Tag Archives: history

The Apartheid story with a Hearty Twist

downloadWhen little Winston had to spend a significant portion of his youth behind his mother’s wardrobe, he had no idea what Life had in store for him. He realised soon enough that he wasn’t dirty (scrubbing didn’t help), but that it was his complexion that put the family in danger.

His story is touching hearts around the world, resulting in comments like : “An extraordinary book“, “What a great read a must read book . Very good hard to put down . A 5 star book“, and “It was a beautifully well written, bittersweet story of great hardship and triumph.

The book? It’s actually two books – one published in South Africa by Naledi and the other a UK publication by Fonthill Media.

This is the story of the guy that was forced to fix Volkswagens in his backyard to survive – and then made medical history by transporting the first human heart destined for transplantation. It’s a story of hardship, triumph over insurmountable odds…and love.

Here’s the background:

Click to order in South Africa here, or the rest of the world, here. Let us spread stories of hope, rather than the doom and gloom we get fed every day.

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The Horizon Hunter #6

South_Africa_1998_Waterfront_Cape_Town_Table_Mountain_stamp.jpg

Cape Town, 1998

Mo’s smile was gone by then. Remembering the conversation with Achmad had been bad enough – but talking about it was worse.

“You know, that man – the one who helped me get a name – well, he listened to my concerns and I remember him sitting back with a condescending smile. He told me – rather bluntly, I must add – to grow up.”

***

“What’s your problem, Mo? Do you think you’d get anywhere with the current government under the current conditions? We’re the in-between people, son. We’re not black. We’re not white. We’re a minority in numbers as well as political importance.

“Political power belongs to the north – to the Zulus and the Xhosas and the others. In the Cape you have a different racial spread, resulting in our opinions being trashed by the majority. The only power we have, is the power of money – but how do we get that? With Black Empowerment, the big money quite naturally goes up north.

“But we? We have gangs and drugs and a lot of very clever people. The government is made up of men and women with very little experience and almost no insight in the long-term expectations of common people; they want to dig into the cookie jar as deep as they can get, while they are in a position of power. So, influential businessmen – and not the white variety – are all too happy to voice their support for the government and they do it loudly. They get rewarded with contracts that earn them millions.

“And how do they ingratiate themselves with the powers that be? By cutting them in – shuffling a generous share under the table, see? It’s the most logical thing to do.

“That’s why some of us in the Cape use our brains and play the game. James has read the script, Mo. If he doesn’t play ball, he’s out on his ear.”

So what was the price of integrity, Mo asked? Ahmad laughed at that.  “Integrity? She’s a prostitute, Mo. Throw money at her and she lies down with a smile.”

***

“I can’t remember leaving Ahmad’s house. When I calmed down, I was walking along Adderley Street and I looked around. Cape Town’s streets were filled with litter and beggars. There were whores everywhere, giving me a hopeful eye. I thought back on the bad old days and remembered how clean the place used to be, how orderly everything functioned.

“And I felt the way Cape Town looked that evening.

Sea Point Promenade.jpg“Later, I sat down on the promenade and watched the white foam on the waves roll in. I was, I realised, a nobody. I had no father, no schooling, no prospects. I was part Christian and part Muslim. My genes were a mosaic; my name borrowed from an uncle. And the lofty ideals of freedom and fairness? Ah yes, those were only nice ideas, stuff only kids believe in.”

Realisation hit hard. Those terrible days in the damp and lonely cell; the nights of torture and his steadfast refusal to tell the authorities anything – it had been a pointless rebellion. He had been the protector of a system that was destroying the country. Yes, Mandela was still there, but his term of office was almost over – and who will the corrupt government appoint then? There were no great leaders to fill Madiba’s shoes, were there?

In his dark thoughts, three facts stood out quite clearly: the struggle had been in vain and the future promised only a decay of what was still left. That…and the point that he was a nobody with nowhere to go. His loyalty to the cause and dedication to change had born the most despicable fruit. His life, he realised, had been wasted.

“I went home that night. Told my mother that I needed time out. Explained how I felt. She actually understood, much to my surprise. Then I packed a rucksack, took the little money I had, and walked out of Atlantis.

“I’ve never been back.”

***

On the balmy evening of 6 March 1998, Cape Town rocked to the music of Sixto Rodriguez in the sold-out Bellville Velodrome. He sang about escaping reality. It was a stunning performance by the enigmatic and improbable artist and the audience loved it.

Outside Cape Town, a young man stood next to the N2, his thumb in the air and tears on his cheeks. He didn’t sing about escaping – he was attempting to.

To be continued…

Alive and Well…

ams-history“It’s been awfully quiet lately.” Servaas burps as he orders a fresh beer.

“Ja, people think nothing happens here any more.” Raising a questioning eyebrow, Vetfaan turns to Gertruida. “What’s up? Has he stopped writing? Gone walkabout? Emigrated? Long holiday? Contemplating his navel?”

“Oh no!” As usual, Gertruida has all the answers. “He’s been spending lots of time at his keyboard. Lots! But, he says, it’ll all be revealed soon.”

“Oh?” Boggel closes the empty drawer of the till. “That’s nice. I’m sorry to interrupt, guys, but it’s the end of the month. You have to settle your tabs.”

They ignore the little bent man…like they always do when he reminds them that the only thing in life you get for free, is the Vrede’s landmine in the middle of Voortrekker Weg every morning.

“So what is he writing?”

“Ah, it’s the story of a man who made international history a few years back. It’s got everything. Poor boy, an outcast, struggles with politics, love and rejection. He gets a chance to change the world…and then he does.”

“Is he a local chappie?” Vetfaan loves to hear that not everything in South Africa is falling apart. “Please don’t tell me it’s about Zuma of Malema?”

“Oh no! Not a political figure, although politics features quite prominently in the man’s life. No – he was just a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who  made good. Like our stories, it’s a feel-good tale of determination, perseverance, a bit of good luck and a breakthrough. Oh, and love against all odds. It makes fascinating reading.”

“Yeah?” Servaas isn’t impressed. “That sounds rather common to all men, I’d say. I had a tough time convincing Siena to shack up with me, too…”

“Which is quite understandable, given your looks.” They all laugh at Kleinpiet’s interjection before turning to Gertruida again.

“And there’s a small chance – maybe more than that – of a movie. In fact, the storyline is so intriguing, it’d be a crime not to film it.”  Even Servaas sits up when Gertruida informs them about this. “Yes, a movie. We have such wonderful, real-life South African stories. People read about our economy going for junk status. They watch our parliament becoming a joke. Our president single handedly wins the competition to be the most ridiculed man in the country. Malema frightens the whites and Zuma scares the blacks.

“But where – oh where! – are the good stories? We need to be reminded of a once-proud nation which produced remarkable men – sometimes against all odds. Instead of allowing us to sink deeper into a muddy depression, we should be reminded that no situation – no political rhetoric – has the right to dump the nation into junk status. If it happens to the economy, that’s beyond your and my control. But…each of us is the captain of his own ship.

“That’s what the story is all about. Maybe you’ll read about it soon. Maybe you’ll see it on the big screen. It’s a  story we must all take note of. Essential reading, I’ll call it.”

“Well…who is it about? A real person?”

“Yes, Vetfaan. He’s real.” Gertruida suddenly looks sad. “But he won’t tell me the name. I can guess, but I really don’t know…”

The group at the bar stares at Gertruida in shocked silence. Gertruida doesn’t know? That’s a first!

“…But I’ll find out, believe you me! I’ve got my ear on the ground. Pretty soon I’ll know his name – then I’ll tell you.”

“Don’t you have a clue?”

“I do, Servaas. I’ll play you a song … ”

Our very own Firefrorefiddle, the ultimate Fiend…

51Z7RPtdZkL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_“Funny, isn’t it?” Gertruida, true to her nature, doesn’t elaborate for a while. She wants a response and won’t continue until she gets it.

“Um?” Vetfaan gives her the obligatory quizzing look.

“Life runs around us in circles, Vetfaan. What goes up, must come down. Today’s losers are tomorrow’s winners. History repeats itself over and over again.” She busies herself with her beer, knowing she’s done enough to pique interest. She gets it with the second “Um…?”

“The world has been oscillating between Radical and Conservative,” she goes on. “Ever since the beginning of time, the real war on earth has been between the aggressors and the pacifists. Then, of course, the pacifists become the aggressors and everything goes up in flames for a while. After a suitable period of time, the pot gets taken from the stove, everything settles down…and then we do it all over again.”

“Depressing, Gertruida. That’s all I can say about that. Talk about something nice for a change.”

Gertruida stares at the ceiling for a full minute before saying anything. “You think life is a musical, Vetfaan? Dancing girls and happy endings? Well, wake up, will you?” Suddenly feeling a bit guilty about her rebuke, she continues in a kinder note. “Have you heard about Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell?”

***

It wasn’t Lloyd Webber who created Gus, the theatre cat, but T.S. Elliot, who described the old cat in  Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Gus, originally called Asparagus, used to be a great actor once. Now, old, decrepit and no longer the darling of the stage, poor Gus is left with the memories of his previous successes.

His best ever performance, he remembers well, was when he played the role of Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell. That scoundrel cat broke into every house and stole everything he wanted. He used to be so good, Gus recalls, that he thought he could never be caught.

And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

Gus used to have what is called the gift of the gab. He could talk in a way his audience simply couldn’t ignore.

“I have played,” so he says, “every possible part,
And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I’d extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.
I knew how to act with my back and my tail;
With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I’d a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,
Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.

Now, his fiery performances are a thing of the past, and Gus – the Theatre Cat – can only dream about his glory days. The younger generation is taking over, something Gus finds a bit unacceptable.

“Well, the Theatre’s certainly not what it was.
These modern productions are all very well,
But there’s nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
That moment of mystery
When I made history
As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.”

***

“That’s much better, Gertruida. I like it when you talk about something different for a change.” Vetfaan winks, sips his beer and then suddenly looks up. “So, what happened to Firefrorefiddle?”

Gertruida smiles – he’s put his foot right in the trap.

“You see, Vetfaan, life has a way of turning the wheel. Firefrorefiddle tried one last daring heist. He  broke into the bank and opened the safe. And then, while he was staring at the stacks of gold that soon would be his, his admiration for his own special abilities made him drop his guard. He didn’t see the security guards approaching. And that was the end of his thieving ways, much to the relief of the people of the Fell.”

“Firefrorefiddle brought about his own downfall? His ego got in the way?”

“That’s right, Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan sighs. He’s been tricked again. Gertruida’s story wasn’t about T.S. Elliot after all. He should have known better.

“Did Eliot really create that story? I mean the one about the bank and the safe?”

Gertruida flashes him a condescending smile. “No, Vetfaan, he only invented Gus. The ending is the South African version by our very own president.”

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”                                                                                                       T.S. Eliot.

When a photograph changes the world…

Credtit: Reuters

Credtit: Reuters

“I refuse to look at that,” Vetfaan says as he closes the newspaper. “It’s such a sad, sad, sad picture. Somehow it tells me how sick the world has become, and I don’t want to be reminded.”

“That’s exactly why one should look at it, Vetfaan. We need to be reminded that society can simply not go on as if nothing has happened. We have to acknowledge the tragedy taking place in the Mediterranean – it is a mirror that forces us to take a good, long, hard look at what we’ve become.”

“Yes, Gertruida, I remember that other picture of the child and the vulture. It told me more about the circumstances in Sudan than all the reports in the newspapers.”

vulture-child“Oh, the one that Kevin Carter took?” Gertruida remembers all too well the famous photograph taken by the legendary South African. “He won the Pulitzer, I think. He captured – in a split-second and a single shot – the entire tragedy of the war and the famine up there. That photograph wasn’t just a picture, it was a message to us all.”

“Ah, but do you recall the girl with the penetrating eyes? Man, that was a haunting picture as well!”

afghan“You mean the photo of the Afghan girl? Sharbat Gula? Her picture was taken in 1985 by Steve McCurry and her enigmatic look conveyed so much! In her eyes, people saw despair, pain, uncertainty, even a plea for help and support. Some saw hatred there, others saw love. 

“They found her again after 17 years and National Geographic ran the story. At least we know she survived…which is more than we can say about that poor child in Sudan. Nobody knows whether she survived – but the chances are slim.”

“The problem with these photos,” Oudoom says, “is that they capture something that has already happened. We palmer1acannot change that. And, in this age where we live in denial and find all kinds of ways to explain away our guilt, photographs are brutally honest in the way it depicts horror, shame or tragedy. Look at the furore caused by that dentist in America. If that photograph didn’t start circulating  around the world, nobody would have known…or cared.”

“The world is an ostrich, Oudoom. We’re tortoises, hiding in a shell. When something horrible happens, we simply retreat to a safe place, close our eyes, and try to ignore the obvious.”

2013_06_21_075820_6_att00038“But there’s something more.” Servaas closes his eyes  as he formulates his thoughts. “I don’t understand why some images get to be these iconic photos, while others – equally strong and powerful – get ignored completely. Why don’t the pictures of the farm murders in South Africa go viral? Or, for that matter, the decay of the government’s so-called land reforms? “

2013_06_21_075820_7_att00041“Maybe society has the ability to filter what we take note of? You know? We get bombarded with so much bad news, that we have developed a  defence mechanism to protect us. And then, every so often, a graphic picture worms it’s way through the cracks and hits us with such honesty, that we are unable to block it out. That’s why photographs are so important: instead of the subjective reporting and opinions – so often pure propaganda – we are fed every day, a photograph is an objective reminder that you cannot fool all the people, all of the time. Pictures don’t lie. They tell the story of a thousand words in a single image. They force you to acknowledge reality.”

Vetfaan opens the newspaper again, unable to block out the picture in his mind. It’s just a picture, he tells himselfof something that happened far away. Just another picture…

Gertruida leans over to offer her small, white handkerchief, but Vetfaan ignores it. He’ll need something much stronger, something much bigger, before that image fades away.

If it ever does…

Trusting Liar (#10)

Liar's Meteorite

Liar’s Meteorite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

Trusting Liar (#8)

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure sounds funny to me,” Gertruida mumbles.

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

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

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

“Thousand? That’s impossible!”

“No, Gertruida. Million…”

Vetfaan lets out a low whistle while Servaas gasps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting Liar (#6)

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Farmhouse, Breekyster

Gertruida gasps. “You’re…you’re Walter Kempf’s son?”

Liar, still staring at the endless horizon, nods. “The one and only.”

“But your surname is Louw – where did that come from?”

***

Mattie was devastated. With Walter dead, her hopes for the future had turned to ashes. Oom Nikolaas initially did what all fathers do when confronted with his daughter’s pregnancy: he exploded. A heated argument followed. He accused her of being too forward, while she blamed their poverty on Nikolaas’s inability to farm properly. She even told him her mother’s death was due to the old man’s negligence. The wordy skirmish didn’t last long – they both ended up in tears, apologising for hurting each other so much.

Oom Nikolaas considered the problem of his daughter’s pregnancy very carefully. He was getting on in years and would not be able to assist Mattie in bringing up the child. A man had to be found, but how? Who? And why would a man marry a woman pregnant with another man’s baby? Then he had a brilliant idea.

Somewhere, out in the desert, an aeroplane wreck contained two shoeboxes full of diamonds. Surely that would be enough to entice some gentleman to search for it, find it, and become fabulously rich? Such a man might – with a bit of luck – be willing to marry his daughter in exchange for information leading to the treasure hidden in the dunes? Oom Nikolaas would have preferred to search for the wreck himself, but at his age it would have been suicide. No, he’ll find someone…

But…such a man had to be somebody with enough knowledge of the desert, know something about diamonds, and be able to dispose of his find in a legal way. That, oom Nikolaas decided, narrowed the possibilities down to the few prospectors next to the Orange River. Those men, he knew, barely made a living with the few diamonds they found, so surely they would jump at the chance of acquiring the treasure in the wreck? Although these prospectors had a reputation for hard living and sometimes unscrupulous behavior, oom Nikolaas felt sure he’d be able to find the best of them all. Desperate times called for desperate measures…

Mattie didn’t like the idea. She had fallen in love with Walter and just couldn’t imagine being with another man. Another argument followed. What, oom Nikolaas asked, would happen to Mattie and the infant once he (Nikolaas) died? How would she – an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child –  survive? Surely the infant should have a better chance in life than the two of them had? No, he said, Mattie had no choice. A man had to be found, and quickly. If his plan worked out, they could still be married in church and the baby would be accepted as her new husband’s. She would have a home, a caring man to look after her, and a child with a future. No more arguments, case closed. 

Orange River mouth - rich source of diamonds

Orange River mouth – rich source of diamonds

Despite his failing health, oom Nikolaas set out to find a husband for his daughter. He trekked along the banks of the Orange River, looking for the prospectors he had heard about. What he found, disappointed him. Most of the men were unschooled. They all drank too much. Some were too old. Some, too young. And there weren’t nearly as many as he had hoped to find – the war had seen to that. When he eventually shuffled towards a shabby hut next to a digging at the water’s edge, oom Nikolaas had all but given up hope.

***

“And so oom Nikolaas bought a husband for my mother. Marriage in exchange for information about a lost treasure. Herman Jacobus Louw jumped at the chance. He was…more or less…presentable. What oom Nikolaas didn’t know, was that this same H.J. Louw was a fugitive from the law. He had a string of convictions, ranging from theft to assault. He could be as charming as a prince and change to a ball of fury at the drop of a hat. When oom Nikolaas met him, my future stepfather was in his charming mode. He seemed the nicest guy on earth. But that….changed…afterwards.

“Anyway, the deal was struck. Mattie got a husband in exchange for a vague description of where the plane went down. The very modest wedding ceremony followed within a week.

“Mattie told me it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Herman left the morning after the marriage to start looking for the plane. He came back a month later in the worst possible mood and got into a heated argument with Nikolaas. Said the old man had tricked him. Blows followed. Nikolaas died a week later – and was buried on the farm. Nobody could prove that the fight had anything to do with his death, but to this day I’m convinced it did. Mattie told me how bruised and battered her father had been after the assault…

“Well, Herman didn’t give up. He moved Mattie to his claim and left her there to do the digging while he went on trip after trip to look for Walter’s diamonds. I was born there; Mattie somehow managed the delivery herself while Herman was on one of his expeditions.”

“What,” Gertruida asks, “happened? With Herman, I mean? Did he find the aircraft?'”

Liar wipes away a tear before answering. “He never found it. I killed him…when I was eleven…”

Trusting Liar (#5)

as31-iGertruida is the first to recover. “Klasie…?”

“Ag drop the pretence, Gertruida. You all call me ‘Liar’ behind my back, so why stop now? Might as well be on the same page, yes?” Liar’s face is flushed with anger; the muscles in his thin neck prominently bulging. “That diamond belongs to me. Hand it over.”

“What are you doing? Put away the gun…”

“No! This…,” Liar sweeps his one hand towards the horizon, “…is my place. Mine!  I earned it! And you…you have no right to be here!”

“Listen, Liar, we’re not the enemy. Whoever is looking for you with the aeroplane and the chopper….well, it isn’t us. In fact, we were worried about you and that’s why we followed you. We’re here to help, man!” Vetfaan’s voice is pleading as he takes a step closer to the distraught man. “Now, put down the gun and let’s chat about all this.”

Liar hesitates, taken aback after clearly being convinced that the group  had hostile intentions. “I…I’m not sure I believe you…”

“And we’re never sure whether we can believe you, either.” Servaas’s remark lessens the tension as a few suppressed guffaws escape. Even Liar has to smile.

“Here, here’s the diamond.” Getruida holds it out to Liar. “You take it and put down the gun. We need to talk.”

Liar seemed to deflate the moment he realised the group didn’t represent a threat of any kind. He took the diamond, stuck it in his pocket, and sat down next to his rifle. Gertruida carefully detailed their quest  to warn Liar about the  Cessna –  and to help if they could. It takes a long time to convince Liar, but such are Gertruida’s skills that he eventually apologized for his behaviour.

“I…I suppose you deserve an explanation,” Liar sighs – then he tells them a story they’ll never forget.

***

After Robey Leibrandt was arrested, Walter Kempf gained access to the only aircraft available and took off, heading for Windhoek. He left in a considerable hurry, of course, and had didn’t have the time or opportunity to plan the trip. As soon as he had the plane cruising at about 2,000 feet, he took stock of his situation. In the bulky suitcase rammed into the hold, was a number of gold coins and two shoeboxes filled with diamonds. While he was confident that he would be able to bribe his way into South West Africa to get past the officials in Windhoek, his immediate problem was fuel. The Gloster was (at that time) quite famous as a survey plane but Walter had no idea how far he could fly with the two full tanks.

He switched off the left tank and flew only on the right-side fuel supply, reckoning that would give him an idea of range. Figuring out that he might make Kimberley, he headed west. It was late afternoon when he landed near the city of diamonds, where he used some gold coins to convince a lone attendant to fill up his tanks. Not wanting to stay too long, he took off almost immediately. The police interviewed the attendant the next day, documenting the last official sighting of the Gloster.

The modern runway at Upington

The modern runway at Upington

Walter knew that flying at night would be dangerous, but fortunately the skies were clear and the moon almost full. His plan was to follow the Orange River to Upington, where he hoped to refuel again. However, when he estimated that he was about a hundred miles from Upington, the oil-pressure gauge started dropping. Peering from the open cockpit, he could see smoke from the left engine. He knew then: he was in deep trouble.

He no longer had the luxury of time to follow the bends in the river below him; now he had to plot and guess the shortest way to Upington. He veered off to the north, which was a mistake. Had he gone south, he would have picked up the road to Upington, which would have at least offered him a chance to land. Soon, however, he only had the expanse of desert beneath his wings as he switched off the overheated engine. The aircraft was still maintaining altitude, but flying the cumbersome craft under the power of the single remaining engine was beyond the capabilities of Walter Kempf. He had to find somewhere safe to land…

Walter later described his landing as a miracle. He found a straight, narrow passage between two dunes and managed to make an almost perfect touchdown. Almost. An unseen mound of sand snapped off the left wheel, causing the craft to slew around and wedge itself into a dune. With the wheel off and the propellers bent, the aircraft’s flying days were over.

The exhausted pilot surveyed the damage, correctly decided that he was marooned in the desert, and decided to wait for sunrise. Curling up in the hold behind the pilot’s seats, he slept until he was awakened by the hushed voices of three Bushmen who stood talking around the crashed plane.

***

“So there he was, surrounded by Bushmen in the middle of the desert, fleeing for his life.” Liar pauses as another thought strikes him. “You know that Robey Leibrandt was sentenced to death, yes?”

Only Gertruida nods – she knows the history. Jan Smuts eventually commuted the sentence to life imprisonment; but when DF Malan became Prime Minister, Leibrandt was released from jail.

“I still don’t see how you tie up with all this, Klasie…I mean Liar?”

Servaas gets a weak smile from the man. “Ag , you can call me anything. Truth be told, my entire life had been a lie, so I don’t object to being called what I am.” He falls silent for a moment before continuing. “You see, those Bushmen helped Walter to get back to civilisation. He only took a few gold coins with him, leaving the rest of the treasure in the hold of the plane – he thought he’d go back sometime. Anyway, after three days of heavy walking, they reached a farm, called Breekyster. The farmer and his wife took good care of Walter and he stayed there for more than a month.

“Also on the farm was an old man – a bywoner – and his daughter: Nikolaas Cronje and Mathilda, or Mattie as everybody called her. They were common, poor labourers on the farm, a struggling father-and-daughter family impoverished by the recent Great Depression and the subsequent droughts. Oom Nikolaas, I was told, used to farm with sheep near Loxton, in the Karoo, before he lost everything. His wife died from pneumonia while they trekked from farm to farm, looking for work. Eventually they found refuge on Breekyster, where they were allowed to stay in the barn. The farmhouse was a modest affair and Walter shared accommodation with the Cronje’s.

“Walter told the old man – he had been a rebel in 1914, objecting against the government’s plans to fight the same Germans who helped the Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer War – the whole story. Everything. As a Nazi sympathizer, the old man was overjoyed to lend a hand. He helped Walter to get ready to return to the earoplane – and he left one morning early with a backpack, a pistol and a compass.

aa3“Walter was never seen alive again. His body was found ten days later, a day’s walk from the farm. The desert had been too treacherous, too wild for him. A sidewinder snake was found nearby with a bullet hole through it’s neck. Surprisingly, both escaped being ravaged by scavengers.

“Needless to say, nobody reported the issue. Walter Kempf simply disappeared as far as the authorities were concerned.

“Old oom Nikolaas was saddened by the passing of his new friend – but not as much as the grieving Mattie, who realised she was pregnant on the very same day Walter was found. In fact, she almost miscarried… ” Liar sighs, staring at the diamond. “Maybe it would have been better if she did – I would have been spared a lifetime of misery…”

Who Painted the Moon Black?

MAAN 002 mod“There once was a very tall man.” Gertruida sits back, making up the story as she tells it. “Very tall. Taller than anybody else on earth. He was a soft-spoken man who cared for his family very much.”

Servaas nods to egg her on. He wants to hear another fable, a myth, a legend – anything – to make him forget the way things are in the country.

“He was a good hunter and  an even better farmer. His family ate well every day. But…like his family, he was afraid of the dark. In those days, the nights were black with only a few stars to light up the sky. His family, because of their fear, collected firewood every day so that the flames could drive the darkness away once the sun had set. This made the tall man very happy.”

By now, everybody in Rolbos is listening with rapt attention. Gertruida’s fables aren’t stories to ignore; they all have a moral hidden somewhere.

“But one day he tracked an Eland and he ventured too far away from his home to return to the family’s fire. The sun set. It became dark. And the man was afraid once more.

“Getting up carefully, he stretched a hand into the darkness and to his surprise he touched something. Up there, in the black of the sky, he felt an object nobody had ever seen before. It was the moon. The man sat down and thought about his discovery. If only he could make the moon bright, he’d never have to fear the night again.

“He went home the next day and told everybody what he had found, but nobody believed him. They laughed and told him he must have dreamt it, nothing can exist in such blackness. No, they said, only a few stars could live in the dark, and they weren’t things to touch, anyway. Did everybody not know that those pinpricks of light were holes in the blanket that covers the sky at night? They laughed at the tall man and he felt much ashamed.

“Still, he knew there was something up there, something only he could touch. But how was he going to make the people stop laughing at him? He had to make a plan, so he went down to the river to think. He asked the water to go up there and roar like a waterfall – so the people might hear the object. The water refused, mumbling that water runs down, never up.. Then he asked the crows to fly up at night to nest on the object so they can squawk there, but they didn’t want to. They had to stay on earth to scavenge from Man, they said.

“And so he asked jackall to howl on the moon, lion to roar on the moon, hyena to laugh on the moon. They all refused. Eventually the man realised he would not be able to make the people hear the moon – he had to show it to them…but how?

“That’s when the fireflies came to him to tell him they’d go. They could fly, they said, and make light. If many of them gathered on the tall man’s moon, people would be able to see not only the moon, but also through the darkness of the night.

“The man was delighted. The next evening he gathered everybody around him and watched as the fireflies all gathered on the moon to give them light. The people were amazed and now treated the tall man with respect. They even made him their leader.

“The sun welcomed the moon in the sky and befriended the new source of light. They were very happy.

“But the tall man became old and told the people to elect a new leader – he wanted to rest, he said. So a new leader was chosen and the tall man lived out his days in peace. Once his soul left his body to join those that went before, the people soon forgot about him. Such is the nature of man, after all. Good people are much easier to forget than bad ones.”

Oudoom holds up a hand, interrupting Gertruida’s story. “That’s true, you know? History books are filled with the stories of bad men – when last did you read about something nice and uplifting in the past? It’s there, of course, but there are more Mussolini’s than Mother Teresa’s.”

Gertruida flashes a wintry smile in Oudoom’s direction – she hates interjections. “Anyway, the new leader was jealous of the tall man’s accomplishment and wondered what he could do to impress people. After much thought, he decided to make the moon black again. If his predecessor gave the people light at night, he’d give them darkness. Surely they’d respect him for that? So he went down to the river to fetch long reeds, to which he fastened some grass. He piled mud on this long brush and waited for night-time. Then he painted the moon black again. The fireflies died  and night became dark once more.

“The sun saw what had happened and grieved for his friend the tall man had created. It therefore refused to draw back the night’s blanket from then on, leaving the earth in darkness.

“The people became afraid again and cried out, but the darkness remained.”

Gertruida falls silent and asks Boggel for a beer.

“That’s it? That’s the story?” Servaas shakes his head; surely that can’t be the end?

“Well, that’s as far as the story goes, Servaas. Until another tall man comes along, the land will remain dark. So far, it hasn’t happened.”

Oudoom nods slowly. He grasped the moral. “So, we’ll just have to wait, Gertruida?”

“Yes Oudoom. It’ll remain dark until another Mandela comes along.”