Tag Archives: nkandla

The Porcupine and the Coconut

154768913“So now the president is offering to pay back the money – at last? After all those commissions and enquiries he simply ignored and laughed away in parliament?” Servaas puts down the paper with a sarcastic smile. “I’d say that’s mighty big-hearted of the man to eat humble pie for a change.”

“Ag, Servaas, you’re being your old facetious self again!” Gertruida throws her hands in the air in mock horror. “It’s all about not fighting the battles you cannot win. The Constitutional Court is about to hear the case and the municipal elections are just around the corner. He’s performing plastic surgery on the wrinkled face of the governing party -even though he knows it’ll leave lasting scars. Better to cut your losses than to erect a house on sand.”

“He’s good at that,” Vetfaan smiles. “Erecting things, I mean.”

They giggle about that for a while. Then Gertruida tells them of the porcupine and the coconut…

***

One day, she says, Porcupine found a coconut in the desert. Now, this was a strange thing, for the coconut was completely out of place: it simply didn’t belong there. Porcupine wondered about this, but when he shook the coconut, he heard the milk swill around inside.

“Now this thing may be very precious,” the porcupine mused, “I shall take it to my home to prove how farsighted I am. Nobody else has one like this – they’ll all admire me for being so clever to own a coconut that’ll benefit all. I’ll wait until it starts germinating, then I’ll plant it. It’ll become a huge tree, with fruit and shade.”

images (20)Oh, and how the other animals admired Porcupine’s new object! Zebra liked the hair on the surface, while Gemsbok thought it resembled the tsammas that fed him during dry seasons. Elephant sniffed at it, thought it was foreign, but still said it was a nice thing to have.

But in all communities you’ll find that not everybody accepts what others admire. Hare, for instance, asked what good does the coconut do, sitting there on a shelf in Porcupines house? And Owl, wise as always, remarked that such a thing could only bring bad luck if it were to start growing.

“Keep it on the shelf – don’t try to do anything with it. As a showpiece it’ll be okay, but if you really think planting such a tree will be useful, you’ll only be disappointed.”

And so the coconut stayed in Porcupines house, where the other animals  could see it. Although some maintained that it underlined Porcupine’s powers, after a while others started doubting it. They asked owl to explain.

“It doesn’t belong here, see?” Owl shrugged. “We are used to living in the desert. Our world is a harsh one, where you survive because you understand the circumstances. Now that coconut…well, when it starts growing, it’ll need water and nourishment and lots of care. More importantly, if Porcupine really tries to grow here, it’ll steal our precious water. And, mark my words, it may survive a good season or two – but when times are tough, or it becomes too big and thirsty,  it’ll die. And to what avail, I ask you? If anything out here can’t contribute to our well-being, it’ll simply be a thief and a scoundrel that’ll rob us of our livelihood. No, it might be a nice thing to look at, but in the end Porcupine will regret taking it home.”

Porcupine ignored such remarks, of course. Instead, it watched as the coconut sprouted a few little roots and started growing a stem.

“Oh, how beautiful my coconut is!” Porcupine was  very proud. “In all the desert, this will be the most beautiful of all things. I shall care for it, make it grow, and the others will see my powers.”

To keep the coconut alive, Porcupine had to water it every day. Whenever its roots became dry, its fragile leaves drooped and hung limp. No longer was the coconut able to sustain itself with its own milk and oil – Porcupine had to spend his days carrying water from the little fountain that supplied water to all the animals in the desert.

One day, the animals gathered to discuss the situation. Coconut was using so much water, there was almost nothing left for them.

“Let us get rid of Coconut,” Hare said. “Coconut must fall!”

Many of the other animals simply nodded, because their mouths were too dry to speak.

When Porcupine heard this, he became exceedingly angry. “We,” (Porcupine loved using the royal plural), “have brought this wonderful thing to the desert. If you do not revere Coconut for it’s beauty and power, you’ll regret it. Moreover, Coconut provides shade for you to protect you from the sun.”

“Protect? Protect!?” Hare was furious. “It has grown so high that even the birds cannot nest in its silly things it calls branches. As for us down here, it only provides shade for you. Coconut has left us with no water and no shade. You, Porcupine, have brought great hardship upon us.”

For a long time the animals only complained like this, but nobody dared face Porcupine with his terrible quills. And then, at last, the fountain dried up completely. It was no longer possible for Porcupine to sustain the tree he had planted. Some animals died. Some animals sought for a new home.

In the end, all the animals suffered.

Ever since then, Porcupine had to hide from the rest of the animals, and had to search for food at night. His wonderful Coconut had ruined his reputation as a powerful creature. Walking around in daylight, proud of the object of his power, became impossible. Instead, he became a shadowy figure of the night, causing the other animals to scorn him as he dug around for roots in the moonlight.

It took a long time, but in the end Porcupine secretly wished he had never found the coconut.

By then it was too late.

***

“Well, that’s a nice story, Gertruida. I don’t understand why you felt like telling it now, but I’m sure there’s a moral  hiding in it somehow.” Servaans beckons for another round of beers. “But to get back to the point: do you really think the prez is going to pay back the money?”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “The fountain, Servaas, has dried up. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a heavy thud one of these days. Tall trees do that when they crash to the ground.”

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The Fable of the Curse of the Riverine Rabbit

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Gertruida has a way of telling stories that seem completely irrelevant. But then again, if you know Gertruida, you realise that her stories are rather convoluted tales that – although old and originating in a different time – are timeless. They speak about issues that are as relevant today as it might have been when the first Bushman told them to his audience around a fire on a dark and stormy night.

Take, for instance, her fable of the riverine rabbit…

***

Long ago, when the Karoo was an inland lake and the San hunters still respected all forms of life – that is, many centuries before ‘civilisation’ exploded all over Africa and destroyed the paradise  forever – the Riverine Rabbit had dreams. Big dreams. Being clever and more nimble than all the other animals, the rabbit decided to proclaim itself as king over the land it roamed. 

Of course, a king had to have a castle. Not any old castle, mind you – a castle that would proclaim its importance. It had to be the most impressive dwelling of all, there for the rest to see and to be envious about. Of course, no rabbit can build such a magnificent mansion on its own, so the rabbit spent many days thinking about how to manage this impossible task.

One sunny day, when all the animals gathered at the watering hole, the rabbit climbed onto a big rock. 

“If you make me your king,” he shouted, “I shall see to it that you all have houses. You simply can’t go on living in the wild – it just won’t do. So I promise to build homes for all of you, where you can shelter from the cold wind in winter and the hot sun in summer.” He hesitated a moment, allowing the words to sink in. “Now, what do you say?”

The animals found this exceedingly strange and sat down to whisper amongst themselves. 

Klipspringer

Klipspringer

“A house?” The hyena scratched the itchy spot behind his left ear. “I’ve never had one. It would be nice, I think.”

“Ah, yes, a home.” The  impala eyed the lion suspiciously. “I can do with some protection.”

“I’d love a shelter,” the shy klipspringer murmured. “I hate being so exposed in the veld all the time. It makes me feel so…vulnerable.”

“Well, then,” the rabbit said, “we must all work together. As your king, I command you to collect all the things we’d need. Grass for the thatch, logs and rocks for the walls. Warthog can begin scooping away some earth, so we may have a dam. And elephant can start uprooting some trees to clear away an area in which we can build. The Hawks will provide security and lion can guard our materials.

“As your king, I shall not be working with you. I have much more important things to do.” He laughed softly. “Kings, as you will find out, are master organisers, not workers.”

The animals slaved themselves to a standstill for their king. They carried rocks, dragged logs, gathered bundles of grass. These they brought to the open space the elephants created, next to the new big hole warthog had made for the dam.

“Now the fence,” rabbit ordered, explaining that the new housing project needed to be secure at all times. Rhino and elephant then constructed a high fence, using branches torn from thorn trees. When the last branch was placed, all the animals were inside the enclosure. Following the orders given by rabbit – who was lounging stately in the shade – the construction of the mansion was started.

The animals were all excited by the project. The huge mansion had many rooms, and places to play and eat and have fun. They all agreed that they would be very happy in such a wonderful dwelling.

After many months, the building was complete. The animals were very tired at this time, and were relieved when rabbit informed them that they would have a rest for a few days. “We’ll move in after that,” he informed them, “and live here happily ever after. But now I suggest you all go back to your old places, collect all your belongings and return with the full moon.”

The animals obeyed quietly. They had hoped to move in immediately, but if the king issued an order, you obeyed. That is the way of kings, not so?

A very tired elephant lifted a few of the thorny branches to open a gate in the fence, and the animals trudged off to rest in the shade of the trees at the places they had lived before. They waited. And waited. Until the moon was full…

In the bright moonlight on the evening of their return, they stopped at the fence. It was immediately apparent that the fence had been strengthened by tying the branches together with poisonous creepers. Elephant shook his head – no, if he touched that fence, he would die. If any other animal would like to try…? They all shook their heads.

Inside his new house, rabbit laughed and laughed as he watched form a high window. Those animals can be as angry as they like; he, rabbit, had tricked them into building the most wonderful home, ever…!

But then, one day, a storm brewed on the horizon. Not just any old storm – a real bad one, with thunder and lightning like no animal had ever seen before. Knowing that a veldfire was sure to follow the lightning, they all huddled next to a rocky hill, hoping they would escape the wrath of the storm.

They did.

But the veldfire raced across the plains, burning the grass that would have fed them in the season to come and destroying the trees under which they used to shelter from the sun. On and on the wall of flames marched…until it got to the fence around rabbit’s mansion.

And they watched as the fence went up in flames and the rabbit sought shelter in the dam that warthog had dug.

And the animals sighed and went back to their old ways of living, vowing never to trust a king again.

***

“That’s a great story, Gertruida!” Vetfaan pats her on the back. “But what’s the moral?”

“The riverine rabbit, Vetfaan, is one of the most endagered species in the world. Only a few are left. The fable is correct in that these rabbits never stray far from water. The have the most intricate burrows and are the only rabbits that have their young underground, They also…” Gertruida pulls a face, “…have to eat their droppings to get enough Vitamin B – it’s produced in their bowels by bacteria, see?”

“Ugh! Eating your own dung? That’s horrible…”

“Yes, Precilla, it is. The rabbit daren’t roam too far from it’s home to find enough nutrients in the veld. The other animals have not forgiven him at all.”

“Soooo….” Boggel brightens and raises an enquiring eyebrow. “You’re telling us the president is in for a tough time when he delivers his State Of the Nation Address? Is that why you told us about the fable?”

Gertruida flashes a warm smile at her friend.

“O course, Boggel. The veldfire is racing towards Nkandla. We’ll watch that fence burn down soon….”

 

‘Sometimes alone in the evening,I look outside my window
At the shadow in the night
I hear the sound of distant crying, the darkness multiplying
The weary hearts denied

All I feel is my heartbeat
Beating like a drum
Beating with confusion.
All I hear are the voices
Telling me to go,
But I could never run.

Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a new tommorow
Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a dream that we can follow’

Songwriters: Alan Lazar, Marilyn Nokwe

Vetfaan’s Disaster

wrapping-paper-envelopes-tags-discarded-in-pile-after-Christmas-2-DHD“Christmas,” Vetfaan tells the group at the bar, “is such a waste!” He waits for a reaction, gets none, and is forced into a submissive smile. The townsfolk know him so well! His inability to endure silence in Boggel’s Place often makes him say controversial things to get the conversation flowing again. Today, being Saturday and after the festive days of Christmas, the patrons at the counter seem content to share a reflective quiet, which doesn’t suit Vetfaan at all.

“I mean, all that paper!” He glances around hopefully, but still nobody responds.

“Okay. Here’s the thing. How about we discuss something and I buy a round for everybody?” This, of course, results in everybody’s complete and undivided attention. Naturally, they wait for Boggel to serve the promised round before Servaas lets out a protracted ‘Ye-e-e-s?”

“Look, every Christmas we exchange gifts. Right? And so do the people in Grootdrink and Upington?” All eyes now on him, he proceeds to expand on his plan. “And that’s nice. But…what about the wrapping? Tons and tons of paper, ripped and torn and useless?” He pauses.

“Is that a rhetorical question, Vetfaan? Nice one.” (Gertruida, of course.)

“No! Think of all the trees! And don’t forget that paper gets made in huge factories that aren’t always environmentally friendly. Paper, my friends, shouldn’t be thrown away after a single use. We’re killing the planet…”

“That’s true. The carbon footprint of paper is more than that of plastic. There’s this professor…mmm… I think it’s David Tyler, who worked it all out. He’s not all that keen on paper at all.” Now it’s Gertruida’s turn to smile. “He’s made a few strange statements, though. He says the environmental impact of owning a dog, is worse than driving a 4X4!.”

Vrede, dozing quietly on on Boggel’s cushion below the counter, looks up proudly, wags his tail…and slips into his doggy-dreamworld again.

“The point I want to make is this: we owe it to the planet to do something with the paper.” Vetfaan refuses to be sidetracked. “I suggest we collect as much paper as we can, and then build a statue or something. You know, with that porridge you make with paper…?”

“Paper mache.” (Getruida, again.)

“Whatever. But something useful, understand? So we can help the planet.”

It is quite evident that Vetfaan must have spent a great deal of thought on the subject, and Kleinpiet is suitably impressed. Even Servaas seems mildly enthusiastic.

o“But it has to be something useful, Vetfaan. It won’t do to make a sculpture of a cow, like they did in America. In Redwood Falls, if I remember correctly – The Calf Fiend Cafe. Those Americans are great at coming up with useless ideas. Look at what it cost to put a man on the moon? I mean…why?” Gertruida allows a moment for them to come up with a reason why it was important to take a small step for man, a huge leap for mankind. “No…whatever we do, it must serve a proper purpose.”

“We’ll build a house! Wow!” Obviously impressed with the idea, Precilla jumps up with a commanding finger in the air. “Think about it! If we can perfect the building of a Christmas-paper home, we can patent the design. We’ll make millions! With the entire South Africa’s Christmas wrappings, the government won’t have homeless people to worry about anymore! The next Nkandla will cost next to nothing!”

They all agree that Precilla has just come up with the best idea to come out of Boggel’s Place for 2014 – an honour that deserves to be rewarded by a round of peach brandy.

“A house? Well…that could be tricky.” Gertruida – always the practical thinker – tells them that they’ll have to experiment a bit. “While paper mache should dry extremely well in our weather, we have to make sure it’s strong enough to hold a roof. I don’t know…”

“We’ll build a model.” Determined enthusiasm in his voice, Vetfaan takes command of the conversation again. “Something small. Like architects do. And if it works, we go big. Really BIG!”

***

One of the strange things about small, rural towns, is the phenomenon Gertruida calls the ‘collective communal mind’. She says it’s a universal thing. If, for instance, somebody did something wrong, the community unites in it’s disapproval. Or if somebody comes up with a brilliant idea, everybody believes he or her initiated the project. In cities the community is too large to accommodate collective thinking, which (according to Gertruida) is why you have drugs and parliaments in such places.

Be that as it may, Boggel’s veranda soon resembles a scene from one of those American movies, where they depict the aftermath of a tornado or one of those asteroids that they are so keen on these days. Oudoom is greatly saddened by this tendency. He laments the fact that the end of the world draws more people into movie theatres than the church does.

Paper of all colours and sizes flutter about on the veranda: shredded paper, old newspapers, cardboard boxes from the shed behind Sammie’s Shop, beer cartons, milk cartons, boxes of many sizes and shapes. Paper piled up to the window sill, forming a mountain of waste.

Gertruida (who else?) supplies the recipe for paper mache, using flour and water…and shredded paper products. The townsfolk’s enthusiasm is directly proportionate to the amount of peach brandy Boggel supplies, resulting in an almost-Shakespearian scene where the witches dance around the boiling cauldron.

When at last they’ve boiled down the waste, they stand around the huge pot, looking down at the meagre result.

“All that paper…and we’ve only got this much mache?” Vetfaan’s disappointment is obvious.

“We’re only building a model, Vetfaan. It doesn’t have to be much for that. Have another.” Kleinpiet pats his friend’s back while offering a tot from the next bottle.

“It’ll have to be a hut.” With a shake of his head, Vetfaan tells them a Nkandla would take about as much wasted paper as one would find in the Union Buildings.

***

zuluhutsThe traditional Zulu hut is a masterpiece. Carefully formed over a mould of chicken wire, it draws an appreciative applause when Gertruida smooths own the dome. The model gets parked in the middle of Voortrekker Weg to dry while the hard-working townsfolk retire to the bar for some well-deserved refreshments.

They have, they tell each other, just solved the housing crisis in the country. However, Vetfaan’s remark that even the president would want to live in one of these huts, just doesn’t ring true. Like Gertruida has to remind him: these huts are only supposed to accommodate normal families.

When they return to Boggel’s Place the next day, the fatal flaw in their thinking is obvious.

***

“It’ll only work if there are no dogs around.” Vetfaan scowls at Vrede, who yawns his embarrassment.

“Ag, come on, Vetfaan! It was a great idea. Dogs will be dogs, you know? And how could we know that Vrede had this affinity…this taste…for paper mache?”

“That, and the other problem, of course.”

The stand around the dried model with the somber looks one reserves for a wake. Vrede did an excellent job at shredding the model, that’s quite obvious. The more subtle damage is, however, the most upsetting.

“Imagine a simple act like that causing so much destruction?”  Pointing at the fresh hole in the structure, Vetfaan shakes his head. Rimmed by a yellow stain, there is no doubt as to what (or who) caused the new opening.

“Maybe….” Servaas smiles impishly, “maybe we can market it as doggy toilets? You know, for beaches and parks and things like that.”

***

Boggel’s Place is known for it’s comfortable, friendly atmosphere. Usually. Unless you ask Vetfaan about paper mache houses. For some reason, it causes a twin growl – one from below the counter and one from above…

Adam’s Calendar…again?

Adams-Calendar-book-cover-268x300“Those guys are crazy.” Tipping the glass upside down, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “To imply that South Africa has it’s own Stonehenge is romantic and all that, but surely it’s outrageous to suggest that some aliens visited us to start our gold-mining tradition?”

He’s been browsing through Adam’s Calendar: Discovering the oldest man-made structure on Earth – 75,000 ago  by Johan Heine and Michael Tellinger, a book Gertruida donated to the church bazaar. It tells the story of  a series of ruins in Mpumalanga in which the authors describe their ideas of an ancient civilisation in that area.

Ale's Stones

Ale’s Stones

“Oh, people just love such ideas.” As usual, Gertruida has to show off her vast knowledge. “Look, there are megaliths all over the world. Most of these structures are badly eroded, for sure, but they retain a certain aura of mystery.

“How do you explain Stonehenge, or Easter Island’s Moai, or Ale’s Stones in Sweden? It is only natural that some will want to explain these as relics from a distant past as signs of a lost civilisation. There is a catch, however: why are these structures spread out all over the world? South America, England, Malta – you name virtually any country – even Russia – and you’ll find something there that science struggles to explain. So, because we don’t believe Neanderthals were capable of more intelligent thoughts than our parliamentarians, we grab at the next best thing: aliens.”

“Well, Genesis does say something about heavenly creatures who visited the daughters of man.” Servaas has never been able to explain Genesis 6, especially the ‘giants of men’ that were born afterwards. “Maybe it were those big fellows who stacked up stones everywhere.”

“And then the Flood came and wiped them out? After travelling a zillion miles across the universe, they drowned?” Shaking his head, Boggel serves another round. “I agree with Vetfaan about some explanations needing to be explained. Circles within circles, that type of thing. However much we delve into the legends of old, we still won’t understand what a pyramid means, or how it was built. Theories? Yes, there are many of them. But can we duplicate those phenomena by building similar structures with no computers and not even a sliding rule?”

Tellinger-Giant-Footprint

Credit: extraterrestrialcontact.com/

“Still, they say the Adam’s Calendar was used to predict solstices and equinoxes and plan for seasons. The other strange thing is that this so-called calendar is on the same longitudinal axis as the Giant Pyramids and Zimbabwe’s Ruins. And…” Vetfaan taps a calloused finger on the counter top, “they found a footprint.”

“Ag, Vetfaan! The fact that you only found out about these things now, doesn’t mean it’s new news. Mr Tellinger has been going on for ages about the strange finds, the gold mines, and extraordinary devices these ‘aliens’ were supposed to have used. According to him, they used river water and electrons to generate the energy to mine gold. There’s even a geneticist who supported the idea that this is where the ancient humans were genetically adapted to become superior beings.

sagancontact“But, as intriguing as these theories might be, they remain mere stories, suggestions, attempts to explain the inexplicable. The question is: why? Why bother with such things if you know very well you can’t really prove what you’re saying? Or do these ideas contain a certain fascination, some form of entertainment, that makes us forget the real issues of the day – like when you’re watching Carl Sagan’s Contact? ”  Gertruida sits back in her chair, apparently exhausted by her long speech.

“Okay, I get it.” You can count on Kleinpiet to muddle up a scientific discussion. He counts the points off on the outstretched fingers of his left hand. “First, you say primitive man erected massive buildings?” He gets a nod. “Then you maintain that these structures endured through the ages?” Another nod. “And that today, we cannot make head or tail of these things because we simply cannot explain why they were erected?” Yet another nod. “Nor do we have the faintest clue as to their function or use?” Nod, again. “And some allege that strange beings inhabited these places – possibly with the aim of digging for gold?”

A strange little smile – or is it a grimace – curls Kleinpiet’s lips upward when the group at the bar utters a prolonged and exasperated “Y-e-e-es? So what?”

P9200513

Adam’s Calendar

“Them, my friends, Adam’s Calendar isn’t unique or strange. We’ve just witnessed a similar structure being erected in modern times. It’s got all the characteristics: primitive man, no known function, inexplicable… It does have a protective wall around it and contains buildings that apparently are dwellings for a lot of people. It symbolises the solstice of the sun in the life of a single man, and now awaits the winter to come. I’ll bet it even stands on the same axis as the pyramids, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and Adam’s Calendar – just draw that line farther south. And I predict that in a few years, that place will be as neglected as any site where you find archeologists poking around.”

Credit: timeslive.co.za

Nkandla. Credit: timeslive.co.za

They all get it immediately, of course.

“The only difference, Kleinpiet, is that with Adam’s Calendar we’re trying to explain the past.” Getruida pats Kleinpiet on the shoulder. She’s quite impressed with his analogy. “But with Nkandla, we already know what the future holds….”

Too Many Termites in the Nkandla Woodwork

drywood_termites“The problem with the news,” Gertruida says because she knows everything,”is that you simply can’t believe it. The most believable part of any newscast is the weather report, and even that is merely an assumption. Look what happened today: they said it would be sunny and warm, and now it’s overcast and cool.”

This is true, of course. A bank of clouds suddenly formed towards late afternoon, bringing with it an unexpected chill.

“Ja, the news is as unbelievable as our politics. Look at what happened in parliament yesterday. I heard on the news that things got out of hand, the speaker left the House, and that the ANC ramrodded their report through, saying Zuma had nothing to do with the Nkandla fiasco. It’s a disgrace.”

“You must understand one thing.” Gertruida gets up to make her point. They all know: when she does this, she is deadly serious. “The ANC will desperately try to protect their own. That’s the only way they can remain in power. If they admitted their president did wrong, they’d have to face the consequences. There’d be more investigations, which would bring more corruption to the surface. Don’t think Public Works is the only department involved here. The Nkandla Project is only the tip of a very sick iceberg. Once you start unravelling the ramifications of who-did-what and who-benefitted-how, you’d probably fillet open a very corrupt carcass. Nkandla, I’ll tell you, is a symptom of a disease more deadly than Ebola – and the ANC knows that.”

“Ja, but they buried it yesterday.” Vetfaan sighs. “Now parliament has ruled on the matter – the ANC majority simply outvoted the opposition, it’s so simple – Nkandla isn’t going to be an issue any longer. They’ve hidden the controversy behind a quasi-legal barrier, allowing the president to walk away squeaky clean.”

Gertruida doesn’t get upset. Never. She doesn’t allow emotion to dictate her reason. Not ever. That’s why it’s so surprising when she flushes to a deep red, flares her nostrils and hisses at Vetfaan.

“Nkandla. Won’t. Go. Away!” Taking a deep breath, she calms down before going on. “Listen Vetfaan, only a fool will think this was the last you heard about Nkandla. Many, many presidents and ministers have tried to survive lies in the past. Nixon couldn’t do it. Clinton became an embarrassment. Look at what happened in Italy and France. No, my friends, the old saying is true: truth has faster legs than lies. You can’t lie your way out of trouble. At some stage – now, a month later, ten years later, it doesn’t matter – the truth will always overtake the lie and expose it in the harsh light of reality.

“This ANC’s effort to exonerate Zuma from any wrongdoing isn’t the end. Like Churchill said: it’s the end of the beginning. Mark my words: there are just too many termites in the woodwork. The house is still standing, but the structure is already riddled. It’s a question of time…”

download (3)“Well, we don’t have to feel too bad.” As always, Boggel tries to lift the mood in his bar. “We’re not the only country where the president’s house is an embarrassment. Casa La Palma in Mexico is also going to be the undoing of a president’s dream. It, too, boasts underground parking, elevators, a pool and gardens. And I hear it was a ‘gift’ in return for certain…favours. The termites, Gertruida, seem to be spreading..”

Servaas knits his brows together in a furious scowl. “Well, that’s it. I’ll never vote for the ANC again!”

Of course they laugh at this. It is exceedingly funny to think that Servaas ever voted for them, anyway. But the humour represents only the ears of the hippo in Servaas’s remark. He is echoing the sentiment of thousands of men and women in South Africa – men and women who stood bravely side by side in the fight for democracy. And now that this same democracy has turned into a farce, people are taking a good, hard look at the progressive failure to live up to a once-beautiful dream.

“The winds of change…” Gertruida whispers. “It’s only a breeze now. The storm will come.”

And that, they all agree, is a weather forecast you can believe. Time to close the windows and bar the doors, indeed.

Nero’s Nkandla

 Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also known as  Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus   Dec. 15, 37 —June 9, 68

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also known as
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
Dec. 15, 37 —June 9, 68

“The ancient Greeks were an interesting lot,” Gertruida says – because she knows everything. “They gave us myths and stories, developed mathematics and invented democracy. The world would have been so much poorer without them. After them came the Romans, of course.”

Servaas gathers his brows together, shaking his head. As one of the few hippy-elders of the world, he feels he has to respond.

“But they had tyrants – like Nero. He didn’t like Christians much, setting a bad example for today’s extremists, like ISIS.”

“Ah, yes – the much maligned Nero. Yes, you’re right about the Christians – but he wasn’t a tyrant. A tyrant, according to Plato, is “one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics—against his own people as well as others”  This description, quite clearly, doesn’t fit Nero. He was extremely popular at the time, the masses loved him, and he stuck to the law. At least, he used the law to solidify his position as ruler. Clever, no?

“But he wasn’t a nice man. His stepfather – Claudius – had another son, Britannicus, a few years younger than the adopted Nero. Some wanted Britannicus to be the emperor after Claudius’s death –  who incidentally died after eating some mushrooms. Poor Britannicus also died after ingesting poison on the day before he would have been proclaimed an adult. which would have strengthened his claim to the throne. The list of murders in which Nero was supposedly involved, is a lengthy one. If you dared cross him, you were simply removed from the scene. Even his mother didn’t escape his wrath.

“Despite all this, he was also rather popular with the ladies. He married three times – taking women from higher and lower in social standing – and is rumoured to have had a number of willing lassies waiting for his call. Isn’t it strange how women gravitate toward men in power? No matter what the man does or how he conducts his affairs, some ladies simply can’t resist sucking up to them, if you’ll excuse the pun.

tumblr_mdfrgfMYc61ryfivao1_1280“And then there was the Great Fire in Rome in 64 AD. Many historians blame Nero for the fire, but the debate on the cause still goes on. What is known, is that Nero certainly didn’t play a fiddle while Rome burnt – the fiddle would only be invented almost a thousand years later. But he may well have played a lyre, which may have been the granddaddy of the violin. Anyway, he wasn’t in Rome when the fire started, according to Tacitus, he was in Antium. But…of course he wouldn’t have run through Rome with a box of matches himself, he was the Emperor, for goodness’ sakes! A man like that had many servants, not so? If you’re the ruler, you’re supposed to be distanced from any criminal activity. It’s just like the Arms Deal: you have to make sure you have enough other officials to blame in order to make yourself look good.

“Anyway, Nero knew that popular support was important to anybody who wanted to stay in power. So, after the fire, he set about doing charitable deeds. He had Rome rebuilt, providing his subjects with brick houses to replace the shanties they had lived in before. While he was keeping the populace happy with their fine, new, one-roomed dwellings, he quietly had his architects design a new palace for him: the Domus Aurea or Golden House. This was  – quite coincidentally – situated on a piece of ground recently bared by the fire.

e2133 Domus aurea print1

Domus Aurea

“Now this palace was something else! Situated on a hillside, the grounds sloped down through an amazing garden which bordered the man-made lake. It had 300 rooms, and the main dining room had a revolving ceiling, resembling the movements of heaven! Other ceilings were covered in mosaic and there was a large statue of Nero, himself. And oh! The decorations! There were paintings and frescoes and and ivory and marble – every conceivable luxury of the time was displayed to emphasise the importance of the man we know as Nero, the Tyrant.

“In the end, Nero committed a sort-of suicide four years after the Fire of Rome. There were several reasons for this, notably the way he started taxing the rich and influential people of the day. Italy simply couldn’t sustain the extravagance of their emperor any longer. A revolt started, causing Nero to flee Rome. He later returned to the palace but found his loyal supporters had all left. The Senate convened, declared him a public enemy, and sentenced him to death. Upon hearing this, Nero sought refuge at some friend’s house, where he forced his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to stab him to death.”

“A fitting end to a man who caused so much hardship.” Servaas nods. “What ye sow…”

“And his palace?” Vetfaan has to know.

“It became an embarrassment to his successors. The ivory and gold were stripped, but the edifice remained. Then they filled up the entire area, covering the palace with ground. The Baths of Titus were first built, followed by an amphitheatre and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Within 40 years the palace was buried beneath the soil.”

“Surely the people rejoiced at all this?”

“Some did, Precilla, but not all. The lower classes still held Nero in great esteem, revering his memory. It was only the people who understood what he had been doing who had reason to feel relieved. Still, it took a number of years for things to settle – a situation like that doesn’t end when the tyrant goes.

“And don’t think it’s an isolated case in the history of mankind. Rulers and kings have stayed in power by being supported by the people they reign over. It’s only when popular dissent grows from a grumble to a scream that things change. Rulers understand that. Remember: logic whispers, money shouts? That’s why President Zuma could say with so much confidence: “….only very clever and bright people care about…Nkandla.” He implied that his support came from the poor and disadvantaged part of society. It was true in Nero’s time, it’s still true today..”

“But the palace…the palace started the slide in his career, didn’t it?” The pleading note in Servaas’s voice is unmistakable.

“Back then, yes.” Gertruida sighs. “Who knows? Maybe history does keep on repeating itself, after all…”

The Legend of the Glutton and the Small Pot

109_0966!xsaikgamma Jantjies is proud of his first name – it had been his father’s name, just like every firstborn son in his family even before they adopted the surname (nobody had surnames back in the 1800’s; the silliness started only after the English started with their registers). He simply loves it when people try to pronounce his name; which, quite obviously, only the people of his tongue manage. In the original language, his name denotes one who makes music: He who has the sound of water. However, ever since his grandfather’s time, the tradition in the family switched from being musicians (usually on the string of a bow or a flute made of reed) to singing. And their songs, if you could understand them, are musical fragments of history or what they see in the future.

***

“Welcome, Mister Jantjies!” Boggel avoids the embarrassment of trying to use the first name. “It’s always a pleasure to see you.”

!xsaikgamma smiles happily. He likes visiting Rolbos, where he always has a warm reception. “I told you to call me Jantjies. Just that. It’s easier.”

When Gertruida heard the old man was in town, she prepared his favourite stew (curried venison, lots of potatoes) and now she places the steaming bowl of aromatic food in front of him. He smacks his lips, but looks up shrewdly.

“As usual, it isn’t free, is it?”

The remark makes Gertruida do a little jig of joy.

“I hope not, !xsaikgamma.” Gertruida is the only one in town who can pronounce the name correctly. “But only if you want to.”

“Let me eat first. Sing? I cannot sing on an empty stomach.”

“That’s why I made the stew, !xsaikgamma, like I always do when you visit us. You sing so well.”

And that’s quite true, too. Not only is the old man an above-average soprano, he has also taken to translating his songs so they may understand the words. And should you ask any Rolbosser, they’d tell you he is hugely entertaining.

When at last he uses a gnarled finger to sweep the last of the gravy from the plate, he smiles at his audience. The whole town is there, waiting in anticipation.

“I shall sing you a legend. This legend isn’t about the past at all. It’s a legend of the future.” Taking out a reed flute, he plays a little intro before starting his song.

***

The fat man was hungry, he wanted more;

he’s never been so hungry before.

So he sent his sons to hunt another buck

hoping, indeed, they’d find some luck.

At first they went to scout the land to see what they could find

But the fat man had eaten everything, and he had more in mind.

“Go get some more guns, and boats and planes,” the fat man said,

for his huge appetite had not been met.

“And bring me meat – and lots of it

and bring it here to where I sit.”

His sons went out, but the day had gone,

the night was there, with only stars that shone.

And it was dark, as dark can be –

his sons were blind, they couldn’t see.

“Bring me light,” the fat man cried.

And lo! His sons looked everywhere –

but because it was dark, as dark can be

his sons looked everywhere, but couldn’t see.

But then a man came, from far away

he wore a furry hat.

“I’ll give you light, but you must do as I say”

And that, my friend was that.

So now the sons have too much light

and they can hunt throughout the night.

They bring back meat – in pieces and bits

to Nkandla, where the fat man sits.

But now the fat man cries a lot;

the meat was too much for his pot.

And it fell over, burning all his meat

and now the fat man cannot eat.

***

“What a strange man. What a weird song.I wonder what he was singing about.” Vetfaan stares at the receding figure marching down Voortrekker Weg.

“You know, Vetfaan, it is wrong to think of people like !xsaikgamma as ignorant. It is true that he – like so many others – leads a simple life. They don’t read newspapers and never listen to political analysts. Neither do they understand the massive problems with the economy or the intricate web of international relationships.

“But you just heard him express a profound opinion on the Arms Deal – the R30-billion fiasco which involved a billion Rand in bribery.” Gertruida sits back with a worried frown. “And then he sang about the alleged R500-billion deal with the Russians to build nuclear power stations. Can you imagine what a can of worms that may well turn out to be?”

“I’ve heard that legend before,” Boggel says thoughtfully. “About the glutton who couldn’t stop eating. Eventually he put so much meat in his pot that it toppled over into the fire. When he tried to rescue his food, his entire house burnt down. There’s a moral to that story.”

“Ja, there is.” Kleinpiet draws a three-legged pot on the counter top with beer froth. “No pot is ever big enough to hold injustice. Eventually it must topple over and spill the proverbial beans.”

The group at the bar stares at his froth-painting in silence for a while.

“What does his name mean, Gertruida? You pronounce it so well, but I still can’t get my tongue around it.”

“!xsaikgamma?” Gertruida smiles sadly. “Music maker. The sound of water. It may also be translated as the flute player.”

“Like: whistleblower?”

“Yes, Vetfaan, I guess you can say that.”

The war was lost
The treaty signed
There’s Truth that lives
And Truth that dies
I don’t know which
So never mind.

Words and music: L Cohen

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Expect No Surprises in Retrospect

images (58)“2013 was a terrible year,” Servaas says as he sips his peach brandy. “We had the Valentine’s Day Murder, Nkandla, Madiba’s funeral…” Dressed in black, the old man’s expression says it all. “I don’t suppose there’ll be any good news in 2014 either.”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t scold him for being so negative. Instead, she smiles and rubs his bony shoulders.

“I know, Servaas. It was one bad headline followed by another. They had shootings in America, explosions in Kenya and now England is being flooded. It’s a world-wide thing.”

He seems slightly surprised at her support as he gives her a wintry smile.

“I think the end of the world is near. We’ve just about trashed the place, anyway.”

“The only end that’s near, is the last day of 2013.” Boggel serves another round. “Look, you guys, at the end of every given year, you can look back in despair. It’s natural. People die. Love fizzles out. Promises were broken. Life is, in those immortal words, the drink in your shot glass. You never quite know what to expect.” Smiling mischievously, he adds a dash of mampoer to each glass. “But then again, you can either go and have a sip of tap water…or accept and enjoy the mix you got served with.”

“A  goody-two-shoes optimist! I hereby declare my life complete.” Servaas rolls his eyes, snorting loudly.

“No, Boggel is right. Look at us: we’ve had such a lot of fun with our president this year. He’s given us much joy. Especially when his sign-language interpreter told the world: Watch my lips. I never, ever, used taxpayer’s money to build my swimming pool. He was much more convincing than Clinton, don’t you think?” Vetfaan reaches down to make sure his fly is closed properly.

“Ja, and he almost convinced me he had nothing to do with the Gupta debacle, either. He’s really good, that man. I’m sure he’ll be even better in the new year.” Holding out his glass for a refill, Kleinpiet burps softly. “I mean, what’s the use of having a president if you can’t believe him? So, with a little practice, I’m sure he’ll get to the point where we won’t question him any more.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Kleinpiet. They’re going to replace the poor man – and then we’ll have to endure the promises of a better future all over again. It’ll take months – maybe years – for the new president to become such a smooth hand with words. Political gymnastics isn’t an art you get born with, remember? It takes time…

“At least we’ve got an election coming up in 2014. Auntie Zille and Missus Ramphele are going to ruffle a few feathers, if you asked me. It’ll be an interesting year.”

“Forget it, Vetfaan. Maybe as much as 50% of our adult population rely on social grants. In 1998, only 2,5 million citizens received such grants. In 2012 the official figure grew to 16 million. I can imagine the figure is even higher now. And remember: we only have 13 million individual taxpayers. Now, no matter how unhappy the productive part of our population is, they can never hope to outvote the ANC. The math is simple: we won’t see much of a change in 2014.”

“You’re right, Gertruida.” Servaas finishes his drink. “Add to that the increasing tendency to strike for unrealistic wages, the inability to spend government’s budgets wisely and the rampant corruption, and you end up with a state in a downhill tumble.”

“I’m just popping out to get my black suit,” Vetfaan says.”If you can’t fight them, join them…:

“I’ve only got a little black number,” Precilla blushes as she sits down. “And Kleinpiet says I can only wear in in the house…with high heels, of course.”

“Yep. It’s the black number that’ll do it, every time. It’s very powerful.”

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that 2014 will see many changes in many aspects of many lives;but at the end of it, we’ll look back in the same despair. Some people will die. Some loves will fizzle out. Even more promises will be broken. And, true to the deceiving nature of human beings, we’ll then try to convince ourselves that 2015 will be better.

Just like this year.

Yeah, right.

It’s so good – The song all politicians sing before an election…

C’est si bon
Lovers say that in France
When they thrill to romance
It means that it’s so good
C’est si bon
So I say to you
Like the French people do
Because it’s oh so good
Every word, every sigh, every kiss, dear,
Leads to only one thought
And the thought is this, dear!
C’est si bon
Nothing else can replace
Just your slyest embrace
And if you only would be my own for the rest my days
I will whisper this phrase
My darling, my darling…
C’est si bon!

The Man who Told the World Nothing

 Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Picture: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

“What…?” Kleinpiet is back for a beer. This time the subject under discussion is so strange that even he doesn’t want to walk out on it.

“No, it’s true. That man made all kinds of gestures, but he didn’t tell the deaf people what was happening – or what was being said.” Gertruida – who knows everything – spotted the problem immediately. At the time she remarked that it must be the New South African version of sign language, but now she knows better. “Nobody could follow him. Not in South Africa, Not overseas. It’s a disgrace.”

“Ja, Kleinpiet, it’s true. And Gertruida told us while you were out: the government knew that he couldn’t do the interpretation. As early as 2012 a complaint was sent to the ANC about the man’s abilities. That was also when he had to convert a speech by President Zuma into sign language. So the government knew…”

“You mean to tell me they used a man with no accreditation from official bodies to do something they knew he couldn’t do – and yet gave him security clearance to stand a yard away from the most powerful leaders in the world?”

“Indeed. And remember: this was to honour Madiba – and to tell the world about him. The memorial was supposed to show the world we cared. Supposed to be a showcase of our ability to organise things.”

Vetfaan sighs…this is depressing. Maybe, he thinks, the whole memorial event was such a big affair. Maybe they scrambled to get an interpreter at the last moment. Maybe this poor court interpreter was the best available. And maybe…

“They’ll fix it, I’m sure,” he says.

Servaas nods. Like they’ll fix Nkandla, the e-Tolls, the Arms Deal. They’ll always fix it. Like the old government fixed the Helderberg and Salem stories.

And then they’ll tell us nothing…