Tag Archives: guilt

Mrs Basson’s Whisper (# 5)

vredeFiona Basson sits slumped in the passenger seat as Fanny negotiates the track leading to Rolbos, her face buried in her hands.  Before 1994 the road had been maintained in a relatively good condition, but now the ruts and potholes combine to force vehicles to slow down  an impatient crawl.

“So much has changed,” Fanny tries to keep the conversation going. “much like this road.” She wants to add: and your life, but doesn’t. “The country has slipped into a spiral of crime and corruption and the government is losing the plot. But, I suppose, life goes on, doesn’t it?”

Mrs Basson doesn’t respond.

***

Vrede is one of those dogs.

He doesn’t bark.

He doesn’t snarl.

He sniffs….

It’s been his life, you see? Before he ended up in Rolbos, he was an important link in the fight against drugs and crime. That’s before he realised how crooked the system was. Now, although he retains the skills, he abhors the system. Sure, he loves the life in Rolbos – it’s so simple, straightforward, uncomplicated. But an old dog doesn’t unlearn old habits…nor the lessons learnt in the past.

When Fanny gets out of the vehicle to jog around to open the passenger door, Vrede looks up, ears vertical, nose sniffing the scent of fear and uncertainty. This is the most common human scent. In fact, it is the first thing his nose recognised when he was still a puppy. Humans, he eventually understood, were habitually under stress. Rejection, mostly. Humans feared rejection.

Vrede doesn’t understand this. Whenever he meets other dogs, they sniff, prance and parade about a bit – just to get to know each other a little better. If you don’t like the new face, you raise a few neck hairs, strutt with stiff legs and lift an upper lip. The alternative is to start biting away, which is bound to be painful and rather unnecessary. Most dogs, Vrede will tell you, prefer to avoid painful confrontations – is so stupid.

But when Fiona Basson alights from the vehicle, Vrede knows. The heavy sense of despair wafts around the woman like a dense cloud, carrying the message of hopeless depression. She is, Vrede realises, lost in a dark, lonely world where joy and beauty died a long time ago.

He wags his tail to tell her not to worry, he’s just the town-dog; the friendly protector of the weak. He likes to think of himself as the people’s keeper; the faithful one; the wet nose with the caring eyes.

Arf,” he says softly in what he assumes is a friendly manner.

Fiona Basson – already a picture of hesitant uncertainty – freezes next to Fanny’s car, staring at the dog.

Arf, arf,” he tries again before lowering his body to the ground. Then, in a move his trainers  would have been proud of, he leopard-crawls towards her. He wants her to know he’s her best friend – in her whole, wide, empty world. Look, he’s saying, I’m not judging you. Im not here to criticize or reject you. I’m just me, Vrede, and I’ve been given a really apt name by the kind folks of the town. Oh, by the way, you didn’t happen to bring along a bit of biltong, did you? 

The townsfolk watch in amazement as Fiona bends down to pat the panting head. Is that a smile hovering on her lips? A smile?

Gertruida – because she knows everything – motions the group back to the bar with a commanding whisper.

“Leave her with Vrede for a while. Lets go inside and wait. Oh, and Kleinpiet? Go get her a chair – she’ll be much more comfortable, then. Precilla: where’s that nice straw hat with the broad brim? Won’t you fetch it for her?”

***

Wait…there’s something else – something subtle, hidden below the fear and the loneliness. Sniff. Sniff-sniff. Yes, it’s there, all too clear to ignore. Guilt. Tons and tons of guilt in her scent. I wonder why?

Fiona accepts the hat and the chair without acknowledging them. Gertruida wonders whether she even noticed it.

Arf? What is it with this woman? I’m not used to this smell any more. Way back then…yes, it was common. But here in Rolbos I’ve almost forgotten what guilt smells like. Except on Sundays, of course. When Oudoom puts on the strange black coat and starts talking from the platform in front of the church, I always detect a bit of guilt…even self-pity. It isn’t overwhelming, though: mostly I smell hangovers and boredom.

Hey, please don’t tell Oudoom this, will you? Whenever he feels unwanted, he smells of frustration. I don’t like that.

Fiona reaches out to scratch a spot behind Vrede’s left ear. The dog smiles up at her and thumps his tail on the ground, raising a small cloud of dust.

There. No, a little more towards the back. Yup, right there. Arf. Thank you, Sad Lady. That feels good. I wonder if you’d mind if I licked your hand? Just to show I like this? Some people don’t like licks. Mevrou scolds me when I try, but she’s just being herself, I suppose. She thinks I’m dirty or something. Gertruida once told her it’s my way of kissing, but Mevrou had such a creepy shudder and said she’d never allow even Oudoom to do something like that.

Lick.

Hey, she likes it. Lick-lick. Lick-lick-lick… 

“Oh no! He’s licking her hand. Argh! Slobbering all over her. Ugh! And now he’s going for her cheek!” Mevrou digs out a handkerchief from beneath her blouse to wipe her face. “Somebody! Go help that woman. Vrede’s going to give her some disease!”

Gertruida puts a reassuring hand on Mevrou’s shoulder.

“Not to worry, Mevrou. Fanny did a very clever thing to bring Fiona here. Look at her with Vrede: the two of them are getting along quite nicely, don’t you think? Vrede’s doing what people couldn’t – he’s making her reach out to something on the other side of her isolation. She’s just unlocked a closed door – and maybe it isn’t wide open yet, but it’s a start.”

“Well, you guys can’t just sit here and spy on the poor woman. Let’s have something to drink, then we’ll figure out how to help Fiona break down a few walls.” Boggel places the small glasses on the counter. Then, after pouring generous helpings in each, her shuffles back to the store room. There’s a nice piece of biltong back there – one with a thick layer of fat on the side. He knows he shouldn’t spoil Vrede like this, but today that dog certainly deserves a treat.

From: Tosca, by Puccini.

I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul!
With a secret hand
I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.
Always with true faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with true faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?
I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
which smiled with more beauty.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
ah, why do you reward me thus?

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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.

The Curious Disability of Society

Credit: Independant.co.uk

Credit: Independant.co.uk

“He won gold in the Paralympics in 2004. It wasn’t enough. He was 18 years of age, and determined to make his mark in the Olympics – the real competition, against men with real legs.” Gertruida is in her lecture-mode, her tone of voice grave, knowledgeable and informative. The patrons at the bar know this is not the time to interrupt or ask questions. “One has to remember he’s a born competitor. He only started running at the age of 16, because he tried to rehabilitate a knee he injured while playing rugby. Imagine that? Playing rugby with no legs. It makes you think.”

“Now remember: his legs were amputated at 11 months of age. His parents divorced when he was six. To compete with normal kids was a natural instinct and he showed athletic promise early. He boxed, wrestled and played cricket. One can assume his disability served to encourage him to prove himself.

“Now, psychologists will tell you this is more common than you’d like to think. Many disabled people find a way to the top by sheer grit and determination. Part of the picture is overcoming insecurity. You have to accept who and what you are, and then find ways to compensate for the specific handicap you have. Combine a genetic disorder, an unhappy childhood and obvious physical deformity, and there are a thousand reasons why somebody might just give up and allow life to sweep them along. But not this chap. He used his heartaches to be the fuel in the furnace to build up steam. He was going places – despite what Life dished out to him.

“To do that, he learnt to trust his own judgement. What other people thought or said, didn’t matter. Initially he was viewed as a curiosity on the track, but soon his determination started paying off. The small-town nobody became a part of Olympic history. Reporters loved his story. Disabled people right across the world were encouraged to rise above adversity by his efforts. He became a hero…

“But deep down, the scars of the past remained, like they always do in all of us. The struggle for so-called normality. The broken home. The loss of his parents. Maybe that was the source of a gnawing insecurity – or maybe his achievements compensated for them. In the end we get to the 12th of February. He found the love of his life. Oh, I’m sure he knew his athletic ability won’t last. No athlete goes on forever.  But love…now there’s something to accompany you on the journey through life. This was something he couldn’t bear losing. This was something he’d want to protect with his life.”

Servaas holds up a hand. “No, Gertruida, you can’t be sure of all that. You’re guessing.”

“You’re right, Servaas. I am guessing. But in contrast to public opinion, I’m trying to paint a different picture.”

“You’re still assuming things you have no right to.” Servaas can be extremely obstinate.

“Okay.” Gertruida sighs. “Let’s assume then. Let’s assume we have to do with a fragile personality that’s used to losing the most important people in his life. He has achieved the impossible on the athletic track. Lets assume he’s looking ahead at the future, and will lay down his life to protect the love he’s discovered. And lets assume he picked up the gun, just like he said, to protect the woman in his bed.

“Lets assume he fires off the shots, and turns back to talk to her. Let’s assume the horror of the realisation of what he’d done. And let’s assume it is the one single moment that’ll haunt him for ever more.”

“Too many holes in that argument, Gertruida. Why didn’t he call the police or security people. Why didn’t he wake her up first? Why didn’t he know she’s not in bed?” Servaas shakes his head in disgust. “The pieces in your puzzle doesn’t fit.”

“Sure, Servaas. We have the luxury of thinking and analysing and being terribly clever. People around the world have mulled over this for endless hours.

“But he didn’t have the time. He acted. He got out of the starting blocks so fast, he completely forgot to check the basics. And he made the most disastrous mistake of all. Why? I’ll tell you why. I’m assuming it was a subconscious, automatic action to protect his love. He panicked. His thought processes stalled. He became the caveman, protecting his possessions. He stormed the lion with a club and wrecked his life.

“And once again, he lost what he desperately wanted to preserve. Broken home, dead mother, murdered love. And that’s why you saw the face in the court. He’s devastated – only this time, he was responsible for the loss.”

“You’re a good Christian, Getruida. You look at the bright side, searching for a nice answer to a terrible tragedy. I respect that, but I’ll wait for the court case.” Servaas isn’t convinced, but some of the things Gertruida said, gnaws at his conscience. “You can’t possibly say he wasn’t responsible for her death, though.”

“Sadly, no. He’ll have to face the wrath of the law for that. You can’t kill somebody and then argue innocence. All I’m trying to do, is to understand, that’s all.

“What I don’t understand, is the public outcry. If this was just another horrible mistake or some family tragedy, CNN and BBC  and Sky wouldn’t have bothered. But because of the man he is, and because of the woman she was, it has become world news.

“Society loves drama. They dress it up and dissect it. They love to see a hero fall. Sometimes I’m convinced about a universal disability – we just don’t do compassion any more. Find him guilty, if you want. Send him to jail, if you like. If it was premeditated – let him feel the force of law. But if this is a case of an insecure man who panicked and made a disastrous decision…well, then I feel for him. He is guilty of shooting the girl. No question. But what was in his heart when he pulled the trigger? And that, my friends, is what the judge must rest his sentence on.”

“I don’t know, Gertruida…”

“Look, Servaas, you’ve made up your mind. It’s your right to do so. I’m just saying Oscar isn’t the only disabled person in the accused dock right now. We – all of us – are suffering from a variety disabilities right now. We don’t know enough. We can’t see the suffering of the two families. We don’t want to hear any other explanations. And we avoid feeling the pain of those directly involved in the tragedy.

“They say you must walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes to understand him. Society, Servaas, has never balanced on those blades. That’s their disability. They didn’t hear the roar of the crowd in London when he ran that race. They can’t hear the scream of pain when he stands, head bowed, in front of the cameramen. And society – with nothing better to do – will rather condemn than be compassionate. That’s our disability, Servaas, and there’s no prosthesis for that.”