Tag Archives: culture

The Bullet (# 1)

10Of course the conversation ceased when the man walked down Voortrekker Weg. Not only is it unusual for Rolbos to be the final destination of any traveller, there was something else: it felt as if the man brought with him an atmosphere of ‘assured silence’ – as Gertruida tried to explain it later. Barefoot, dressed in his sheepskin coat and carrying his stick, he reminded Oudoom of an Old Testament prophet…or at least somebody with a story to tell.

For once, Oudoom was right…

Boggel got on his crate to stare at the man: tall, handsome in a rugged way; with finely chiselled African features. The liquid-chocolate eyes blinked once when he entered Boggel’s Place before he smiled uncertainly in greeting.

Gertruida noticed the gap between the upper teeth – and the missing four lower incisors – and whispered to Precilla sitting next to her. “A Himba?” Although she said it as a question, she was fairly sure she’s right.

She was, as usual.

Tjike…” The man lowered his eyes when he noticed the people in the bar. Realising that it was his way of saying hello, Gertruida twisted her tongue around the word in return.

“I speak English,” the man said kindly, “and I need to find Sergeant Ben. That’s why I am here.”

“Um…” Vetfaan faltered, unsure how too continue, ” we only have Sergeant Dreyer here. He’s the policeman.”

The man frowned, held up a hand; uncertainty – even fear – in his eyes. “Police?”

“Don’t worry. He’s not like that – he’s one of us.” Gertruida motioned for the man to come in. “Come sit here. You walked to Rolbos? You must be thirsty.”

“Ja, and we’ve been discussing the drought for days now.” Vetfaan smiled his encouragement. “We’d like to have something else to talk about. You’ve come far…so tell us about this Sergeant Ben?”

The man sat down with a relieved sigh. “I have to give Sergeant Ben something. It’s a matter of honour…”


It was a day like any other. The sun beat down on the little kraal where the women sat in front of the huts, watching the smaller children play in the dust. The men and older boys were out in the veld, keeping watch over the flock of goats and cattle. The drought caused them to roam wider into their ancestral territory, looking for patches of withered grass in the mountainous region. And water, of course. Always water. Late at night, around their fires, they told each other that something very bad must have happened; why else would the drought be so severe? The earth was unhappy: they knew the clouds would not release the rain when new growth would only serve to feed evil.

They knew about the war, of course. Only the previous week they heard the crump of distant explosions. They didn’t know the sound, didn’t recognise the crackle of automatic weapons – but they did understand that people were killing each other.

They had speculated about that. Why would men find it necessary to kill each other? Was Life not something to protect and preserve? All life – even that of the goats – had a purpose. Killing an animal to feed the hungry mouths in the kraal had a purpose. Killing a man…? And they had a long conversation around the fire, eventually agreeing that whatever reason the men had for such killing, must be wrong.

That’s why, the old men said, the rain stayed away.

23On that day the women sat in the sun, grinding ochre and hoping their husbands and sons would find a protected valley with grass and fresh water. Without their cattle and goats, they’d never survive. In the meantime, the best thing to do was to see to it that there were enough ochre and fat – when the men returned, they wanted to look their best.

It was one of the little boys who saw the three men running towards the kraal.

“Look! Look! Men are coming – and they’re not Himba.”

IMG_2163The First Wife, Miriam, glanced over to see what the boy was shouting about. When her husband was away, all authority and responsibility rested on her shoulders. At first she hoped the men would go past the kraal, leaving them in peace – but soon realised that was not to be. The men carried guns and that meant they have to be soldiers. They rushed through the kraal’s entrance without asking permission, brushing aside the two little boys who gaped at them.

“Hide! We must hide!” The biggest of the three grabbed one of the boys, holding him up like a puppy. “And you lot will shut up. When the others come, you say nothing! Nothing!”


By now the entire population of Rolbos has gathered in the bar, listening to the Himba telling his tale. He sips his bottled water as he watches their faces – allowing the pause to create images in the minds of his audience. Telling a story – especially one as important as this – is an art. Rushing to the end won’t do. On the other hand, if the tempo is too slow, the listener loses interest. As a veteran of many a camp fire, the Himba understands the fine balance needed between telling, pausing, and feeding his audience just enough to keep them hungry for more. He knows every listener needs to become an observer of the unfolding scenes, making them see the story rather than simply listening to it. In this way, the observer becomes a participant – for is it not so that every story has the power to change people?

That’s why he sits back, allowing the image of the kraal, the desperate soldiers, the horrified First Wife and the frightened boy to become a reality in the little bar in Rolbos. And, like he knew it would, he watches faces change from mild interest to reflect the emotion he felt when that soldier grabbed him and dragged him into the sacred interior of the First House…

“And then…?” Vetfaan asks, his beer forgotten on the counter in front of him.

“Ah, yes. That’s when the horses came. The horses with the men and their guns. Many of them…”


Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

Culture may be defined as the co-existence of different entities in the same space. The entities may be human. The space may be a room or the world. The word says: we belong together, we share values and dreams.


Of course that means we sometimes argue. You get talkers and listeners, although some prefer to shout.

c 1

Introverts avoid conflict and will take time out away from the maddening crowd – to think, to work things out…even to doze off.

c 2

While extroverts love showing off and playing King of the Mountain.

april 2009, amakhala 026 mold

Even when we’re hurt or lonely, there’s no denying the fact that we’re all one big family.

c 4

Culture isn’t a difficult word. It only says: we belong together…

Can we now stop apologising for the past? Please?

The Most Honourable Minister Xingwana

“Jaaa..Boet.” Even Vetfaan sounds depressed. “Now a minister; a Cabinet Minister of our Fatherland nogal; goes and tells the Aussies they can blame everything on us – the Afrikaners. I’m getting sick and tired of it.”

“Oh, you’re talking about the honourable Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana? I heard she said “Young Afrikaner men are brought up in the Calvinist religion believing that they own a woman, they own a child, they own everything and therefore they can take that life because they own it”.  I think she lost the plot.” Gertruida sniffs loudly. “This is the same woman who heads a corrupt department, I’ll have you know. You can’t expect too much discretion from her.”

“But wait a minute, Gertruida. The present government has been in charge of the country for almost 20 years, and still they blame everything that goes wrong, on Apartheid and Afrikaners. It doesn’t matter if the argument makes no sense ; they play the race card or say it’s due to Apartheid. What happens? Everybody shuts up because if they argue, they’re racists.” Servaas is clearly upset. “Now, I’m not defending Apartheid, although it used to be a world-wide phenomenon. Show me a country where it didn’t happen, and I’ll buy you a beer. But…surely blaming Whites for everything must stop at some stage? Obama doesn’t harp on about the American South, does he? The British Prime Minister apologised for the massacre at Amritsar almost a hundred years back, and he wasn’t stoned for it. Life goes on; people must get over the past”

“You’re forgetting one thing, Servaas. A strong, honest government doesn’t have to prop up it’s appeal by reminding voters of the past. They’ll concentrate on the future.” Gertruida tilts her head in mock sadness. “It’s because they seem to be unable to sell their policies on merit, that they keep on reminding the masses they are Black and the Afrikaners are White.”

“But that’s nonsense, Getruida. We don’t live in a Black and White world any more. We can’t continue to see all Whites – or all Blacks – as a unified race. Pigment has nothing to do with it. For goodness’ sakes: Chinese are now officially accepted as Black. Indians are Black. People of mixed decent are Black. There is as little logic in that as saying the Irish and Scots are the same. Or that there is no difference between a German and an Italian.”

“That’s my point exactly. What do you think will happen if the ANC were to tell people to embrace their own culture? If they encouraged Zulus to be Zulu, and Vendas to be Venda, they’ll generate a polarisation like you have in Europe. Dutch people are European, but they revel in their own language and own culture. So do the Swiss and all the other countries you have over there. The ANC’s biggest nightmare is that the separate cultures in the country recognise the fact that being ‘Black’ or ‘White’ isn’t going to cut the cheese. They desperately need to remind a certain section of society that another section of society is the enemy. In unity is strength, remember? So their only hope of survival, is to convince the masses they are this cultureless group fighting a common enemy.”

“Well, I’m through. I’m not saying sorry any more. I voted for change. I stood in those long queues in 1994 and celebrated with the rest of the country. I saluted Madiba for what he stood for. And by drawing my cross on that ballot paper, I prayed for peace and stability.” Servaas has to stop speaking to get his emotions under control. “And what did we get? Look at our country, man…it’s burning! The racial divide is growing by the day because the government is fanning those flames. If our ministers tell overseas audiences the Afrikaners are bad people, I refuse to respect them any more. I’m angry and hurt, man, humiliated.” By now, he can’t hide it any more – the tears well up and Vetfaan has to offer him a hanky.

“We’ll just have to find a way of managing this, Servaas. There’s an election coming up next year…”

Vetfaan holds up a hand. “That’s what the government is preparing for, Gertruida. And I share Servaas’ sadness. Now, more than ever, the ANC must find a way to keep the different cultures in one little basket, believing they act on the basis of skin colour. It’s worked well for them so far.”

“You know what, gentlemen?” Gertruida sits back with a secretive smile. “You mustn’t make the same mistake as the government. They want all Blacks to be united. But…there are more and more voices – some small, some not – calling out in the dark. Many, many people are starting to feel the way Servaas does. Poor people in shanties. Unemployed masses. Middle-class white-collar managers. Mineworkers. Farmworkers.The petrol attendant at the filling station. The waitress at Wimpy. They don’t want to drown in the toxic waste of the past; they want to make sure their children get a proper education, live in proper houses and enjoy a more prosperous future. They want functional municipalities, service delivery, effective policing and honest administration. These are the voters who must make up their minds about who they’ll vote for in 2014. And even the mighty ANC can’t fool all the people all the time, either.

“I can tell you what’ll happen. The ANC will win again – but not with the majority they currently hold. They are saying the things they do, to try and avoid the humiliation of accountability. They love the situation where they can silence the opposition by the democratic process of voting in parliament. Absolute power…remember? But after that election they’ll face a formidable opposition, one that will hold them accountable for the atrocious way they managed the country for the last 20 years. They won’t be able to hide behind Afrikaners any more. The tide, my friends, is turning.”

Servaas leaves quietly. In his cottage, he rummages through the old records until he finds the one he’s looking for. Tonight the rest can bury the past, but he needs to return to an earlier age, a happier time. A time when he could still believe in a bright future where he and Siena would grow old together.

“Siena, I need you now,” he whispers as he places the needle gently on the old vinyl record. “The future, Siena, has become a memory. Like you, it isn’t here any more.

The President: ‘Pets are too White’.

“Zuma did it again.” Gertruida issues the flat statement with an air of despondency.

Boggel puts down the Cactus Jack in front of her, raises an eyebrow. “Another wedding? Twins? More improvements at Inkandla?”

“No, Boggel. He’ll need the services of an orthopaedic surgeon this time.” She takes a swig, sighs happily, “Boy, am I glad we live in Rolbos. At least we’re too unimportant to notice, otherwise he would have had a dig at us, too.”

“What are you going on about, Gertruida? You don’t make sense…” The question marks in Servaas’ eyes are all too plain to see.

“Our dear president,” she pauses a second to emphasise her point, “has just said that Africans should not have pets. And if they do, they shouldn’t take them to a vet. And may I remind you his massive complex is situated in KwaZulu Natal, one of the places with the highest incidence of Rabies. Oh, and he didn’t stop there. He said Africans should stop trying to be White. Only White Africans are supposed to keep pets – it’s a bad habit. According to him, straightening hair is a denial of their heritage. He wants to implement a program to ‘correct’ the thoughts of the younger generation – so they can learn how to be African again.”

“But that has been the purpose of other governments in the past, as well. I mean: to ‘educate’ the population to think correctly. Go look at the history of Europe, you’ll find it there.” Sammie doesn’t like politics or discussing it. He says Jews have suffered enough – he wants to be left in peace, that’s why he set up shop in Rolbos.

“Yes, and he lashed out at the fashion industry as well. Said women shouldn’t use facial creams, especially if it lightens their complexion. And that young girls should have children, because it’ll teach them to be mothers.”

“That must have been quite a speech,” Kleinpiet shakes his head, “was he sober?”

“Ag man, he usually makes funny statements. A few years ago he said he cannot tolerate gays.  I don’t think he always follows a prepared speech – he simply rocks up at a meeting – any meeting – and says whatever comes to his mind. And you know what? People love it. They cheer themselves hoarse and sing his praises. Then they go home to feed their dogs and pets – and put on skin-lightening cream while they straighten their hair. It’s all a show, Kleinpiet. Just a show.”

“So why, Gertruida,” Boggel brings her back to her initial statement, “would he need an orthopaedic surgeon? It sounds more like he needs lessons in diplomacy?”

“It’s called the incurable and highly contagious oropedal deformity, Boggel. It’s an extremely serious condition for people with a high public profile. In fact, it’s often the cause of a spectacular fall from esteem, tending  to end up with them flat on their faces.” This, she can see, is way over the heads of her little audience. “It’s a form of foot-and-mouth disease, guys. When it’s in that deep, only a qualified surgeon will be able to dislodge the foot from the mouth. There’s only one condition with a worse prognosis: the infamous cranio-anal malformation.”

Of course, she doesn’t have to explain any further. If you’ve lived in South Africa long enough, the antics of politicians can’t surprise you any more. And we don’t laugh about it anymore, as well.

It hurts too much.