The Crows Are Here.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com“Crows,” Gertruida said as they listened to the squawking outside, “are most intelligent. They can manufacture and use tools, but they prefer living in areas where they can feed on refuse and garbage and food they didn’t have to work for. Most of them gang together in groups and scavenge for a living.”

“I don’t like crows,” Precilla wrinkles her nose. “On Kleinpiet’s farm they have taken to catching tortoises. They spy a small one, and they’ll grab it with their claws and lift it high above the ground. Then they’ll look for a suitable rock and dash it to death – and then feed on the corpse. They always target the weak and defenceless. Quite disgusting. Maybe that’s why the collective term for these birds is a murder of crows…”

“Ah yes…and there’s a story the Bushmen tell,” Gertruida rejoins, “about the way crows are the messengers of disaster – especially to the unjust and the proud…”

 ***

Long ago, after !Kaggen caused mankind to step from the tree, there was peace on earth. There were no conflicts, no war, no bloodshed. As mankind multiplied, they spread out over the land so that every family had enough space to hunt freely. After the first rain of summer, the families would get together to tell the others what had happened during the last year.

Oh, these gatherings were joyous affairs, with lots of eating, dancing and talking. Such was the excitement, that they sang a new song every year – a song dedicated to their happiness and love for each other, for life and for nature. 

One year, the Biggest Family sang their own song:

                                                             We have multiplied, we are blessed                                                                                                         We are wonderful, we are the best.

The Other Families listened to the song, and an Old One stood up and said it wasn’t the way they did things. Nobody is better than anybody else, for did !Kaggen not create them all equal? Why would the Biggest Family want to be better than the rest? It’s not done, he said, sitting down sadly.

But lo! The Biggest Family then became exceedingly angry and beset themselves onto the others, The fight was short and bloody. When the sun set that day, only a few of the Smaller Families were left. They had fled from the wrath of the Biggest Family, hiding high up in the mountains. There they gathered once more, but not with either joy or excitement. Now their meeting was one of fear – even loathing – for they had seen what the Biggest Family had done to their kin.

Some of the younger men suggested an ambush while others wanted to attack them at night – but the Old One held up a hand and said they were too weak to attempt such a folly.

“No,” he said, “that won’t do. We must not do something we’d be ashamed of. Look, we know there are too many of them. And, my children, killing your enemies will only result in more killings. Does the tree not put out many shoots once lightning has struck it down? We, my children, must wait.”

The Young Ones respected the Old One’s words, but still couldn’t refrain from asking him what they must wait for.

“The crows, my children. We’ll wait for the crows.”

And the Young Ones became much frightened, for they thought the crows were the spirits of the dead – they weren’t like the other birds at all. A trembling young voice asked again, and was answered by the Old One.

“Mankind is as the sand of the desert. The wind blows it here, the wind blows it there. But…the wind can not blow the sand away, no matter how hard it tries. See the dunes out there? It’s sand. It’s the same sand I saw when I was young. It doesn’t go away.”

The Young Ones listened patiently. It would have been rude to interrupt.

“We are a people, as are the others. All people form a dune, that the wind blows this way and the wind blows that way. But no matter how hard the wind blows, the dune will still be here tomorrow and the days after that.

“And, my children, our actions are as the sand of the desert as well. Like us, our actions gather, become more, and create dunes around us. The wind may blow it here, the wind may blow it there, but the dunes will be here tomorrow and the days after that.”

The Young Ones finally understood the wise words. A done deed cannot be undone. It is added to the dunes forming around us and can never be blown away, no matter how hard the wind tries to do so,

“And the crows, Old One?” A small boy at the back wanted to know more.

“Ah, the crows. Some believe them to be the spirits of those departed. But no, my children. Those black birds are more than that – they are shamed beings, but also messengers, prophets, scavengers of the future. Let me tell you about crows…”

When the world gathered her horizons around her and the wind was born, the wild animals were given tasks. Lion was to be king, dove was  a peacemaker and oryx the judge. There were animals which dug the earth, which cleaned the veld and which kept the rivers clean. But crow? He was lazy and not fond of work. He flew away when the tasks were given and hid in the night.This, the other animals said,was wrong. Crow was then given a black coat and sent away in shame.

Now, the crow couldn’t return to the other animals. It became angry and began hunting the weak and the vulnerable. It had become a scavenger of left-overs.

“But why would the crows want to go to the Biggest Family?”

IMG_2828“The dunes of the actions of that family contains much shame,” the Old One said. “The crows would feed on that. The Bigger Family will think the crows have come to eat away their shame and wrongs, and then – relieved of that burden – they will do even bigger wrongs. The crows will eat and eat and the wrongs will become more and more. The wind will blow the dunes this way, the wind will blow the dunes that way – but they’ll just keep on growing and becoming bigger.”

“And then, Old One?”

“The dunes will become too big to remain where they are. The sand will start trickling down their slopes. The bad the Bigger Family had done, will run down the slope and cover them, suffocating them in their own wrongdoing.”

And the leftover families listened to the Old One and waited for the crows.

***

“That’s a crazy story, Gertruida. Crows and sand dunes and wind…? These old stories are fun to listen to, but sadly – their meanings have been lost in time,”

“Not so, Vetfaan.” Gertruida wags a knowing finger in the air. “The government is of the opinion that their actions are condoned by the masses on the dunes around them. They are feeding the crows, my friend…”

For those who can’t follow the Afrikaans words:

I know an age-old song
about life’s joys and woes;
about shipwrecks long forgotten
to the cellars of the sea.

The words are lost forever
but still, the tune remains —
like a vaguely recalled image
from a very old folk tale.

Visions, dreams, and names,
have been scattered by the wind
and where all the words went
only a child could see.

Nomads, with no direction;
Seekers that won’t find…
In the end, we are all just
children of the wind.

The Half-eyed Girl and the President.

Twitch-Inside-Image-1Klaas Vermaak and his wife, Sophia, had only one child, born in the year Armstrong stepped out on the lunar surface: the strange and almost sightless waif called (quite inappropriately) Hope. Gertruida said her problems were due to the Uranium people later found underneath their farm, but more popular opinion had it that she carried the heavy burden of her grandfather’s sins, who had been a minister in D F Malan’s cabinet. In the end it didn’t really matter who or what got blamed, it was poor Hope that suffered.

Except that she was exceedingly thin and remarkably pale, her most obvious abnormality was the curious way her pupils had formed. Like upside-down half-moons, only the lower parts of the pupils were black, indicating that only those bits of the lenses allowed light to be focussed on the retinas. This, as one can understand, allowed Hope only to see the few metres on the ground in front of her. If she really wanted to see ahead, she had to tilt her head completely back to squint past her pert nose and over her pale upper lip. Despite this, her partial sight allowed her to get by without a white cane or a friendly Labrador as guide.

Sometime in her infancy, her desperate  parents took her to a clergyman to pray for her – after visits to the country’s top specialists advised against surgery. The religious healer prayed long and with passion…but when they went home, her eyes remained just the same.

Resigned to her fate, little Hope lived with her parents in sad isolation. She had no friends, didn’t go to school, and never had a birthday party or a sleepover. Hope took to reading after her mother taught her the basics of the alphabet. This, she found, was something she could do relatively normally, with her head up high and the book held tight against her chest. Not really being able to help her father on the farm or her mother in the kitchen, both parents were overjoyed that their daughter started devouring books to pass the time. In the beginning that involved the two books in the house: the Bible and a collection of hymns. Realising the need for more, Klaas Vermaak started buying books at bazaars, auctions, the second-hand book store in Upington and whenever the library sold off its old, dilapidated stock. The result: Hope knew almost everything about everything there was to read about by the time she was twelve. She could quote Tolstoy, the Bible and Fitzgerald with consummate ease although she found the work of Stephen Hawking rather challenging.

Around the time she turned sixteen, her fame as a very knowledgeable person  had spread through the district. She was, as Gertruida puts it, the first human Google. Whenever a child wanted to score extremely well in a school project, all they  had to do was to get in the car and drive over to Klaas Vermaak’s farm. There, within an hour or two, the project was completed with so much information that an extra exercise book was usually necessary.

Hope, however, found these visits boring and frustrating. People didn’t come to visit her – they were only interested in what she could do for them. Still, it was better than spending the days alone – especially after she had found a new interest in the process: shoes!

Shoes fascinated her . As she could not see the faces of her visitors, it was quite natural for her to study the footwear of those in her company, Soon, she associated specific shoes with specific people, and created a type of catalogue of shoe-people in her mind. She read a lot in the scuff marks (walking in the veld, playing games at school, roughing it up with other boys), shiny shoes (diligent student, strict parents, poor family) and raised shoes (spinal abnormalities and low self-esteem). Gym shoes, church shoes, high heels, platforms, sandals, boots, pumps – all these spoke to her, telling her about the personality and habits of the wearer outside the confines of her tiny room.

It became a game, a pleasurable intellectual exercise, to guess these things, making her look forward to the next hopeful who awaited her encyclopaedic  explanation of lesser-known facts. This was her personal, private form of amusement; something she didn’t share with her parents.

Klaas Vermaak was a staunch Nationalist, whose family helped bring about the Apartheid regime in 1948. As a elder in the church and a member of the Day of the Vow committee, he upheld the policies of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha – whose photographs were displayed prominently in the lounge of their home. When the finger wagging, lip-licking Botha and his entourage paid a visit to the electoral constituency of Upington, the Vermaaks were chosen to show the president the way the farmers eked out a living from the dry Kalahari soil.

Sophia – as can be expected – panicked. A president in her humble home? Here? Yes, Klaas assured her, PW  was on his way and they’d better make sure he left with a favourable impression. It’d only be a short visit, her husband declared, just for tea. The president, she ought to know, was a busy man.

The house was cleaned. A cake baked. Cups and saucers were borrowed, the silver spoons (a heirloom, reputedly brought over by an ancestor from Europe, never used in living memory) polished, and Ouma Vermaak’s doilies arranged just right in front of the best chair in anticipation of the visit. Klaas’s church suit was pressed. Sophia carefully stitched the loose bit of lace back to the bust of her wedding dress. The president was coming and they’d look their best.

Botha surprised them by arriving in khaki. To identify with the farmers, see? Short-sleeved and immaculately ironed slacks, the important man smiled his tight political smile when the Vermaaks greeted him at the door in their best attire. Sophia introduced their daughter, who stared straight ahead and thus was able to grasp the outstretched hand of the president with the first try.

The cake was superb. Botha complimented the tea set, admiring the spoons. The president chatted amicably about the conditions in the Kalahari. He told the family that he, too, was a simple man working under difficult conditions. Like them, he was a humble Afrikaner who feared God and followed biblical directives. They shouldn’t think that he, as president, occupied the highest seat in the country because of fame or money, Botha said, not at all. He simply did what was best for everybody, keeping the communists out and ensuring stability in the country.

“Not true,” Hope whispered in the silence that followed Botha’s monologue. Her parents were horrified, the president kept on smiling, and she repeated the two words.

berluti

Berluti: Verona Leather Oxford Shoes £1,400

Klaas then quickly ushered the president outside to show him the sheep and the tractor he had cleaned up for the occasion, telling the big man that his daughter had…certain…health problems. The president understood, yes? Botha nodded, smiling still.

But, banned to her room, Hope wiped a tear from her half moon eye. She was right, she knew it! The shoes, that’s what gave the president away. Berluti shoes. The most expensive shoes in the world. No true Afrikaner would wear those on a farm, even if he could afford them.

The president was a fake. His smile was fake. And his compliments were fake.

***

Jacob-Zuma-dancingGertruida says Hope was sent away after that – to Worcester, where they had a school for partially sighted children. There she eventually consulted a new eye surgeon, who corrected the defect in her eyes with the most modern equipment. At the age of 25, she finally was able to see properly; but she still looked at shoes whenever she met somebody, playing her shoe-game in her mind.

She says her vote will go to any candidate with scuffed, well-worn shoes; a hard-working, honest man whose shoes tell of commitment and trust. Of course, this isn’t going to happen in the near future, but she lives up to her name in quiet desperation. Until then, she prefers to look at the world like she did before: only a few metres in front of her feet. The view, she says, is much less disturbing.

Hennie Kirstein’s Well

Credit: radionz.co.nz

Credit: radionz.co.nz

They still talk about Hennie Kirstein. About him and the girl and the way he disappeared.

Not often, though – simply because the story has so many endings and nobody is quite sure what had happened after the honeymoon. Some (like old Servaas) are convinced that leaving Hennie’s farm caused a fast exit in the Vertical Elevator; but others (like Precilla) believe differently. The ensuing argument usually ends in an icy silence in Boggel’s Place, something that the patrons prefer to avoid. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t think about the handsome young man they used to envy.

Hennie, you see, had the midas touch, although it came to him by accident. He started with his small flock of sheep on the farm nobody wanted, It was haunted, they said, after Oom Ferreira fell down the well he was digging. He drowned in the middle of the driest, most desolate and isolated part of the Kalahari. Hard to believe? Maybe. But that’s what happened.

At the auction afterwards, only Hennie rocked up and bought the farm for a pittance. He had just enough money left to buy a few sheep and settled down to wait for the next lambing season. The farmers in the area predicted failure, but there must have been something in that water of the well that affected his sheep. No ewe had a single lamb. After the first season Hennie went to Upington to change the farm’s name from Alles Verloren to Tweeling. 

At the end of his second year on the farm, Hennie imported a  ram and a couple of ewes – prime stock everybody said would break him financially. Not so. Within the next two years he was able to host auctions that made his neighbours swallow their words. Hennie was on his way to becoming the richest farmer in the Northern Cape.

Everybody agrees that Hennie should have stuck to farming: then the outcome might have been a happy one. However, Hennie noticed a strange phenomenon, long before it became the subject of so much speculation. He naturally considered the fact that his prize ram – now valued at many times the original cost – would eventually cease to be the magnificent fertile animal it used to be. (This is true for humans, as well). At the age of four, the ram had it’s full set of teeth (four pairs of incisors, neatly stacked close to each other) and Hennie expected the decline to become evident as soon as the teeth started chipping and falling out – which should have happened in the next four years or so. That, he decided, would be the time to sell the ram.

But it didn’t happen. His ram – affectionately called Pumper – not only kept his teeth, but he also continued with unabated enthusiasm to do what he did best. The ewes of the flock seemed to adore the ram, bleating sadly around the sturdy pen Hennie had built to protect Pumper from being overwhelmed by the anxious mothers-to-be. At the age of 11, when even the strongest rams pack up to depart to the pasture-in-the-sky, Pumper was still fathering twins in most of his amorous relationships. (Which Hennie applauded as a work of art. He often boasted that his ram was a master seducer, even to the point of baa-ing softly to his conquests after the act – like a real gentleman should.)

Hennie wondered about his ram a lot. His virility, his fertility, his refusal to grow weary and old…and then he thought about old Oom Ferreira’s well. And then it dawned on him…

It happened when he attended the yearly auction in the eighth year of his farm. Not given to frequent visits to Rolbos or Upington, Hennie lived quietly on Tweeling and rarely saw the other farmers of the district. That year, as he stood listening to the auctioneer’s rattle driving the prices sky high, he looked at the other farmers. Stared intently. And went inside to look at the mirror above the washbasin. And gasped.

The other farmers were getting older, with wrinkles and bald heads and liver spots. He, on the other hand, looked like he had just come out of school. His beard was still fuzzy, his skin as smooth as the day he fantasized about the pigtailed girl in Standard 8, and his stomach as flat as it was when he played wing for the first team. In short – he wasn’t showing the signs of aging the other farmers endured so stoically.

It had to be the water from the well. What else? By the twelfth year his observations were more acute than ever. Pumper was in his prime. And yes, he, Hennie, was still as handsome and as young as ever. His neighbours, sadly, were getting about with replaced hips, used canes to lean on and had servants bring chairs to the auctions. His well – where Oom Ferreira drowned – was the source of….everlasting youth? Could it be?

But, since the well only provided enough water for him and the sheep, Hennie kept quiet and watched his bank balance grow,

This, as every handsome and wealthy bachelor knows, is a very bad thing. There is no stronger aphrodisiac to a would-be spinster than the number of zeroes on the little piece of paper the bank sends out every month to such rare gentlemen. Hennie later considered Pumper to be lucky to be kept safe in his sturdy pen – he, Hennie, didn’t have  that privilege. The buxom ladies came a-calling in droves and he had to be rude at times to get rid of them.

Until Bessie Cronje rocked up. She was different. Shy, demure, pretty, only slightly curvy and the greenest eyes you ever saw. What tipped the scales in her favour? Who knows? Gertruida reckons it was because Bessie wasn’t interested in money – she had inherited the Cronje millions; money made by printing T-shirts for the various political parties in South Africa. (No self-respecting political gathering is complete without T-shirt handouts and free food) Anyway, Bessie arrived in her Bentley, dressed in jeans and a high-necked blouse, and told him she wanted to settle down, make her husband happy and generally be a pleasure to have around.

So, her approach was unpretentious, honest and very, very effective. Hennie fell for her faster than Oom Ferreira descended down his well. The two of them were married by Oudoom in a very private ceremony on the farm, attended by Gertruida and Precilla as bridesmaids and witnesses. Gertruida, who never lies, says that Hennie looked more handsome than ever on that day.

It was the postcard that set the tongues wagging. Taken on the beach in Mauritius, it shows the honeymoon couple tanning happily, each with a tall glass festooned by a little umbrella. If you looked closely, you’d see a little worried smile on Bessies lips. And Hennie? Why is his brow furrowed so deeply, his hair suddenly tinged with grey?

“I tell you, that man needed his farm’s water. Stopping drinking it caused his body to age at a rapid rate. Mother Nature had been tricked for a while, but as soon as he stopped drinking from that well, the years took their revenge. I’m sure he never made it back – probably ended up in a geriatric institution somewhere.” Servaas runs a tired hand over his withered face. “You can’t fool Time, my friends.”

“Ag no, Servaas. I’m sure Bessie had twins and they settled somewhere peacefully. Why stay in the Kalahari if you can lounge around in luxury somewhere? Yep, settled down and lived happily ever after, that’s what happened.” Ever the romantic optimist, Precilla’s emphatic statement sounds a bit desperate even to herself.

Hennie’s farm is still out there, lost in the arid landscape of the vast Kalahari. The flock had been sold, except for the ram which disappeared mysteriously on the day before the sale. Kleinpiet says that, on some full moon nights, you can hear the bleating of a young ram near that well – and that usually makes his listeners laugh.

Not happy laughter, mind you – more like the impolite grunts people make upon hearing a bad joke. Just like we do when the president tells us that the ANC will rule until Jesus returns. One thing is sure, however: Uncle Zumzum would like to know about that well – he’s certainly aging too fast to still be around when that happens.

The Extinct Instinct of Trust

1280px-Oryx_gazella_male_8054The Kalahari is big.

Huge.

Massive.

And – mostly – empty.

Here you can listen to the wind rustling the dry grass in the wee small hours after midnight, or hear the forlorn, far-off cry of a jackal before dawn. You can drive around for days without seeing a single other human being. And you can hold your cellphone up as high as you like – there simply isn’t any way you’d pick up a signal.

One may be excused for thinking this is a place forgotten by man and God alike, a place shunned by civilisation and society where life – as most people practice it – is impossible.

But that’s not true. Stunted plants have worked out ways to suck water from deep underground and even from the air. Animals can go days without water. And frogs hibernate for impossible lengths of time, waiting for some rain to form a puddle nearby. Somehow. Mother Nature has found ways to celebrate life in one of the most inhospitable places on the globe.

Although isolated and – to the inexperienced eye – lifeless, the Kalahari remains one of the very rare places where one can escape the madness we call civilisation. Here you head for the shade of a camelthorn tree, pick up the broken twigs and branches (carefully avoiding the vicious thorns) and build a small fire. Be careful where you pitch the tent – the ecosystem under the tree supports snakes, scorpions and rodents. Respect them, and they’ll leave you alone.

images (9)And it is here, under the spreading branches of a lonely Acacia erioloba that Vetfaan sits down to contemplate Life, Love and The Future. He had to escape the hubbub in Boggel’s Place for a while – the talk about the recent insanity in parliament, the attacks by ISIS and the shootings in Paris and Copenhagen was just too depressing to endure any longer. The pictures in The Upington Post of the hardships in Eastern Europe and the dismal performance of Escom didn’t help to lighten his mood, either.

It is not unusual for Vetfaan to escape like this. Ever since the time he served as a soldier during the Border War in the Caprivi, he has experienced – from time to time – the need to be alone. It’s as if a fog slowly builds up around him, fed by the ever-prevailing diet of bad news and political mayhem, until it becomes imperative to isolate himself from it all. And then, it is only the silence of the great Kalahari that can peel away the layers of accumulated psychological harm – layer by layer – until his mind frees itself from the shackles of despair.

On the second morning next to his fire, a movement on the horizon draws his attention. He has to squint in the harsh glare of sunlight to make out a lone Gemsbok slowly making his way towards him. It is a magnificent animal with long horns. white-socked legs and a flowing, black tail whisked this way and that by the soft breeze.

Credit: wikipedia

Credit: wikipedia

Vetfaan knows this animal should be called an Oryx, and not a Gemsbok at all. The old German term of Gemse referred to the chamois, a much smaller antelope of Europe occurring in mountainous areas. Labeling the regal Gemsbok with the name of a mere mountain goat – probably due to the facial pattern and the straightish horns – was as appropriate as the naming of the tree Vetfaan is sitting under. Camel thorn doesn’t refer to camels at all. The discarded Latin name – Acacia giraffe – was much more accurate; but to the original Dutch explorers a giraffe was a ‘camel horse’ (kameelperd) – hence the common name.

When the antelope draws nearer, Vetfaan notices the deep wounds on his flanks. Lion! This Gemsbok must have beaten off a predator with his sabre-like horns; however, he didn’t escape unscathed. Now he can see it is limping as well – a signal to the carnivores of the desert that are always on the lookout for an easy meal.

Vetfaan gets up slowly to fill a basin with water from the container on the back of his pickup and places it in an area of dense shade, as far away as possible from his chair. The Gemsbok will smell the water, but also the fire – will it be brave enough to drink? Not wanting to scare away the injured animal, Vetfaan settles down to stare at his boots. Eye contact could imply a challenge, and that might spell out death if the antelope chooses to shy away from help.

IMG_9085 camel thorn acaciaHow long did he sit there? Time has no meaning out here except for the contrast between day and night. It could have been hours – or maybe just minutes – before soft crunching makes him look up. The Gemsbok is there, barely three metres away, eating some of the camel thorn pods. This is a good sign – those pods represent one of the most nutritious sources of food in the desert.

“There’s water,” Vetfaan whispers.

The Gemsbok’s head comes up sharply to stare at him. The wounds on his flank are still fresh and obviously cause a lot of pain. The eyes are tired, exhausted, sad.

“It’s okay.” Keeping his voice low and reassuring, Vetfaan doesn’t move. “Go on.”

And so a strange bond is formed. The wild Gemsbok and the disturbed man share the shady area beneath the canopy of the tree in silence that is only broken by the crunching of pods and the slurping of water. Perhaps the Gemsbok is just too tired to care any more, or maybe it understands – instinctively – that Vetfaan has seen enough suffering and death to abhor the very thought of it. Or, possibly, the animal knows that this fire, this man, represent the lesser of the evils that threaten him right now.

During the day, Vetfaan moves around quietly, deliberately avoiding scaring the Gemsbok off. Later, when the sun starts approaching the horizon, the Gemsbok lies down behind the trunk of the tree, resting its magnificent head on the ground. Vetfaan has never seen a Gemsbok sleep before and wishes he had a camera in his kit.

The next morning, the big antelope is up before Vetfaan peeks out of his tent. The wounds seem better and are no longer oozing blood.

“You better today?”

The Gemsbok snorts, pawing the ground softly with his hoof.

Then, after locking eyes with Vetfaan for a long moment, it turns and trots off across the sand.

***

When Vetfaan returns to Rolbos, he doesn’t tell the patrons in the bar about his experience. He does, however, tell them that life is precious, love is rare, and that the madness we call civilisation is a fallacy.

“There are predators all around us, guys. Carnivores waiting to pounce. And you know what? If we don’t take a chance here and there by trusting others, we might as well lay down and die. What do we learn from the media? Hell, man, they keep on telling us what a terrible state this world is in. Look at the papers: murder, rape, war, corruption. Even our parliament is a fine example of bloody conflict.

“The media, my friends, make a living by broadcasting distrust. The news tells us that we are threatened from all sides and implies that nobody can be trusted – everybody is out to disrupt peace. Drive with your doors locked. Don’t talk to strangers. Put up burglar bars. Get a safety door. Don’t walk alone after dark. Check your bank statement. Get a new president.

“What’s the message? And what are we telling our subconscious mind on a 24/7 basis? And then we insist on being surprised that the world is in such a disarray?”

He leaves the bar deep in thought. Space. That may be the secret of the Kalahari. Out there, there are no newspapers, no television channels, no overcrowding and no crime. In the Kalahari you have to depend on your instincts and trust your judgement. That, he decides, is only possible when you cut out the noise and the clutter and allow silence to show you the way.

That’s why, he realises, that Gemsbok had more insight than most humans do. He was brave enough to trust.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Symmetry of the Zambezi

Not for Africa the stark lines of Gothic precision and precise lines. Here, Mother Nature designed with a free hand, a warm smile and an artistic touch. What better example of her symmetrical creativity than the waters of the mighty Zambezi?

A small stream in the upper Zambezi revels in the sunset. It is the start of a massive journey to the sea.

A small stream in the upper Zambezi revels in the sunset. It is the start of a massive journey to the sea.

The moss-grown cliffs oppose each other in an eternal stand-off at the Victoria Falls

The moss-grown cliffs oppose each other in an eternal stand-off at the Victoria Falls. The roar of the cascade announces the arrival of the water at this beautiful gorge.

Farther downstream, the sunset is greeted with quiet tranquility.

Farther downstream, the sunset is greeted with quiet tranquility.

A lonely tree guards the passage to the ocean as the water eddies past.

A lonely tree guards the passage to the ocean as the water eddies past.

At last, as the ocean draws near, twin elephants take a final bath in the cool, fresh, waters.

At last, as the ocean draws near, twin elephants take a final bath in the cool, fresh, waters.

geese

Finally the lagoon and the sea. Clouds will carry droplets back to the small stream, to start the journey all over again. Perfect symmetry? Only as Mother Nature can do it…

Riding a Rhino

the day after 1_edited-1

“It is a great talent – a gift – to be like that,” Gertruida says. “A truly remarkable display of either statesmanship…or stupidity.”

“Nah, he stuck to the written script.” Kleinpiet draws a rhino on the counter top with his beer froth. “He didn’t dare acknowledge what had happened – that would have been political suicide. I mean: how could he answer the question? He can’t. No matter what he says, it’ll just drop him deeper into the doodoo. It’s like when the lawyer asks a man whether he still beats his wife. Either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ implies guilt.”

“It will have the usual consequences,” Servaas’s bored tone indicates his displeasure. “The ruling party will say it was a despicable display of childishness, a terrible contravention of parliamentary protocol, and an indication that Malema should be banned from attending future proceedings…”

“”Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Boggel interrupts the old man. “Can you imagine the chaos if that man should ever be in a more powerful position? I can just see him shaking hands with world leaders in that red overall.”

“…while the opposition parties will be unrepentant.” In true Zuma style, Servaas ignores the interjection. “They all speak so fat and say so lean.”

Rubens_Venus_at_a_Mirror_c1615“Those scenes were hugely entertaining, guys; best thing since sliced bread! But you raise the point that bothered me most.” Kleinpiet now draws a rather Rubenesque figure next to the rhine. “Man, our taxes are being used to good effect! Too good! Some of our esteemed leaders could hardly manage the stairway. It’s no wonder they get paid so well – can you imagine how much they have to spend on XXXXXL attire? It’s not like they’d fit into regulation clothing.”

“It’s a circus.” Even Precilla seems depressed. “Jamming cellphones, armed men in the parliamentary chamber, chaos all over. The banana republic shown to the world in the most embarrassing way. Whatever will Aunty Merkel or Madam Elizabeth think of us? I can honestly say I’m not proud of the way the president handled things. And then: that speech! Pffft! What did he say?”

“Nothing new. He’s still insisting on driving the country into even further problems. Land reform is no longer a question of willing seller and willing buyer. He blah-blahed about the energy crisis, omitting to tell the truth about his nuclear deal with the Russians. He admitted their inability to get the economy boosted and said ‘Cheers!’ twice. He takes his cues from Escom: it really takes a lot to keep the country in the dark like that.”

“You’re right, Servaas. But mark my words: we should remember this State of the Nation Address. It was a turning point in our history. They’re going to rewrite parliamentary rules, suppress robust debate and try to regulate conduct in the chamber. This won’t work, of course. Good manners, respect, work ethic and  statesmanship aren’t things you can teach people with a handbook of rules. Parliamentary culture is something you feel, an undeniable inner voice, permitting free speech but also allowing for a sense of decorum. And that, my friends, is not the way we’ll see things done until sanity returns to the hallowed halls of government.”

“And when will that happen, Gertruida?”

She sighs and signals for another beer. “Who knows? Maybe never. But yesterday’s fiasco was a start. We heard the last State of the Nation Address from Zuma – of that I’m sure. He’s become a Jonah on the ANC ship. They are just stalling, unsure of who will be chosen to give him that final shove. Then, they’ll replace him with Ramaphosa, who’s been doing the job for months now, anyway. And then, after the next election, we’ll hopefully have a more balanced parliament where one party doesn’t call all the shots. Maybe then…”

“That’s the future, Gertruida, and even you are uncertain about how things will unfold. At this moment we’re still stuck with the situation as it is.”

“Ever tried to ride a rhino, Servaas? You can only stay on top for so long…”

The Greatest Show on Earth…or not?

Zuma Satire

There’s a kind of hush in Boggel’s Place today as they wait patiently for the Honourable President to deliver his State of the Nation Address. It should be a stately affair to showcase the immaculate vision and excellent leadership we as South Africans are proud to present to the world at large. Servaas remembers the days when Oom Blackie Swart was the president and went about in his humble ways. Surely, he maintains, subsequent presidents will try to surpass the standard of honesty and quiet humility our first president set. After all, parliament is the example of the finest men and women in the country and we should be extremely proud of how they rule over us.

Gertruida reckons it’s all a dust storm in a tin mug, but Vetfaan can’t wait. He says some presidents might stumble, but it’s time for others to run…

Kleinpiet has been busy all day researching the perfect State of the Nation Address. He says it’s been invented a long time ago by a gentleman called David Davies, who used to broadcast on LM Radio, If our esteemed First Citizen could say something like this – after bidding us all a fond goodbye and final farewell – he’d be a happy man.

A Call to remember…

Daily Prompt:Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

langenhoven

C J Langenhoven

Milk tart,” Vetfaan’s reaction is immediate. “Real milk tart with cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the top, cooled enough to be firm but warm enough to drip from your spoon. No question, guys, that’s the taste of youth.”

“Mmmm…I feel the same about souskluitjies. My grandmother used to make those dumplings so fluffy, so soft, that they melted in your mouth. We ate serving after serving – much to the old lady’s delight – until we were so stuffed we could barely walk!” The nostalgic smile on Precilla’s face says it all.

Boggel remains quiet while the others chat away about melkkos, various ways to do a fillet and another favourite, bobotie. The thing that transports him back to his youth, is no longer around. It is politically incorrect. It is banned for all the wrong reasons. When  C J Langenhoven penned the poem in 1918, he surely was blessed to be ignorant of his verses’ fate.

It is a song of longing, of loyalty and of trust. It tells of a beautiful country in hauntingly stirring words, emphasizing the requirement of hard work and steadfast faith. In the song, the words travel through the seasons of life, acknowledging the requirement to build and preserve for future generations.

But then, of course, things changed. The history of the country got politicized to reflect ‘indigenous’ rights and values. The Old World was past and the New Age embraced with enthusiasm. Out with the old flag, in with the new. And with the new street names, town names and new provinces, a bit of the old song was retained to at least remember that we once had an anthem that inspired the people to work, to build and to pray.

Yes, Boggel knows the beauty of Nkosi Sikelel, the song that did service as an anthem to countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia at various times during the 1900’s; written in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga as a hymn. It is a song about Africa, a calling down of blessing. But, the bent little barman wonders, what did the song inspire in the end? Is the beseechment of Nkosi really part of our culture any longer? Does South African society respond to the hymn with dignity, honesty and pride – or are we living in a corrupt society where crime, murder and rape are part of our daily lives? Is the new anthem – the hybrid of Nkosi Sikelel and The Call – a just reflection of what we believe in?

There was a time, Boggel remembers, that he sung The Call, believing every word.

                                                                                      Fourth verse

Afrikaans                                        English                                                        LITERAL tRANSLATION

Op U Almag vas vertrouend In thy power, Almighty, trusting, On your almight steadfast entrusted
het ons vadere gebou: Did our fathers build of old; Had our fathers built:
Skenk ook ons die krag, o Here! Strengthen then, O Lord, their children Give to us also the strength, o Lord!
Om te handhaaf en te hou. To defend, to love, to hold- To sustain and to preserve.
Dat die erwe van ons vadere That the heritage they gave us That the heritage of our fathers
Vir ons kinders erwe bly: For our children yet may be; For our children heritage remain
Knegte van die Allerhoogste, Bondsmen only to the Highest Servants of the almighty,
Teen die hele wêreld vry. And before the whole world free. Against the whole world free.
Soos ons vadere vertrou het, As our fathers trusted humbly, As our fathers trusted,
Leer ook ons vertrou, o Heer: Teach us, Lord to trust Thee still; Teach us also to trust, o Lord:
Met ons land en met ons nasie Guard our land and guide our people With our land and with our nation
Sal dit wel wees, God regeer. In Thy way to do Thy will. It will be well, God reigns.

Yes, Boggel knows those words aren’t sung any more.

But that’s the song of his youth, the song when he still hoped for a better future.

And now, of course, the words will be lost to future generations. They’ll plead blessings from N’kosi while the decay of society eats away at the canvas of our civilisation.

“Okay, Boggel!” Vetfaan’s eyes the quiet barman with a raised eyebrow. “What transports you back to your younger days?”

Boggel looks up, suddenly aware of them all looking at him.

“Oh? Nothing much, I suppose. I’m just wondering about old poems and rhymes.” He squares his shoulders and sighs. “Perhaps politicians haven’t changed all that much and maybe one should acknowledge both past and present flaws in our government. But, damn it guys, nobody can take away memories. We remember what we choose to, which is a bit sad. How easily we forget!

“So…the thing that takes me back, is music. The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Bob Dylan…. And Langenhoven, of course.”

Initially, only Gertruida grasps what he said. She walks around the counter to hug the small man.

“The melody was by Marthinus Lourens de Villiers, Boggel. Langenhoven only wrote the words.”

The group falls silent while they listen to the old song in their minds. One by one they realise they have forgotten some of the words. Time, they all realise, can be extremely cruel, but somehow the brain does not forget melodies as easily as words. But…even the snippet remaining in the current anthem is enough. When they close their eyes, they remember all too well what the song had meant back in their younger days.

“We won’t forget The Call,” Servaas says, raising his glass.

He’s right, of course…

***

Today, no song is added to the words. The only song fitting this piece, has been tarnished by politics. Yet, it is my hope that people will revisit this song of their youth – not in an attempt to rekindle antagonism, but to simply look again at the words. Forget the anthem, consider the poem. The Call might be associated with Apartheid, and for those who do, I extend a hand of friendship. Yes, condemn the government who operated while The Call was the anthem – but try to remember that it was written in 1918, long before it was chosen as an anthem until 1957. It was the work of a brilliant man who loved his country.

We can certainly do with more of the sentiment Langenhoven expressed so eloquently.

The Fable of the Curse of the Riverine Rabbit

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Gertruida has a way of telling stories that seem completely irrelevant. But then again, if you know Gertruida, you realise that her stories are rather convoluted tales that – although old and originating in a different time – are timeless. They speak about issues that are as relevant today as it might have been when the first Bushman told them to his audience around a fire on a dark and stormy night.

Take, for instance, her fable of the riverine rabbit…

***

Long ago, when the Karoo was an inland lake and the San hunters still respected all forms of life – that is, many centuries before ‘civilisation’ exploded all over Africa and destroyed the paradise  forever – the Riverine Rabbit had dreams. Big dreams. Being clever and more nimble than all the other animals, the rabbit decided to proclaim itself as king over the land it roamed. 

Of course, a king had to have a castle. Not any old castle, mind you – a castle that would proclaim its importance. It had to be the most impressive dwelling of all, there for the rest to see and to be envious about. Of course, no rabbit can build such a magnificent mansion on its own, so the rabbit spent many days thinking about how to manage this impossible task.

One sunny day, when all the animals gathered at the watering hole, the rabbit climbed onto a big rock. 

“If you make me your king,” he shouted, “I shall see to it that you all have houses. You simply can’t go on living in the wild – it just won’t do. So I promise to build homes for all of you, where you can shelter from the cold wind in winter and the hot sun in summer.” He hesitated a moment, allowing the words to sink in. “Now, what do you say?”

The animals found this exceedingly strange and sat down to whisper amongst themselves. 

Klipspringer

Klipspringer

“A house?” The hyena scratched the itchy spot behind his left ear. “I’ve never had one. It would be nice, I think.”

“Ah, yes, a home.” The  impala eyed the lion suspiciously. “I can do with some protection.”

“I’d love a shelter,” the shy klipspringer murmured. “I hate being so exposed in the veld all the time. It makes me feel so…vulnerable.”

“Well, then,” the rabbit said, “we must all work together. As your king, I command you to collect all the things we’d need. Grass for the thatch, logs and rocks for the walls. Warthog can begin scooping away some earth, so we may have a dam. And elephant can start uprooting some trees to clear away an area in which we can build. The Hawks will provide security and lion can guard our materials.

“As your king, I shall not be working with you. I have much more important things to do.” He laughed softly. “Kings, as you will find out, are master organisers, not workers.”

The animals slaved themselves to a standstill for their king. They carried rocks, dragged logs, gathered bundles of grass. These they brought to the open space the elephants created, next to the new big hole warthog had made for the dam.

“Now the fence,” rabbit ordered, explaining that the new housing project needed to be secure at all times. Rhino and elephant then constructed a high fence, using branches torn from thorn trees. When the last branch was placed, all the animals were inside the enclosure. Following the orders given by rabbit – who was lounging stately in the shade – the construction of the mansion was started.

The animals were all excited by the project. The huge mansion had many rooms, and places to play and eat and have fun. They all agreed that they would be very happy in such a wonderful dwelling.

After many months, the building was complete. The animals were very tired at this time, and were relieved when rabbit informed them that they would have a rest for a few days. “We’ll move in after that,” he informed them, “and live here happily ever after. But now I suggest you all go back to your old places, collect all your belongings and return with the full moon.”

The animals obeyed quietly. They had hoped to move in immediately, but if the king issued an order, you obeyed. That is the way of kings, not so?

A very tired elephant lifted a few of the thorny branches to open a gate in the fence, and the animals trudged off to rest in the shade of the trees at the places they had lived before. They waited. And waited. Until the moon was full…

In the bright moonlight on the evening of their return, they stopped at the fence. It was immediately apparent that the fence had been strengthened by tying the branches together with poisonous creepers. Elephant shook his head – no, if he touched that fence, he would die. If any other animal would like to try…? They all shook their heads.

Inside his new house, rabbit laughed and laughed as he watched form a high window. Those animals can be as angry as they like; he, rabbit, had tricked them into building the most wonderful home, ever…!

But then, one day, a storm brewed on the horizon. Not just any old storm – a real bad one, with thunder and lightning like no animal had ever seen before. Knowing that a veldfire was sure to follow the lightning, they all huddled next to a rocky hill, hoping they would escape the wrath of the storm.

They did.

But the veldfire raced across the plains, burning the grass that would have fed them in the season to come and destroying the trees under which they used to shelter from the sun. On and on the wall of flames marched…until it got to the fence around rabbit’s mansion.

And they watched as the fence went up in flames and the rabbit sought shelter in the dam that warthog had dug.

And the animals sighed and went back to their old ways of living, vowing never to trust a king again.

***

“That’s a great story, Gertruida!” Vetfaan pats her on the back. “But what’s the moral?”

“The riverine rabbit, Vetfaan, is one of the most endagered species in the world. Only a few are left. The fable is correct in that these rabbits never stray far from water. The have the most intricate burrows and are the only rabbits that have their young underground, They also…” Gertruida pulls a face, “…have to eat their droppings to get enough Vitamin B – it’s produced in their bowels by bacteria, see?”

“Ugh! Eating your own dung? That’s horrible…”

“Yes, Precilla, it is. The rabbit daren’t roam too far from it’s home to find enough nutrients in the veld. The other animals have not forgiven him at all.”

“Soooo….” Boggel brightens and raises an enquiring eyebrow. “You’re telling us the president is in for a tough time when he delivers his State Of the Nation Address? Is that why you told us about the fable?”

Gertruida flashes a warm smile at her friend.

“O course, Boggel. The veldfire is racing towards Nkandla. We’ll watch that fence burn down soon….”

 

‘Sometimes alone in the evening,I look outside my window
At the shadow in the night
I hear the sound of distant crying, the darkness multiplying
The weary hearts denied

All I feel is my heartbeat
Beating like a drum
Beating with confusion.
All I hear are the voices
Telling me to go,
But I could never run.

Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a new tommorow
Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a dream that we can follow’

Songwriters: Alan Lazar, Marilyn Nokwe

Je Suis Andre?

Andre P Brink

               Andre P Brink                      (29 May 1935 – 6 February 2015)

Andre P Brink did a lot of things in his life. Honoured in so many ways, respected for his work and revered for his phenomenal intellect, the country lost an irreplaceable literary giant in the past few days.

He showed the world that not all Afrikaners dress in khaki, while clutching antiquated Mausers and shouting abuse at those of a darker skin colour. He wrote about inequality in South Africa even before all Americans had the right to vote. His books often reflected his observations at the time of writing, which in the end, says a lot about the evolution of society in Southern Africa.

His early works targeted the conservative approach prevalent in government circles at the time. He despised Apartheid and made his readers take a long, hard look at the current policies of the sixties and seventies. Then came a phase of hope, anticipating a better future and a just society under fair majority rule. And finally, disillusioned by the corruption and crime the old Brink emerged once more as a protester against the new realities of the country. In his autobiography (A Fork in the Road – 2009) he tells the story of a young man who came to realise the injustices in his country – only to view the current state of affairs under majority rule in the same despairing light. The circle of protest was complete. Neither so-called ‘Left’ or ‘Right’, Brink remained the critical observer throughout his life. Much like Archbishop Tutu, he had the courage to be honest, even if it meant treading on unforgiving toes.

Brink used his literary voice with great effect. The numerous accolades showered on him – both locally and internationally – attest to the power of his works.

But…

Will the man in the street hear his voice? Did they, in the seventies when the Nationalists banned his books, understand what he was saying? And do they, now? It’s a shame that he was viewed as an acclaimed academic. This tag caused a distance between his work and  those who really, really needed to become involved in his thoughts. His target wasn’t just the Nationalists in 1960 or the ANC after 1994 – it was (and is) the hearts and minds of common citizens. He spoke to ruler and ruled alike in his unapologetic analysis of our diseased society. And, while we know that governments tend to harden their stance in the face of criticism, it is the populace – the voters, you and I – who should be observant enough to take note of what Brink was trying to tell them.

Brink may have passed on, but his voice is still there – loud and clear – pleading for us to open our eyes and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

As an author, Brink attained a form of immortality.  Throughout his life, he had been labelled as a communist, a liberal, a protester and anti-establishment. In reality, he only acted as a mirror – reflecting all too brightly the issues most people chose to ignore. In this, his message is timeless.

Are we be bold enough to listen now? To see, to analyse, to acknowledge? To join his voice in condemning the sad state of affairs we are forced to live with?. To say: Je Suis Andre?

Rest in Peace, Andre Philippus Brink; but may your words continue to challenge us towards a brighter tomorrow.