Tag Archives: Malema

Anger Trumps Ideology

donald-trump.jpg“But she’s a better politician, having spent a lifetime in public service.” Vetfaan shakes his head. Although he considered the American election to be a choice between rubbish and nonsense, he did favour Hilary.

“I don’t want to be the one who tells you I told you so.” Gertruida’s smug smile says it all. “It never was about political ideology or foreign policy. That notion died some time ago. Look at Turkey, Brittain, Brexit and our government’s leaders. It’s simple, really: at some point the voters become so disillusioned with reality, they’d jump ship at the slightest provocation.”

“Provocation? What are you talking about?”

“Anger, Vetfaan. Anger. Deep, festering, gnawing anger. Anger at the resistence to change. Anger at leaders deciding things that affect – often negatively – the common man in the street. Anger at power-hungry politicians who enrich themselves at the expense of the poorest of the poor. Anger at corruption and lies. Anger at rising taxes when the economy is sick. Anger at governments not providing stability or listening to society’s woes. Anger, my friend, because politicians have become insensitive to the fact that they must serve the people, and not vice versa.”

“And Trump tapped into that anger?”

“Of course. America, Vetfaan, brought out an angry vote. People say they are surprised, but I’m not. America is following – and adding momentum to – a new global trend. It’s an emotional movement, but a very real one.”

“And what might that be?”

“People are tired and fed up with being ignored. Taken for granted. Opinions swept off the table. Being told what to do and what to believe – while they want to make up their own minds. That’s where politicians miss the boat, Vetfaan. They become so impressed with their positions – and the power it gives them – that they think they’re untouchable. Once that happens, democracy will appeal to people who have lost hope. They’ll want change – demand it, even – to escape from oppression. It’s happened here in the past, it’ll happen again.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “Again? How?”

“Look at our country, Vetfaan. Anger is all around us. There is racial tension. Malema’s message is one of hate. Zuma’s performance creates massive frustration. The government refuses to address the aggression in society. Rage rules the student protests, fury fuels service delivery dissent. Wrath directs xenophobia.

“Like I said: it’s a global tendency; a symptom of the time we live in; and governments ignore it at their peril.”

“Oh, my.” Vetfaan nods his thanks as Boggel serves another round. “So Trump is the tip of the iceberg?”

“Of course. Established governments will feel the aftershocks. Political parties will suffer surprising defeats.” Gertruida shrugs – some things are simply inevitable. “The world is angry, Vetfaan. And it’s going to get worse.”

“Thank goodness we’re living in Rolbos.” Boggel flashes an optimistic smile. “At least we’re not angry here.”

“Not yet, Boggel; but amen to that.” Gertruida closes her eyes, biting back the answer that almost managed to escape. Rolbos may be calm and happy on the surface, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t take notice of recent national events. The anger is there, below the surface.

Waiting….

 

“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
You are wasting your time
Thinking, thinking
For God’s sake
How much longer? How much longer?”
Osvaldo Farrès
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Will the Honourable Cockroach please step forward?

Julius-Malema1“Politicians are a really crazy bunch of people. Imagine calling somebody a cockroach?” Precilla pulls a face, disgusted at the thought.

“Oh, I don’t know…” Obtuse as always, Gertruida jumps at the chance to differ. “Cockroaches have been around since forever, and they still will be – according to some – long after humanity finally manages to be stupid enough to start pushing little red buttons on firing consoles. They’re very resilient – able to withstand freezing, submerging and the lack of oxygen. While most people think of them as pests, one has to admire the way they survive under even the most inhospitable conditions.”

“You just love arguing, Gertruida.” Servaas bunches his bushy brows together in protest. “You don’t call anybody a cockroach in Africa. The Hutus did so with the Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide in ’94; completely dehumanising them. No, let’s face it: a cockroach is a pest, an unwanted, despicable insect nobody likes having in their homes. By comparing poor mister Malema to such a creature, is an insult.”

Boggel suppresses a snigger while he serves another round of beers. Poor mister Malema, indeed!  Servaas has been an outspoken critic of the EFF in previous weeks, but since they kept on insisting that the president must pay back the money,  Servaas has toned down his disapproval. He says a man must use what’s available. If you don’t have the right spanner, a monkey wrench will just have to do. It’s a variant of the old adage about my enemy’s enemy…

“Ag, drop the pose, Servaas!” Gertruida sees how the old man’s jaw sets and hurries to defuse the situation. “You’re right, although cockroaches aren’t just bad. All I’m saying is that it won’t do much harm to take a new look at one of the world’s most common insects. They actually have their place in folklore and literature.”

“You telling me somebody was deranged enough to write a story about a cockroach?” Precilla shivers at the thought.

150px-Metamorphosis“Well, many authors did. Maybe the story of Gregor Samsa by Franz Kafka is the most notable. In Metamorphosis, the travelling salesman is transformed into a giant, cockroach-like creature. He withdraws to his room after being paralysed by his father throwing an apple at him – and dies there eventually. It’s a poignant, sensitive, moving novella about acceptance and rejection – and what it means to be a family. It is, arguably, one of Kafka’s greatest works.

220px-TheRevoltOfTheCockroachPeople“More to the point, Revolt of the Cockroach People is a book about the downtrodden minorities in America in the previous century. Acosta’s protagonist, Buffalo Zeta Brown, rises in protest against an unfair society, even when he knows that he has no chance to win the battle against the laws and conditions of the time. Still, the book speaks of survival despite overwhelming odds.”

Precilla studies her shoes – she has no desire to hear how wonderful cockroaches are. They’re creepy, they’re horrible and they’re pests.

“Moreover,” Gertruida isn’t finished yet, “they have medicinal uses.”

Precilla’s face gets a green tinge as Gertruida continues with a smile.

“In olden days they treated diseases with cockroach tea – did you know that? Killed them, boiled them up, and added a bit of honey for flavour. And in northern China they extracted molecules from cockroaches that can be used to cure heart and liver diseases. Apparently those substances are great for treating burns and other wounds as well.”

wall-e3“Look, nobody’s going to give me a cockroach pill when my liver packs up.” Vetfaan runs his calloused hand over his tummy. “But I did enjoy the cockroach in Wall-E. A real little hero, that one. I remember he was called Hal, after the producer, Hal Roach. Har! Now there’s a movie I enjoyed; not the drivel the modern artists turn out.”

“Well, Madonna made a famous statement.” Oudoom almost bites his tongue – he doesn’t want the group at the bar to know about his secret fascination with the wild personality. Still, her quote is apt under the circumstances. “I am a survivor. I am like a cockroach, you just can’t get rid of me – her words, not mine. I think it implies a certain determination to ignore criticism.”

“Our clergyman have emerged from his dark and humid cupboard, guys!” Kleinpiet high-fives the reluctant reverend. “Like Gregor Samsa, he has to show his true colours!”

“Leave Oudoom be, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida’s scowl is enough to make his sit down again. “Do you know who the first mother in space was? Of course not. She was Nadezhda the cockroach, who mothered 33 babies in space. In Russian, her name means ‘Hope’ and she was returned to earth successfully with her offspring.”

When Gertruida falls silent (at last!), the group at the counter settles down in deep thought. As usual, Gertruida surprised them with her vast knowledge. Servaas says Gertruida should write a letter to Malema, explaining that being called a ‘cockroach’ is actually a compliment, but Vetfaan disagrees. He reckons the political waters in the country is muddled enough after the president jumbled up our history into an unrecognisable piece of fiction, forgetting the Xhosa-Zulu struggle completely and omitting the atrocities of Mzilikazi.

No, Vetfaan thinks as he watches a flat, black insect scurry across the floor, being called names isn’t the problem in the country. Maybe some of our public figures are comparable to the insect family regarding the degree of collective intelligence, but they differ considerably in the amount of legs possessed and the habit of self destruction. Some, however, are better at scavenging and – admittedly  –  live in the cracks only found in the convoluted world of politics.

He considers the trembling antennae of the insect before it disappears behind the counter. Cockroaches? He smiles. No, we won’t get rid of them…

Riding a Rhino

the day after 1_edited-1

“It is a great talent – a gift – to be like that,” Gertruida says. “A truly remarkable display of either statesmanship…or stupidity.”

“Nah, he stuck to the written script.” Kleinpiet draws a rhino on the counter top with his beer froth. “He didn’t dare acknowledge what had happened – that would have been political suicide. I mean: how could he answer the question? He can’t. No matter what he says, it’ll just drop him deeper into the doodoo. It’s like when the lawyer asks a man whether he still beats his wife. Either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ implies guilt.”

“It will have the usual consequences,” Servaas’s bored tone indicates his displeasure. “The ruling party will say it was a despicable display of childishness, a terrible contravention of parliamentary protocol, and an indication that Malema should be banned from attending future proceedings…”

“”Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Boggel interrupts the old man. “Can you imagine the chaos if that man should ever be in a more powerful position? I can just see him shaking hands with world leaders in that red overall.”

“…while the opposition parties will be unrepentant.” In true Zuma style, Servaas ignores the interjection. “They all speak so fat and say so lean.”

Rubens_Venus_at_a_Mirror_c1615“Those scenes were hugely entertaining, guys; best thing since sliced bread! But you raise the point that bothered me most.” Kleinpiet now draws a rather Rubenesque figure next to the rhine. “Man, our taxes are being used to good effect! Too good! Some of our esteemed leaders could hardly manage the stairway. It’s no wonder they get paid so well – can you imagine how much they have to spend on XXXXXL attire? It’s not like they’d fit into regulation clothing.”

“It’s a circus.” Even Precilla seems depressed. “Jamming cellphones, armed men in the parliamentary chamber, chaos all over. The banana republic shown to the world in the most embarrassing way. Whatever will Aunty Merkel or Madam Elizabeth think of us? I can honestly say I’m not proud of the way the president handled things. And then: that speech! Pffft! What did he say?”

“Nothing new. He’s still insisting on driving the country into even further problems. Land reform is no longer a question of willing seller and willing buyer. He blah-blahed about the energy crisis, omitting to tell the truth about his nuclear deal with the Russians. He admitted their inability to get the economy boosted and said ‘Cheers!’ twice. He takes his cues from Escom: it really takes a lot to keep the country in the dark like that.”

“You’re right, Servaas. But mark my words: we should remember this State of the Nation Address. It was a turning point in our history. They’re going to rewrite parliamentary rules, suppress robust debate and try to regulate conduct in the chamber. This won’t work, of course. Good manners, respect, work ethic and  statesmanship aren’t things you can teach people with a handbook of rules. Parliamentary culture is something you feel, an undeniable inner voice, permitting free speech but also allowing for a sense of decorum. And that, my friends, is not the way we’ll see things done until sanity returns to the hallowed halls of government.”

“And when will that happen, Gertruida?”

She sighs and signals for another beer. “Who knows? Maybe never. But yesterday’s fiasco was a start. We heard the last State of the Nation Address from Zuma – of that I’m sure. He’s become a Jonah on the ANC ship. They are just stalling, unsure of who will be chosen to give him that final shove. Then, they’ll replace him with Ramaphosa, who’s been doing the job for months now, anyway. And then, after the next election, we’ll hopefully have a more balanced parliament where one party doesn’t call all the shots. Maybe then…”

“That’s the future, Gertruida, and even you are uncertain about how things will unfold. At this moment we’re still stuck with the situation as it is.”

“Ever tried to ride a rhino, Servaas? You can only stay on top for so long…”

Flashfiction: Sandy

“They’ve got a hurricane in America,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “called Sandy. They say it is a Frankenstorm.”

“Do they have deserts over there?” Vetfaan tries not to gape. “I thought the Kalahari is the only one.”

“That hurricane has nothing to do with sand, Vetfaan. It’s about winds, rain and snow.” She’s really trying to be patient.

“Then why call it Sandy? Shouldn’t it be Rainy, or Windy?”

“Hurricanes get girl-names, silly. You don’t get girls called Windy – they’ll never make it past high school with a name like that.” Gertruida sniggers at the thought. “Imagine introducing her to your parents: ‘Hi mom and dad, this is my new girlfriend. She’s Windy.’  It just won’t go down all that well.”

“I can’t understand the hype. What makes Sandy so special?” Lucinda is used to Mediterranean storms, but this one seems worse.

“It’s the warming of the Caribbean Sea, Lucinda. It is where tropical storms get born. But if it meets the unstable cold jet stream from the melting North Pole, it causes a situation where winds from the North and South crash into each other. The one is warm, the other cold.  And the energy released, is beyond comprehension. That’s Sandy.”

“Okay, I get it.” Vetfaan sits back with a satisfied grin. “It’s like Malema and Zuma. A lot of hot air gets met with a mass of cold-hearted political ambition. The result: a hurricane that disrupts lives, causes electrical shortages and drives people to leave the security of their homes. Schools get closed down, the economy suffers and people don’t work.”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. Sometimes she has to let go of the belief that her countrymen still hope for a better future.

“Vetfaan, we should think – and pray – for those folks in America. They’re facing Sandy. It’s real, you know?”

“And we’re facing our own hurricane, Gertruida. It’s called Bloody. Tell me: do they care?”

Boggel’s Hand

Boggel stares at the man. Precilla takes a deep breath. Gertruida has never seen anything like it.

The man is in his middel forties, dressed to the nines in black pants, white shirt with a bandana around the neck, and shoes made from an unfortunate crocodile’s remains. His rose-tinted glasses show enough of the eyes to reveal the crow’s feet. And he is handsome in the way people think film stars should be. Amongst the dusty and khaki-clad men in Boggel’s Place, this guy stands out like a diamond o a black board.

“Beer?” A good barman will always look after your thirst before asking questions.

“No. I don’t drink.” The other customers in the bar nod – they knew this man isn’t normal.

“Well, what I can do for you then?” If he doesn’t want to drink, he must be lost.

“I need to hire this venue for a day – and a night. Poker championship. International. We pay well.”

Boggel shakes his head. “If I hire this place out, the townsfolk have nowhere to meet – or drink something. I’m afraid…”

“Ten thousand bucks,” the man interrupts him. “The thousand for one day. US dollars.”

Several low whistles echo around the room. Eighty-thousand Rands! For one day? Surely…?

“Boggel leans over the counter after getting onto his crate. “Why?”

“Well, it’s like I told you. Poker. I represent some of the richest men in the world. They meet four times a year, alternating absolute luxury – like the Bahamas – with places completely in the bundu – like here. They fly in, play for big stakes, and then fly out again. It’s about the atmosphere, see? For this tournament they want a place in the desert, far from civilisation, and with plenty of cold beer. They don’t like lodges and they hate hotels. My job is to look for a place in South Africa that fits their wishes. They want to dress up like cowboys.”

“Oh no!” Lucinda gets up and marches to the man. “This is another lion story, no? You make fun of me again? Tell me!”

Of course he has no idea what she’s talking about. “No, madam, I’m serious.” He takes out a fat sheaf of notes and places in on the counter.

“Take it,” Vetfaan shouts, “take the money! We can set up a bar in Precilla’s shop for one day, and these guys can play their poker here. It’s a good deal.”

People seldom hear about these strange happenings in the rural areas. The big news corporations follow the TV crews from strike to unrest, from war to upheaval; feeding the sensation-hungry masses on as much gore, lies and deceit, financial and natural disasters all over the world, as they can muster. Most news hounds haven’t even heard of Rolbos – go on, ask a few and see the reaction. So, it is hardly surprising that four of the richest men in the world – one Chinese, one Englishman, one American and the obligatory Arabian gentleman – never reach the hallowed pages of print when they play their friendly game in Rolbos. At stake is only a few million; a paltry sum for these men; for they come here to escape and enjoy themselves. They are very careful to keep under the media-radar – even the helicopter flight that touches down next to Sammie’s Shop doesn’t appear on any register.

***

And fun they did have! First they had a ‘showdown’ in Voortrekker Weg, with fake pistols and blanks, then they sauntered in cowboy-style into Boggel’s Place and waited for the barman to fill their glasses. Gertruida, who has seen all the Clint Eastwood movies, tells the rest the men are dressed like real cowboys, and that the leather protectors on their legs aren’t a new fashion statement.

Boggel is the only local resident allowed behind the counter, and the nattily-dressed hunk does the serving. It is all very civilised and Boggel will later say he didn’t understand these men. They could have retired to any old club or retreat anywhere in the world, but they chose to land up in Rolbos. Gertruida will say that is the point – these men get bored, and unless they do way-out things, they get grumpy and the world economy suffers.

“Men like those,” she says, “are able to push the world’s finances this way and that – and sometimes they do it for fun. But always, always, they benefit. If the Dollar plunges, they buy. If oil goes up, they sell. Money begets money, guys; people like these gentlemen can make or break countries.”

Of course they all nod and say ‘yes’, but the concept is just too large to understand. Farmers work with ground and with sheep – important things – and have difficulty to grasp the intricacies of cellphone giants, quantum technologists and billionaires. They correctly place those under the heading of Not Important, simply because such people care little about the little men on the street. Surely: if someone isn’t concerned about you, you shouldn’t be bothered by them? It’s logic, according to Vetfaan.

***

At nine that night, the Chinese gentleman stares at his cards in disbelief. Four Aces! In his entire poker career, this has never happened to him. The bidding opens, and it is soon clear that every one of them had a special hand. Brit has a full house, Uncle Sam holds with a straight and the turbaned man is happy with his flush, king high. Like peace on earth, this combination of hands is virtually impossible, but it happens, right there in Boggel’s Place.

Soon the stakes are sky-high and they all have all their chips on the table. The trillionaires look on in disbelief as one hand after the other is revealed; and when Mr Ho puts down his cards, a few seconds of complete silence follows. Then laughter – incredulous at first –trickles across the table, but  soon they are laughing and slapping each other on the back. It’s been years since they had such a lot of fun.

Their day of fun is over. They’ve all get back to their private jets and plush offices manned by skimpily-dressed aides the next day; something that puts a damper on their high spirits. Mr Ho is keen for another hand, although the rules of their game state that as soon as one player cleaned out the rest, that player buys a round of drinks and they call it quits. Rich people are careful with money, Gertruida says. Yet, in the flush of his victory, Mr Ho pleads for another game. Just one more. The other three, by then convinced of their opponent’s run of luck, politely refuse.

“Ha! Mister Balman! You like play hand with me? I play you for this bah. What you say?”

Boggel was completely taken aback. His bar? “T-t-that’s all I have!”

“Okay. I undelstand. So we play faih. You put evelything on, I put evelything on. Faih game. No cheat.”

To Ho and his pals, this is just a game. If Ho lost a fortune, he’d simply start buying some commodity (gold, platinum, oil) and increase the demand on a product in short supply. The price then goes up, Ho sells, and billions flow his way once again. Easy. The four of them egg Boggel on, taunting him, making him wonder if he has the guts.

To their surprise, Boggel pulls over his crate. “Right. Lets play. Only one hand.”

When Gertruida later asks him why he agreed, Boggel tells her that a fifty-fifty chance represent good odds. On one single hand he had a chance of becoming richer than the Oppenheimers. If he lost, he’ simply have to start Boggel’s Place next door – even if it’s a tent. According to his thinking, the Chinese man made a very bad decision however: if he lost, he’d lose big. And if he won, Boggel says, who would support the bar if Mr Ho ran it? No, he wasn’t worried: his patrons would follow him.

My Movie Star deals and Mr Ho snatches up his five cards. He sits back, his emotionless face giving away nothing.

Boggel don’t touch his cards. Leering over at his opponent, he growls: “Ye-e-e-es?”

***

They still talk about that game. The Chinese gentleman asked what Boggel would like to put on the table. Boggel said “Everything,” without looking at his cards. Ho said this is not the way the game is played. Boggel replied that wasn’t his problem – did the gentleman want to play or not?

***

“So he left, Boggel?” Gertruida can’t believe what she is hearing. “Left, and said he wouldn’t play with amateurs?”

And Boggel smiles and said yes, that’s exactly what happened.

“So, after he left, did you peek at your cards? What did you have?”

Boggel shakes his head.

“No, he chickened out; that was enough. I shuffled those cards right back into the deck, and gave it back to Mr Movie Man.”

***

 Gertruida says that’s the way you should run a country. Don’t kill your opponents – just allow them the opportunity to doubt. That’s a death worse than dying. They don’t have to know what winning (or not) hand you’ve got. What counts is that they must think they can’t match you. That, she says, is like the battle between Zuma and Malema, or Obama and Romney. Here, too, one will have to throw in his hand and walk away like Mr Ho did. The only difference is that the loser will really lose everything.

Boggel agrees, sting the trick is never to take yourself too seriously. That’s when you lose to amateurs. Politicians do it all the time, he says – and not only in South Africa. All you need, he says, is faith…