Tag Archives: future

Freedom’s just another word…

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Free education? What’s next? With 25% of our workforce without a job and 16% of the population paying taxes, that’ll create an unbearable situation.”  Vetfaan scowls at his empty glass while he remembers how he used to work as a stoker on the railways in order to pay for the time he spent at the agricultural college. “I had to work eighteen, twenty hours a day during the holidays to pay for my studies.”

“Different times, Vetfaan.” Gertruida almost manages to sound sympathetic. “Back then the education system was subsidized – properly, as it should – by the government. Yes, there was an unacceptable racial slant and yes, the policies of the day prevented many promising students from attending universities…”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! There were the universities of Fort Hare, Western Cape, Cape Town, Wits and Medunsa…!”

“Now, don’t you go shouting at me, Vetfaan!” The angry glint in her eyes makes Vetfaan back off. “I didn’t make the rules back then, nor do I make them now. But…we can’t ignore the fact that many, many lives would have been vastly different if the Nationalists put more emphasis on education. Apartheid remains a fact of history, no matter how much we want to erase it from our memories.”

“I’m not talking about that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan sounds resigned, beaten. “All I’m saying is that we can’t go on with social grants, a huge salary allocation for government officials, free water, electricity, medical care, AIDS, services…and the rampant corruption we read about in the papers every day. What does government do? Every time – every time – they say the private sector must come on board! The EFF wants 51% of shares on the stock exchange transferred to the workers. The ANC wants the farmers to hand over half of their properties to the farm labourers. And you know who is paying for those politicians? You and I, my dear Gerty. You and I. We’re paying them to bankrupt the country. Now that’s irony for you!”

“Two sides to that coin, Vetfaan. As much as we’d like to ignore certain facts, we cannot deny the inequalities in the country…”

“I’m not saying that!” The veins on Vetfaan’s neck stand out as he tries to control his temper. Taking a deep breath, he continues in a calmer voice. “The inequalities need to be addressed, that’s for sure. The feeling I get is that we are continuously being punished for a policy the English forced down on us when they wrote to old constitution for the Union of South Africa in 1908. Now, suddenly, everybody is pointing fingers at us whiteys. Why does nobody question the decisions of Queen Victoria?”

“They do, Vetfaan. That’s why the Rhodes statue was removed.”

“Oh puleeez! Whether Rhodes stands at the foot of Table Mountain or in some heritage park, is of almost no significance. At least he’s being blamed for something – but he’s not being abused as a taxpayer. Our government is increasingly adamant about ‘redistribution’. In my book it means: ‘bankrupting society’. Have you seen what happened to the farms they already allocated to previously disadvantaged individuals? Or have you forgotten the reason why SAA, Escom, Water Affairs, Telkom, the railways and even our army and police have degenerated over the last twenty years? How can you ignore the effect of appointing people with inadequate skills to positions they simply cannot handle?

“Yes, Gertruida, I agree that there are still imbalances in our society. And yes, the one key is education. But the main lock to open, is the bolt that’ll free government to rule in a focussed, logical way. The private sector has been taxed to death by a government that can only remain in power by handing out freebies to the masses.” Vetfaan sighs this thanks as Boggel pushes over a fresh beer. “What we need is a contructive approach – not one that’ll destroy the fabric of society and which continuously emphasises race as the major dividing factor. What’s happening now, is a recipe for anarchy, hatred and violence. Look at the crime stats.”

Gertruida remains silent for so long that Vetfaan thinks she’s ignoring him. When she eventually addresses him in her quiet tone, he sees the tears in her eyes.

“You know, Vetfaan, we’ll never live down the injustices of the past. We need to recognise them, learn from them. That’s what Mandela said and it’s true. But he also emphasised the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  And he said: ‘…the day the ANC does to us what the Apartheid government did, we should do to the ANC what we did to the Apartheid government.’ Maybe that’s what is happening: the students have lost their fear for the securocrats and are doing exactly what Madiba proposed?”

“But, Gertruida, where is all this leading up to? Another Zimbabwe?”

“Possibly. Even…probably. We have one, single chance – and that is that democracy will prevail. People aren’t stupid. The poor is getting poorer. The previously disadvantaged masses are even more disadvantaged now. We have elections next year… We need a leader…no, many leaders…to stand up and get to work. We won’t build a better South Africa by doing nothing. We need good, honest men and women to tell the nation the honeymoon is over. Forget about demanding this and insisting on that, if you haven’t contributed anything. People must get used to working hard…and then be rewarded for their efforts. A student doing well at university should be allowed to continue his or her studies as far as possible. People with skills should be appointed to the right positions and then reap the rewards of their hard work. And the many unskilled labourers should be paid fairly – because their contribution is absolutely essential in the workforce. Maybe it’ll take a generation – even longer – but there can be no doubt that we have the potential to be a great country. Capitalism may have it’s shortfalls and it’s wise to acknowledge that. But socialism can’t exist in a vacuum; then everybody has an equal share of nothing. The answer is education, work, productivity and …love.”

The last word makes Vetfaan look up sharply. Yes, he wonders…what happened to that?

The Diary (#3)

A2_1_28_02040-1024x645Gertruida scans the next few pages.

“He goes on and on to describe the way he felt tremendously tired after his experience, and how the Bushman family cared for him, He also mentions a strange excitement – a type of yearning to relive that incident. By this time he seems to have worked out a basic way of communicating -not only through gestures and facial expressions, but  even to the point that the four of them started sharing words. It seems as if the logical thing happened: you point at a bow or a tree, repeat the correct word or term over and over, until it gets repeated by the listener. He gives a list of words here with their meanings. I won’t even try to pronounce them.

“Oh yes…and here he goes on…”

****

I lost track of time. How long have I been here? I tried to understand their way of thinking about time, but they don’t seem to have any inkling of the concept. They’ll refer to ‘tomorrow’ or next week in the same way. Similarly, the past seems to be the past – whether it’s yesterday or the last time it rained. Also, counting isn’t something they really do, except: one, two, many. Anything more than two, is ‘many’.

At first I thought them to be dumb, but the more I observe them, the more I understand the way the do things. The most important moment in their lives, is here and now. They don’t dwell on the past, neither do they care about tomorrow. The present is their only reality.

Of course I don’t understand them properly – their language is far too complicated. But every night, the old man tells them things. I think it’s stories, but some of his talks certainly refer to me. The other two then listen with rapt attention, occasionally staring at me in wonder (of shock, or awe…I’m not quite sure which).

***

They draped me in the karos again last night. I’m so tired now, I can hardly concentrate – but, being afraid I’d forget the details, I’m forcing myself to pen down what had happened.

The initial sequence of my dream-journey (for the lack of a better word) was  similar to the first experience I had. This time, however, my impression was that I travelled to some time in the future. Or maybe it was a nightmare, I don’t know. While I was elevated above the Earth, I saw what I can only describe as a sequence of devastation. I saw smoke, people fleeing, dwellings burnt. There were armies of people at war with others. More terrifying, I saw the desert growing larger and larger, destroying life in the process. Rivers dried up. I heard strange sounds, huge booming sounds, that shook the Earth.

“What is this?” I asked, terror-stricken.

“The end,” I heard my own voice answering. “Mankind is destroying itself. In this future there is no future.”

“But…” I tried to make sense out of it all.

“Don’t interrupt. Look.” I answered myself.

And I did. Then it dawned on me that the fighting was not because people hated each other. I saw a man with strange eyes – almost Mongolian in appearance – at the back of the fighting columns. This man  was providing food to several armies of men. He stood next to a huge ship, directing the off-loading of all kinds of weaponry – most of which I’ve never seen before.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“He comes from the East,” my voice said. “He will take everything and leave nothing. He is clever and will make people destroy themselves completely before building his many houses on the plains. When he has taken what he needs, he will leave only the desert behind. Nobody will be able to stop him.”

I looked, and the scene unfolded as my voice had described. I felt tremendously sad and overwhelmed.

“Why…?”

“That’s why you are here. To observe. To learn. You have work to do.”

And then, suddenly, I was transported back to the fire.

***

Time… How long is it after my second trip? I must have slept for days – it definitely feels like it. I’m weaker than ever, but the broth the woman makes certainly helps. I am slowly recovering and feeling stronger.

I tried to talk with them about my journeys, but the visions were so complicated, I can hardly convey the basic outlines of what I had experienced. The old man has taken to sit with me fo long periods of time, drawing pictures in the sand. This morning he made me gasp.

kubu-islandFirst, he drew – rather accurately – the outline of Kubu.  He pointed at it, then at us. Next he drew the same outline, looked at me with tremendous sadness in  his eyes, and slowly erased the picture by wiping the sand smooth with his withered hand. Lastly, he drew the picture again, pointed at me, and walked away, leaving the picture to haunt me.. 

I didn’t understand. Not then. Only later.

***

“I still think he was delusional.” Vetfaan downs his beer, smacking his lips before continuing. “I mean, this story is too far-fetched to be real. Meeting stray Bushmen, travelling into the future and the past, and now strange drawings in the sand. Of course he didn’t understand. He wasn’t thinking straight at all. Poor bugger…”

“Ah, Vetfaan. Ye of small faith…” Gertruida turns the page before placing the book on the counter. “I think his descriptions are far too detailed to be mere figments of imagination. This man had an exceptional experience, and we shouldn’t discard his visions out of hand. Remember, this was 1965, fifty years ago. How could he have known about what’s happening in Africa today? That description of the man at the ship sent shivers down my spine.

“No, there’s something here. Spook, I tell you, did indeed travel to other times. Or had a prophetic vision. Or something. Maybe he skipped through other dimensions.

“Be that as it may, I think this story is far from finished. We’ll just have to read the rest.”

Little do the group at the bar know how well Gertruida summed up the situation. Boggel serves another round when she picks up the book again…

And days pass like this
Me, growing desperate
And you, you answering
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

Everytime I ask you
That when, how and where
You always reply me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

Lucienne

_mg_2302 (1)I woke up that Sunday to be a stranger in my own house. The floor had been swept, the stale bread was feeding some desperate doves outside and every pencil and scrap of paper placed neatly on the desk.  Even the previous night’s empty wine bottles had disappeared somewhere…I had no clue what happened to them. And of course, the cursor had lost its threatening behaviour..

***

It all started on the windy Saturday – barely twenty-four hours before – with a knock on the door (the doorbell never worked, anyway). That’s the first time – as far as I know – I met Lucienne. She was gorgeous.

“You advertised, Sir,” she said, “and I’d like to apply.”

I stared at her. Young – twenty-something. Close-cropped hair and with no need for make-up, she might as well have stepped out of a fairytale. Cinderella, maybe, complete with the faded jeans and checked shirt. Much the way Mary used to dress – not for elegance, but for comfort. Blond, blue eyes, a body to die for. Radiant smile, freckles. Pixie-like ears and a pert, pointed nose. The picture of health, femininity. Vibrant, alive.

“Er…yes…,” I managed.

“Well, I’m here. I’m Lucienne.” As if I should have known.

My advert in the local little rag simply stated, Housekeeper needed. Apply at No 7, Forrest Drive, during office hours. Lodging available. And now she was there, the only response to my plea.

“Oh.”

“I clean, cook, wash and iron. I’ll need the spare room on the first floor for lodging. I don’t eat much and don’t drink at all. Hate smoking. And when I’ve finished working, I’ll be around somewhere, doing my own thing.”

Her direct approach was so surprising, so self-assured, that I simply nodded. She seemed to know exactly what the house was all about. A woman who did her homework as well as my housework?  

“Move aside,” she said, and stepping into the lounge. She stopped, stared, and let out a low whistle.

“The place is a mess. I hate it when it looks like this.” Sighing, she flopped down on my favourite chair. I could not help noticing the well-formed calves.

She was right, of course. After my successful bid at the auction (‘You bought a bargain, Mister. We expected a lot of interest, but only you showed up. Well, there you are. Sometimes it happens this way.’); I moved in and unpacked my clothes. The rest was already there: the ancient furniture a testimony to the craftsmanship of a time long past.

The dining room housed the massive mahogany table with twelve matching chairs. A sideboard of solid oak and a three-shelved dinner wagon were filled with antique silver cutlery and bone China.  The scene set the tone for the rest of the old house. Brass beds, relief decorations for the walls and the cast-iron ceilings, parquet flooring, and numerous Edwardian and George Rex cupboards, chests, ornamental hearths and much, much more. This was a house that must have seen several generations weave their ways through life and now carried the evidence of many decade’s worth of collecting, hoarding and storing.

The library is my favourite. Mahogany shelves lined the walls, straining under matching leather-bound volumes of books by Poe, Rider Haggard, Shakespeare, Byron and Kipling.  All the classics were there – from Greek mythology to Africana. A surprisingly large section of the shelves housed a more modern collection of the works of Sagan, Hancock, Grigsby, Gribbon and Reese. Whoever stayed here last, must have had a taste for science fiction. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Maybe I should have.

Despite my curiosity, nobody could tell much about the previous occupants. A small, bald man with a pointed nose, the shop assistant said. The newspaper boy said no, he was a burly man with budging biceps and a pirate-like face. Ah yes, declared Mister Vorster at the bookstore, the thin chap with the reading glasses suspended by a piece of string around his sinewy neck. It made no sense. It was obvious they had never met the man.

The one cupboard in the bedroom did contain clothes. Victorian dresses and some frilly stuff, some with whale bones in the sides. Female attire of long ago. Sexy, if you like vintage stuff. I left that just the way I found it – my few jeans and T-shirts barely filled a shelf in the other huge Rex standalone.

“You write?”

The question caught me off-guard. Yes, of course I write and in my sober moments I sometimes think of myself as an author. The occasional story I produce get published in one of those glossy magazines nobody reads, but looks good on the strategically placed coffee table in  game lodge or ambassador’s  residence. People page through those during bored minutes of waiting for whatever must happen next, to glance at the pictures of old cars or dilapidated wind pumps or elephants with raised trunks and impossibly-long tusks.

“Yes. I’m working on a book.”

That’s true as well. The Book has been nagging at my creative mind for years now, which is the other reason why I resigned at Cluster & Constellation, the advertising agency where I had churned out jingles for a living. Surely, I reckoned, my writing demanded something more of a challenge than thinking out lines like: We put the style back in your lifestyle, or Whoop up your golden years at Shady Pines. The Book will be the Ultimate Love Story about love and life and overcoming impossible odds. Writing allows one such fantasies – and do we not all harbour these even in our saddest realties?

And, of course, I had promised Mary I’d write; that I’d follow the dream we once shared. This story would have been pointless if I didn’t mention that.

She surveyed the mess in the livingroom, where papers, notebooks and pencils cluttered almost every available surface.

“You’re not very neat.” The statement had an accusing tone.

“I’m sorry.” Staring at the fine lines of the curves under the shirt made me speak without thinking.

“I’ll just have to get started, then.” She got up. I gawped at the perfectly formed derriere as it retreated towards the kitchen.

I sat down at the keyboard. Here, at least, I feel safe. Writing is my haven – I can escape the memories of the attack and invent a more pleasing reality for my mind. I never write – or talk – about the past. The three masked men, the gun, the blindfold. I shouted, they thrust a rag into my mouth. Then I heard them arguing about Mary.

Mary is – was – my wife-to-be. An artist. She painted. She was very good and her pieces sold at surprising prices. She believed in beauty and joy, and her work left you smiling. She was that sort of person.

They found a coat hanger and tied my hands and feet, rendering me helpless. Then I heard them rape her.

And then they shot her.

And I sold the small-holding and all her paintings because I didn’t want to see her joy on the canvasses and remember her smile. I wanted to forget about her. Her smile. Her eyes. Her screams…

But I couldn’t, of course…

The blinking cursor stared back at me, daring me to depress a key – any key. My fingers refused, simply because I should not have been thinking about Mary. It happens every time when I allow my mind to call up the memories I have tried so desperately to bury under sentences and paragraphs I create. In my word-world I can prevent rape and murder. I can write about love and beauty and couples sipping cocktails at sunset. In my world families stay in comfortable houses behind picket fences where the Labrador slobbers a welcome whenever the hero returns from yet another adventure. Oh, and the crooks and the thieves and the rapists always get what’s coming to them. Happy endings. Smiling faces.

It’s just become so hard to keep my word-world alive. It has to survive despite the fact that my real-life reality is so obscenely terrible.

***

“Do you mind if I make the bed?”

The question catches me off-guard. The bed. The one where Mary died. The forensics removed the blankets and sheets for evidence (Exhibits D, 1 to 3, they called it at the trial). I moved it here but can never sleep on it again.

“No, I don’t use that room at all. I sleep down here, in the library. On the couch.” I pointed. “Sleeping bag.”

“I’ll make the bed, then.” Said with finality.

I want to protest, but she stares me down. Her eyes tell me to shut up, she wants to get on with the job. I sigh and slouch over to the kitchen. Coffee. I must have coffee, my staple diet since the attack. As I push open the door, my jaw drops.

The place is spotless. The mugs gleam down from their shelf, the sink shines happily, the floor is spotless. The percolator on the stove emits the wonderful aroma of fresh coffee. A mug, the sugar and a small milk jar wait patiently next to the stove.

I’m on my third mug (still haven’t written anything), when Lucienne tells me she’s done for the day. Thank you, I’ll be in my room if you need anything. Just like that. I can’t think of anything to say.

Oh, she says while standing in the doorway, I opened the Pinotage. To let it breathe, she says. It allows the wine to show off its bouquet, she says.

I continue my fight with the empty screen and the accusing cursor until it all becomes too much and I allow myself a small glass of wine. Pinotage. How many bottles of the stuff did Mary and me guzzle down, smiling into each other’s eyes? And now, for the first time since the funeral, I close my eyes to recall her laughter, her joy de vivre, her uninhibited love-making. I get a bigger glass. I have to drown out the pictures that come flooding into my mind. No! I shall not remember! No!

But I do.

And I open the next bottle.

It is dark outside. Curiously, I notice there is no light under the door to the spare room. Did she go to bed this early? Then I look at my watch to realise it is past midnight already.

Finish the glass, you fool. You’re not going to write anything tonight. Go to bed. Sleep it off. Try again tomorrow.

***

That’s how it happened, I swear. And then…

Sometime during the night, I heard the rustle of silk as she sat down on the couch next to me. Soft silk…of a time long gone by.

“I’m an artist too,” she said. “I restore things. That’s why I love this house – I fix things here.”

I can’t say why it happened. Or even how. But I remember her hands. Gentle, warm fingers.  Her warm breath in my neck as she tells me the past is past, but never gone. Then her arms circled my body, hugging me close.

She sighed, resting her head on my chest. Be happy, she said, become the man who dreamed stories of beauty and love again. That is your destiny, you cannot escape it. We shared the silence then; a long and comfortable quiet; while her fingers explored my face, my chest…and more. And when the release came, my mind exploded in a  display of a million colours. Images of Mary filled my thoughts – laughing Mary, happy Mary, joyful Mary.

And sleep rolled over me like a foggy mist.

I remember nothing after that.

And now, the next morning, I stumble bleary-eyed to the kitchen, where the percolator has just started perking. Coffee. The mug and the sugar and the milk stand ready.

After the second mug, I knock on Lucienne’s door to thank her for the coffee. Or so I tell myself.

I’m almost not surprised to see the bed made, the room as neat as can be. Like nobody has been there for a long, long time.  Just a note on the pillow.

I am Lucienne. I’ll be around, but my work here is done for now. Sell the house. It’ll take time, so finish the book. In September a sad man will make an offer, which you must accept so I can continue working here. Please leave my clothes undisturbed – I’ll need them again in the future.

L

 The cursor blinks at me. Invitingly, not accusingly.

And at last I’ll start writing. A love story – a story of a house, or maybe a heart, occupied by beauty. And, as all lovers know, a story like this knows no time, neither does it have an ending.

I’ll write.

I’ll tell the story of Mary. And Lucienne.  Both…because there is a dimension to Love that refuses to acknowledge the boundaries mere mortals live by.

Oudoom’s Mandela Sermon

Springbok-jersey“It has come to my attention,” Oudoom says gravely as he leans on the lectern, “that there are many opinions regarding the life and times of the late President, Mandela.”

This, of course, is true. Fanny, who grew up in England, remembers the protests against the Nationalists. There was no doubt, back then, that the ANC was fighting a just war against oppression. Mandela was a hero – he still is.

But Vetfaan remembers the war, and Servaas lost his only son on the border. The war, they’d tell you, was the direct result of the violent terrorism that gripped South Africa for more than three decades. While the Nationalists were seeking peaceful solutions, the ANC insisted on an armed conflict. Terrorism. And the biggest of them all? Mandela. Did he not say things, do things, that were responsible for so many unnecessary deaths?

“So,” Oudoom continues, “we must see what the Bible teaches us. If we can find an answer in The Book, then we can decide how to remember Madiba, Forget our own history, Brothers and Sisters. History is fickle: it gets re-written every time the government changes.

“But the Bible is the Bible. It doesn’t change.”

He waits for the words to sink in while he opens the book of Acts.

“I want to remind you about Saul, the young man who persecuted Christians. The Christians were afraid of him – in fact, I think it’s true to say they hated him. And then his life changed and he became the greatest evangelist of all times.”

Oudoom pauses for a second. “Now, how do we remember Paul today?  Well, we remember his legacy, that’s what. He started out wrong, changed direction, and changed the world. Now…is there a single soul in this little church today, who wants to condemn this Saul/Paul character for his wrongs? Or do we celebrate his rights?”

Servaas folds his arms. This is cutting too near the bone! Is Oudoom saying he must respect the man who killed his son? Well, not directly, but still…

“Now, let us look at Mandela. Let me say it outright: I’m not – not – comparing him to any Biblical character. I’m not saying he was the Messiah or a disciple or a holy man. No man can be that. Not him, not us.

“But yes, he did end up in jail for treason and planning a civil war. I think it was Oliver Thambo who said something to the effect that their imprisonment was a blessing in disguise. In his later life he remarked that – if they went ahead with their plans – South Africa would have been a bloodbath. So, it is right to write up the history and remember the facts.

“But what is Mandela’s legacy? Why do the world’s flags hang at half-mast?

“I’ll tell you: if we had any other president after the 1994 elections, the country would have gone down the drain. Did you want Zuma back then? Who do you prefer? Mandela – for reasons we still marvel at – preached reconciliation. Forgiveness. Peace.  He touched lives with his compassion. He met all his old enemies – from the warders, to the state prosecutor, to Mrs Verwoerd – in person. What do you think would have happened if Mugabe was in charge? But Mandela sat down and had tea with these men and women – and he earned their respect.”

Something strange shifted in Servaas’s mind. He imagined a South Africa with a dictator in charge. Would such a man learn to speak Afrikaans, or even try to understand the white culture? Put on the No 6 jersey at the 1995 World Cup?

“So, my dear friends, we must choose what we emphasise. What, exactly, is Mister Mandela’s legacy? The bombs? Did we not plant bombs as well? The killings? Did we not kill as well? The jail? Were we not in a spiritual jail as well?

“Well, I can tell you what I think. If we choose to remember Paul for his later life, then we must also choose to remember Mandela in context. We must decide whether we want to remember the good…or the bad.

“Tell me: do you think Madiba was always right? Of course not! But then again: who of us are? Let the purely just amongst us get up now, and tell the congregation he is without wrong, without sin.” Oudoom lets his eyes travel over his little flock, daring a single person to declare his absolute purity. “Mmmm,” he says after a second or two, “I thought so.”

Servaas glances over at Vetfaan. The burly farmer sits quietly, staring stoically ahead.

“The history of the world,” Oudoom continues, “is written with conflict. It is human nature to differ, to fight, to struggle. There is no country that can claim absolute peace and fairness and a just society. We were designed to have opinions. And it is this tendency to formulate impressions that leads to conflict. It’s been like that since the beginning. It’ll be like that till the end.

“But we…we have a limited time on Earth. Sixty, and if you’re strong, seventy years. And we’ve lived through a terrible piece of history and we’re still going strong. I’m not talking, mind you, of the current situation in the country. I’m talking about Mandela. My question is: how do we choose to remember him? And where, do I ask you, would we have been without him?

“Where would Christianity be without Paul?

“Or do we insist on remembering Saul?”

***

“Ja, boet.” Servaas sits down next to Vetfaan. Boggel will open the bar as soon as Oudoom closes the parsonage door, so they’ll wait outside on the stoep of Boggel’s Place for a while. “We all have a tainted history, don’t we?”

“I know, Servaas. But the war left scars. Deep ones.”

“I know.” Fanny sits down next to Vetfaan to rest her head on his shoulder. “But I think the wounds don’t bleed so much any more. Most of them are healed, leaving only the scars. And, as you know, scars are the body’s way of telling you, you had a life. No scars, no life.”

“All I can say is this: Oudoom has a point. I want to remember Paul, not Saul.” Servaas sighs heavily as he hears the key turn in the lock before Boggel pushes open the door. “And yes, things could have been much, much worse.”

When they sit down next to the counter, they see the little picture of Mandela next to the till. It;s the popular one, with Madiba in the Springbok jersey.

“Et tu, Boggel?” Fanny, with a twinkle in her eyes.

“I made a choice,” the bent little barman says. “I want to remember to be thankful. If we want a future in this country, we must not talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. We must live it. Otherwise we might as well turn back the clock and start fighting all over again. And let me tell you: the conflict we face has nothing to do with guns and bombs – it’ll be fought in our hearts. If we don’t make peace with ourselves, we’ll perish.”

“But that is true for everybody in this country, Boggel. All of us. The whole rainbow.”

“Yes, Servaas, all of us. May we remember to forget the bad and never forget to remember the good. I want to think of Madiba that way.”

He serves the first round. Boggel’s Place will be quiet today. Everybody has a lot of thinking to do.

And choices to make.

Their futures depend on it…

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you it’s only seed.

Did he…or not? A plea to the Media in relation to the Pistorius case

oscarThe media will have a field day. I’m sure there are bookies out there taking bets. And, all over the world, people are guessing what really happened on that Valentine morning; when the wrapped gifts waited for the surprised smiles and subtle hints of love.

Instead, the neighbours heard shouts…and shots.

And Reeva Steenkamp lay dead behind a door. A hero became a villain. A model became a corpse.

No matter how the media depicts it; or how we judge the situation; it remains a tragedy. Two families have to live with unspeakable sorrow – even guilt. Should they have seen it coming? Said anything? Done anything? How could they have helped to prevent this awful reality of death, court cases and public outcry?

The sad fact is that justice will take it’s course. The prosecution, in typical South African style (Think: Marikana, Fochville, Fidentia and even the Nkandla case), will face serious questions. The defence will be brilliant. There’ll be red faces in court and hushed whispers afterwards. The tabloids will have a field day and the authorities will wish society had a short memory.

The fact is: a man killed a woman – one that he professed to love. It sounds so much like the Dewani case, it’s scary. Both men claim they’re innocent. In both their cases, the lady in question died a violent death.

But…

The one man owns up to the fact that he pulled the trigger, and the other pleads mental instability. There’s a lot to hear in those facts.

So: on behalf of the people of Rolbos, Oudoom asks for silence. Stop the gossip and the guessing and the unfounded opinions. Only one man knows what happened that terrible night. If he fired those shots in anger, he must face the wrath of the law. If he made a horrible mistake – then, too, justice must be served. In both cases, we must remember and have sympathy for the pain and the anguish inflicted on two unsuspecting families.

We must, too, urge the media to focus an equal amount of attention on the farm murders and White genocide in our country. Black on Black violence is still at atrocious levels. We want similar headlines and photos for murdered and maimed young ladies after they have been raped. Please highlight the inability of the government to help youths find a job. Tell us about the way the president is squandering millions on his household, while people are freezing to death on the Cape Flats. Make us aware of the deficiencies in the hospitals and schools around the country. Inform us about the defence force and their role in the Congo – and why it is important for our young men to have to die there.  Be truthful about our economy and the dismal future we have to prepare for. We want to know why the railways fell into disrepair and why the national airline is in such a mess. And while we’re about it, let us know what – exactly – is happening to our electricity supply and why maintenance of strategic assets has fallen by the wayside.

Nobody thinks the Oscar/Reeva case is excusable. Fact is: it happened, and there’s nothing we can do or say that’ll change that. Let justice be done and let us close that chapter.

The media, however, should address the future for a change and stop digging in the past. They should guide the nation towards a better tomorrow, and not make us wander around – aimlessly – in the sordid details of yesterday. While history provides the foundation for the future, it is up to every individual to reach out towards the day when we all strive towards a country where life is precious, and we all have an equal chance to make people proud to be South Africans.

How to do this?

Not easy. It’ll require stern editors and visionary journalists.

Sadly, people want to read about the mistakes other people made and the sensation surrounding these individual tragedies. We love pointing fingers and whispering behind our hands. We have not progressed to the level of showing compassion to those that have wronged; but we are experts in ignoring the obvious catastrophe we are heading for.

Is it so difficult? When will we learn that news is only news when it is aimed at improving lives and not of value when it silences the sirens of warning we must all heed? Every ‘Oscar’ headline steals away a front page aiming to improve the lives of those of us who are struggling to survive in the New South Africa.

Let us sympathise with the families concerned with the Oscar Pistorius case. Whatever the outcome, it won’t bring Reeva back. But let us not lose focus: sensationalism has a place and we must live with it – but what is sauce for the goose, is also sauce for the gander. Let us then break the silence about our farm murders, the economy and the state of our country as well.

Societies do not survive because they blame the past. They build a future because it’s the only option. Let us face reality, allow justice to be done, and focus on helping each other past the hurdles of our current situation. If we stop wallowing in scandal, we might just bask in the promise of a better tomorrow.

Like the homeless young man in the video, South Africa has the potential to wow the world once again. We did it in 1994. It is time to revive that spirit and start telling the world we aren’t wallowers in the past. We believe we can create a better life for everybody who lives here. We can forgive; we can move on; we can feel each other’s pain…and we can stop casting stones. Instead, we can build a castle…

There’s only one requirement: making everybody believe it is possible.

May the media rise to the challenge.

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.

Ouroboros: Repeating the Past, Predicting the Future

“I’m not sure the government is in charge any more,” the black-suited Servaas says from behind his bushy eyebrows, “the uprisings and strikes are escalating out of control. And…it is getting worse.”

For once, Gertruida agrees. “But it isn’t a new thing. The Ouroboros has been with us since the time of Plato – and even before that.  It happened with every empire the world has ever known, and our country isn’t immune to this phenomenon, either. The government will become its own biggest enemy…”

“Okay, Gertruida. You win. What are you talking about?” Boggel is so used to Gertruida dropping the strangest concepts amongst them, that he immediately stops her for an explanation.

“The Ouroboros is a snake that lives by eating its own tail. Plato described it well: “The living being had no need of eyes because there was nothing outside of him to be seen; nor of ears because there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he created thus; his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself.” Her cynical smile says it all. “The principle being that this snake-like creature survived because it was continuously eating itself, thus providing the nutrition to recreate the bits it digested. Like the dream of perpetual motion, it was supposed to keep on eating and recreating itself for all eternity.

“The Phoenix is another example of this type of eternal regeneration, only it had to die every time to start all over again. The Ouroboros went one step further: it kept on living because it kept on supplying its own food.”

“Then you are saying we have to live with the current government … forever?” Kleinpiet rolls his eyes and sighs heavily. This doesn’t sound good…

“No. The Ouroboros and the Phoenix are myths. What the analogy tells us is this: once a government becomes blind and deaf; and once it has to feed on the gullibility of the masses to survive – well, it’ll go on for a while under the misguided impression it’s invincible. But then the cracks start appearing. The original  source of its strength becomes the waste-product it needs to survive. Nutrition and energy get lost because other, smaller but growing, little creatures are born. Malema. Marikana. De Doorns. Sasolburg. The once-big-and-mighty Ouroboros now finds itself caring for a family of teenage Ouroborosses, each believing itself to be invincible. The original Ouroboros starves to death while its offspring now enter the same cycle of power, self-gestation, unhappy offspring, and death.”

“Now, I suppose you’re going to tell us that’s why the Ottoman, the Roman and the British Empires crashed?” Boggel doesn’t even bother to ask; he simply serves a new round. When Gertruida is in such a lecture-mood, the only way to keep his customers in the bar is by providing a constant flow of beer.

“Exactly, Boggel. Governments remain in power by listening and by observing and by delivering. That’s what democracy means: elected people serving those who elected them. It implies honesty, integrity and respect. Dictators don’t do that. They think they can emulate the mythical Ouroboros by concentrating only on their own needs.”

“So what’s going to happen, Gertruida?” Precilla’s voice is uncertain and worried.

“Things will get worse before they get better. Die isolated incidents of unrest in the rural areas are practice sessions of what will happen later. The recipe will be the same: the jobless people in the shacks of the informal settlements will be used to rob and rampage. They’re the tail-end that gets eaten. Cities will be targeted next. Metropoles will become ungovernable. The snake will feed on itself until it dies. Then, with the economy blown to pieces, the infrastructure wrecked, schools and shops burnt to the ground and the government unable to create more chaos – then people will demand peace. Those who survived, that is. And they’ll hold an election, choose a fair and just government, who’ll set out with the most wonderful of promises.”

“Gee, Gertruida, for a moment I thought there would be a sad end to our story.” Precilla sighs with relief. “So the Ouroboros will die? Please tell me it will?”

“No Precilla, it won’t – not like that. The only Ouroboros that’ll survive, is the perpetual motion of the Political Machine. Labour and Democrat  and Republican and Independent  – the one will follow the other in an endless cycle as they eat each other in turn. No party will govern forever, for at some stage it stops seeing and stops listening and stops delivering on its promises. It’s part of the bizarre political genetics that will see governments rise to the level of their incompetence – just like the Peter Principle predicts.”

“But where does it leave us, Gertruida? Are we doomed to be passengers on an aeroplane whose captain forgot where the landing strip should be?”

“We live an isolated life in many ways, and we’ll escape a lot of the damage that will follow. But think of the poor souls in Cape Town and Pretoria and Durban – when the feeding frenzy starts, few will escape the ripple effects. It’s unfortunately a natural cycle – like Global Warming and Ice Ages, birth and death, and a New Year every 365 days – we cannot escape the Ouroboros seasons: one must follow the other.”

“Then we must make others aware of it as well.” Servaas straightens his white tie as he buttons his black jacket. “And we must pray…”

This time, the sombre silence in Boggel’s Place is only broken by Oudoom’s soft ‘Amen’.

Scary Memories

download (10)“Jan Smuts died of old age, didn’t he?”

They’re all in Boggel’s Place, discussing the deaths of previous Prime Ministers and Presidents.

“Ja, and Malan was oldish too. Strijdom was a surprise – he had a heart attack at a younger age. And Verwoerd – well, he was murdered. Then Vorster and Botha followed with strokes and stuff. And de Klerk is still going strong, I think.” Servaas has lived through all of them. He’s listened to state funerals on the radio long before Precilla was born. “The funerals are always so terribly sad. I don’t think I want to sit through another one.”

“It’s strange how people always say nice things after somebody died. I mean, if you go through that list of yours, there’d be a great deal you can criticise about what those men did. I don’t want to state the obvious stuff, but there you are. Whenever somebody dies, we clean the slate and then write nice stuff about the deceased. It’s as if we develop a collective amnesia as soon as the coffin gets lowered into the ground. Flags hang at half-mast and radios play sad music.  It still happens today.” Gertruida seems quite pleased with the idea. “It would be much fairer if we could say goodbye to people with an honest report card. It’s a question of remembering the total person, not just his good points. That way, we can have a balanced view of history.”

“Maybe, Gertruida. But that is why there are history books. They tell the whole story, don’t they?” Vetfaan doesn’t like to talk about death and funerals. It scares him (to death!) a little to think about those final few moments before you start floating away into that white tunnel.

“But even that doesn’t work. If you look at our history books in the 1960’s and you compare it to the current syllabus in schools, it seems as if they tell two completely different stories. And it’s not just here in South Africa – it happens in America, China, Germany  … all over the world, in fact. Now, if you had the report card system, people will be able to see what you’ve done and why you’ve done it. It’ll put your life in a certain context, which is much fairer than analysing your actions fifty years later. When people look back at events in the past, they develop 20/20 vision in retrospect, which makes some leaders look like complete fools.  It’d be great in people looked back and saw the past in context. At least we’ll be able to understand history better.”

“It only takes a generation, that’s all. “Servaas drums his fingers on the counter while he waits for a fresh beer. “A single generation. Then the heroes are villains and the villains are heroes. Today the make movies about Al Capone and the godfather – but back then they killed people and they were considered to be criminals. And remember how America mourned  Kennedy? Now they talk about strange lifestyles, girls and drugs. Elvis used to be somebody we looked up to. And we all remember Diana when she was young and cute; now she gets to be remembered for the wrong reasons. It’s such a pity.”

“I hear you, and you’re right. But that means it should work like a court case.” Sersant Dreyer has had a hard time trying to follow the twists and turns in the conversation. “People should tell the judge what they remember about you, and you should get a chance to defend your actions. I mean: normal people don’t go out of their way to purposely do wrong, do they? Oh, I know there are murderers and rapists and such – I’m not talking about them. They do their wrongs under cover, hoping they’d never be found out. But leaders – the politicians, pop stars and other greats of the world: they don’t wake up one morning with an evil grin and an uncontrollable urge to blot their copy books. I think they end up in a position where they make decisions: some of them good, some of them bad. Just like the rest of us. But never, never, would a sane, level-thinking person in public life want to pull the plug on his or her image.”

“That’s the word, Sersant!” Gertruida pats him on the shoulder. “Image! A picture in the mirror of time. I think all historical images are just that: a current depiction of a past reality. And it depends who’s looking at who.” She sees she’s losing them but continues bravely. “Look: no report is ever unbiased. Whenever you tell somebody about something you’ve seen or heard; there’s a subconscious process involved which positions you in a certain way towards the event. In a subtle way you have to judge what you’ve observed before you can tell others about it. You become the mirror, you see? You’re the one who provides the image of the event or person you want others to see. A living person can justify his actions, even if you don’t agree with him – that’s reality. A dead person has to rely on others to reflect his image – that’s why they’ll never stop editing history books. The image keeps on changing too much, because the bias changes all the time.”

When she ends her lecture, she’s met with blank stares.

“But why do we remember some leaders with love and appreciation, and others with scorn?  They all made mistakes, but we only dig it out for some. The others get smoothed over. Churchill is a nice example: he drank way too much, was brash and rude at times – and yet he remains the epitome of a great leader. And Vorster was the man who started talking about détente and negotiations with the ANC – but when you talk about him, people don’t remember that.”

“That’s my point, Servaas. That’s the bias I’m talking about. It isn’t convenient to remember some things. Society has become lazy: we don’t make up our own minds any more. We look at the TV and read the papers, and simply swallow whatever is pushed down our throats. We rely on media to tell us what the image looks like. They tell us what is good and what is bad. And like obedient students, we copy and paste those impressions to make them our own.”

Kleinpiet shakes his head as he finishes his beer. “I thought we were talking about funerals and politicians. You’ve lost me, Gertruida.”

She throws her hands into the air with a suppressed hippo-snort. “Funerals are for the living, Kleinpiet. The dead person doesn’t worry about mundane things any more. He’s appearing before a different Judge with much greater stakes involved. We’re talking about how we judge people, and how often we are wrong, that’s all.”

Boggel turns up the radio as the nine-o’clock news gets read. Madiba, they say, is still in hospital. The government has changed its tune: he’s no longer undergoing tests; he’s being treated for a lung condition.

“Now there’s one man that will be remembered fondly,” Servaas remarks. “At least he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

Gertruida can be very cynical at times. Yes, she thinks, that may be true. People rely heavily on the Madiba image to justify current events and decisions in the country. He’ll leave a legacy unsurpassed in Africa, which is a good thing. But … if his image continues to be used to feed the fires of discontent in the country, future generations may well find fault with his ideals and dreams.  She’s reminded of the famous words of N P van Wyk Louw: Criticism can never harm a hero. He’s got centuries ahead of him, during which his worth will be determined and his honour be restored.

“You’re thinking again, Gertruida,” Vetfaan prods, “you scare me when you do that.”

“Sometimes,” she smiles, “I scare myself.”