Tag Archives: corruption

The Wounded Buffalo of Society

Alfred_Jacob_Miller_-_Wounded_Buffalo_-_Walters_37194056

Wounded Buffalo: Alfred J Miller

“Told you.” Gertruida switches off the radio. “The ANC is in a corner. No way they can afford to fire their own president – they’ll just create an impossible situation for themselves. I mean: he’s also the president of the ANC, remember? He dishes out the goodies and they all want some.  On the other hand, the ANC isn’t stupid; they are all too aware of the fall-out of the series of scandals Zuma has landed them in. The only thing they can do now, is damage control.”

“Shew, Gertruida. Why can’t he just resign, like the Iceland guy did? Take the honourable way out and get it over with. As things stand now, we’re in for mass action, strikes, marches, protests and civil unrest. The government has prodded the sleeping giant of society for too long and they’re waking up with a headache – and they don’t like that. The cost of mass action is going to be more than the mere building of a private home in Nkandla.”

“Resign, Servaas? After the way they got rid of Mbeki? No, Zuma will sing his songs, dance his dances and giggle his way through all this. I’m guessing, but the cost of the upgrades at Nkandla won’t even put a dent in the savings he’s accumulated after 1994 – and especially after he became president.. Money isn’t the object. Remember, he used to be in charge of intelligence in the ANC – he knows all the secrets and he’s wielding that knowledge with great finesse. You cross that man at your own peril. He’s got the power, the contacts, the money and don’t forget: he holds the keys to many opportunities. He’s in the game for all the wrong reasons – and that’s why they can’t get rid of him.”

Servaas sighs. The great promise of democracy has turned into a curse of a one-party state. Whichever way he looks at the future, he simply cannot see much hope. And if he feels like this, how much more would the poverty stricken masses be despondent at the prospect of a bleak future?

“They’ll burn a few more libraries, I suppose.”

“Yes, Servaas, just like the government burnt the constitution. Tit for tat.”

“It’s like that buffalo the hunter wounded a few years back, remember?”

Gertruida looks up sharply. Yes, she remembers the incident that happened  on the farm in Limpopo. Vetfaan’s distant nephew owned a hunting farm in the Bushveld, where overseas hunters paid handsomely to hunt a variety of game. During the hunting season of 2013, a hunter got excited and shot at a huge buffalo, wounding it in the shoulder area. The buffalo went for the hunter. Vetfaan’s nephew realised what was happening and tried to bring the charging beast down with a head shot. The bullet glanced off a horn. Another shot went wide. This all happened in a fraction of a second.

The buffalo, enraged and in pain, wasn’t going to stop. The foreign hunter was going to die. Vetfaan’s nephew then ran from his hiding place, positioning himself for a better shot – the very last chance to save the hunter. The buffalo swerved, suddenly focussing on the new adversary.

“He died heroically, didn’t he? Poor chap. But at least he saved that stupid hunter’s life.”

Servaas nods. “That’s exactly my point. A good man died to save a stupid one. And now the ANC is doing the same thing. They’re positioning themselves between a wounded  society and a stupid hunter. Only: this political buffalo is not as fast as that one in the Bushveld. It’s a slow, ponderous animal – but once it focusses on a prey, it won’t give up until it’s trampled its enemy to death. It happened to every empire you can think of – from Babylon to the Romans and the British Empire. King Leopoldt, Reagan, prime ministers and presidents – history is littered with the corpses of men and women who thought they could outsmart the system. Fortunately, the buffalo always wins…”

He gets a fondly surprised smile from Gertruida. Yes, old Servaas has seen governments and parties come and go. He, like the rest of the population, is no stranger to change.

Vetfaan walks in, dusts his hat and sits down with an expectant wink. Time for a beer; he’s been servicing his old Landy and it’s hot out there.

“The weather is changing,” he says conversationally. “The wind is picking up.”

“It is, Vetfaan. It surely is…”

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The Scorpion that didn’t die.

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Sagittarius_and_Corona_Australis,_Microscopium,_and_TelescopiumThe latest rumours (or are they more than that?) have so upset Vetfaan that he took to the dunes again. He does this from time to time; to create distance between himself and the dark reality of South Africa, to clear his mind….and to seek encouragement from his old friend, !Kung. Truth be told, !Kung has the strangest way of putting things into a new perspective, despite the fact that he never reads a paper, still believes that there are small people trapped inside the TV (he just might be right on that score!) and has never heard our president speak. This last attribute also could be seen as a point in his favour.Or maybe he’s just fortunate..

Vetfaan finds the wizened old man waiting patiently in the shade of the camelthorn tree near the big red dune. Vetfaan is never sure whether !Kung always stays in the vicinity or only comes when he knows Vetfaan’s visit is imminent. When he asked him about it once, !Kung simply smiled and told Vetfaan that there are many things he’d never understand and therefore wouldn’t believe. “The problem with Outside People is they ask too many questions,” !Kung said quietly, and left it at that. Outside People, in !Kung’s language, is anybody that lives beyond the shifting dunes of the Kalahari.

After their customary greeting, lighting the fire and sharing the comfortable silence between them, Vetfaan gets up, fetches the Kudu liver he had brought along and roasts it on the glowing embers.

“You are much troubled,” Kung says eventually, running his small hand over the white stubbles of his remaining hair.

How do you explain the chaos in the country to somebody who has never even voted? Doesn’t read, cannot write and is unable to understand the term ‘corruption’? Who can simply not understand  that senior officials are involved in criminal activities; smuggling everything from cigarettes to rhino horn, raping the treasury and consider lying as part of their job descriptions? !Kung has never even heard of ambassadors, nor of the ‘doctor’ we have in Japan or the embarrassment of our emissary in the United States.

“There are hyenas in the country, !Kung. They are eating our people.” Vetfaan stares into the flames, knowing this is enough. !Kung will hear all the things he hasn’t said.

The old man nods. “The drought has come.”

Vetfaan waits. He knows there is more. !Kung gets up to fetch the calabash of honey beer, which he offers to Vetfaan before drinking himself.

“When the grass is this high,” he lifts his hand above his head, “there is enough for the oryx and the kudu and the hare. Some eat of the trees, some of the grass. When there is plenty, everybody is fat. But sometimes there are too many of the one, more than the other. And then the trees can’t make leaves fast enough and the bigger animals will start feeding on the grass the hare needs to eat. Hare will not be happy.

“‘Now look here, Kudu and Oryx, you are eating my grass,'” Hare will say. “‘You have to stop.'”

“‘But we can’t, can you not see? We have bigger bodies than you – we need the grass. Anyway, we are much stronger, so go away.'”

“But, Mister Vetfaan, Hare doesn’t want to. Where can he go? The drought is everywhere, remember? Also, this is his home, his place. And so Hare sits down to think about how the bigger animals are trying to cheat him out of his food.”

!Kung falls silent again, gathering his thoughts. Why can Vetfaan not work it out himself? It is so simple…

“Hare then does what he does best. He starts digging a hole. A big one. And he gets Baboon to cover it with branches and twigs. And he puts some nice, green grass on the other side of the hole and then he sits down to wait.”

!Kung gets up, stretches, and starts scooping out a hollow in the sand. At his age, his hips tend to be painful at night. To get a good night’s sleep, he must prepare his bed carefully.

“And…” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow. “What happened?”

!Kung looks up, surprised at Vetfaan’s question.

“What must happen, Mister Vetfaan. That’s what.”

They sit in silence for a while before turning in. Overhead the stars glitter against the cold black of the sky. Vetfaan identifies Sagittarius, the mythical archer, with his arrow aimed at Scorpius’s heart. The arrow, however, never gets to be released, will never hit its mark. The real victor, Vetfaan realises, is the scorpion.

Yes, he thinks before drifting off to sleep. !Kung is one hundred percent right.

Of course!

“…. see a bad moon rising.
I see trouble on the way…”

 

 

Gertruida’s new National Anthem

zuma-must-fall-CPT-tourist.width-370“The old one is nice,” Gertruida shrugs, “but what does it say? Every nation is dependent on God’s grace and blessing – that’s true.  And we should be loyal and proud of who and what we are. So, in my book, our National Anthem – as beautiful as it is – doesn’t imply anything unique or new. I mean: every song should have a message, shouldn’t it? Something fresh and inspiring that’d encourage people to forge a better future.”

Gertruida does this sometimes. She’d make an outrageous statement – completely out of the blue – and then wait to see what the others do with it. Sometimes this habit unleashes heated debates, which helps them pass the time of day. One can never be sure if she is really serious or whether she’s just rattling their cages for the fun.

“Look, Gertruida, I grew up with Die Stem before politics intervened. We sang it in school, at funerals and in the army. I never thought it’d become such a political controversy, yet I understand that people wanted to incorporate other verses to include the entire community. But…I’ve become used to N’kosi Sikelel and quite like the song. Now you want to change it…again?”

“Calm down, Vetfaan! Look, let me try to explain…” Gertruida takes a long sip from her glass before continuing. “Okay. When you hear ‘rugby’, what do you see?”

“Why, the Springboks, of course?”

“And people overseas? If you say ‘Johannesburg’, what do they think?”

“Um…gold?”

“Well done, Vetfaan.” Gertruida beams her pride at the burly farmer’s answers. “And Kimberley?”

“Diamonds!”

“Great going Vetfaan. The point is: when you mention a name or a place, you immediately associate it with some mental picture in your mind.That’s the way our brains are wired. Now let’s take a step to the left and follow another line of thought.”

This, too, is typical of the convoluted way Gertruida’s mind works. Straight lines, she always maintains, are for fence wires.

“We are stuck with arguably the most unpopular president in our democratic history. Madiba was a wise leader. Mbeki was clever. But currently we have a clown that laughs his way through parliament. Have you listened to what even the children say about our esteemed First Person?”

 

Vetfaan collapses in a fit of laughter. “Really? If the kids can see through the farce, why do people still vote for him?

“Oh! People! I guess they voted in good faith for the Madiba dream to continue. They trusted the ANC, believing the political party was there for them. Nobody – really, nobody, especially not the majority of the voters – foresaw the chaos that would follow the last election. Who could have predicted the fiasco of corruption, lawlessness, the virtual bankruptcy of our airlines, ESCOM, the railways, the postal services? And what about housing,  our roads and the lack of service delivery? Look at our airforce and navy. Even the education sector is collapsing.  If people had known what they were voting for, they would have been more careful about where they drew their crosses.”

“No argument there, Gertruida. But what has that to do with a new anthem?”

“An anthem is a song. A song has a message. That’s important to remember. Now…back to the questions.” She flashes an encouraging smile. “When you say: ‘South Africa’, what do foreigners think or see? Let me help you here:  who is the Face of South Africa?”

Vetfaan’s response is immediate. “Madiba. They see Mandela.”

“But he’s dead, Vetfaan. You have to choose a living person, one that interacts with the rest of the world right now.”

Vetfaan blanches. “Oh, my….you mean? Really? Our president? Gosh no! That’d be grossly unfair! We have such wonderful people here – kind, wise, caring people. Like, maybe Desmond Tutu for instance. Writers like Adam Small. Singers and songwriters like Johnny Clegg and P J Powers. We’ve got doctors, scientists, philosophers…and Boggel, of course. Why would a German or an American associate our country with Zuma?”

“Because the majority chose him, dummy. He’s the Number One, The Leader, The Face of South Africa.”

Vetfaan slumps down on the counter, holding his head in his hands. “Gimme a Cactus Jack, Boggel. I desperately need one now!” He looks up with a bewildered frown. “So a new anthem will change all that?”

“That’s what I think, Vetfaan. An anthem is a message to the world. We tell the world out there who we are and what we strive for.Listen to this: it’s more catchy than God Save the Queen, has more rhythm than Advance Australia Fair, and easier to sing than Chichewa. No disrespect to those countries, mind you, but it’s such an easy song – the whole country knows the words already.

“Most importantly, this song tells the story of where we are right now, and what we want to see happening in the near future. As far as anthems go, I think this one will be very popular.”

Vetfaan listens. Smiles. Slaps Gertruida’s back. Orders a round on the house. Yes, dear Gertruida has a way of shaking things up in Boggel’s Place. If only she could do the same on a much larger stage…

(Author’s note: This is a satirical piece, using fictional characters to voice fictional opinions. The National Anthems of various countries are not ridiculed, neither is any disrespect implied. The #zumamustfall hashtag has, however, gained unprecedented popularity in the social media, and is here addressed in the way it should – tongue-in-cheek with a wink and a smile.)

The Man from BBE

images (19) copy“That must be Mister Ball, ” Boggel says as the line of dust on the road to Rolbos nears the town. “I wonder what – exactly – does he want? Said he had to come to do business, but that was all. He sounded rather strangely pompous as if he expected us to fall for some sales talk. Something about empowerment and compliance – couldn’t make out head or tail…”

They’ve talked about the visit ever since the telephone call a week ago. Servaas reckons it has to be a government thing, because they seem to be creating more and more agencies to regulate businesses and organisations. “It’s their way of creating jobs, see?” Servaas gets upset about the way the government insists on appointing inept and unqualified people to positions of power – officials who do not have the faintest idea of what they should be doing, anyway.

Gertruida has been hard at work, too. Using the skills she had picked up in her days with National Intelligence, she created a perfect copy of a liquor licence  – something Boggel has never bothered to apply for. That, of course, is a completely different story, and one that has been told a long time ago. Still, if the government wants to see that piece of paper, she’ll have it ready for them.

The black BMW purrs down Voortrekker Weg (still misspelled after all these years) and comes to a stop in front of Boggel’s Place. A chauffeur in a perfectly pressed suit jumps out to open the back door for a remarkable man. Remarkable? Maybe not the right word. Astounding might be more appropriate. The huge figure emerging from the vehicle is, indeed, typical of the average government employee – built like an over-sized teapot with a soccer ball head and frog-like eyes. He, too, is dressed in a suit; but how he managed to squeeze his massive bulk into the clothes, is a mystery. Maybe one should not be so critical about Chinese material -it really stretches!

“Mister Ball…?” Boggel steps forward to shake the large man’s meaty hand.

“Just call me Black. All my friends do.” The lips scarcely move, but a gold tooth manages to wink at Boggel. The voice is alarmingly high-pitched, making Gertruida wonder about the man’s hormonal balance.

“Black?”

“Yes. Black. Black Ball. That’s me.” He tries bow slightly and almost manage, too. He hands over his card, which states that Black Ball is the managing director of BBE – Black Ball Enterprises. Underneath, in smaller letters: already 

“Come on in, er…um…Black. You’ll need something cool after driving through the heat.”

“No. No drinking. I’m here on business and I don’t have time to waste. Where can we talk?”

Boggel leads the man inside, where they have to place two chairs next to each other to accommodate the large frame.

“Let me get straight to the point here. You guys need protection. I can offer you this…at a very reasonable rate. You have a choice: work with me, or not. If not…well, the consequences could be rather …uncomfortable. Even painful.” Black pulls a face to emphasise the point.

Now look. You don’t talk like this in Rolbos. Never. It’s not done. Especially not if Vetfaan has had to overhaul his old Landy again – for the second time already this year. This time it was the head gasket, which necessitated a vigorous scrub-down with petrol to get rid of the treacle-like oil that clung to everything. The scrub-down was for Vetfaan, of course, resulting in his cheeks being even more rosy than usual.

“Now look here, mister…”

“Black, just call me Black.”

“Well, Black, I think you have the wrong address. We’re not interested in bribing our way out of your trouble. We’ve got rifles, pistols, a few revolvers and Vrede, our dog. We need protection? My foot! You and who are going to protect us?” Vetfaan gets up to tower over the sitting giant.

“Of course you need protection! Everybody does. Guns won’t help you.” Black spreads his hands in front him. He doesn’t have to say it – his incredulous expression tells them it’d be very stupid not to co-operate. “Look, it’s the way things are in the country.” Now his voice is an octave higher, almost pleading. “I go from town to town and everywhere I’m welcomed with open arms. But you? Sheesh! I feel like you people don’t like me! And here I am, offering you a lifeline in these troubled days…and you don’t want it?”

A troubled silence descends on the group in the bar. Boggel coughs, looks up at the ceiling, and wonders how he can defuse the situation. Sure, they had been a bit apprehensive about the visit, but this is worse than even Servaas’ worst fears. This isn’t the usual governmental mess – this is criminal extortion… He’ll have to get the large man to relax – maybe they can work something out without Vetfaan losing his temper. That would certainly bring on a gang of tattooed ex-bouncers and a bunch of ululating ladies. Hard to say which is worse…

“Look..er…Black. What does your protection cost? Let’s talk about this, man?”

“It’s very cheap. Really.” This time, the snake-like eyes seem to glimmer with…hope?  He certainly sounds more eager now. “Way below what you’ll pay in Upington, for instance. And you’ll have my personal assurance of quality. When I’ve got you covered, you’re as safe as can be. I’ve never had a complaint about quality.” He shakes the large head. “No sir. Never.”

Gertruida sits up suddenly.

“Um…Black? Your protection? Can you give us a demonstration of it?” She smiles her most charming smile. “Please?”

Black calls his chauffeur over to give him instructions.

What happened next in Boggel’s Place, will remain a source of hilarity as long as  Boggel is there to serve his customers. He insists on keeping the complementary sample on the shelf behind the till.

***

“Who would have guessed?” Vetfaan whistles as he slaps his hands together. “Of all things! And there I was, ready to take the poor man out, hey?”

“Always a good idea to listen before you act, Vetfaan? Gertruida tries to sound stern but the twinkle in her eyes tells him she’s not serious. “Hey, it’s the New South Africa – everybody is just trying to make ends meet. I felt rather sorry for him, but he does seem successful enough.”

Sadly, Black Ball failed to make a sale in Rolbos today. Servaas said he was to old, Gertruida pleaded menopause and Vetfaan said something about celibacy.

In bigger towns like Kenhardt and Pofadder, Black might be able to sell his wares. But in a small place like Rolbos? You see, after a certain age – especially if you’re from a more conservative background -some people simply do not use the stuff. They’re fun to blow up and Vetfaan even filled one with water; but to actually use it for its intended purpose would be worth a lot of bragging rights in Boggel’s Place. Only – here everybody knows everybody else’s business, hence they’ll know when a bragger is lying through his teeth. It’s not that they don’t want to use condoms…they simply can’t any more…

Shame..

 

The Many-headed Hyena.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“But the Muslims…”

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

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

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

“You mean the politicians?”

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

The Fable of how the Buffalo lost his Temper

images (18)Long, long ago the animals had to choose a king. As was their custom, they selected the biggest and strongest animals to be candidates, after which their nominees had to prove their ability to lead. In those days the animals – being what they were – declared that during this process only the best of manners be the order of the day. No hunting was allowed, and even Vulture had to be kind and courteous.

During this election (their last, as it turned out), the elders selected Lion (of course) as well as Elephant and Buffalo. As usual, everybody thought that the honour would befall Lion, as he had proven his worth over a long time. Elephant was, however, tremendously popular; the animals loved the way he could recite the history all the way back to the Great Flood. Also, the quiet way Elephant went about his daily business appealed to all, causing some debate as to whether Lion should really be elected again.

In those days, Buffalo was known for his good humour. In fact, he was so funny that Hyena (his best friend) couldn’t stop laughing. Whenever the animals gathered for the First Rain Celebrations, Buffalo was called upon to make a speech about the good times ahead. Man, the great animal soon had everybody rolling about in helpless laughter as he made fun of the hardships they endured during the dry season. Even the most serious situations – like when the ants ate all the grass or the river ran dry – were told in such a way that Boffalo’s uncontrolled giggling had them telling each other what a great comedian he was.

But…there was a dark side to Buffalo’s humour, something the other animals never realised. Buffalo, you see, had a secret. He knew about a pasture – set amongst the rolling hills of the veld – where he never allowed any other animal to go. Whenever he saw somebody approaching, he’d start telling his jokes and all too soon that animal would forget all about being hungry or thirsty while laughing with the big Buffalo and his funny stories.

Now, when the day of the election arrived, Elephant (being the biggest) got to be the first speaker at the Animal and Nature Conference, the gathering where everybody had to vote for their new king. True to Elephant’s nature, he reminded them of their heritage and the hardships of the past.

“Look,” he said, “we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must work harder and work together. Should you elect me as your king, I’ll see to it that we utilise our resources with greater care. Some of you might have to venture to pastures far away – to bring back food for the old and the needy. And you’ll have to clean up the river; we need good, pure drinking water. I also like the idea of building a dam so we may have plenty of water during the dry seasons.”

The animals listened with great respect, but the younger ones looked at each other in dismay. Elephant’s plans were so radical! And who would have to do all that work? No, they told each other, they won’t vote for him.

Lion was up next. He growled and grumbled, telling the meeting that he had been their king for a long time. “Elephant is far too ambitious,” he said. “What is wrong with the way we had been living? No, progress will only spoil the veld and the forest. I am a natural leader and there’s not one of you who can challenge my strength. If you don’t vote for me, you’ll have to bear the consequences.”

This time the animals looked at each other with knowing glances. Yes, they knew about Lion’s strength, but what had he accomplished in the time he was king? No, they needed a progressive leader, but one which didn’t make them work the way Elephant had proposed.

Then Buffalo stood in front of them and pulled a face while twirling his bushy tail in a grand circle.

“Hee, hee, hee,” he said, watching the audience carefully. Of course they sniggered. “This is all too serious, my compatriots. Why waste your time with a king that’ll make you work all day long? Or, for that matter, who scares you into voting for him? No, we are comrades in this kingdom. We must be happy. Nobody should do more than he needs to – in fact, let’s do nothing at all!” So rousing was his way of talking to them that all the animals cheered. “Now, look at Elephant. He’s so fat he can’t even scratch his ear.” (Lots of laughter). “And Lion? Why, he makes his wife do all the work! She has to do the hunting. She feeds the cubs. And he?” Buffalo waited a second to let the question sink in. “He’s so lazy he sleeps all day!” Buffalo went ‘Hee, hee, hee” again as the animals pointed paws and hooves at Lion, making fun at their former king.

And so it was no surprise that Buffalo was elected king. Even today the animals remember that summer, when the veld echoed with laughter. Buffalo allowed everybody to do as they pleased while he told them funny stories every time they sought his advice. It was a time of great freedom and merriment.

But then the winter came. The grass withered and the great river became a sluggish little stream of muddy water.

“King! King! What are we to do? Our children are hungry and the water is fuinished?”

And Buffalo went “Hee, hee, hee” and told them drought is a good sign: it means it will be broken at some stage. “Why, do you want rain all year long? No, you’ll just get too fat and lazy if the grass is green all the time. You must embrace the winter, comrades, for it means spring is just around the corner.”

But that year the spring didn’t bring rain. Instead, the sun burnt down from above and the muddy river became a dry river bed. Again the animals complained to their king. Buffalo laughed and suggested that Crocodile and Hippo were responsible for the river drying up. As for the veld? Why, didn’t they see the ants carting off the grass? No, they can’t blame him, King Buffalo, for their hardships, The real problem were the thieves amongst the animals.

For a while the animals believed their king and even managed the occasional smile.

And then Ferret found out about Buffalo’s secret pasture.

“Have you not seen how fat Buffalo is? And have you seen ho well-fed his many wives are? Come on, guys, think! We are barely surviving, but our king is living as if nothing is wrong!”

Yes, the animals said, that is true.

“Well, I’ve followed Buffalo for a while now. You know what I’ve found?” And he told them about the green pasture and the fountain and the place Buffalo tried to hide from them all.

The animals didn’t believe Ferret at first, but he took them to the secret place and showed them. The animals became very angry and gathered to speak to their king. One by one they stood up and accused the king of trying to fool them all. Buffalo tried laughing his way out of this predicament, but the animals had had enough. With the help of Elephant, Hippo and Crocodile, they tied him up and left him there. Then they all rushed to the secret pasture and ate their fill.

For once, Buffalo couldn’t laugh his way out of trouble. He thought about the animals eating up his secret source of grass and became so incensed that he broke free of his bonds.When he stormed up the hill to try and save his pasture, the animals rolled down rocks. He bellowed in anger, but everybody just laughed at him. This wasn’t funny at all. Buffalo finally lost his sense of humour. He knew then that he would never be king again.

From that day on, the animals were very careful to choose a king that would be fair, who could lead them properly and who could look after their interests.

But it was too late. Buffalo had become an angry, fierce beast; intent on attacking any living thing he encountered.

And the veld never really recovered.

The moral of the story: be very, very weary of a funny Buffalo. All animals know that. Maybe some day, humans will, too…

Gertruida’s Unwedding. (#5 )

image074Bertus Cronje, former intelligence officer and now advisor to the commissioner of police, is a man who has seen it all. Blood, gore and mutilated bodies have long ceased to upset him. He simply refuses to allow emotion in his work, simply because it makes it so much easier. But here, now, faced with the sad-and-dismayed expressions on the group’s faces, he finds himself amazed to share some of their feelings.

“Yes, well…” he swallows hard, “I know how upsetting all this might be. Hardus Kromhout is a psychopath with absolutely no sympathy for his fellow man.” The sentence strikes him as odd. Has he not become something like that?  Has his lifelong fight with crime and his involvement with subterfuge scraped through the thin veneer of the pretence all people use to create an acceptable society? Is the factor missing in the world of today, not exactly that: a responsibility to feel other’s discomfort? He shakes his head. No, these thoughts must be explored later…if at all. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that you cannot imagine the way such people live. They care for nothing. Their only object is to control others, and all too often that implies money and power. Kromhout had power over these children. He got money for them – lots of it. Result: one happy psychopath…if he were able to experience happiness, that is…”

“But you have him in custody, don’t you?” Gertruida has to know.

“Unfortunately – or not – the answer is no. Let me explain…”

Bertus tells them that he put out an alert for anybody travelling with Gertruida’s or Herman’s passport. By sheer luck he struck gold almost immediately, when a woman with Gertruida’s details passed through customs at O.R. Tambo Airport near Johannesburg.

“It happens like that sometimes. You can work a case for years and years and get nowhere. And then – very rarely – a case simply bursts wide open without any effort at all. The luck of the draw, I suppose. I gave instructions to detain her and I immediately went there. She was travelling under your name, Gertruida, and so I alerted the airport to be on the lookout for the man using  Herman’s details – but he apparently passed through customs ahead of her and  was nowhere to be found.

“Well, I sat down with Myrtle and had a...little chat...with her.” Gertruida has to smile at the choice of words. She knows exactly how Bertus would have approached the woman. Subtle tactics can be so much more effective than torture. A short lecture on the lack of security in the country’s prisons, the threat of having to share a cell filled with criminals, the prevalence of AIDS…one doesn’t have to spell out  anything – imagination is the most powerful tool in any experienced interrogator’s hands.”Eventually she agreed to cooperate, in return for which I promised her a lighter sentence and a single cell. I calmed her down and had her phone Kromhout, saying that there’s been a problem. She couldn’t meet him at the long-term parking lot where they were supposed to reunite, as the airport had received a bomb threat. She told him she was in the toilets when the police sealed off the area, but that they weren’t too worried. It was most probably a hoax, she told him. Be that as it may, she’s just waiting for the police to give the all clear, then she’d be out of there. Maybe, she suggested, Kromhout should rather clear out. The place was crawling with police – very subtle, most in plain clothes, very careful not to cause panic – and she didn’t want to draw attention to either of them. Go on, she said, I’ll catch up in Kimberley.”

“So they stayed here all the time? In Kimberley, where they started all of this?”

“Yes, Servaas, and with good reason, too. You see, they were in cahoots with the gentleman Kromhout originally approached when the idea of child trafficking was hatched. Not only is he a prominent businessman in town, but he is part of an international cartel involved in the smuggling of children. The market is huge, especially in the East. These children are sorted over there: either they are sold to childless couples, or they are brought up to be addicted sex slaves. On average, the Kromhouts netted $100,000 per child they delivered, of which 25% went to our local kingpin.

“So, Kimberley was their head office, with the two of them appointed as ‘managers’ on the extensive ranch this kingpin has in the district. All above board, nothing illegal.”

“Phew! So you got them both?”

“Not yet. We’re tailing Kromhout as we speak. He’s in town all right, but we want to nab the both of them when they meet. A few minutes ago I had Myrtle phone him again. She told him she has a little girl with her – picked up in Johannesburg – and they must plan the next trip. So we expect Kromhout to go out to the ranch, meet up with his contact and wait for Myrtle. Then, my friends, we would have them all.”

An uncomfortable silence settles in the room. Then:

“Bertus, I appreciate all that you’ve done. But why bring us here? You could have smoothed the situation over, talked about it on the phone, whatever. Why are we here?”

“Gertruida, you know how this works. I have to swear you to silence. You see, the kingpin we know of, is not the head of the snake. That person is in parliament – a very, very influential figure. The political fall-out of such a revalation is unthinkable and the government simply cannot afford yet another scandal. You may not – under any circumstances – ever breathe a word about this”. He pauses, weighing up his next statement carefully. ” In a few day’s time the country will mourn the loss – in a tragic accident – of a stalwart of our democracy. We have to keep this under wraps, people. Not a word. Accidents are easy to arrange.”

The group facing Bertus listens to the message hidden on those words. Yes, they understand. No, they don’t want to be involved in any ‘accidents’. They Herman holds up a hand.

“B-b-but…”

“Yes, I know, Herman. You’re still ‘married’ to Gertruida. I have the most extraordinary proposal for the two of you…”

The glint in his eyes should have warned them. Nothing Bertus does is ever straightforward…or completely above board…

(To be continued…)

“I bet there’s rich folks eatin’,
In a fancy dining car,
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee,
And smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’,
I know I can’t be free,”

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

Once the helicopter disappeared over the dunes, the group finally stops laughing.

“Oh, Liar, you are sooo convincing! Damn! I started believing you when you threw out that bit about the radioactive Boron. And then you…you…you added the bit about manhood! Shew! I almost burst out laughing right then.” Gertruida slaps Liar’s back as she starts giggling again.

Liar’s indignant response is immediate. “And what, Gertruida, do you think, do they use to accelerate electrons and bits of atoms in Switzerland? Or do you imagine that I’d be roving around here for my entire life, looking for lost diamonds?”

“Oh, stop it, Klasie! You’re killing us!” Vetfaan wipes the tears from his eyes as he succumbs to another bout of laughter.

Servaas gets serious all of a sudden. “You are looking for diamonds, aren’t you? Walter Kempf and the Wolf’s Tears? All that you told us? It’s true, isn’t it?”

Klasie Louw, known as Liar, scoops up a handful of sand and lefts it sift through his fingers. “There are many stories buried in the sands of the Kalahari, my friend. Legends and myths and tales that are more marvellous than anything you’ve ever heard. Here you’ll find the ghosts of the Dorsland-trekkers who tried to escape to an illusive Utopia. Amongst these dunes the history of the Bushmen, the Koranna and the lost civilisation of the gold-miners of Zimbabwe are whispered in the night breezes. Once this was an inland lake bearing boats filled with riches – then the climate changed and the earth moved…and now only the sand remains. This, Servaas, is a magical place. A place were everything is possible.”

“But that doesn’t answer the question, Klasie. I just want to know whether your story is true? We did pick up that diamond, didn’t we?” Getruida points to Liar’s pocket, remembering how he had snatched it away from her.

It is Liar’s turn to smirk. “Ah yes…the aeroplane wreck! Come, I’ll show you. It’s about an hour from here.”

***

lancaster_desert_500Sure enough, after tramping trough the loose sand in the valley between the two dunes, they arrive at a little plain – an open space with the dunes forming a natural amphitheatre around it. Off to one side, the wreckage is clearly visible.

“This was Walter’s plane. And this is the direction the flood washed his treasure away.” He points towards the south. “And over there,” pointing again, “is the rocky outcrop. I wouldn’t suggest you go near it.”

***

“I’m still not sure,” Servaas says. They’re gathered at the counter in Boggel’s Place, relieved to be back in Rolbos. “I mean, can we really believe everything he said?”

“Well, all I can tell you is that Boron is an extremely rare element in the universe. Scientists don’t believe it is natural to our planet, and that most of the Boron found on earth is due to cosmic dust and possibly meteorites. There is, indeed, radioactive Boron and it may very well be used in reactors – although the rarity of the substance makes its common use impossible. If that rocky outcrop of Liar’s is pure Boron, it could very well be the remains of an ancient meteorite and as such be a unique find.” Gertruida shrugs. “Who knows? Anyway, I made a few discreet enquiries: our friend Klasie Louw is a multi-multimillionaire. The story of the Reserve Bank taking notice of his activities may be true…”

“And the men? The helicopter and the search?”

“Oh, read the papers, Servaas! There are so many scandals in our country, it’s hard to pick the most likely one. But….I like my theory about somebody wanting to buy silence. Suppose you bribed South Africa into hosting the World Cup in 2010 and now people are starting to ask questions. You have the FBI, CIA, Fifa and even Morocco breathing down your neck. If the story is proved and evidence confirms the corruption, it won’t just impact on one single person. It’d mean that the government, the local organising committee and especially the governing party will be left with more egg on their faces than they can clean off. People will have to resign, and some will go to jail. It’d be a diplomatic catastrophe of massive proportions. International credibility – already at a low point – will fly out of the window.

“You see, Servaas, for some of the officials – from president down to the ticket-sellers – the outcome of an intensive investigation will mean the end of their careers. The money-barrel will run dry. The authorities involved with drugs, smuggling and money laundering will be forced to face the wrath of not only the local populace, but the international community as well. Can you imagine the fall-out?

“So…it is entirely possible that certain men and women will want to buy their way out of trouble – and that’s going to involve massive payments to the investigating forces. Just like FIFA bought Ireland’s silence and avoided legal action, so it may be possible to influence the reports of investigators. For that, not only would billions be required, but there cannot be any paper trail. No Banks, no transfers, no documentation. The answer: diamonds…”

“Ja,” Vetfaan signals for another beer, “desperate times. Desperate measures…”

Servaas shrugs. “Be that all as it may. I still don’t know whether I can believe Klasie Louw…”

l15 copy_edited-1“We’ll never know,” Getruida says as she puts down  her glass. “But he has a good story. Maybe we should trust Liar for a change…”

Below the counter, Vrede thumps his tail on the wooden floor. He sniffed around the wreck and the strange rock out there in the desert. He knows exactly what the facts are. But, even though he’d like to tell them about the weathered shoebox he found under the one Nara-bush, he’d rather keep the secret. It’s much more fun this way.

The End.

Trusting Liar (#8)

Sieve used on Herman's claim to separate gravel and sand.

Sieve used on Herman’s claim to separate gravel and sand.

Liar tells the story with agitated gestures and a worried frown.

“When I walked out of the bank, these three guys waited on the sidewalk. Smart suits, dark glasses, expensive watches. They told me they know all about me and that I’ve been selling diamonds to an overseas buyer. This, they said, was highly illegal and that I should be jailed for my crimes.

“I asked them what they were talking about and showed them my prospector’s licence. The one guy laughed so much he had to wipe tears from his eyes. Said they were from the Revenue Service and they’ve been going through prominent client’s accounts at the bank. Mine, he said, was so incriminating that Pretoria sent the three of them to investigate.”

“Sure sounds funny to me,” Gertruida mumbles.

“Anyway, he said, if I revealed the source of the diamonds and cut a deal with them, they’d make the problem disappear. Either I do it their way, or face years in jail.” Liar shrugs. “What could I do? I told them I’d meet them at their hotel the next morning and bring them here. They said that would be fine. And then I got my bag, hitched a lift with Kalahari Vervoer, and that’s when I rocked up at Boggel’s Place – where you saw me a few days ago. There was no way I’d tell them about this.” He spread his arms wide to encompass the region. “This is mine. Mine!. I’ve paid for it with my life.”

“Klasie, those men were trying to con you.” Gertruida’s tone is firm. “SARS would never act the way they did. And the part of cutting a deal with you if you showed them the source of the diamonds? It smacks of old-fashioned thievery. I’ll tell you what happened: somebody at the bank noticed the payments coming from London. Large amounts. A discreet question here and there, and it would have been easy to tell that the payments were for packets of diamonds. Now – there are no longer any prospectors in the region, as you well know. Only you disappear for months and then the bank gets rather large amounts deposited into your account. Seeing the way you live, that balance must be quite spectacular now…?

“Twenty-five…” Liar stares at his boots.

“Thousand? That’s impossible!”

“No, Gertruida. Million…”

Vetfaan lets out a low whistle while Servaas gasps.

“And that’s only in that bank. I’ve got a few other accounts as well.” Liar adds before saying something about eggs in one basket, but the group doesn’t pay attention. Nobody has that much money! Maybe the president, but he didn’t work for it, did he?

“Okay.” Gertruida sums it up. “A clerk in the bank tells somebody, who tells somebody else. They add up two and two. Then they wait for your next visit and confronts you with a bluff, hoping you’d be gullible enough to fall for their story. Then you disappear and they start looking for you with an aeroplane and a chopper. Mmmm…” Gertruida’s mind works at top speed to piece the puzzle together. “That means these guys have access to money – lots of it – to fund such a search party. And…those guys? They’re just frontmen for somebody else. Someone with a lot of clout is behind all this, I’m sure.”

“A businessman?” Servaas gathers his bushy brows high on his forehead.

“No, Servaas. This smells like somebody in government. A minister possibly. Even a general. Gangsters wouldn’t be so subtle and true businessmen won’t be so crude. But somebody who imagines himself untouchable…well, that’d be my bet.”

“But why keep on looking, Klasie? You won’t be able to spend all that money in your lifetime?”

IMG_2958Liar looks up, a pained expression clouding his face. “And then do what, Servaas? Sit in a retirement home, with sunset the high point of excitement every day? Play Bingo for peanuts? Think out more lies about who I am and what I did with my life? Wait for the police to arrest me for the murder of my stepfather?” He flashes a sad smile before continuing. “No, here I have a purpose. It’s not about the money. It’s about Walter – my real father. He believed in something and gave his life for that purpose. Maybe you look back at history and think about how misguided he was. Or how wrong. That’s history. But I believe in the man…the person. He had a good heart. He wanted to find these diamonds and then marry Mom. This,” he says as he looks out over the dunes, “is his legacy, his memory. It’s all I’ve got of him. This is where I belong.”

A sad silence follows his words as the group tries to get to grips with Liar’s lifetime of searching for lost diamonds – and the father he never knew.

Then the distinct sound of a helicopter approaching makes them all look up.

The So Religious Bar of Soap

images (1)Oudoom’s sermon on pride  and ambition caused a lot of talk amongst his flock. They did have their feet on the ground and (mostly) an eye on heaven…but the scathing remarks about the country they belong to, causes more debate in Boggel’s Place than the beautiful message of humility and kindness.

“We used to be a Christian nation,” Vetfaan says while they wait for Boggel to fetch the cold beer from the cooler. “Well, if not Christian, then at least we tried to be civil. Nowadays, everything goes. Farmers get murdered, the prisons are overfull, crime is a booming industry, rape and assault are  everyday occurrences. Corruption is rife.  And yet our government insists they subscribe to biblical guidelines.”

“Ja, remember when Jacob Zuma returned from Jordan in 2003? He said he had been to the river where Jesus was baptised – and that if he looked at someone, that person would be blessed.” Gertruida goes harrumph! adding that some of his family members can confirm that. “But he also said that God was with the ANC from its inception and that they’d rule until Jesus returns. In 2009 he said: ‘People who love God must not play with their votes, they must vote for the ANC…We in the ANC know God.’ And my favourite in 2011: ‘When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven… When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card you will be let through to go to heaven … the holy ones belong to the ANC.'”

“Don’t forget Ramaphosa.” Servaas loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, like he always does when he’s angry, “He declared South Africa is a ‘a God-fearing country‘ and that the government ‘recognises the importance of the Lord‘. In the same speech he said the ANC always makes certain that they ‘stay close to God’s light.‘ and they conduct themselves ‘in accordance with what God prescribes’.

“What about the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court? He said he got a ‘signal from God’ that he had to be appointed to that position.”

They fall silent as Boggel returns with a crate of beer, causing the bent little barman to look up in surprise.

“You guys been gossiping about me?”

“No Boggel. Not gossiping and not about you.” Precilla leans over to pat him on the shoulder. “We’re lamenting, like the old Israelites did. Our leaders are no longer thinking about the words of Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika when they sing the national anthem. The blessing they ask for has more to do with bank accounts than with compassion. So we were talking about the way they use religion to achieve their goals.”

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S Thompson

“So what’s new? The old Nationalists had the church in their collective pocket as well. Remember how the Synod told everybody that Apartheid was right? And how many of our Prime Ministers had degrees in theology? South African politicians simply love telling the people how religious they are – especially when elections are just around the corner.” Boggel pauses as he slides the beers over the counter. “I read a wonderful book a while ago. The Rum diary, by Hunter S Thompson….”

“We’re discussing the political hijacking of religion in the country, Boggel, not the writings of an author I’ve never heard about!” His voice tinged with exasperation, Servaas knits his brows together in an angry scowl. “Don’t change the subject!”

“Wait,” Gertruida smiles as she holds up a restraining hand. “I think I know where Boggel is going to with this one.”

“An interesting book, to say the least. Thompson saw the way greed destroyed the lives of ordinary men and women and set about writing the novel in the early sixties. It was rejected by the publishers and only found its way to the shelves in 1998. I believe Johnny Depp discovered the manuscript amongst Thompson’s papers. The movie was made in 2011.”

“Tell them about the quote, Boggel. Go on…it’s so apt.”

Boggel blushes slightly at the encouragement, takes a deep breath while concentrating hard, and manages to recall the words Gertruida is hoping for. The words had stuck to his mind ever since he heard it first, simply because it was so absurdly true.

“It’s in the movie, Gertruida. Hunter didn’t write those words, Bruce Robinson did when he directed the film. Still, it is a fine way to reflect Hunter’s anger at the way the politicians corrupted the country.”

Afterwards, they all agree that Thompson might as well have written The Rum Diary  about South Africa. And that Robinson’s words were as true today as when the script was written.

‘This country was built on genocide and slavery, and then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.’

E volavo volavo felice
più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
mentre il mondo pian piano spariva

And I flew, flew happy
Higher the sun and even higher
While the world disappeared slowly’

In the movie Paul Kemp (Thompson in real life and played by Depp) has this to say about religion in a voiced-over scene:  “I wonder what it is you might think about our different worlds. He looked at me kinda sideways and said, “Human beings are the only creatures on Earth who claim a God, and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one. Does the world belong to no one but you?” And when he said it, I was taken aback. Not because of who was doing the talking. Because I finally understood the connection between children scavenging for food, and shiny brass plates on the front doors of banks.”

Today he might have replaced ‘banks‘ with ‘Nkandla‘.