinpiet’s excited statement makes them look up hopefully. “You know, one of those old-fashioned rooms with the double, perforated walls and the charcoal in between. Haven’t used it for ages, but there’s plenty of space for all the beer in Boggel’s storeroom. All we have to do, is to wet the charcoal.”

“Now that,” Vetfaan says with a sardonic sneer, “is real progress for you. From nuclear power plants in the future, to damp charcoal-cooled beer. All that is left, is to start the fire, and we can have a braai.”

The group at the bar can’t wait for Kleinpiet’s return the next day. As the minutes tick by, they start speculating that the farmer might have had an accident, or maybe fell ill…or something. It is way past midday beofe Kleinpiet finally appears at the end of Voortrekker Weg – on a borrowed donkey-cart.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says when he finally draws up the reins in front of Boggel’s Place. “The garage in Grootdrink didn’t have petrol – apparently the drivers of the tankers are striking. Nothing in Upington either, they told me. So I had to borrow Platnees’s donkey and his cart. Anyway, here I am, and the beer is cool…”

Kleinpiet is the hero of the day. Forget about the great technical advances, the wonderful convenience of modern-day appliances and the so-called progress in world-wide politics and economics – the old ways have stood the test of time. According to Gertruida, we are far too dependent on electricity, the Internet and the goodwill of our fellow men and women across the globe. She says we have become slaves to the energy companies and the concept of democracy. That’s why, she maintains, Rolbos is such a great place to live and grow old in – the place is remote, the people care more about each other than about what the newsreader on CNN tells the world, and  their only weakness is for cold beer. Oudoom is there to keep them (more or less) on the straight and narrow. And…Kleinpiet has an ancient cooling room.

Maybe, she once remarked, the world wants too much. By constantly expecting the future to be better than the past, is like expecting education and health care  to be free. Yes, it sounds like such a good idea, but only if the professors and the doctors refuse to be paid. And, she added, if you pay peanuts, you’ll  get monkeys. She called it the ‘zoo-scenario’.

“The past will be better than the future, chaps. We might as well get used to the idea.” She’s right, of course – like always.

That’s why Boggel got the townsfolk to start building a cooling room behind his bar. He says cold beer has been around for many centuries – it’s worth investing in the past.

The Many-headed Hyena.

hyena“It’s no use,” Gertruida says as she switches off the radio. “They’ll never stop this thing by taking out a few activists here and there. Oh, it’s good for morale and all that, but in the end, it’s pretty much symbolic.”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida…you’re in one of your black moods again. Russia and France are bombing those terrorists, and the police all over Europe are doing a magnificent job in unravelling the network of activists. How can you say it’s ‘symbolic‘?”

“All I’m saying, Servaas, is: too little, too late. Let me tell you one of !Kung’s stories…”

***

Once upon a time, many, many winters ago, the quiet life of the people living in a remote village was disrupted by a hyena. It was a huge beast, with fierce fangs and huge jaws.This hyena had developed a taste for the villager’s children, which naturally upset the parents tremendously. They held many meetings and spoke of the beast in hushed tones, calling it a coward and a thief – but still they didn’t do anything. Eventually, after yet another attack, they called on all the men in the village to hunt this animal down.

tour-dundee-04This they did, and after many bloody skirmishes, the men returned triumphantly, proclaiming their victory and boasting about their bravery. The villagers relaxed, painted many pictures of the battle on many rocks, and made up new songs for their warriors.

But, in the hills, something happened they didn’t know about. The Hyena had had a pup: a small and furry little animal that cried at night after the loss of it’s father. Some people from a neighbouring village heard the pitiful sobs, looked for and found the cute baby animal.

“What is this poor baby doing all alone? See how hungry it is! It is our duty to feed it and help it grow.”

And this is what they did. The shaman in the village took care of the pup, feeding it and making it strong again.

One day, the little hyena spoke to the shaman, telling him how bad men had hunted his father and killed him for no reason. The shaman felt exceedingly sad upon hearing this and promised the young animal that no such thing would ever happen to him.

“Look, I have cared for you,” the shaman said, “and now you’re big enough to go back into the wilds. But you’ll be hunted, like your father was. This cannot be. Here, drink this potion, it’ll protect you. No hunter will be strong enough to kill you now.”

And the young hyena took what the shaman offered, drank the potion and felt how it made him stronger. Then it left to seek out his own in the wilderness.

Some time later, some hunters found his tracks and followed it. When they saw the fully-grown hyena, they ran back to the village.

“Ayee! Ayee!” They shouted for the people to hear. “There is a hyena in the veld again. We must kill it at once!”

And so the men took their bows and arrows, their spears and knives, to go and find the hyena. This they did, and a fierce battle ensued. Eventually one of the marksmen managed to kill it with a well-aimed arrow.

“Let us cut off his head,” they said amongst themselves. “The women would be most impressed.” And this, too, was done.

While the villagers celebrated their brave warriors, a strange thing happened out there in the veld. On the corpse of the hyena, a new head grew. The shaman’s magic was working.

And the hyena continued to feed on the villager’s children, no matter how many times they hunted it down…

***

“Kung told this story about how some people never stopped doing bad things – he called them many-headed hyenas.” Gertruida nods at Boggel to order a round of drinks. “But it has a wider meaning than that. Evil – once it is nurtured and fed – will keep up it’s destructive ways once it has progressed beyond a certain point.”

“But the Muslims…”

“No, Servaas, this has nothing to do with religion. The evil isn’t confined to a certain way of believing, a certain culture or a specific race.  The evil was fed by politicians to attain political goals. But now the hyena is out there and he doesn’t need the shaman’s protection any longer. We can cut off its head many times…only to prove it’ll grow back every time.”

“So what can we do, Gertruida? Surely there must be some way…”

“It’s the most difficult problem, Servaas. The shaman created it…it must now stop feeding it. And I’m not sure that’ll happen.”

“You mean the politicians?”

“Ja, that, and the media, the religious leaders, the financiers, the suppliers, the fanatics and the fundamentalists. And I can’t see that happening. The pup has grown up. Now its got too many heads…”