A Good Match – Against the Odds

It’s rare to find graphic contributions that fit two different photo challenges. But a recent encounter proved that it is possible.

This is about a friendly and safe environment, a great couple of adults, and survival despite the atrocious threat of poaching.

The place? No, that’d be telling and inviting heartless men with big guns and greedy purses. But we had heard about ‘some’ elephants in the vicinity, so we decided to have a look.

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At first we only found some rather old bits of dung, where some mushrooms grew happily. At least (we thought) it was a good sign.

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Then, suddenly, the old cow showed herself. The juicy new twigs were just too good to ignore.

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Coming uncomfortably close, she shielded a younger cow from us and stared at us for what seemed to be a very long time before apparently making up her mind..

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She made her way to the rest of the herd once she’d decided we didn’t pose a threat to their safety. The old bull, however, disagreedIMG_0422a.jpg

She obeyed his orders. Gathering the little ones she disappeared into the bush. Silently. Majestically.

At home in her natural environment, despite the hardships brought on by drought and hunters, this mother took a chance to show off her family. She defied the odds to do this, but also remained loyal to the old bull’s wishes. What a match!

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There’s a grave waiting…

images.jpgThe cemetery at the foot of Bokkop – outside the small town of Rolbos – is a rather lonely spot. Bearing in mind the handful of people living in town, one can understand that the cemetery cannot be compared to those in larger places like Loeriesfontein or Lekkersing. Why, the bustling community of Riemvasmaak sees far more of the extremes of human life than our little hovel in the Kalahari.

One of the most recent graves belongs to Siena, old Servaas’s sadly-departed wife. He finds solace in the memories of many years of marriage to the soft-spoken lady, as well as in the cold beers Boggel serves in the little bar. He says the one sustains the past while the other props up the present, The future? Servaas says it’s far too dark to contemplate at all..

Still, despite the relative freshness of Servaas’s loss, there is a new mound of red sand at the edge of the cemetery – just a oblong heap is sand with no cross or any other form of marking. And, because the place is visited so rarely, it is quite likely that the soft night winds will flatten the surface again before anybody should visit the grave of a departed loved one.

Now, the good people of Rolbos are not superstitious and they do not harbour gullible thoughts on irrational subjects. No, they will always find the most logical answers to the most difficult questions, like the time Gertruida questioned the decision-making prowess or our government. It was Vetfaan who reminded her that we – indeed – do not have a government in the classic sense of the word, but that we have been reduced to insignificance by a group of megalomaniacs. Good governance, he said, was an oxymoron, just like effective policing or, more recently, the term ‘public protector’.

So, should one of the Rolbossers notice the freshest grave in their burial place, he (or she) would want to know why he (or she) missed such an important event and why he (or she) didn’t have the opportunity to question Oudoom on the Church’s approach to thorny social issues. But, being summer and unbearably hot, the townsfolk spend their time in the most logical (and comfortable) place, enjoying a few cold beers and sensibly avoiding the scorching heat outside.

But it’s out there, on the plains of the vast desert, that death finally had the last say and the noble existence that once lived proudly, ceased to be. It simply had no fight left, no desire to compete against the odds that were becoming more and more unfavourable every day. Life is like that, not so? The risk of death increases with every passing minute, every hour of life that speeds by. Like a playful puppy, it keeps on crawling nearer, no matter how hard we try to ignore the inevitable.

The neglected mound next to the rusting fence is the last resting place for a pair of twins, in fact.  The inseparable Siamese siblings, Truth and Integrity rest here in eternal peace after a life-long struggle to impress upon the country the essence of their existence. Through the years they have been battered into submission – first by the Church, then by the media and finally by a succession of political leaders. Although sick, diseased, fatigued and in dire straits, the twins battled on bravely. They refused to succumb to the ever-increasing tide of scorn and lies levelled at them, prepared to fight to the last.

And they did. They fought bravely, making sure that the facts of so many lies and corrupt dealings got to the right people  at the right time; using newspapers, TV and common men and women to expose the greed and corruption eating away at the fabric of our society.

And then came the final blow; the act that killed the twins in such a cowardly manner that generations to come will hang their heads in shame. Professors in Political Science will tell the story for as long as there are students that listen, while others who had followed the liberation movement in the past, will stare at the pages of history books in shame.

Truth and Integrity might have stood a chance of survival under different circumstances. Had the country had a government of honour, the twins would have been with us still. But, with State Capture nearing completion, the final blow came with the appointment of a man to parliament who has no respect for the twins. He killed them with his tears, his lies and his desire to serve not the country, but the man who has shown a singular  and progressive lack of political insight over the past few years.

But, one must admit, the nature of Life is a strange phenomenon.Yes, the little mound of red earth will flatten as the winds caress the fine granules of red Kalahari sand away to the open plains. And yes, for a while people will forget the twins ever lived.

But…

How strange then, the fact that people forget so easily? That the odds of dying increases with every breath? And just like Truth and Integrity aren’t real people but still have died, so there are others that will have to succumb to the inevitabilities we all have to live (and die) with. Nothing remains hidden forever, just as nothing lives forever.

So, Mister President, the blood of the twins is on your hands – and those of your current favourite little friend, he of the crocodile tears and the many questions of his role in load shedding. Enjoy your season in the sun – for time marches on and Deceit and Corruption will have to die as well. The risk of that happening increases with every passing minute, Mister Commander in Chief. And when they, at last, cease to be – as they must – your family and the rest of the country will remember.

They’ll remember.

Everything.

With limitless shame.

Vetfaan’s SONA and #Time to face the music.

It’s been a custom for a few years now, so  – once again – Vetfaan is cajoled into predicting what (and how) the president will deliver his yearly State of the Nation  Address. To do this, he has to practice saying numbers the way only Number One can, which isn’t easy.

 

“…This year, we will spend one thousand, two million and five rands on improving the fire pool. I fully expect my cattle herd to increase by three thousand…listen carefully…three point twenty-five per cent, allowing me to pay back the money at a rate of fourteen rand and  fifty seventy every month. This will prove not only my innocence, but also my unquestionable integrity…”

“”What about the seven hundred and eleventy-three cases of corruption you are dodging?”  As this is only a practice session, Servaas feels free to interrupt. “#Pay back the money is nice, but #time to face the music, seems more appropriate now.” He waves a clenched fist in the direction of Boggel, who immediately realises it’s the old man telling the world he needs a new beer.

“Eish, you are a racist pig, Servaas. It’s people like you who make this country ungovernable – did you know that?” Vetfaan pushes an imaginary pair of glasses back onto his nose bridge. “Let me explain it to you – very slowly, so you may understand.” He now points a finger at his audience while he does a little hip-wiggle. “Look, Africa is the biggest continent in the world. It is so big, her rivers never reach the sea and it took Jan van Riebeeck more than sixe…six…sixteen hundred and…ah. Never mind. He took a long time in coming here, understand?

“Now, before Jan van Riebeeck, there was no corruption. Nothing. People never had to make laws about corruption because there was none. That is history. Go on, look it up: if you find a single law aimed against corruption before Van Riebeeck’s arrival, you can come and spend a weekend at Nkandla – free of charge.

“But then Van Riebeeck came and South Africa had to have something they never had before – laws. These laws governed the way the Dutch people lived at the Cape. Were they African laws?” He pauses for effect.  “No. They were laws imported from Europe. Why?” Again he waits a second. “Because Europe invented corruption, that’s why. One of my reading friends looked it up: it’s a Latin word. It appeared in its current form sometime in the fourtieth…er…fourteenth century – in English. Which must have been just before Van Riebeeck bought his ticket to come here. So that, I must add, is just another argument against colonialism. The Dutch and the English – they started the problems down here.”

“But what, Mister President, about the help you received during the struggle years. Were not the Brits and the Dutch deeply involved in your fight against Apartheid?”

Vetfaans eyes flash his anger. “How dare you corrupt a perfectly good argument with facts?  You must realise we had help from America and Russia as well. How could we foresee Trump becoming president? Putin, at least, is on my side. He said so, after we spoke about the nuclear powerstations. And don’t you go on believing Putin is a bad man – You’d be surprised to know how generous he was with me. He said Nkandla is nothing…for him it’s small change. The way he appreciates my friendship goes far beyond the Nkandla debt – in fact, I’ll be able to settle that score as soon as the Russian stations connect up to the power grid.”

“And the Chinese? They’re your very best buddies now? What will the Guptas say about them?”

“Servaas, you’re testing my patience here. I’ll keep my answer short. In politics you don’t have friends. Never. You have business partners, even though you’ll never admit that in public. In fact, you have to be very quiet about that. And if people start asking questions, you start talking about Jan van Riebeeck, colonialism and white monopoly. At the same time you get the illiterate vote by promising land reform, increased grants and nationalising the mines. Being president, my friend, is a question of playing the ends against the middle. Ask Donald Trump – we’ll never be friends, but I think he’d be a good African leader.”

“Aren’t you proposing more colonialism with that statement?”

Vetfaan sighs theatrically. “That’s the difference between you people and myself. You guys think in straight lines. That’s stupid.”

“…and your mind weighs up the convoluted odds of corruption, Van Riebeeck’s arrival and Putin’s generosity?”

“Servaas!” Vetfaan is so angry he almost forgets to use the right accent. “The fact that you are ignorant does not give you the luxury of an opinion, you hear? Anyway, you voted for the wrong party, so even if you had an opinion, it wouldn’t count.  And what’s wrong with Putin, anyway? Trump loves the man.”

“You seem to harbour a deep respect for Mister Trump, my president?”

“Well, his forefathers didn’t come to South Africa, did they? They went west, Van Riebeeck went east. So, he’s the opposite of Oom Jan. That makes him a good man….”

Boggel holds up a hand. “Hey you guys, stop it now. You were supposed to be funny – but the way you’re going on, will have me in tears just now – or applying for a Visa to the US of A.  I wonder if they’ll allow me in?”

Vetfaan sits back, relieved that his SONA is over. “Visa into America?  Go there and leave Rolbos? Are you completely crazy? I’d rather have Zuma than Trump.”

“And why would that be?”

“With Trump you’re never quite sure whether he is truthful or if he sticks to facts. He makes you doubt, you see?  With Zuma you don’t have that problem at all…”

“So the SONA doesn’t matter?”

“That’s right, Servaas. The SONA won’t change a thing. They’ll have the imbongi shouting the praises like in medieval times before things got a bit … more sophisticated. Then the prez will dazzle us with his ability to waltz through figures and facts without touching sides. Then you’ll have some of his friends telling you how well  he manages the stress of the highest office – even though he seems to be losing a bit of weight recently.  The opposition will scoff. And on Friday….we’ll all be just where we were on Wednesday, except for the surprise of the few who  thought the bovine faecal level couldn’t go any higher.”

Vetfaan’s Rules

Respect-Text-Wallpaper.jpgVetfaan grew up in the time when parents were still able to dish out a proper hiding without being charged with some violation of children’s rights. In fact, children really had no statutory rights by law – the rights they had were governed by love, compassion and rather rigid discipline. Love, because his parents cared deeply about his future. Compassion, because they wanted to bring up a boy they could be proud of – and who’d benefit whichever society he belonged to in his later life. And discipline, for it is true that a lack of discipline will result in an excess of misery and distress eventually.

So, a few things were simply accepted: no stealing, no disrespect, no lies. His parents did not read Dr Benjamin Spock’s books nor did they take note of similar opinions advocating the notion that children had an equal right to interrupt a conversation or determine how a weekend was spent. According to them, a child was…a child; an infant who still had to find his place in the community –  intellectually, financially and responsibly. Such an immature being had to be guided and helped to achieve a successful integration amongst his seniors and his peers – something which the parents believed would not happen on its own accord.

Of course, these outlandish ideas have been  discarded as medieval and improper during the intervening years, but Vetfaan remains the product of his past. When the salesperson at the Massey Ferguson franchise called him ‘old-school’, Vetfaan was immensely proud and pleased, much to the surprise of the salesman.  The one thing his parents taught him – Vetfaan says – is humility; something he maintains is the most important aspect of being a civilised human being.

“Humility is old-school,” Vetfaan is fond of saying, “because it has become highly  unfashionable to downplay your abilities. These days people tend to boast and brag; look at any CV or listen to guys describing their sport or work or cars or motorbikes; thinking a solo ego-trip impresses others. The New Way is cheap talk of results sometime in the future; the Old Way was effort first, results to follow and then allowing the results to do the talking – not you, if you follow my drift?  This new way of egotistical flamboyancy has killed the notion that humility is a good thing. People nowadays see  it as a weakness, which is terribly sad when you think about it.”

But when you get to the subject of disrespect, Vetfaan can’t stop talking. “Respect is why civilisation should work…and doesn’t. The term involves your standing in society, the interaction with superiors (and equals and those less fortunate than you), property and culture – to name only a few. You see, respect is another form of humility but at the same time it serves to prove you are in control of the situation. Eastern cultures have long held that the best leader is the humble one who respects others – a simple concept that has evaded the Western mind completely.”

But, Vetfaan maintains, the worst forms of disrespect involves abuse: of relationships, property, or religion. “Nah, I’m not going to put my foot into that one. Religion, sex and politics? Shew, that’s trouble with a capital T. All I’m saying is: while everybody is entitled to an opinion, they should respect the right of others to the same.” He does, however, feel strongly about property. “Look at what’s happening to our schools, libraries and universities – how can the burning of these be called ‘a protest’?  A protest is where you agitate for better facilities or something like that.  But burning down hostels and auditoriums  – costing millions – in the name of protest is simply a lie. Those are criminal acts which deserve to be rewarded by some serious jail-time.

“And the same goes for land reform. Sure, if the government finds a willing seller at the right price, and then awards the farm to a competent community to farm in an economically sound fashion – then I’m all for it. But to use this ability to ‘reform land’ as a political tool? That’s disrespectful towards all the voters in the country.

“That brings me to racism. Gee, man…racism is a world-wide thing – has been since forever, will be till the end of time. But…I think the term is used in a very loose way. Because I prefer my own way of life – my culture – above for instance…an Inuit’s…that doesn’t mean I hate Eskimo’s at all. I prefer biltong above whale fat – does that make me a racist? Of course not. I respect the Eskimo’s culture but I don’t have to embrace it.

“In South Africa we have a very delicate situation. Police chief after police chief gets fired because of corruption. Our president has to face more than 700 charges of corruption. The ANC keeps on blaming all ills in the country on Apartheid, while the elephants in the room are the SABC, Escom, our railroads, our schools and the decaying infrastructure. Now, I ask you: is it wrong to be critical of the guys and women in charge of these departments? Of course not. But….they happen to be black. So now, completely justifiable criticism gets tarnished with a dab of the racist brush and suddenly the objectors against poor service delivery are racists.

“That, of course, scares most whiteys off, forcing them into submission. Now: submission and humility aren’t the same thing at all. When you are humble, you earn respect. When you force submission onto somebody, that’s disrespect. Simple, true and sad… It’s called: ‘abuse’.”

***

Gertruida once asked Vetfaan whether his ‘Rules’ make him happy. He shook his head.

“It’s not about being happy, Gertruida. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about having peace of mind. And it’s about reaching out to others in the old saying: in unity is strength. We are being artificially divided. It’s time to bring back Old-School and for us to wake up…if it’s not too late already.”

Politics, religion, media: who trumps who?

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Credit: Mail & Guardian

“So the land of the free is going to get their own version of a modern-day dictator?” Servaas throws out the bait – it’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place again.

“Not if you listened to some religious leaders, Servaas. They paint him as The Recsuer – the man who’ll bring back proper values and some pride in being an American.” Vetfaan doesn’t sound overly optimistic though. “And, whatever one’s opinion, one must agree that the world needs a bit of a shake-up. Look at us: we’ve become spectators and not participants any longer. We listen to the news, cluck our tongues and promptly distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedies around us.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan, but whose fault is that? The churches insist on preaching good news every Sunday, saying God will fix everything in the end. The politicians say we mustn’t worry, everything is fine. The newspapers contain so much bad news, we skip over the articles. So…the church, the politicians and the media are completely out of sync. Who to believe? In the end, none of the above.”

Vetfaan nods. “We’ve become so self-absorbed that old-fashioned charity, good manners and compassion have flown out of the window. The nett result? We’re ostriches – head in the sand and please pass me by.”

“Well, we can’t say much about the US of A; not with the mess we’ve got in governance…and in our churches. First gays are sinners, then they’re not. Now they’re again.  And some pastors prescribe Doom insecticide and petrol as tests for your belief in God, while the  ANC  says it’ll rule until Jesus comes again. Zuma claims God is on his side…”

“And then his tent gets blown away by a freak storm?” Vetfaan can’t help interrupting. “Some say it was an act of God. Doesn’t sound like He’s amused by Zuma’s antics.”

“Well.” Servaas puckers his lis like he does when somebody oversteps the religion line. “People seem to think they understand God and His ways. This, my friend, is true for any religion you care to think about. So you get radical lefts and conservative rights, and they all claim to be preaching the word of The Creator. In the old days, a preacher would be very careful – even humble -with his interpretation of certain verses. Now, however, it is he brash and the outspoken pastors who fill megachurches … or start wars.

“It’s almost funny, Vetfaan. The more we advance in technology, the more naive society becomes. I think advanced societies get so clever that they don’t think any more. They gain knowledge but lose wisdom…which is terribly sad and stupid. Ponzi schemes, religious radicalism, crazy politics – you’d think that an intelligent community would be aware enough to sniff out the fraudsters…but they don’t.” Servaas sighs. “Well, I’m glad I live in Rolbos. The drought is real The sand between my toes is real. Boggel’ Place is real.

“And that’s good enough for me. Zuma, Trump and a whole lot of modern-day social structures can pass me by. As long as they are only virtual realities, they can stay other side of the Orange River…please and thank you.”

Faultlines, quakes and the future

57110ec5c46188f6018b45f2.jpg“What will you do?”  Gertruida sits back with a wicked smile. “An earthquake is a distinct possibility, you know?”

Talk in Boggel’s Place has been slow recently. Discussing the government’s total lack of respect for the needs of ordinary citizens had become boring and the almost-daily political scandals have finally dulled the senses to such an extent that talking about them seemed superfluous and unnecessary. Vetfaan reckons that experiment with the frog in the luke-warm water now includes America, England, Europe, most of Africa and the Middle East. “People have become desensitised,” he said, “by being overloaded with crises and misery. We just don’t care anymore.”

That’s why Gertruida tried to get the conversation going again by broaching a new subject. So far, she’s not having much success.

“So,” Servaas takes up the bait, “you’re saying the Milnerton Fault runs through Cape Town, the Cape Flats and approaches Koeberg Nuclear Plant?”

“Yep. Koeberg is only 8 km from the fault. And that fault was the cause of the major quake in ’69 and a lesser one in 2004.  So, my question stands: what do you do when such a catastrophe hits Koeberg? It’d be similar to  Japan’s Fukushima disaster.”

“There won’t be much one could do, Gertruida. If there were a quake, there’d be  a probability of a tsunami and the potential for a radiation leak – even a melr down. Koeberg was built to withstand a Richter Scale 7 quake – but what about a 7.2 or more? They can’t predict these things, you know?”

“You’re right, Boggel.” Servaas holds out his glass for a refill. “I simply cannot understand why they built Koeberg where they did. Right next to the city and a densely populated area. And, to top it all, slap bang on a faultline.”

“There is some good news, though.” Vetfaan holds up his hand for silence. “The government and the Russians have agreed – in principle – that we need more nuclear power stations. For all we know, they’ve already concluded the most important part of the negotiations: which palms would be greased  and how are they going to fool the public into believing the deal is corruption-free.”

“I fail to see how that is good news, Vetfaan. Nuclear energy is going to cost the taxpayers trillions of dollars. Why can’t we go with renewable, cheap energy? We have a coastline with constant wind and the Karoo and Kalahari must rank as the most sunny spots on the globe. Why build nuclear stations?”

“They can’t.” Vetfaan’s smile almost reaches his ears. “There simply aren’t enough fault lines in South Africa – and those that do exist, aren’t near sufficient water supplies to feed the turbines and cool the core down.”

“You’re not making any sense, Vetfaan.” Gertruida shakes her head. The man has a tendency to go off on a completely skew angle.

“But nothing does, Gertruida. Why even plan a nuclear facility? Who benefits from that? Why the negative approach to renewable energy?” He leans closer to whisper: “I’ll tell you: because the private sector won the race for renewable energy. The government had been caught napping – again. So now, Escom tries to ignore these wind farms and solar installations, so they can  justify the building of nuclear stations. It’s a short-sighted, stupid approach.

“But…if they follow Koeberg’s example, they have to build these stations on geological fault lines. That’s why we’re establishing a new pressure group here, today.”

“Wha…?”

“Yes, my friends. Faultline Underneath New Nuclear Installations will petition the minister to remind him to build the new facilities near big cities, masses of water and on a major fault line. Once the movement has gained momentum, they’ll have no option but to pass the idea on to dear Mr Mugabe, who’ll be happy to build the station next to Kariba. There. Problem solved.”

People often think that the talk in Boggel’s Place is superficial and of no consequence. They’re wrong. While many of their arguments might rest on logical faultlines which often wreck what they considered to be brilliant debating points, some of their debates – often quite surprisingly – actually contain real solutions to very real problems.

Unfortunately, they react to the country’s problems much like you and I do. They scoff, try to joke their way out of worry, and then revert to the safe subjects, like the drought, the quota system in rugby or the SABC hearings. These, they agree, are serious matters and should not be joked about.

But if you want to see them laugh out loud, you may want to mention the famous leader who said the ruling party once had a membership of 100.2 million. That is quite an achievement for a country with a total population of approximately 55 million. That’s when Boggel will make his now-famous remark: you cannot build a successful political party on the faultline of stupidity. He says he doesn’t want to offend anybody and that the remark is neither racist nor Van Riebeeck’s fault – it’s just that he can’t wait for the results of the next election. He also says that, if that election goes wrong, it’d be worse than Koeberg melting down.

The Charmer, Vetfaan’s Gout and Immortality

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Paul Trouillebert: The naked snake charmer

Whenever Vetfaan is asked about the sexy girl he had met that fateful summer’s day, he blushes, stutters and tells you to mind your own business. Should you persist, a rather unpleasant exchange of a more physical nature is sure to follow.

The problem involves the fact that this waif of a girl – somewhere between mid-thirty and menopause – had the body of an athlete and the ageless wisdom some women seem to possess.

It was a particularly hot day, with heat shimmers rising and warping the scenery of the Kalahari. The distorted surroundings often create a surrealistic symptoms-of-gout-in-the-toe.jpgatmosphere, especially if the traveller is new to the area. Vetfaan, being a born-and-bred son of the region, simply failed to notice the visual impact of the heatwaves. His attention was focussed on the joint where his big toe joined his foot.

Now, anybody who has had some experience with gout, will understand the degree of pain and discomfort poor Vetfaan endured that morning. He had already eaten a handful of black cherries, drank two litres of water, ate three lemons and packed his foot in ice. Nothing helped. The throbbing, red, painful joint insisted on swelling up even more, forcing Vetfaan to take off his boot while driving to Upington, where he hoped to see the new doctor he had heard so much about.

Well, heat waves may have escaped his attention…the girl in the middle of the road did not. No Kalahari-man will ever drive past a stranded woman. Especially if she’s beautiful. Or wears a revealing, short skirt. Or stands  in the middle of the road, aiming a short-barrelled  .38 at you. In this case, the woman in question had ticked all these boxes, and Vetfaan did, indeed, stop.

She was unapologetic about the gun, saying a girl could never be sure who would stop to offer help.

“Listen, I’ve been around. I’m a woman. You’re a man. It all adds up.”

“What does?” Vetfaan didn’t understand.

She ignored his question, picked up her bag and got in. “Drive slowly and don’t make an accident. I’ve had enough trouble in my life.”

“What’s wrong with your vehicle?”

She eyed him for a full minute before answering. “Mam doesn’t like the smell of petrol. Neither do I, for that matter.”

“Mam?”

She rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. “Mam. My snake. Short for mamba.”

To recount the disjointed conversation that followed, would involve many pages of blank looks and horrid stares and still-born sentences. The short version: Mimi – she of no fixed abode and rather limited means – made a living as a snake charmer. She also treated various  health conditions, communicated with departed family members and had once sat as a model for a famous artist.

“That’s immortality, understand? Paintings don’t grow old and die. Oh, the paint the artist used, might get a bit flakey,but the picture? It remains as beautiful as the day the brush touched the canvas.”

By the time they reached Upington, Vetfaan was completely confused.  His passenger was either completely mad, or perhaps the most interesting woman he had ever met. Fascinated by the possibilities, he asked her to join him for coffee before his appointment with the doctor.

“Doctor? What for?”

He explained. She suggested moxibustion. Vetfaan said the people in the Northern Cape frowned on polygamy. She laughed.

japanese-moxibustion.jpg“No, it’s not that, silly man! I burn a herb on your toe, and you feel better. Moxi-bustion…the burning of mugwort.  It’s an old Chinese trick. see? Mugwort, that’s the herb – is what you need. I’ve got some.”

Vetfaan claims to be the first man in the Kalahari to have undergone moxibustion. There, on the front seat of his old Land Rover, his strange passenger rolled a few mugwort fibres into a little ball and placed it on his swollen toe. He watched, horrified, as she lit the potion with a small gas lighter and was amazed that he felt no pain.

“The swelling will go down now,” she said, “but I must go. Mam needs something to eat and you’re too nice. And…I must still find my two friends. I’ll just keep on looking, even if it takes forever. So, thank you and bye-bye.”

Vetfaan watched, dumbfounded,  as she sauntered down the street, swinging her bag casually as she strode along. He ran a hand over his still-bare foot and sighed with relief when he noticed how much better it felt. By the time he had his sock and boot back on, Mimi was nowhere to be seen.

On his way back to Rolbos, Vetfaan stopped at her abandoned vehicle. On the back seat he found an old shoe-box with a dead rat in it. Mam’s supper?  In the boot, another box – a lot bigger, containing three pieces of art.

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It was Gertruida who told Vetfaan about the girls and the great portrait artist, Paul Désiré Trouillebert. “The Young Girl, the Harem Girl and the Snake Charmer were all painted by the same man, Vetfaan. Remember, Trouillebert was a landscape artist – he abandoned his attempts at portrait works because he fell in love with the girls in his painting – like all artists do. The real, flesh-and-blood subjects were admired for their beauty, but the paintings became the loves of his life – because they were immortal. Time would not decay their beauty, neither would the lovely faces and bodies sag and become wrinkled.”

“Immortal? Really? Are you saying that I…?”

“Either that, Vetfaan, or you’ve lost your mind.” Gertruida shrugged. “I don’t know which is worse…”

Vetfaan’s Black Christmas

download (9).jpg“Being called ‘Black’ these days is like that Chinese curse that wishes you an interesting life. Interpreting the word ‘interesting’ could be …interesting.” Gertruida sits back with a wicked smile. “In some respects it’s a statement of fact. Then again, some are offended by the term, like that hullabaloo in Cape Town when that poor waiter wrote the word on the bill.”

“I don’t understand it,” Servaas puffs his pipe back to life. “Our prez can’t say two sentences without slurring “white capital” or ‘white monopoly’ – or praising the great black heroes like Dingaan. Man, have you read up about those early kings and rulers? Shees, they were a rather short-tempered bunch. You crossed them at your peril..

“I’m not saying history doesn’t count – of course it does. Racial and cultural realities have directed much of many events in the past – from Biblical times right up to today. Listen to Trump, take note of issues in Europe or be apalled by Aleppo – and you can see what I mean.

“But here? Here we have the race card being played as a convenient excuse to marginalise some sectors of society. If you are white, you are at a major disadvantage.”

“Ja, Servaas, that may be true. But that’s because you grew up as an advantaged child in a privileged home. It’s a historical imbalance which needs to be addressed.” Gertruida just loves a good argument; it sure beats the talk about the drought. “That’s why land reform and BEE is important.”

“Say who? Have you spoken to any Khoisan recently? They were here first – they should own the land, not the tenderpreneurs of more recent origin. But…I don’t think the prez knows that. And…what about the old Greeks and Romans and Vikings? Should the current citizens now own the countries their forefathers once conquered or discovered – or be forced to pay compensation? It’s such a stupid argument.”

“You may be right, Servaas. Our prez isn’t big on history. Or geography, for that matter.”

They look up as Vetfaan comes in, a big smile plastered all over his face.

“I got the contract, you guys! You are now looking at the new supplier of gravel to the roads department in Upington. Can you believe it? The ANC-run municipality is paying me to remove rocks and stones from my farm. This, my friends, is going to make me a rich guy.” He swirls a finger in the air. “Boggel, the drinks for the entire weekend are on me! Serve us, will you?”

For the first time in 2016, Gertruida is speechless. “They gave the contract to you? And who’s your BEE partner?”

“Me! Isn’t it great?” Vetfaans smile is even wider now.

“How can you be the contractor and the partner. Or….did you pay a bribe?”

“Not necessary, guys. I simply followed the rules. Gertruida, you spoke about laws and rules the other day, remember? Tell Servaas what you said.”

A slightly puzzled Gertruida frowns, then brightens. “”You mean…the chat we had about apartheid?”

“That’s right. You told me how difficult it was to classify this person as ‘white’ or that person as ‘black’. They used all kinds of laws and rules to make it sound official, and they never got it right. You said the grey areas were too confounding and the system basically collapsed into a bureaucratic nightmare.”

“A nightmare it was, Vetfaan, that’s true. The draconian laws overstepped every human right that ever existed. The  National Party, the church and the media tried to shore up the policies, but in the end they had to admit to attempting the impossible.” Gertruida shrugs. “But what does this have to do with your BEE status?”

“I had my genes tested, that’s what. And let me tell you…” and here Vetfaan pauses for a dramatic moment, “…I am 16%  San, 2% Malaysian, 1% black and the rest is European. I, my friend, am not white at all. I can officially claim to be of mixed origin, which entitles me to be my own BEE partner.”

The statement makes Gertruida gasp. “Oh. My. Word.” She gets up to pace the room. “You, Vetfaan, are a true pioneer. A great thinker. An outwitter of the system. If it were to become known what you did, you’d turn the tide of racism that rocks our country. Just imagine…”

“What?”

“What if…? Yes, it could work! Let every person in the country do his DNA. Let me tell you, it’d be the ultimate revolution! Officially, it is acknowledged that white people have on average 7% African genes. That’s the official average, not the real thing. But, supposing that figure is more or less correct, it implies some whites are 30% black and some less. The same would be true for blacks bearing white genes. In fact, it’d be even more complicated for blacks, because you have Indians, Chinese, Colourds and goodness knows what else.”

Servaas can’t believe his ears. “I’m not white?”

“Probably not, Servaas. Very few people are purebreds – we all carry genes from a distant past, when people of different hues weren’t restricted by stupid laws. Of course, not all contact between races was consensual; there were wars, slaves, rapes etc, but I’d like to believe that love was the reason why people reached over racial divides in the past. Today, it is no longer strange to see mixed-race couples. Love, and not laws, should always have the final say.”

“Then we all are…Africans?”

“Always have been, Servaas; always will be.”

“Then,” Servaas makes up his mind, “I shall no longer think about race this Christmas. I’ll dream – not of a white christmas, not af a black one – but a Christmas of love and peace. And hope Santa brings a nice present for our prez. Maybe a book. How to read numbers or The true history of Man in Africa.” He pauses. “No, that wouldn’t be right.  The best book under his Christmas tree would be How to make Friends and Influence People – honestly. Without it, it’d be a black Christmas.

“I’m in,” Vetfaan quips – still smiling.

They all have a good laugh at that. Only Gertruida – who knows everything – finds it hard. The question of racial tension will be a major factor in the year ahead. If  racial issues are not managed with great sensitivity, it’d be a black year indeed.

Photo Challenge: The Magic of the Secret

He doesn’t even look up – just shrugs and continues working on a potion. “You people think magic is a fast car. Or a radio.Or something you buy in a big shop. Then you leave your grand houses and travel many, many days to come to me…wanting to know the secret of life. Hah! Some secret!”

Now he looks up, the look of scorn all too plain to see.

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“The secret is not locked up in some book. It isn’t what somebody can show or tell you. It’s much more than that.”

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He bends over the embers, blowing softly. “Ah, there you are, my good friend!” He points at the flame-figure that now hovers over the smouldering logs. “See, my flame – The Flame – is here. It’s the sun, understand? The sun knows everything and many years ago it gave life to this wood. Life…and the secret.”

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He now sits down carefully, almost respectfully, to stare at the flames while chanting a tuneless song…or spell?

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“Now look carefully. The secret isn’t something you must find. Like the sun in the wood, it’s always been there. But the cars and the money and the houses and the shops? You have too many things, my friend. You have so much, you become blind to what’s in here.” He thumps his chest. “Here!” He emphasises the point. “It’s always been inside you…”

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Suddenly, the flames erupt in a display of sparks, rising up in the darkness of the night sky.

“See?” He sits back smiling, his job done. The secret, The Big One, explained in the most simple – yet complicated – manner.

When I leave, I thank him for his patience. He tells me that’s another part, another story. And that it’ll take time, but eventually I’d understand.

Free Giveaway: A troupe of Bumbledragons.

Whist_marker.jpg“You know, in these days of such racial sensitivity, gender questions and religious turmoil, one has to be careful whenever one opens one’s mouth. Calling somebody a donkey or an ape will force you to see a magistrate, and if ever – oh my! – you compared somebody’s intellect with that of some insect, you’ll end up in jail, I’m sure.”  Gertruida slaps down an ace on the pile of cards and collects the packet. “But really, Servaas, that was a stupid move. You cannot expect to win the trick with a king if you know the ace is still out there somewhere.”

Ever since the group at the bar became disenchanted with their endless discussions of current politics, whist has come to their rescue. This age-old card game is not as simple as it seems, and involves bit of concentration – something often lacking in most people when they consider the state of corruption in the country.

“Yes, but I thought…”

“Ag Servaas, you are the original Bumblepuppy.” Gertruida simply has to show off, knowing that the others will be puzzled by the ‘new’ word. Actually, it is not new, but has its origins way back in the 17th century.

“A what?” Vetfaan smiles – he knows he has taken the bait, but curiosity got the better of him.

“You don’t know?” With arched brows and a mocking smile, Gertruida puts down her cards. “Okay then, let me enlighten you.”

Bumblepuppy.jpgOriginally, Bumblepuppy was a game played on a slanting, flattish surface with nine holes at one end. Round pebbles  – or stones – were rolled from  the player’s end, to finish up in one of the nine numbered holes. Then the scores were tallied up and a winner declared.

“But later the word found its way into whist. You see, because they used uneven river stones to roll down that flat surface, they never could be quite sure where the stone would end up. You could score a 1 as easily as a 9 – so it really was a game of chance. In some ways, you can compare Bumblepuppy with today’s slot machines: the only thing you can be sure of, is that you have a chance to win. The odds, however, are stacked against you

whist_history.jpg“So, a Bumblepuppy is a gambler with money to burn – a careless  player about to lose. That’s why whist players took over the term a century later. When you play like Servaas, putting down your best card with the full knowledge that somebody else would trump it, you are a Bumblepuppy. Servaas could have taken the next hand if he played his 2. But no! He hasn’t been concentrating on the table, so he shot himself in the foot. His best card is now gone and he is doomed to lose this hand.”

Boggel gets up to fetch a new round. “So it’s just like recent developments in politics, then? Trump wins in America, Zuma bamboozles the public, Escoms’s people are resigning, Abraham’s got egg on his face and our ministers get manicures from rhino poachers?”

“Much the same, Boggel. Only they aren’t playing a game,  even though they are gambling.”

.Servaas slugs down some beer and  – quite uncharacteristically – burps loudly. “Bumblepuppy? Those guys? No way! They’re Bumbledragons and you can have them free.” Without apologising, he goes on. “Come on, Gertruida, deal the next hand. Give me some good cards for a change. I need them.”

“Yeah. You and a whole parliament of others. And you know what? A Bumblepuppy can never win. It takes time, but it cleans out your wallet, guaranteed. And once that happens, you have to leave the table – those are the rules.”

“So there’s hope for us? For the country, I mean?” Boggel’s hand is a good one – he’s going to win this one for sure.

“Give a Bumbler enough rope, Boggel, and he’ll lose his money…and his footing.”