Tag Archives: China

…and Gertruida was right. Again…

zuma.jpg‘The problem with Gertruida,’ Boggel sighs, ‘is that she’s right all the time. And she understands the great international power-play better than most.’

‘You talking about China again?’ The frown on Vetfaan’s face tells a story. ‘We all know those guys are colonising Africa – and gaining influence all over the show. I mean, Gertruida talks about their so-called ‘investments’ in infrastructure, military and agriculture all the time. And, she says, it’s not because they are a charity organisation – they’re in it for themselves.’

He gets a nod from Boggel, ‘You’re right, of course. Like all clever investors, they want a return on their investments. Like: We’ll build you a road, but we want your diamonds. Or tobacco. Or we want to export a few of our countrymen to live and trade amongst you guys. And then, after a few decades, we’ll have you in our pockets completely..’

‘Ug. We’ve got enough problems as it is, Boggel. Imagine Uncle Jacob combining forces with Beijing…’

‘Well, according to Gertruida, your president is already in bed with both the Russians and the Chinese. This, she says, is both good and bad.’ Boggel lets the statement drift away in silence. Vetfaan – not the most patient of men – has to prompt him to go on. ‘Well, Vetfaan, it’s like this: First off – it’s bad because we’re selling off crown jewels to line our leaders’ pockets. But there is a silver lining…’

‘Oh, come on, Boggel! Get on with it.’

‘In recent years two major things have happened almost without anybody saying much about the herd of elephants that brought into the room. You see, the world is moving towards a Mafia-like state. International crime syndicates operate on a global scale – these include religious fanatics, the pirate ships that cruise the oceans, money laundering by respected companies and unholy alliances between politics and economic forces. These, you may know, combine to keep dictators in power while the international community turns a blind eye. Look, for instance, how South Africa and Zuma and the African Union tolerated Mugabe’s antics, his mass-murders and the rigged elections for 30 years. How do you explain that? It’s a game of crooked thrones, my friend.

‘Anyway, there’s another aspect that contributes to our little metaphorical elephant herd: there’s no honour amongst crooks no more. The big boys want their pound of flesh and they want it on time. They’ll give you a bit of money, but they want it – and more – back. The days of free handouts are over – the name of the game now is: I’ll scratch your back, but you’ll return the favour many times, over and over. And if you don’t…’

Vetfaan leans forward with a glint in the eye. ‘Yes? What then?’

‘Well, China showed their hand with Mugabe. Gertruida says there’ll be a ripple-effect, because there’s no way that such a thing happens without it influencing the entire region. Also, the two big powers at play here is in competition with each other. A game of international tag, if you like.’

‘So what will happen? Will China lean on our president?’

‘No, Vetfaan. Gertruida says it is far worse than that. Russia will…’

‘First they woo you. Then they screw you?’

‘True Vetfaan. The guys singing to you, are in uniform. Never forget that.’

 

Boggel’s Competition

b2Boggel’s Place has been the only option for many years. It’s the place to be. This is where you sit down with a cold beer to talk about the drought and the president’s wives – important enough to note, but way beyond anybody to influence. When the storm clouds gather on the horizon, these things will develop as they must – and watching them with a beer in hand is so much more sensible than wasting a lot of adrenalin in getting excited about it.

Then the rumour started. Ronnie – that famous, intrepid entrepreneur was considering opening a branch in Rolbos. Why? Because, like the restaurant and pub he established in the middle of nowhere, Rolbos also had nothing going for it. Snatching success from the jaws of failure has been Ronnie’s secret, and Rolbos provides the perfect backdrop for a venture that is sure to flounder.

Gertruida had to explain who and what Ronnie represents:

Of course, this news leads to a lively debate, increasing Boggel’s turnover with a considerable margin. Ronnie is, after all, a national figure of great importance. Although his bar was never designed or planned as a house of ill repute, the very name of the place ruffled many a conservative feather. Amongst the narrow-minded puritans, the place conjured up visions of carnal adventures and represented the gateway to the dark and tormented underworld made famous in a thousand sermons every Sunday. Of course, these intellectual giants have never (and would never, either)  even think of visiting the bar to enjoy one of Ronnie’s famous rose-water milkshakes. When such a person has no option than to take the R62 route, the children in the vehicle are told to inspect the carpet of the footwell until they are safely past the object of so much scorn.

Gertruida tells them about Ronnie, his long silver-grey ponytail and his establishment set in the dusty veld of the Klein Karoo.

“Originally he had a farm stall there, selling fresh produce and a few cooldrinks. Business was slow. And then one day, his friends added the dreaded ‘S’ word next to his name, and everybody stopped for a drink. It became a lovely, humorous joke –  a tongue-in-the-cheek place to stop for something cool in the heat of the Karoo. Ronnie has never looked back.”

“But then Boggel will have no chance. If Ronnie opens the Kalahari Sex Shop, even Oudoom will have to visit there to be one with his flock. You know how he feels about these things. He says it’s of little value to preach in the church  – everybody who goes there, tithes already. He maintains that the way the expand his congregation (the electrical wiring has to be fixed, after all) is to spread his message to the ‘other’ folk – you know, people who don’t attend church. And if Oudoom goes there, we’d have no choice but to follow suit. Talk about a bull in a china shop…”

“Ja, he’ll drink the place dry to show he’s one of the boys.” Kleinpiet eyes Servaas, who’s showing signs of severe agitation. “Even Servaas will be obliged to go.”

“Me? Never! A head elder in a place like that? I’ll be the laughing stock of Upington, man! Won’t ever be able to show my face in public again.”

“It’s just a name, Servaas! Nothing much ever happens there  – at least nothing more than in Boggel’s Place. And Ronnie also provides meals – which is more than we can say about Boggel’s. The name of his cafe is a bit misleading, but his hamburgers are delicious.”

b1

“So we’ll just allow Boggel’s Place to become a deserted ruin?” The very thought causes a shudder down Vetfaan’s spine.

“No. If Ronnie wants to expand his business, we’ll have to convince him that he can make more money elsewhere. I’ll simply write him a letter.” Gertruida frowns while concentrating hard. “Yes, that’s it! China! Millions of people, lots of thirsty throats and an expanding economy. He can even introduce them to Boeremusiek.”

***

And so it came to pass that Boggel still has the monopoly in Rolbos. Ronnie’s  性别 Shop could be the biggest cultural revolution to hit China since Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The peculiar penchant of the Chinese for Boeremusiek could be the start of a massive Chinese exodus out of Africa, back to where they belong.

Going for the Kill (# 3)

hammersickle05José didn’t actually meet Comrade Vasily. He ran into him. Literally.

He can’t remember the number of days he’s been on the run. Hiding here. Stealing a bread there. Drinking from dams, streams and once: a tap at an abandoned house (he even had a bath there – it was heavenly). A man in a dilapidated truck gave him a lift after he lied about his family that had forgotten him in Luanda. Did the man believe him? He doesn’t know. But at the next village he said this was far enough, he’ll find his father here.

His father

He must have a father somewhere, mustn’t he? And a mother? In his mind his father was the captain of a great ship, his mother a beauty queen. He gave them important names, dressed them up in the finest clothes. And then, when the nights got cold, he knew he was being silly and cried until the birds began their morning twitter.

He almost saw the snake too late. José doesn’t know about snakes. Not much. Only that Manuel found one in the woodpile behind the children’s home and started screaming hysterically when it slid out. Matron Anna scolded him and whacked the snake to pulp with a spade. It’s the Devil, she said, and the Devil is a man.

He ran when he saw the snake right there, in front of him. Saw it, jumped over it, and ran. As hard as he could. He didn’t have a spade and it was the Devil and the Devil was Manuel. He was glancing over his shoulder at it when he ran full tilt into the solid body of Comrade Vasily.

***

Training the diverse group of men has been an arduous task for the Soviet soldier. Sure, he has the authority, the rank, and he is Russian. Above anything else, the last epithet has the greatest influence. Once the troops know you are Russian and thus a Communist, they submit to your every whim. They have to, because the discipline is harsh and uncompromising – but there is something else: Russia is the enemy of the South African government. Russia supplies arms and money to the freedom fighters. Russia, in short, is to be respected, honoured…even revered.

There is a problem, as there always will be. Some of the troops are volunteers; dedicated to the cause. But some are youths that were abducted from the rural villages and the urban slums. This last group is there because they were forced to be there. Discipline is stricter with them. Much harsher. They shall obey all orders, they shall be broken down and built up as fighting machines. If they refuse, the price is high…

Comrade Vasily is reasonably happy with his squad. The dissenters have been weeded out, punished into submission, or tortured to adapt to his rules. No exception. A demotivated soldier is a risk to the entire unit. Now, with them ready for the next push into South West Africa, Comrade Vasily is arguably certain they will give a good account of themselves. The South Africans are formidable opponents, not to be underestimated. He’ll lose men, that he accepts. But they won’t accept retreat. They know what’ll happen if they fall back.

There’s one problem, though: who takes point position in the operations to the south? The area just north of the border is a minefield – a real one. Boobytraps and mines – by both sides – make the progress towards Ovamboland risky. The person in the front of the column is the one who will be killed. It is a distinct possibility all the men are too aware of.

That’s where the child-soldiers come in so handy.

***

“Whoa, little man! Where are you going?”

black-mamba_767_600x450José looks up at the imposing character in the pressed uniform. He’s never seen a uniform as neat as this one before. His father, the captain of that big ship, would have one like that. He stares at the creases and says nothing, but points with a trembling hand at the long mamba a few yards back.

Comrade Vasily throws back his head and roars with laughter. Then, pulling a rather large pistol from its holster, he casually fires two shots. The first shatters the neck of the reptile; the second smashes the head into a blur of flying fragments and a spray of blood.

“There. Is that better?” Vasily’s Portuguese is perfect although still his accent betrays his origin. “Come here, boy. Let me look at you?”

***

José becomes the camp’s mascot. He’s the youngest ‘recruit’ and the men look at him and remember the boys playing in the veld back home. They think of dusty feet and laughing eyes, happy yells echoing against the hills and the mountains of a carefree childhood. They’re reminded that all the villagers are mothers and fathers to the infants, and they try their best to make little José a happy youth.

And they succeed. With chocolates and sweets, kind words and compliments, extra rations and snacks. Even cooldrink, when it’s available. José loves Coke – they all know that.

Over the next six years a lot of things happen. Some men don’t return after operations. New ones arrive. And eventually Anthony Chung is appointed second-in-command. Theoretically, he’s the 2IC; but he’s the clever one, the devious one.

He’s also the one to spot the potential in José.

“You’ve been here longer than most,” he says one day. “Look at you: almost sixteen! And the men have taught you everything they know. You can read, drive a Jeep, use a Makarov. You know about landmines and hand grenades. We must decide what you do: you’re a man now, and need to do a man’s job.”

1_107677750_3Vasily and Chung argue about this. Vasily has grown fond of the youth who seems to adore him. Chung wants to turn him into a soldier. Eventually, the Schlichte is the deciding factor. When Vasily stares at the last drops dripping from the upturned bottle into Chung’s mug, he says maybe José is too clever to be a soldier.

“What?’ Chung suppresses a hiccup. “That boy? So…you want him to be a…doctor?”

Vasily tries to concentrate on Chung’s left eye – he seems to have two of them. He manages to nod.

“Huh!” Words are difficult to form now. “I’ll tell you what.” Chung gets up unsteadily and hold on to the table. “If that boy walks point on the next exx…exxsch…expe..dition, and…,” he raises a hand in a mock salute, “he comes back in one piece,” he frowns, trying to formulate his sentence, “then yes. He becomes a doc…doctor. Shure. Why not? You send him to Moshcow. If he trig-gers a landmine, he’s too stupid, anyway. What you say?”

***

And so the fate of José Migeul Pereira is sealed in an alcoholic haze. The next day Comrade Vasily can’t look as the boy – a young man now – leads the column of men out of the camp. When Chung laughs, the Russian slaps the grin right off his Oriental face.

Lies, Half-truths and Urban Legends

A snapshot of a typical rural village. It's NOT Nkandla, of course. We're not allowed to post pictures of that National Keypoint any more.

A snapshot of a typical rural village. It’s NOT Nkandla, of course. We’re not allowed to post pictures of that National Keypoint any more.

“Don’t you just love a good urban legend, ” Servaas folds the Upington Post and places it on the bar’s counter, away from the wet circles. “We certainly have  a lot of them floating around these days.”

“Like the one about Madiba? That he died in June, and was kept going until they could arrange for that giant tent in Quno? And to find a date that suited a hundred of the world’s most influential leaders? I must say, everything was arranged at lightning speed, quite staggering for a government that is famous for it’s tardy service delivery.”

“Indeed, Fanny. people are still wondering why Obama didn’t visit Mandela when he was on his African tour. If he admired the man so much, why not pop in for tea?”

“Just goes to show: you can’t blame our president for everything. The poor man has had such bad publicity lately, I almost feel sorry for him. Almost…not quite. After Gupta-gate, Arms-gate and Nkandla-gate, I think he’s praying for Escape-gate.” Vetfaan smiles smugly. “I heard they’re going to fire him.”

“And then what? Another court case that’ll take ten years? And then be thrown out due to lack of evidence?”

“No man, they’ve got the Secrecy Bill poised in the background, all set to prevent the public from knowing the truth about important things, like exactly how many wives the president has, and how much this costs the taxpayers. And don’t forget how many Christmas presents the poor man has to buy this time of year. You can’t rock up on Christmas eve with two dozen Teddy Bears and a few boxes of chocolates in a black bag. Kids these days want iPads and X-Boxes; and wives want something to make them feel special. I imagine Cartier must be the biggest supporter of the ANC, ever.” Kleinpiet doesn’t say this lightly, of course. Precilla has dropped a few hints lately after he placed her present under the tree in the voorkamer. Maybe he should have disguised the shape of the rain meter a bit better…

“Yes, the prez can’t afford to be kicked out. If the government stops paying the electricity bill for Nkandla, he’s looking a  lifetime’s worth of dinners at candle light.” Vetfaan smiles wryly: just how many showers are there in Nkandla, anyway?

“But imagine this: if we were to get a new president, do we have to build a new Nkandla? Isn’t it cheaper to keep things as they are?”

Now, this is the type of question that causes silence in Boggel’s Place. After all, how do you answer that? It’s like the story of Vetfaan’s tractor: to keep it working, costs a lot of money – but things get done. It is, admittedly,  much cheaper when it’s broken, but then you can’t use it for anything.

Servaas raps the counter with an arthritic knuckle, and tells them not to be stupid, the president isn’t going anywhere. “Anyway, to get back to urban legends, what about starting one? Let’s tell the lorry driver from Kalahari Vervoer we heard the next president is going to be a ….woman! And she’s going to get rid of all the fancy stuff and actually get involved with the running of the country. What about adding that she’ll encourage the prosecution of corrupt officials and even have regular meetings with that delightful woman, Tuli Madonsela?’ He pauses, smiling at the absurdity of it all. As if….

“You know, Servaas, sometimes I wonder what you smoke at night. An urban legend is something people will actually believe. It’s got to have an element of truth in it, as well. To suggest the president is going to step down quietly and allow a woman to take over…? No way, man. It’s like saying Mandela was a communist. Everybody knows he emphatically denied it.” There’s a twinkle in Gertruida’s eyes which could mean anything. “I mean, he’d never admit something as silly as that,  would he?”

“Okay, here we go again!” Kleinpiet rolls his eyes skywards. “You told us the other day how the communists are using the ANC to take over the country. Start with the workers, end with the government…or was it the other way around? Come on, Gertruida, Let’s rather discuss things that may really happen. Like a drought or an increase in the petrol price. At least we know those aren’t urban legends.”

“Kleinpiet, you can believe what you want. Look at China. Or Vietnam. Or Africa. You think the communists aren’t interested? Of course they are. China manufactures, Africa provides. And let me tell you: at the rate the Chinese are moving into Africa, we’re going to have more and more pressure from that side as well.” Gertruida sighs heavily. “We’d better start reading up on communism, guys. For most people it’s just a word. Let me tell you – it’s much more than a sequence of nine letters. It’ll be the end of our way of life, that’s what.”

“So: Mandela had ties with the communists. Our current president needs them to stay in power. And we’re going to get a lady as the next president.” Servaas’s eyebrows shoot up in apparent surprise. “And you think people will believe that?”

Gertruida nods, her smile not reaching her eyes. “I think it’s terribly sad. Or funny.” She shake her head. “But we’ll know soon enough, I guess.”

Bianca (# 12)

download (5)“Reinforcements?” Oudoom peers through the window to watch the three  black BMW’s raising a plume of dust on the road from Grootdrink.

“Well, I did inform my superiors,” a dubious Sergeant Dreyer shakes his head, “but they weren’t very helpful.”

“That,” Gertruida says because she knows everything, “is a rescue party for our two uninvited guests. I’ll bet we’re going to be astonished in the next few minutes.”

She doesn’t say it, but her mind flits back to her time when she was deeply involved with National Intelligence. The approaching vehicles may mean one of two things: either they represent some clandestine government department…or the men in those BMW’s belong to the smuggling gang. Either way, they have to protect Bianca. Those men will want more than just the two prisoners…

“Bianca! You have to hide! Now! Whatever these men men are, I think they may want to talk to you as well. And I have a feeling…”

Boggel is the first to react. He steers Bianca to the shack at the back where he stores the supplies.

“Shhh…not a word, Bianca. We’ll handle this.”

***

men-in-black-4-on-the-cards-1367783149-9524If the Rolbossers had any knowledge of recent movies, they might have laughed when the new arrivals in town alighted from their vehicles after stopping in Voortrekker Weg, These men could have stepped from the set of Men in Black. The suits, the dark glasses, the burly frames…even the expressionless faces with the straight-line lips – and the black ties, of course.

The one (the leader?) pushes open the door to Boggel’s Place with a gloved hand.

“Who’s in charge here?” The voice reminds Vetfaan of the thorny bushes on his farm.

“And who are you?” Gerttruida gets up, smiles sweetly and introduces herself.

“I am from the Federated Anti-crime Research Taskforce and these are my colleagues from the Consolidated Regional Anti-poaching Protocol. We understand you have two criminals here.”

“Oh, my! I’ve never heard of you?” Gertruida seems genuinely interested. “You must be very…discreet? Never heard or seen in public?”

“People in our line of work have to be invisible, Madam.”  If the man had any idea that Gertruida was poking fund at the acronyms, he showed no sign of it. “I have here a warrant for the arrest of two men. I believe you have them in custody?”

“And how, may I ask, do you know this?”

“Some policeman reported it as such, Madam. Now please hand them over.”

“But I don’t know who you are, Mister. You could be from African Rhino Smuggling Enterprises, for all I know. Have you any proof of identity? Any official documentation?”

“Listen, woman, I have no time for this. I get my orders from the presidency. You can phone the spokesman – here is the number.”

“You mean, Mac…” Gertruida doesn’t get to finish the name. The man interrupts her with a loud cough.

“Please, Madam. No names. There are ears everywhere!” He glances around as if looking for bugging devices. “But yes, that’s the man.”

“But…” Gertruida can be extremely sweet when she wants to, “he’s a habitual liar, you know that. When that man wishes you a good day, you know you can expect a cyclone.”

There is the faintest twitch – upward – of the man’s mouth corners. It may be his best effort at smiling.

“The men…?” His eyebrows raise above the rim of the dark glasses.

***

The Rolbossers have no real choice in the matter. The warrant seems real enough, and the leader of the men gave Sergeant Dreyer an official receipt for the two prisoners. Dreyer was extremely upset when his phone call to headquarters ended in a sharp rebuke – Sergeant, you either comply and follow orders, or you will be dishonourably discharged. Is that clear? 

The Man in Black ignores Dreyer’s pained look. “Keep the receipt on file. If anybody makes enquiries, I want to know about it immediately. That’s the number there.” He points at the document.

The man hesitates, watching how the two prisoners are led to the waiting vehicles.

“I believe a woman arrived here two days ago. Where is she?”

“Oh, that harlot? That hussy?” Gertruida’s disapproval is written all over her face. “I’ll tell you: she tried to seduce one of the elders of our church! Can you believe that? A man of morals, an upstanding…member…of our community. We don’t welcome such people in our town. You’ll only find good, honest people here –  I can guarantee you that.” When you’re in trouble, Gertruida always says, you stick to the truth.

“Well, I’ll remind you it is an offence to harbour a criminal. If she should ever return, I want to be informed immediately.”

And then, without even saying thank you or goodbye, the men get in the vehicles and roar off.

***

“Will somebody please tell me what just happened?” Mevrou’s hand trembles as she lifts the shot glass to her lips. The last two days have made her reconsider: old Noah certainly did the world a favour by fermenting those grapes! And he is in the Bible, isn’t he?

“The government just rescued their two agents, that’s what.” Gertruida glances over at Bianca for support and gets a nod. “Those men were hired hands, just like this team that visited us were. All governments employ such people: they do the dirty jobs and get paid to be invisible. Sure – the President will know about them, and his spokesperson will be informed – but they’ll never, never acknowledge such allegations in public. Like the Arms Scandal and Guptagate, they’ll just keep on lying, hoping the issue will fade away.”

“But who is behind all this, Gertruida? If the president is lying, he must have a very good reason to do so?”

“Ag, Mevrou,” Gertruida sighs, slumps forwards om her arms. “it’s the way of the world. Think about it: who wants Africa? It’s riddled with poverty, disease, wars…and minerals. Gold, iron, coal, diamonds, platinum, uranium…you name it, and it’s all here. Now, who’s building roads, bridges and railroads? The Chinese, that’s who. To be the world’s strongest economy, China needs to produce the luxuries the West wants.

“Work it out: the West represents the consumers, the East produces the goodies. And in the middle, Africa is being stripped of her riches to supply in these demands. It’s no secret that China will be the new America. Sadly, the US of A has pushed the self-destruct button when they became too complacent, too wealthy and too strong. Their strength became their weakness and this weakness is eroding their society from within.

“So…what’s the weak point? The economy. He who controls the purse, controls the world. China isn’t involved in Africa to help the poor, struggling countries on the continent. They’re here to plunder.”

Mevrou still looks confused.

“You want to know why the president will lie? Money, that’s why. Nkandla is the little bit of the iceberg you can see. Below the surface, there’s a whole lot more. And so he becomes a puppet, a willing co-worker to enrich himself.

“Think about it: when last did you hear the president say something about poaching? Or smuggling? Anything at all about farm murders? No, he’ll talk about land reform to keep the masses happy. He’ll talk about Black economic empowerment, because that’s what his comrades want to hear. It keeps him in power, just like Mugabe did in Zimbabwe. This country, Mevrou, isn’t being tun on moral values. It’s being run by money. That’s why 83% of the population agree: the police are corrupt. I’m sorry, Sergeant Dreyer, but that’s the view out there. You and a number of your colleagues may be on the straight and narrow, but a whole lot of policemen aren’t.”

“I agree…” Bianca, quietly sipping her beer, has listened to Gertruida’s lecture. “I’ve seen it in Uganda, It is terribly sad.” She pauses, as she looks down at her hands. “And now I’m a marked woman. They won’t rest until they find me…and the lists.”

This time, Fanny surprises everybody by getting off her chair to announce her plan.

“Let me suggest something…”

In this whole world there’s nobody as lonely as she
There’s nowhere to go and there’s nowhere that she’d rather be….