Tag Archives: oscar

Oscar – A Sad Modern Fable

giraffeOnce upon a time a baby giraffe was born. He was handsome, chubby and seemed perfectly formed…except for his legs. They were too short, you see? The other animals crowded around, making sympathetic sounds. This little giraffe, they all agreed, would not amount up to much.

Giraffes, like we all know, need good, strong legs. Without them, they can’t reach the succulent leaves at the top of the acacia trees – and they can’t run away from the many predators in the woods. A short-legged giraffe has no chance.

Still, his parents gave him a name –  Oscar – and tried to raise him as normally as possible. Uncle owl suggested stilts, which nephew Baboon made from strong the bamboo stems. At first the little giraffe struggled to remain upright, but then something strange happened: his mother discovered that he was extremely strong-willed. Oscar refused to give up. This, of course, made his family very proud. Maybe, they thought, the little disadvantaged giraffe will be able to fend for himself, after all.

Something else happened inside the young animal’s mind: he was determined to show them – all of them, especially those who had said he wouldn’t make it – that he would be the best. The fastest. The strongest. In fact, the most famous of them all.

As the bamboo stems dried out, little Oscar found they bent when he put his weight on them. Then, when he shifted his balance, the bamboo would spring back to being straight. Initially, this unexpected quality of the stems caught him off-guard, and his family had to help him up time and again. But later, quite a bit later, young Oscar used this spring-like effect to propel him at amazing speeds across the veld.

Now: everybody loves a winner. They started taking bets: could young Oscar run faster than Lion?

He did.

What about rabbit?

Oscar won.

And cheetah…?

Oscar left him eating dust.

By now, the animals all wanted to be friends with the speeding, short-legged giraffe with his bamboo legs. Sympathy turned into adoration. And the strong-willed and almost-no-longer-disadvantaged giraffe soaked up the admiration. He liked the way the other animals deferred to him, allowing him the best grazing spots, the coolest bits of shade and the nicest place at the waterhole. They laughed at all his jokes. And, because he was so fast, even the predators and the carnivores kept their distance.

Sadly, Oscar developed what the other animals whispered about as ‘a bit of an attitude‘. Nothing much, you understand? It’s just that he became a bit arrogant. And…who could blame him? He was the best, wasn’t he? And should not the best, expect the best? So sometimes – not often – he’d growl and grumble (giraffes do this rather quietly) to show his displeasure if things didn’t quite please him.

Then something terrible happened. One night – quite late – the young giraffe took off his bamboo stilts to lay down. He did this every night, you see, to allow his short legs to rest before he strutted out his prowess for all to see in the morning.

And something happened.  During a dark and stormy night the young giraffe did the unthinkable. He lost control.

What happened?

Nobody is sure, but it became abundantly clear that Oscar did something so terrible, so completely horribly detestable, that all the other animals turned away in shock and shame.

And now something even worse occurred: the animals brayed for blood. His blood. The situation became bad enough for other animals from other parts of the forest came to see how the young giraffe was made to pay for his transgression.

And the young giraffe cried.

And he couldn’t fix the horrible thing he had done.

And then he died. He still breathed, of course, but his strong will was broken and his bamboo legs were to slow and too short to carry away from the shame and the grief he had caused.

And for the rest of his miserable life, the only thing he could hear, was the braying for blood and revenge. When he died eventually – really stopping breathing this time – his last request was that his funeral pyre be stoked with the bamboo stems that once made him famous.

***

There’s a moral to the story, of course.

We’re all born with disabilities – some are a bit more obvious than others. Over time, we overcome these defects and we strive to live normal lives. A select few of us will even become famous for what we’ve achieved. Some will thrive on the attention and the fame and the adoration. And then, inevitably, Icarus flies too near the sun and the wax melts and the wings come off.

And we fall…

Then, those of us who are spectators on such a tragedy have a choice: Either we join the carnivore choir for blood and revenge – or we become silent as we contemplate the sad and grim reality of those involved with the Fall have to live with.

Maybe that little giraffe made the worst mistake of his life – willingly or not – and this affected those closely involved in the most negative way. Maybe his life and way of doing things were not solely the result of some birth defect. Maybe the animals who made him believe he could fly with his waxed wings of bamboo legs were responsible as well.

Or maybe the worst thing about the fable is not the horrible deed that was done…but the way the other animals brayed for blood afterwards.

As if they lived blameless lives…

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Whatever Happened to Mister Average?

oscar 2Boggel gets on his beer crate to scan the faces of his customers. When he does this, they know it’s time to remain quiet, he wants to say something.

“I have something to say,” he says.

“Get on with it, Boggel, we’re discussing the Oscar case. You’re interrupting a serious conversation.” Servaas scowls into his beer as he waits.

“That’s my point, you guys. Whether Oscar is guilty of a heinous crime, or if he made the worst mistake in his life, is something the courts must decide. But the reason you chaps is in such a deep discussion, is because Oscar is…well, he’s Oscar. National idol, international icon. A real modern-day example of overcoming all the odds. The man with no legs, who competed in the Olympics.

“Had he been Joe Soap from Brakpan, he’d have maybe fifteen seconds on SABC 3, and a mention on page 5 of the Sun. The magazines would have ignored him and the tabloids would have looked for something more sensational.”

“Ag, come on, Boggel! The man killed a beautiful young model…”

“My point, exactly, Servaas. Suppose she was just an old woman, living on a farm? Who would have noticed? Who would have cared? Do you think that BBC, CNN and Sky would have bothered to send a single journalist to cover the story? But no! Take an Olympic star, a model, and a gun – and you’re guaranteed hours and hours of screen-time. 

“My question is simple. Why, oh why, is the loss of Reeva – as sad as it is – more important than the murder of thousands of farmers? Is the death of one lovely girl at the hand of an idol, so important that we ignore the 3000 farmers killed by criminals? Why is CNN quiet about that, huh? And some say 70,000 Whites were killed violently since 1994, remember? Where’s BBC? Goodness knows what the figure amongst our Black population is – it’s probably even more horrendous. Do you think Sky was interested?

“Why do you insist on discussing Oscar, when women are raped at the rate of one every four minutes in our country? Children are being mutilated for muti, young men die at initiation schools and two children are murdered every day. Last year alone, there were more than 15,000 murders in our country. Did you see it on any front page in London or New York?

“When Time magazine said we live in a violent society, everybody got up in arms, saying it isn’t so. I’m sorry…we’re living is Wonderland. Like Alice, we’ve gone down a rabbit hole to escape the reality we can’t face any more.”

“So Boggel,” Gertruida’s voice conveys her concern, “what do you suggest we do?”

“Here in Rolbos? Not much, I’m afraid. We can respect the dead and the families concerned, I suppose. We can stop gossiping. And we can take note of what’s happening around us. Somebody must stand up to say enough is enough; and tell the government to stop pilfering the coffers and start doing their job.”

“But Boggel,” this time it’s Precilla who tries to placate the barman, “nobody’s going to listen to us, man! We’re such a small, little town. We’re nobodies. No way anyone will listen to us.”

Boggel shakes his head. “You’re wrong, Precilla. To change anything – anything – you have to start with yourself. Only if you’re convinced that you’ve figured it out, can you talk to a friend or an acquaintance about it. And if more and more people convey that message – friends talking to friends, families sharing the idea and so on – it’ll work it’s way through to everybody. Believe me: if the country adopted such an attitude, it’ll effect people in other countries as well. Word of mouth – that’s how we’ll change the world. The answer isn’t the sensational front page or the horrified TV-presenter; the answer is in each of our hearts and minds.”

“Okay, Boggel, you’ve made your point. But we’re just chatting about Oscar, and you’re talking about changing the world. It really isn’t the same thing.” Servaas points to his empty beer glass as he shakes his head.

Boggel obliges by opening a cold bottle of Castle.

Sometimes he wonders why he even bothers to talk to his customers. Maybe he expects too much from them?

Boggel is a very mild-tempered man. He doesn’t curse or shout. Now he looks Servaas straight in the eye as he says:

“%@#* man! Don’t be like the millions of South Africans out there! Wake up, will you? The country is in trouble and all you can think about is cold beer…and Oscar!”

The little bent man slams down the beer in front of Servaas, rips off his apron, and storms out.

He’ll take a long walk, calm down, and be the quiet barman once again. Like the rest of the country, he’ll just have to learn to ignore reality and go on living with Alice and her friends down that damned rabbit hole.

At least they seem happy down there.

The Icing on the (very bad) Cake

Searching-for-sugar-man-soundtrack“Never heard of it,” Servaas says sourly.

“That’s because you are such an old sourpuss, Servaas.You never enjoyed your youth. Age of Aquarius? You’ve never heard about that, either. And Bob Dylan? Pffft ….!”  Gertruida can’t understand why some kids get born to be boring, serious and frowning all the time.

“It is a good story, though.” Precilla smiles at the memory of the melodies that accompanied the scathing lyrics. “He was an icon, a beacon of hope. He sang the words we were afraid to say. Man, when he does his Blues, it still gives me goosebumps.”

“I think the story behind the movie is even better than the story in the movie. To do an 8mm film in this day and age is almost unthinkable.”

“Not only that, Vetfaan, but the money ran out and they couldn’t buy more film. So the last scenes were shot with a cellphone.”  Gertruida fixes Servaas with a dead-pan stare. “You know what a cellphone is, don’t you?”

Before the old man builds up enough steam to look even more disgruntled, Kleinpiet orders a round.

“I think it’s a great story of belief and conviction and commitment. To me, it says you must never give up on your dreams. I like that.”

Boggel quietly serves a double to the red-faced Servaas. “I’m glad the movie won. It’s good for Bendjelloul, Segerman and Strydom – and even better for Rodriquez. In fact, it’s good all round. And it’s nice to say the name without winching. Oscar… It’s got a nice ring to it, for a change.”

Rape, the Beloved Country

Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

Anene Booysen

Anene Booysen

“We’re not doing this right.” Servaas’ mood hasn’t lifted yet. Recent events depressed the old man to such an extent that Gertruida says he now sleeps in his black suit. “If the Valentine’s day murder hadn’t occurred, the media wouldn’t have forgotten about Anene Booysen so quickly. Her rape and murder was – if comparisons can even be contemplated – a much worse crime. She was repeatedly raped by men taking turns. Her stomach was slit open. Her bowels spilled out on the dusty ground. She was mercilessly beaten. She died. If the media wanted sensation, her case was perfect for it. If people wanted to protest, she was a reason. If parliamentarians and lawmakers wanted to highlight the crime, her funeral would have been a perfect platform. 

“But no. The president – whose own rape case resulted in no conviction, like 90% of such cases do in this country -made a lame statement; a few people expressed their disgust and the poor girl was laid to rest in the forgiving soil of her hometown. The contrast is just too obvious to ignore.”

For once, Gertruida agrees. “You’re right, Servaas. Look what happened in India. Jyoti Singh Pandey caused an international furore and mass protests. The plight of Indian women was brought into sharp focus, and the lawmakers are being forced to review the role of women in Indian society. It’s an ongoing process. The legacy of Miss Pandey will at least mean something for future generations. Her death – so terribly tragic and unnecessary – is having a lasting impact.

“But over here, Anene is just another rape victim, one of the many. In a country where a woman gets raped every four minutes, we’ve become insensitive to the anguish and heartache of rape. However, had the Valentine’s Day murder not happened, the media would have made something more of her case.”

“There is a difference.” Vetfaan sighs at the reality of an unbalanced world. “Equality is just another word. The Constitution makes a big spiel about equality. It says we all enjoy the same rights and privileges, and nobody is more important than anybody else. It’s a lot of hogwash, of course. Anene Booysen came from a poor family in a town most people can’t point to on a map. She didn’t finish school. She worked as a cleaner, at the age most kids should be studying to improve their futures. Her life was a one-way highway to misery.

“So the media chased down the story, ran with it for a few days, and got bored. This was not the case of a beauty queen whose future was snatched away. She never adorned the cover of glossy magazines or appeared in reality TV shows. She never modelled sexy clothes for lecherous men to ogle at. She was simply not that interesting…

“But then Valentines Day happened. I’m sure the media bosses let out a collective sigh of relief. Sensation! Drama! A beautiful woman and an international star! Two people who made South Africans feel proud, did something to shock the nation! Hooray! And the helicopters and taxis and TV vans raced out to the security-fenced complex to camp outside the gates in the hope of getting a vague photo of the accused. For what? To paste the picture of a tormented man on the front page to fascinate the nation?” Vetfaan shakes his head: the world is sick…

“Look, rape and murder is wrong. Abuse – in any form – is a sin. I suggest we urge everybody we meet, to pray for the Steenkamp and the Booysen family.  Grief is the great leveller. No matter who you are and where you live; irrespective of dreams and ambitions, wealth or poverty; the loss of a loved leaves an emptiness that knows no boundaries.” Boggel, too, seems sombre today. “And while they’re at it, lets not forget the daily tally of murders taking place in our society. We’ve become a violent, unthinking community with little regard for others.

“The abuse of women and children is as bad as the abuse of power. Anene is a symptom, guys, not a disease. Our society have learnt from it’s leaders: if you want it, you take it. The weaker gets exploited, the stronger man rules. Equality? There’s no equality. It’s the absence of equality that allows corruption and crime to thrive.”

“Yes, you can pray.” Oudoom sits down heavily. “And it’s right that you do. But sometimes God puts you in a place where you have to make decisions. Sometimes He’s telling us to stop asking Him to fix stuff. Society is the way we made it. We voted a government into power. We chose leaders who are corrupt. We turn a blind eye to the mayhem in the country. And we’ve created an unequal society where the rich and the famous will forever receive more attention than a poor girl in Bredasdorp. So, my friends, if we did it, why think He must make it right again?”

“What do you suggest, Oudoom?”

“Nothing much. I suggest we urge our brothers and sisters in the country, to open their eyes. To stop tolerating and inciting violence. To bring religion back into our schools. To discipline their children with kindness. To open parliament with prayer. To be dignified in their interaction with all others. To realise that we’ll ruin the country if we go on like this.

“It’s not much to ask, is it?”

Suddenly, they all had the same vision. It’s a picture of a young girl whose life may have been such a blessing to those around her. She’s been beaten and raped and stabbed and cut open. Her bowels spill from the slit abdomen. Her blood is seeping away into the ground.

Her name is not Anene. Her name is not Joyti.

Her name is South Africa.

The Brutal Nature of Vultures

Credit: Kevin Carter

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

Credit: Mirror.co.uk

Silence, in Boggel’s Place, is unusual and unwanted. People gather here to relax, to laugh, to forget for a while. But the banter and the smiles became progressively less over the past few days as news of murder, rape and unrest filtered through from the rest of the country

“Nothing makes sense anymore.” Vetfaan is building little umbrellas with paper clips for Boggel. It keeps him busy and makes him feel he’s useful. “It’s as if society lost the plot, man. And not just here…did you see the Upington Post? They’re stealing diamonds all over the show. Abductions, kidnappings, strikes and mayhem. To top it all, the poor British are having a hard time chewing through the horse meat in their lasagne.”

“Well it looks as if our police force made a nice bugger-up of their case against Pistorius. Their presentation of the case to the court makes it difficult to believe everything we heard on the radio. For the past 6 days everybody was baying for revenge. Now, people are starting to be critical. I mean – absurd though it might sound – suppose it was an accident? ” Precilla has always admired Oscar, and is keen to grab at any good news. “Sure, his actions led to her death. Call it any word you like, she’s dead. Nothing can change that. But the photograph on the front page of the Post upsets me every time I look at it. The poor man seems completely broken. What if he made a horrible mistake?”

“No Precilla. The Bible teaches us about an eye for an eye. He killed her, he must pay.” Servaas, once again in his black suit, is in his dark mood again. “No mercy. Finished en klaar.”

“But what about motor car accidents? Or aircrafts crashing in mid-air? I mean, real accidents. Surely we don’t put everybody in jail for life because they made a mistake? If you cause death accidentally, you get charged with manslaughter, sure, but that doesn’t make you an out-and-out murderer. I think there is a difference.”

Servaas is quiet all of a sudden. Many years ago the brakes on his car failed… The child survived, but it could have been so much different.

“Look,” Gertruida says, because she knows everything, “you guys are starting the gossip-thing again. The facts are simply that we don’t know what happened. It could be this. It could be that. And what does it matter? The girl is dead. The man’s life is ruined. Two  families are devastated. Gossiping and all the hype and drama, the second-guessing and thousands of photographs…does it change anything?

“Why are we so fascinated by tragedy? Is it because we are born with the natural tendency too finger-point, judge, and reject? Or do we revel in the misery of others? Is our curiosity born out of a secret lust to see others suffer? We’re back in the Colosseum, chaps. We want to see others bleed while we stuff our faces with popcorn in front of the telly. We say the perpetrator is sick. I say society is extremely unwell. Remember the photograph with the hungry child and the vulture? It won prizes, for goodness sakes! And the photographer snapped the shot and left things as they were. Where’s the compassion? You know, if you look at the photographs, they’re exactly the same.”

“If I remember correctly, the photographer committed suicide afterwards.” Kleinpiet folds his napkin into a coffin shape. “Such a pity…”

“And that, Kleinpiet, is what is happening to society. Our morbid interest in suffering is a bad sign. We love movies with blood and gore. Reality must be graphic, or they get bad reviews. What happened to Polyanna?” Gertruida laughs cynically. “You make a goody-goody movie today, and it’ll flop at the box office.”

“So what’s the answer, Gertruida? Surely we can’t go on like this. Society, as you so nicely put it, is on the road to self-destruction. Morals are gone – you can tick that off. Respect is non-existent – look at the way people interact on a New York street, or in Jo’burg, when a handbag is snatched. Valuing others died in Marikana. Peaceful debate got killed by violent strikes and destruction of property. I think it’s a one-way street to … well … nothing?”

“It is, Vetfaan. It is.” Gertruida sniffs loudly, sips her beer and takes a deep breath. “But there is one thing. The only trump we have. A final chance. And it’s called forgiveness. You can’t forgive, if you haven’t judged something to be wrong. Neither can you forgive by not distancing yourself from a situation. Forgiveness does not mean something didn’t happen and now everything is hunky-dory. It simply means you have decided something is wrong and that you no longer associate with it. It means you get it out of your system and refuse to drag it along with you any longer. It also means you hold no grudge.

“People think forgiveness is the same thing as condoning or accepting are forgetting. That’s wrong. There are three processes to consider here: a legal process which must take care of the laws of the land. That means you can sit back and let it run it’s course. There’s also a psychological process, in which you free yourself from whoever did wrong. And then there’s a religious process, where you know you are not going to be the final judge in the matter.

“And it’s hard. It’s an art to forgive somebody. It’s something you have to work on to get forgiveness-fit. And it’s the only way we as  a society, will be able to start building respect and morals and values again.”

“Ja Gertruida.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. “But then everybody has to do it. Otherwise it won’t work.”

“A journey of a thousand miles, Vetfaan, starts with the decision to take the first step. It’s up to you. If you won’t do it, why expect others to try?”

Silence reclaims the upper hand in Boggel’s Place after Gertruida’s speech. It’s an uncomfortable silence – one that is felt in every home, every office and on every street corner – right across the world.

And in that silence, quietly, confidently, the vulture waits.