Tag Archives: Christianity

Revelations

Revelation Bible Religion - Free photo on PixabayNow that the lockdown allows inter-provincial travel and family visits, Gertruida was happy to hear that a distant niece, Mathilda Grove, wanted to pay a visit.

‘Mathilda is the epitome of the classic Old Maid Syndrome. Last time I heard, she was working at an old-age home in Paarl, where she took care of some old and infirm patients. A heart of gold, she has. A real gem.’ When Gertruida told the group in Boggel’s Place about the upcoming visit, old Servaas brightened a bit. It’s been years since Siena died and the dearth of possible replacements contributed to his constant grumpy state. Gertruida says old men get that way due to a chronic psychological massaging deficiency. She says PMD is far worse than PMS.

***

Rolbos shares some realities with other towns. One of these is the fact that nothing ever turns out exactly the way one anticipates it would be. When the large 4X4 bakkie (in America they call it a ‘truck’) slowed down to a  stop in front of Boggel’s Place, the Rolbossers crowded the small window.

‘Look at that caravan,’ Vetfaan whispered.

‘Shees – look at that bakkie, man! And those tyres!’ Kleinpiet lets out a low whistle.

‘Who, in heaven’s name, is that?’ Gertruida points at the gentleman who scoots around the vehicle to open the passenger side door.

***

The gentleman turns out to be Albertus Visser, a one-time inhabitant of Sunset House in Paarl.

‘He used to sit beneath the old tree in the corner of the lawn. All by himself, see?’ Mathilda smiles as she strokes Albertus’s back. After all the introductions have been done, they are enjoying a cold beer on Gertruida’s tab. ‘Every day he sat there, morning till night, reading the Bible. We all thought he was a bit strange, you know? But in an old-age home you get all sorts of people and we nursing staff just let them be.’

‘Harrumph!’ Albertus clears his throat. In a voice that is strangely high-pitched, he continues: ‘An old-age home is the last stop. That’s where it all ends. So it makes sense to do a bit of reading in the Book, see? You know where you’ve been; but do you know where you’re going? So I was just familiarising myself…’

‘Yes he was afraid he’d never get through all the books in the Bible, poor man.’ Mathilda interrupts with a wink at her beau. ‘And I didn’t know his problem until he called me Mithald.’ Mathilda lets out a shriek of laughter. ‘Mithald! At first I thought he was stupid.’

‘Most people did. You weren’t the only one,’ Albertus smiled. ‘As far back as I can remember it’s been like that. And oh! The experiences I’ve had with teachers! Can’t even remember how many hidings I got.’

‘You see, Albertus tried to go to church in his younger days, but it just didn’t work out, did it, dear?’ The way she looks at Albertus makes him blush.

‘Thise little pamphlets were horrible. You had to fill in stuff on some of them. Others apparently told you what to expect in the next week. And then the dominee would tell you where to read in the Bible and finally, which songs to look up to sing. I nearly died.’

‘Now, now, dear, don’t get worked up all over again.’ Mathilda pats the old man’s arm. ‘It’s okay now.’

‘The problem was that that dominee once preached about going to heaven. He said nobody can make it without reading the Bible from cover to cover. So I was deep into Matthew when Mithald, er, Ma-thil-da,  got involved.’

‘Ja, shame, the poor thing. When he looked at my name tag and called me Mithald, I realised what his problem was. Can you imagine how hard it is to progress right through the Good Book if you’ve got dyslexia? That’s why he struggled all those years – figuring out one word at a time.

‘Well, I took pity on the poor man. So I started doing the reading for him. Every day a few chapters. Took us four months, it did, but we got through it all in the end. It was our own lockdown blessing! By the time we finished Revelations, we got to know each other rather well..’

***

Gertruida says Mathilda is no longer the epitome of an old maid. Once Albertus made it to the end of Revelations (with Mathilda’s help), he didn’t have to isolate himself every day to try to make sense of the words.  In fact, he realised that living love was better than reading about it. That, Gertruida says (because she knows so much) is the biggest revelation of all.

Old Servaas is still grumpy. He says Mathilda isn’t his type at all. He’s read the Bible already all by himself, so  what’s the point?

 

 

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.”

When the Compass Fails.

depositphotos_10579006-World-map-with-compass-showing-Africa“I remember,” Vetfaan said as he nursed his beer, “how we struggled in Angola. We had to use a map and a compass – and had to trust both completely. No GPS in those day, none at all. You sat down with your little sliding rule, looked at where the river – or mountain – was, and plotted your course.”

“I remember that,” Kleinpiet smiled. “Got lost a few times, too. And at night it was even worse: you couldn’t use a torch to study the map. The stars helped, though.”

“There was one incident…”

***

Nighttime in Africa represents a fascinating interplay of uncertainty and adventure. This is true for the modern-day camper; but it’s even worse during times of war and conflict. Today one may sit comfortably next to the fire, clinking a few ice cubes in the scotch in the glass, while listening to a hyena calling a few hundred yards away. That’s the romantic picture, the allure of the bush, the reason why so many tourists flock to this beautiful country.

But when the smell of cordite stings the nose and the thud-thud-thud of a hovering gunship helicopter seems  to be the only sound in the gloom…well. then even the bravest of soldiers finds it hard to control body and spirit. When rifle inspection is done the next day, it isn’t unusual to find so many soldiers with full clips of ammunition – they simply crept to the nearest rock to spend the night in prayer.

It was during the build-up to Cuito Cuanavale that Vetfaan lived and prayed through just such a night. The patrol of four men had almost completed a sortie of a sector and were on their way to the base camp, when it became painfully obvious that they were lost. The map didn’t make sense. The compass reading was off. Overhead, a bank of clouds threatened to release the torrents of rain so characteristic of January in the subtropics. No stars. Not even the moon.

And then a single shot rang out. One loud bang in the silence, reverberating across the veld in a promise of death.

Jackalberry tree

Jackalberry tree

They huddled together next to the trunk of a huge jackalbery tree, whispering in almost-inaudible tones.

Who the $%#@ fired that shot? Where did it come from?

I don’t know. That way? The darkness prevented the others from seeing which way the trooper was pointing.

Doesn’t matter. Somebody out there is taking potshots at somebody. We have to get out of here.

Another shot rang out. Nearer this time.

Vetfaan took out the faulty compass to study the luminous needle behind a cupped hand.

Let’s just adjust the bearing by about thirty degrees, and follow the compass. We should get to a river sometime, then we can follow it to the base. It’s upstream, if I’m correct. Let’s go.

Nobody argued. That’s the way it worked. Somebody made a decision and the rest followed. If the decision turned out to be wrong, they’d all pay the price for it. But, unless you could come up with something better, there was no other option.

About half an hour later, Vetfaan almost stumbled over the man waiting in ambush next to a faint game trail. This man – a Cuban, they later discovered – was the first in a line of nine soldiers, waiting for them to enter a killing zone that would have wiped out the entire patrol. Vetfaan didn’t think. Reacting instinctively, his huge hands found the man’s neck, choking hard to prevent the hapless soldier raising the alarm. With the man writhing desperately to loosen the grip, Vetfaan turned around and walked his patrol out of the area.

***

“Did you kill him?” Precilla’s eyes are wide with fear, her lips a thin line of disgust. War has never made any sense to her.

Vetfaan manages a wry smile. “No, I didn’t. He was a small bugger, poor chap. I dragged him to a spot where we thought we’d be safe and then made him sit down. He could speak broken English, so I told him we’d let him live if he could tell us where we were. Man, you’ve never seen a guy so happy to tell something to his enemies. So we took his gear – he had dropped his rifle when I grabbed him – and made him take off his shoes. Told him to stay right there until the sun came up.

“The funny thing was: we were all equally afraid. The darkness in Africa didn’t discriminate. Everybody couldn’t see a thing. It was as big a curse as it was a blessing….”

The group at the counter sits in silence, each lost in own thoughts as they remember the dark days of the Border War.

“Ja,” Servaas says, “it was dark in many ways. Many young men got lost there.” Vetfaan knows the old man isn’t talking in geographical terms.

“And now it’s the same for America and those guys with the Islamic State.” Gertruida, who had been deeply involved in Intelligence during the 80’s, sighs sadly. “They’re following a faulty compass…again. Imagine beheading innocent people to intimidate the rest of the world? Instead of creating sympathy for their cause, they are making it easy for Obama and Cameron to retaliate.”

“Who’s Cameron?” Servaas isn’t big on international affairs. Gertruida ignores him.

“It’s the same thing, Vetfaan. The world has heard a few random shots. They tried to ignore it, or at best, to avoid confrontation. Then IS ambushed them with these atrocious, inexcusable, inhumane acts. Avoiding conflict is no longer an option. We’re heading for a full-out war, I’m afraid.”

“But the powers-that-be are going about it in a wrong way, too. I heard the overseas media tend to blame all Muslims for the situation.” Boggel pours another round before Gertruida continues. “And I don’t think that’s right. They’ll split the world down the middle by polarising Christianity and Islam. That’s like taking us back to the days of the Crusades, which I fear is happening all over again. Remember; in the first millennium Christianity was a religion of peace. It gained popularity because of this appeal. Then Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Muslims, and that changed the history of Europe and England radically. Feudalism disappeared. Crusades were fought for heavenly rewards, but the noblemen returned home as impoverished individuals who bankrupted their estates. It established xenophobia as a ‘just’ cause, sanctioned by the Church. I can go on and on about the positives and the negatives to emerge from the Crusades, but the bottom line remains: millions were killed, countries were changed and society – and religion – didn’t escape unscathed.”

“So, once again, the moral compass is way off mark?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, it is. IS is moving in the wrong direction. The West is straying off a peaceful path by labelling all Muslims as radical – this is simply fuelling xenophobic fear. God knows how this will play out, but this time I can’t imagine a peaceful ending. You were lucky with that soldier you stumbled across; but I afraid  you won’t find a handy Cuban in the Middle East today, unfortunately.”

 

The Tiny, Frozen Hand We Reach Out To Tomorrow

“Most operas are tragic.” Gertruida is busy with one of her famous lectures on this Saturday morning. Rolbos is quietly celebrating Passover, so the usual Saturday party is a rather subdued affair. To prevent the group at the bar from simply staring at each other morosely, Gertruida has taken it upon herself to do what she does best: telling them what they don’t know. “The list is rather long: La Boheme, Aida, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto. Many composers are known for their poignant and sad stories of love and hate, and most of them end with somebody dying. Mostly, the plot is to use love, ambition and rivalry – to make the audience hope for a happy ending. Sadly, it doesn’t happen.”

“I saw something like that, way back in the 70’s. It was an Afrikaans film about forbidden love in a small rural town. Môre, Môre; by Elmo de Wit.  The bad guy wants to kill the teacher who fell in love with the schoolgirl, and hurls a spear at him during an athletics meet. He hits the girl instead. Not a dry eye in the house. It was so sad, I had to see it three times.” Kleinpiet smiles at the memory. “So it’s not only Italians that make us cry. We can do it all by ourselves,”

“I suppose we all need to cry every now and then, Kleinpiet.” Vetfaan has been uncommonly quiet lately, and now gets rewarded by everybody’s attention. “Life is maybe a bit like Gertruida’s operas. We live in the hope of a happy ending, but that rarely happens. Most often, I think, relationships involve heartache. Boy meets girl; fall in love; says goodbye. Most love affairs end like that. Marriages, too. It’s the exceptions that make the rest of us believe in happy endings. So we end up promising ourselves: Tomorrow, Tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow. But, like we know: tomorrow never comes. It’s always a day away.”

“Indeed.” Gertruida lifts her glass. “Tomorrow is the symbol of hope. Somewhere, somehow, some way, tomorrow will be better. That’s what tragic operas are all about; It tells us tomorrow never comes…Don’t wait for something to happen in the future if you’re not prepared to live today to the full. Sure, things might improve; but you’re stuck in today. Forever, all you have, is today. The present. Here and now. This is where it’s at, and this is where you live. People destroy their joy by hoping and hoping – and forgetting they’re living the only now they’ll ever have. That’s the tragedy of life.”

“But then, Gertruida, it impacts on the way we live. Politics only  exist because people hope for a better tomorrow. So do churches, for that matter. Society needs to reach out to to the future, otherwise Life makes no sense.”  Boggel thinks back of the hope he had for a life with Mary Mitchell, and how much joy it brought him. Yes, he wanted it to have a happy ending, but while it lasted, it was the most glorious time of his life.

“That’s why the moment Rudolfo takes Mimi’s hand in La Boheme, it’s such a poignant moment. They’re on the brink of discovering each other. She’s ill and the relationship is doomed, even though they don’t know it at that point. They hope tomorrow will be better, but it won’t, of course. He’ll remain behind, penniless and alone, That’s not the tragedy, however. The tragedy is the beauty of their hope – and the sadness that they didn’t use the time they had to the fullest extent. He could have saved her, but instead they placed their hope in the future. He should have told her he loved her right than.”

“Yeah, Gertruida. Words.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. One of the new ones from Argentina that Harold sent. Araucana Rojiza Fuerte. He just loves this exotic brew. “Words lose their meaning if they are only a set of letters awaiting the future. It’s the now-words, the present-words, that count.”

“That’s what Easter is all about.” Oudoom surprises them all by joining them at the counter. “All human aspirations and hopes have limits. We hope for rain. We hope for fair government. We hope petrol will be cheaper. We hope love will last.  But, my friends, all  these things are bound to the little concept of time. We compare our past with our future.  In that sense, Gertruida is right: do what you do, do well. Remember the song? Give all you heart and all of your love – I remember that from my student days. In human terms, we have to make the most of every moment we live.” He sips the new beer Boggel pushes over the counter and smacks his lips. “But there is only one hope we know will come to fruition.”

He waits for the questioning looks, stretching the moment.

“That’s what this Saturday is all about, guys. The silent time. The waiting. The deciples hoping Christ will arise again, but at the same time not really knowing He will. I mean, rising from the dead? You have to be crazy to hope that.

“But He did. And it changed the way we live, forever.”

“So, Dominee,” Vetfaan leans over, eager for an answer, “you’re saying there’s only one hope left in the whole wide world?’

“No. There are many hopes. Only one, however, is guaranteed.”

“And that is what is important, Oudoom.” Gertruida smiles benignly at the clergyman. “The rest is bound to Time. And Time is a tragedy waiting to happen. We reach out with our tiny, frozen hands to each other, only to know nothing lasts forever. When we reach to the warmth of Eternity, we will never be disappointed.”

“True. Give me another of these Boggel. It’s actually very good… Life is a tragedy, we know that. That’s why we love, we strive, we build, we gather…and die. There’s nothing on earth we can grasp with our tiny, frozen hands to hold on forever.

“I’m working on tomorrow’s sermon with this theme in mind. The only thing we do on earth, is to leave things behind. We leave possessions, poverty, wealth, hope, love. If that contribution is for the benefit of others, life is meaningful. It’s like a relay race. We get, we pass it on. One generation will follow the other. Along the way, we’ll have joy, we have fun, we have seasons in the sun. Remember that one?” Oudoom enjoys shocking his flock. They never realised his taste for oldies. “Soo… it’s about taking hands. Passing the baton. And knowing this tragedy will pass. That, my friends, is what Easter is all about.”

“Yeah.” Vetfaan downs his beer. “The stone hasn’t been rolled away yet. Tomorrow it will be. We’ll always have tomorrow. It’ll come.”

What a frozen little hand,
let me warm it for you.
What’s the use of looking?
We won’t find it in the dark.
But luckily
it’s a moonlit night,
and the moon
is near us here.
Wait, mademoiselle,
I will tell you in two words,
who I am, what I do,
and how I live. May I?
Who am I? I am a poet.
What do I do? I write.
And how do I live? I live.
In my carefree poverty
I squander rhymes
and love songs like a lord.
When it comes to dreams and visions
and castles in the air,
I’ve the soul of a millionaire.

Pass-over

“Servaas, you are particularly cantankerous these days.”Gertruida sits down next to the old man, rubbing the small of his back with a soft hand. “I think you should talk about it. Something is brewing in that grey head, and I think it must come out. You can’t go on like this.”

Servaas looks up at Gertruida’s face to see the kindness and concern there. Suddenly, tears well up. He sniffs loudly.

“It’s nothing, thank you. Something that happened a long time ago. 30 years ago, to be exact. Long gone, not important any more.”

“You know better than that, Servaas. Sometimes those thoughts are the most dangerous of all. They sit there, festering away below the surface, destroying the little happiness you might still have left in you.” She pauses to do a little mental arithmetic. “Thirty years? That was 1982. The country was at war in Angola…”

“Super.”

“What?”

Operation Super. March 1982.”

Gertruida’s face lights up. “Of course! Servaasie! She lowers her voice as Servaas’ shoulders start shaking, “He was in a support group, wasn’t he? And a landmine got his vehicle?” When Servaas nods, Gertruida tells him she’s so sorry.

“Yeah. He died, and I failed…”

When the telegram arrived to announce the death of his only son, Servaas locked himself in his room. He came out once, to attend the funeral.  For three days and three nights he even ignored Siena’s pleas to come out, saying he was busy struggling with God. That was not true: he was fighting with God, accusing Him of being an unfeeling and unjust deity, unworthy of worship.

“How can you say you failed? You didn’t. You gave the best to Servaasie and the war wasn’t your doing, anyway. You’re being unreasonable, Servaas.”

On the fourth day, he opened the door and told Siena he’d be away for a while. She saw the terrible determination in his eyes and didn’t ask. He took a bag and his old hunting rifle, loaded it into the pickup, and drove off. Now it was Siena’s turn to spend her days on her knees, pleading  God to protect her husband.

He drove up the long, tarred road from Vioolsdrift to Grootfontein, only stopping for petrol and stale meat pies along the way. Three days later he stood on the banks of the Kunene River, gazing at Angola with blood-shot eyes. Camouflaging his vehicle, he stretched out on the back, and slept for a full day. Then, after a meal of bully beef and beans, he took his rifle and started looking for a way to cross the river.

His intention was clear: they took his son. He’d take one of theirs. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. When the evening came, he found a wide, shallow stretch of river where he waded through.

“Servaas? A one-man expedition against a trained army? What were you thinking?”

He lived off the veld, trapping small animals and drinking whenever he found water. The area was rather inhospitable, so he trekked more-or-less up along the river so as not to lose contact with the only reliable source of water.

And then, one night, he heard voices. Clear, singing voices. Voices joined together to sing a hymn – like only the people from Africa can. Multi-tiered singing, combining bass and soprano in alternating verses, praising God.

Servaas never found out who did that singing.

He returned home.

“You did the right thing, Servaas. How can you say you failed?”

“I failed God, for a while. I got angry and turned my back on Him. I was quite prepared to kill anybody I met in Angola: man, woman, child, soldier, civilian. Anybody. Just to feel I took some sort of revenge.”

“Remember the ten plagues, Servaas, and how the first Passover came into being? It was the blood of the lamb that was the sign. Those with the sign, survived. The others didn’t. The same thing happened to you. The hymn was the sign, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful story.

“You passed them over – whoever they were – just like the plague did the Jews in Egypt all those years ago. And now, with Passover upon us, you should celebrate it, not sit and mope about it.”

“But I never got my revenge, Gertruida!” The old man’s face contorts in a picture of regret. “Now I live with this emptiness inside me. I wanted to fill it, but couldn’t.”

“You know, Servaas, the biggest, worst, most horrible form of revenge is … forgiveness. You cannot fight hate with hate. Hate can only succumb to one force; and that’s the force of love. If we were to be punished for every sinful thought, every sinful action, life on earth would have been impossible. We all may live in hope, because of Passover. It is given to everybody, but it’ll cost you. Not everybody is humble enough to accept it; the proud ones refuse to reach out – and continue hating, continue seeking revenge and justification.”

“Are you telling me I’ve been missing the message of Passover all these years, Gertruida?” A new sorrow has found it’s way to the wrinkled face as the eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

“Passover. Forgiveness. Redemption. And all those rest on Love. They’re all the same, my friend. There’s only one trick: reach out and make it your own.”

Tonight, Servaas will go home with a smile. The empty space inside his mind has been filled. By being passed over, he has been passed up, in a manner of speaking. Up: like in nearer to the wisdom of the Throne, not like in forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite an exhilarating freedom, something quite new to him.

Anyway, like Gertruida says; make sure you’re passed over and passed up before you pass on.

A World without Love

Malala Yousafzai

“You mean to tell me they shot her for going to school?” Precilla’s disbelief is tangible. “Why?”

“It’s not so easy to explain. They’ve got the Taliban, see? And they don’t believe in equality over there.  They like to think of women as uneducated, subservient beings; conveniences to be used at leisure.  A woman may be sold, murdered, raped, burnt, disfigured by acid – and they do it in the name of honour and religion.” Gertruida shakes her head. “It’s a male dominated society, so women have become merchandise.

“One must try to understand the basics of Islam  in order to make sense of how it commands society to act. There are five basic pillars to Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and the Hajj. The Quran is very specific about this: it states that man and woman were created from a single soul, and therefore equal before God. Then it states, and I quote:  And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. So, initially, both Christianity and Islam maintained that man was created to protect woman and love her. In contrast to Arabic custom of the time, Mohammed wrote down that women have rights – he was one of the first to plead for their upliftment. So popular were his teachings about female education, that Fatima al-Fihri founded the first the world’s very first academic degree-granting university. “

“So what went wrong, Gertruida? If the Quran granted women certain rights, and an Islamic woman started the first university, why are women so oppressed under Islam law?” Vetfaan has to concentrate to keep his jaw from dropping. Gertruida’s general knowledge never ceases to astound him.

“The same thing that went wrong with the rest of history. The male ego. Testosterone. The desire to conquer and rule. Most of all wars were fought because of religion or sex or property– cleverly disguised as the quest for justice. In Christianity we have thousands of churches, each proclaiming that they have figured out the correct version of God’s will. They all use the same Bible, but choose to interpret certain sections in certain ways. The Muslims do the same. Islam, like Christianity, isn’t a single belief.”

Precilla still doesn’t understand. “It is difficult to imagine how the order for ‘love and mercy’ between man and wife can be twisted to such an extent that it justifies the shooting of a teenaged girl because she wants to go to school. Something is wrong with that picture.”

“Well, I must say we can’t afford to point fingers at Pakistan, guys.” Sersant Dreyer finishes his beer before going on. “Officially, we had 15,600 murders in 2011/12.  Our murders are amongst the most brutal imaginable. One estimate is that there more than one million women are raped annually in our country. The case of the Indian girl that was gang-raped made the world sit up – and rightly so. But what about the situation here? Can we justify remaining quiet in a society that turns a blind eye to these things? “

“Yes, I think the President should get on a podium and clearly say: enough is enough!” There’s a slight tremor is Servaas’ voice. “Rapists and murderers should be put away for life and stripped of all rights. The punishment must be so severe that people will talk about it in hushed tones. The food must be terrible. The work must be back-breaking. No rights to education, medical care, recreational facilities. The President must be so clear about this, so emphatically determined, that criminals would shudder at the thought of a guilty verdict.”

“That’s the sad thing, Servaas. The President won’t do it, and the churches tell people all sins will be forgiven. All religions have at their foundations the existence of a merciful God that rules over the affairs of mankind. They tell us of a loving God, urging us to follow His commands. No matter if you pray in a mosque or a church or a temple– one should leave with a humble feeling, wanting to do what is right, listening to God’s will.

“It takes a girl raped to death in India, or a teenager being shot at point-blank range in Pakistan to make the world take notice. I wonder when somebody is going to say something about Africa?”

“It’s not the countries, my friends.” Oudoom holds up an admonishing finger. “It’s not even the pure ideals of religion. It’s the culture of crime and destruction. It isn’t God’s fault. We embrace evil, that’s what’s wrong. We love horror movies. Children are fascinated by vampires and blood. We love the fact that 007 is licensed to kill. For some ungodly reason, we love destructive entertainment and our children are exposed to violence from the earliest ages. We are experts in perpetuating abuse and conflict. It is a fact that all cultures developed in a cradle of violence. That’s who we are. Not a single society in the world can claim a non-violent history.

“That’s why religion – pure religion – is so important. It holds up a mirror for us all to see who we really are. And only if we are honest with ourselves, will we acknowledge our terrible shortcomings. That’s why we need effective churches and efficient governments. The churches and religions must turn back to God and stop playing power-games amongst themselves. And governments must realise they have a social contract with the population under their care.”

“Well said, Dominee. When do we start?” Servaas seems almost relieved.

Oudoom sighs and rests his chin on his folded arms on the counter top. “The problem, Brother, is not when. It’s where. It starts in the heart of simple people living in shacks, waiting for the ruling party to supply food packets and monthly grants. It starts in the well-to-do houses of successful businessmen and women, realising their empires rest on the labour of others. It starts with ministers and politicians realising they have a contract with society to be just and fair and respected. It starts with a President who has the courage to tell his parliament that he is sick and tired of abuse and crime and corruption.” He fishes out a handkerchief to dab his eyes. “We must stop thinking God will fix everything. We, all of us, have an obligation to refuse to live in a world without love.”

“So, you’re saying…” Kleinpiet raises an questioning eyebrow.

“Yes, Kleinpiet. It won’t happen.”