Tag Archives: politics

The Many-headed Hyena.

hyena“It’s no use,” Gertruida says as she switches off the radio. “They’ll never stop this thing by taking out a few activists here and there. Oh, it’s good for morale and all that, but in the end, it’s pretty much symbolic.”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida…you’re in one of your black moods again. Russia and France are bombing those terrorists, and the police all over Europe are doing a magnificent job in unravelling the network of activists. How can you say it’s ‘symbolic‘?”

“All I’m saying, Servaas, is: too little, too late. Let me tell you one of !Kung’s stories…”


Once upon a time, many, many winters ago, the quiet life of the people living in a remote village was disrupted by a hyena. It was a huge beast, with fierce fangs and huge jaws.This hyena had developed a taste for the villager’s children, which naturally upset the parents tremendously. They held many meetings and spoke of the beast in hushed tones, calling it a coward and a thief – but still they didn’t do anything. Eventually, after yet another attack, they called on all the men in the village to hunt this animal down.

tour-dundee-04This they did, and after many bloody skirmishes, the men returned triumphantly, proclaiming their victory and boasting about their bravery. The villagers relaxed, painted many pictures of the battle on many rocks, and made up new songs for their warriors.

But, in the hills, something happened they didn’t know about. The Hyena had had a pup: a small and furry little animal that cried at night after the loss of it’s father. Some people from a neighbouring village heard the pitiful sobs, looked for and found the cute baby animal.

“What is this poor baby doing all alone? See how hungry it is! It is our duty to feed it and help it grow.”

And this is what they did. The shaman in the village took care of the pup, feeding it and making it strong again.

One day, the little hyena spoke to the shaman, telling him how bad men had hunted his father and killed him for no reason. The shaman felt exceedingly sad upon hearing this and promised the young animal that no such thing would ever happen to him.

“Look, I have cared for you,” the shaman said, “and now you’re big enough to go back into the wilds. But you’ll be hunted, like your father was. This cannot be. Here, drink this potion, it’ll protect you. No hunter will be strong enough to kill you now.”

And the young hyena took what the shaman offered, drank the potion and felt how it made him stronger. Then it left to seek out his own in the wilderness.

Some time later, some hunters found his tracks and followed it. When they saw the fully-grown hyena, they ran back to the village.

“Ayee! Ayee!” They shouted for the people to hear. “There is a hyena in the veld again. We must kill it at once!”

And so the men took their bows and arrows, their spears and knives, to go and find the hyena. This they did, and a fierce battle ensued. Eventually one of the marksmen managed to kill it with a well-aimed arrow.

“Let us cut off his head,” they said amongst themselves. “The women would be most impressed.” And this, too, was done.

While the villagers celebrated their brave warriors, a strange thing happened out there in the veld. On the corpse of the hyena, a new head grew. The shaman’s magic was working.

And the hyena continued to feed on the villager’s children, no matter how many times they hunted it down…


“Kung told this story about how some people never stopped doing bad things – he called them many-headed hyenas.” Gertruida nods at Boggel to order a round of drinks. “But it has a wider meaning than that. Evil – once it is nurtured and fed – will keep up it’s destructive ways once it has progressed beyond a certain point.”

“But the Muslims…”

“No, Servaas, this has nothing to do with religion. The evil isn’t confined to a certain way of believing, a certain culture or a specific race.  The evil was fed by politicians to attain political goals. But now the hyena is out there and he doesn’t need the shaman’s protection any longer. We can cut off its head many times…only to prove it’ll grow back every time.”

“So what can we do, Gertruida? Surely there must be some way…”

“It’s the most difficult problem, Servaas. The shaman created it…it must now stop feeding it. And I’m not sure that’ll happen.”

“You mean the politicians?”

“Ja, that, and the media, the religious leaders, the financiers, the suppliers, the fanatics and the fundamentalists. And I can’t see that happening. The pup has grown up. Now its got too many heads…”

Freedom’s just another word…

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Free education? What’s next? With 25% of our workforce without a job and 16% of the population paying taxes, that’ll create an unbearable situation.”  Vetfaan scowls at his empty glass while he remembers how he used to work as a stoker on the railways in order to pay for the time he spent at the agricultural college. “I had to work eighteen, twenty hours a day during the holidays to pay for my studies.”

“Different times, Vetfaan.” Gertruida almost manages to sound sympathetic. “Back then the education system was subsidized – properly, as it should – by the government. Yes, there was an unacceptable racial slant and yes, the policies of the day prevented many promising students from attending universities…”

“Oh, come on, Gertruida! There were the universities of Fort Hare, Western Cape, Cape Town, Wits and Medunsa…!”

“Now, don’t you go shouting at me, Vetfaan!” The angry glint in her eyes makes Vetfaan back off. “I didn’t make the rules back then, nor do I make them now. But…we can’t ignore the fact that many, many lives would have been vastly different if the Nationalists put more emphasis on education. Apartheid remains a fact of history, no matter how much we want to erase it from our memories.”

“I’m not talking about that, Gertruida.” Vetfaan sounds resigned, beaten. “All I’m saying is that we can’t go on with social grants, a huge salary allocation for government officials, free water, electricity, medical care, AIDS, services…and the rampant corruption we read about in the papers every day. What does government do? Every time – every time – they say the private sector must come on board! The EFF wants 51% of shares on the stock exchange transferred to the workers. The ANC wants the farmers to hand over half of their properties to the farm labourers. And you know who is paying for those politicians? You and I, my dear Gerty. You and I. We’re paying them to bankrupt the country. Now that’s irony for you!”

“Two sides to that coin, Vetfaan. As much as we’d like to ignore certain facts, we cannot deny the inequalities in the country…”

“I’m not saying that!” The veins on Vetfaan’s neck stand out as he tries to control his temper. Taking a deep breath, he continues in a calmer voice. “The inequalities need to be addressed, that’s for sure. The feeling I get is that we are continuously being punished for a policy the English forced down on us when they wrote to old constitution for the Union of South Africa in 1908. Now, suddenly, everybody is pointing fingers at us whiteys. Why does nobody question the decisions of Queen Victoria?”

“They do, Vetfaan. That’s why the Rhodes statue was removed.”

“Oh puleeez! Whether Rhodes stands at the foot of Table Mountain or in some heritage park, is of almost no significance. At least he’s being blamed for something – but he’s not being abused as a taxpayer. Our government is increasingly adamant about ‘redistribution’. In my book it means: ‘bankrupting society’. Have you seen what happened to the farms they already allocated to previously disadvantaged individuals? Or have you forgotten the reason why SAA, Escom, Water Affairs, Telkom, the railways and even our army and police have degenerated over the last twenty years? How can you ignore the effect of appointing people with inadequate skills to positions they simply cannot handle?

“Yes, Gertruida, I agree that there are still imbalances in our society. And yes, the one key is education. But the main lock to open, is the bolt that’ll free government to rule in a focussed, logical way. The private sector has been taxed to death by a government that can only remain in power by handing out freebies to the masses.” Vetfaan sighs this thanks as Boggel pushes over a fresh beer. “What we need is a contructive approach – not one that’ll destroy the fabric of society and which continuously emphasises race as the major dividing factor. What’s happening now, is a recipe for anarchy, hatred and violence. Look at the crime stats.”

Gertruida remains silent for so long that Vetfaan thinks she’s ignoring him. When she eventually addresses him in her quiet tone, he sees the tears in her eyes.

“You know, Vetfaan, we’ll never live down the injustices of the past. We need to recognise them, learn from them. That’s what Mandela said and it’s true. But he also emphasised the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. He said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  And he said: ‘…the day the ANC does to us what the Apartheid government did, we should do to the ANC what we did to the Apartheid government.’ Maybe that’s what is happening: the students have lost their fear for the securocrats and are doing exactly what Madiba proposed?”

“But, Gertruida, where is all this leading up to? Another Zimbabwe?”

“Possibly. Even…probably. We have one, single chance – and that is that democracy will prevail. People aren’t stupid. The poor is getting poorer. The previously disadvantaged masses are even more disadvantaged now. We have elections next year… We need a leader…no, many leaders…to stand up and get to work. We won’t build a better South Africa by doing nothing. We need good, honest men and women to tell the nation the honeymoon is over. Forget about demanding this and insisting on that, if you haven’t contributed anything. People must get used to working hard…and then be rewarded for their efforts. A student doing well at university should be allowed to continue his or her studies as far as possible. People with skills should be appointed to the right positions and then reap the rewards of their hard work. And the many unskilled labourers should be paid fairly – because their contribution is absolutely essential in the workforce. Maybe it’ll take a generation – even longer – but there can be no doubt that we have the potential to be a great country. Capitalism may have it’s shortfalls and it’s wise to acknowledge that. But socialism can’t exist in a vacuum; then everybody has an equal share of nothing. The answer is education, work, productivity and …love.”

The last word makes Vetfaan look up sharply. Yes, he wonders…what happened to that?

The Fable of how the Buffalo lost his Temper

images (18)Long, long ago the animals had to choose a king. As was their custom, they selected the biggest and strongest animals to be candidates, after which their nominees had to prove their ability to lead. In those days the animals – being what they were – declared that during this process only the best of manners be the order of the day. No hunting was allowed, and even Vulture had to be kind and courteous.

During this election (their last, as it turned out), the elders selected Lion (of course) as well as Elephant and Buffalo. As usual, everybody thought that the honour would befall Lion, as he had proven his worth over a long time. Elephant was, however, tremendously popular; the animals loved the way he could recite the history all the way back to the Great Flood. Also, the quiet way Elephant went about his daily business appealed to all, causing some debate as to whether Lion should really be elected again.

In those days, Buffalo was known for his good humour. In fact, he was so funny that Hyena (his best friend) couldn’t stop laughing. Whenever the animals gathered for the First Rain Celebrations, Buffalo was called upon to make a speech about the good times ahead. Man, the great animal soon had everybody rolling about in helpless laughter as he made fun of the hardships they endured during the dry season. Even the most serious situations – like when the ants ate all the grass or the river ran dry – were told in such a way that Boffalo’s uncontrolled giggling had them telling each other what a great comedian he was.

But…there was a dark side to Buffalo’s humour, something the other animals never realised. Buffalo, you see, had a secret. He knew about a pasture – set amongst the rolling hills of the veld – where he never allowed any other animal to go. Whenever he saw somebody approaching, he’d start telling his jokes and all too soon that animal would forget all about being hungry or thirsty while laughing with the big Buffalo and his funny stories.

Now, when the day of the election arrived, Elephant (being the biggest) got to be the first speaker at the Animal and Nature Conference, the gathering where everybody had to vote for their new king. True to Elephant’s nature, he reminded them of their heritage and the hardships of the past.

“Look,” he said, “we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We must work harder and work together. Should you elect me as your king, I’ll see to it that we utilise our resources with greater care. Some of you might have to venture to pastures far away – to bring back food for the old and the needy. And you’ll have to clean up the river; we need good, pure drinking water. I also like the idea of building a dam so we may have plenty of water during the dry seasons.”

The animals listened with great respect, but the younger ones looked at each other in dismay. Elephant’s plans were so radical! And who would have to do all that work? No, they told each other, they won’t vote for him.

Lion was up next. He growled and grumbled, telling the meeting that he had been their king for a long time. “Elephant is far too ambitious,” he said. “What is wrong with the way we had been living? No, progress will only spoil the veld and the forest. I am a natural leader and there’s not one of you who can challenge my strength. If you don’t vote for me, you’ll have to bear the consequences.”

This time the animals looked at each other with knowing glances. Yes, they knew about Lion’s strength, but what had he accomplished in the time he was king? No, they needed a progressive leader, but one which didn’t make them work the way Elephant had proposed.

Then Buffalo stood in front of them and pulled a face while twirling his bushy tail in a grand circle.

“Hee, hee, hee,” he said, watching the audience carefully. Of course they sniggered. “This is all too serious, my compatriots. Why waste your time with a king that’ll make you work all day long? Or, for that matter, who scares you into voting for him? No, we are comrades in this kingdom. We must be happy. Nobody should do more than he needs to – in fact, let’s do nothing at all!” So rousing was his way of talking to them that all the animals cheered. “Now, look at Elephant. He’s so fat he can’t even scratch his ear.” (Lots of laughter). “And Lion? Why, he makes his wife do all the work! She has to do the hunting. She feeds the cubs. And he?” Buffalo waited a second to let the question sink in. “He’s so lazy he sleeps all day!” Buffalo went ‘Hee, hee, hee” again as the animals pointed paws and hooves at Lion, making fun at their former king.

And so it was no surprise that Buffalo was elected king. Even today the animals remember that summer, when the veld echoed with laughter. Buffalo allowed everybody to do as they pleased while he told them funny stories every time they sought his advice. It was a time of great freedom and merriment.

But then the winter came. The grass withered and the great river became a sluggish little stream of muddy water.

“King! King! What are we to do? Our children are hungry and the water is fuinished?”

And Buffalo went “Hee, hee, hee” and told them drought is a good sign: it means it will be broken at some stage. “Why, do you want rain all year long? No, you’ll just get too fat and lazy if the grass is green all the time. You must embrace the winter, comrades, for it means spring is just around the corner.”

But that year the spring didn’t bring rain. Instead, the sun burnt down from above and the muddy river became a dry river bed. Again the animals complained to their king. Buffalo laughed and suggested that Crocodile and Hippo were responsible for the river drying up. As for the veld? Why, didn’t they see the ants carting off the grass? No, they can’t blame him, King Buffalo, for their hardships, The real problem were the thieves amongst the animals.

For a while the animals believed their king and even managed the occasional smile.

And then Ferret found out about Buffalo’s secret pasture.

“Have you not seen how fat Buffalo is? And have you seen ho well-fed his many wives are? Come on, guys, think! We are barely surviving, but our king is living as if nothing is wrong!”

Yes, the animals said, that is true.

“Well, I’ve followed Buffalo for a while now. You know what I’ve found?” And he told them about the green pasture and the fountain and the place Buffalo tried to hide from them all.

The animals didn’t believe Ferret at first, but he took them to the secret place and showed them. The animals became very angry and gathered to speak to their king. One by one they stood up and accused the king of trying to fool them all. Buffalo tried laughing his way out of this predicament, but the animals had had enough. With the help of Elephant, Hippo and Crocodile, they tied him up and left him there. Then they all rushed to the secret pasture and ate their fill.

For once, Buffalo couldn’t laugh his way out of trouble. He thought about the animals eating up his secret source of grass and became so incensed that he broke free of his bonds.When he stormed up the hill to try and save his pasture, the animals rolled down rocks. He bellowed in anger, but everybody just laughed at him. This wasn’t funny at all. Buffalo finally lost his sense of humour. He knew then that he would never be king again.

From that day on, the animals were very careful to choose a king that would be fair, who could lead them properly and who could look after their interests.

But it was too late. Buffalo had become an angry, fierce beast; intent on attacking any living thing he encountered.

And the veld never really recovered.

The moral of the story: be very, very weary of a funny Buffalo. All animals know that. Maybe some day, humans will, too…

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Credit: telegraph.co.uk

“It takes great skill – and a lot of determination – to lose that way. I mean, it’s not any old Springbok side that’d manage that, I can tell you.”

“That might be true, Vetfaan, but really! It’s becoming a South African habit, man! At first it was only the cricket team that carried the Choker’s Badge, but now it seems endemic. While some of our swimmers and tennis stars insist on being contrary by winning, we’ve developed a wonderful knack of losing – even our soccer team is on that bandwagon now.”

“I think it’s a special talent we’ve developed – the result of years and years of practice. Once we were the most developed country in Africa and in 1994 the world praised us for doing the right thing. Then Mandela picked up the ball and started running. He passed it on to Mbeki, who stumbled a bit because the team didn’t understand the rules. And then it was Zuma’s turn. He was supposed to be the speedster who’d cut through the opposition and score a few winning tries. What happened?” Servaas pauses dramatically before going on: “History happened, that’s what.”

“There’s a difference between sport and politics, Servaas. In sport your fans have a voice. They tell you what they think. If you played badly, the press roasts you. Commentators will be scathing in their criticism, and TV crews will broadcast your failures to a public that won’t hesitate to contribute their two cent’s worth. Remember, too, that sport stars aren’t paid by your taxes – they generally earn their own way through TV rights and other income from their respective clubs and unions. And, if you don’t perform, you get the boot…simple as that.” Gertruida is lecturing again. “But government? The public pays their salaries. And if the ruling party doesn’t deliver on its promises,  it is so much worse than fifteen chaps losing a game they should have won. Sadly, being booted out of politics isn’t a common South African tradition.”

“But that is why we have more and more violent protests in the country, Gertruida,” Servaas interrupts her lecture with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Even their fans are fed up.”

12019759_10207331775882988_7528779832144092590_n“My point exactly. Even the protestors are losers. What do you manage by burning the very same buses you have to use to get to work? Or by burning a library that was supposed to help kids get through school? Or by ransacking municipal offices? I can go on, but the point is this: destroying infrastructure only serves to impoverish the people that already have so little. The losers end up losing even more.”

“I get it.” Vetfaan sits back while signalling for another beer. “You’re saying we should leave the Springboks to get on with the job, while we must find a way of constructive protesting? And if we’re not happy with the situation inside the country, we should change the government?” He purses his lips in deep thought. “Nope, that won’t work.”

He gets a “Why?” chorus as Boggel pushes a full glass towards him.

“Well, as sports fans, we live with the result and use it as motivation to do better. You wait and see. The Springboks have lost a battle, but the war is far from over. We can be gracious in defeat, but that doesn’t mean we accept that our team is now a permanent national embarrassment. Come Saturday, and we’ll all be crowded around Boggel’s radio once again, wearing green and shouting at the ref. That’s the difference: sport is for entertainment.

“But politics? It’s the lifeblood of the country. And we’ve been bleeding for a long time. My take? Enjoy the rugby, at least that’s real.

“When I say we should change the government and it won’t work, it’s because our national sport isn’t rugby or soccer. It has become the Blame Game. Nobody’s being held responsible any longer. If t isn’t Jan van Riebeeck, it’s Apartheid. And if it isn’t that, they blame some poor official, who gets a golden handshake. Rugby has rules, my friends. It is governed by strict laws and the referee has the final say. Politics isn’t like that at all.”


An uninformed visitor to Boggel’s Place might find the group at the bar difficult to follow. They have an uncanny knack of stringing together seemingly unrelated opinions as they pass the time in idle conversation. After all, a comparison between the Springboks and the government is illogical, to say the least.

As Vetfaan sums it up: “Eish, guys! At least the Springboks have an opportunity to set things right again…”

The Fable of the Veldfire that Caused a Great Tragedy.


Refugee camp. Credit: wikipedia

Once upon a time the veld was green and lush and pretty. The animals all enjoyed the season of plenty, grew fat, and multiplied, They had everything they could possibly wish for and told themselves how lucky they were.

But seasons change, as they are destined to do. Autumn became winter, the waterholes became places of dispute and the grass withered away to become dry, tasteless and scarce.

“We have to do something,” some animals said, “if this goes on, there won’t be enough for us.” This was, of course, not quite true. The age-old problem was that certain animals  thought they were better than others, hence they wanted it all to themselves. “We’ll herd the others up in dismal camps, then they’ll go away. We’ll be able to rule here…”

Like in all conflicts, there were no winners. Those – who thought they then ruled over the veld – continued fighting amongst themselves, while the others – cooped up in impossible conditions – could hardly survive.

And then a spark caused the dry grass to catch fire. What caused it? No-one was entirely sure. Maybe the superior group wanted more and more. Or maybe those in the camps simply had to escape. But somewhere along the line, the grass caught fire. It could have been lightning, or a neglected campfire. Who knows…?

At first, only the really observant animals started moving away from the threat. Soon, however, the fire started spreading in all directions, leaving not one of the animals of the plain safe. Some fled in the wrong direction, and died. Others chose different routes. In the end, they were all in danger of succumbing to the flames.

Most of them chose to flee to what they thought were safer places, even though it involved a terrible journey over water and mountains. Although many died during these journeys, many more survived.

And then, when they arrived at their destinations, they had to face a new problem: there were already animals there, with their own waterholes and their own pastures. Some of their hosts were – initially at least – quite prepared to share what they had; while others snorted and growled and chased them away.

And then…

The host-animals started looking at the fleeing animals rather carefully. Were they all from those horrible camps? Or were there – hidden in the throng – some of the animals that started the chaos? And the host-animals became scared, whispering amongst themselves that they had to be careful. Also, as these new arrivals were hungry and in need of shelter, they ate the grass and started sleeping in the shade of the trees formally belonging to others. And some of the hosts became angry, no longer whispering but shouting, telling the refugees to go away.

By then it was too late. “Where would we go?” They asked. “This is our new home…”

And the hosts had no answer.

Credit: namibiansun.com

Credit: namibiansun.com

The animals that caused the trouble originally, slowly gathered again. They spoke amongst themselves about the green pastures they now lived in, wondering why they should share the abundance with everyone. “No,” they said, “this cannot be. We have to make a plan…”

And they did.

Until the season changed again and the next great veldfire threatened them all. Only, this time there was nowhere to flee to…

The Man with the Stick

xenophobia-poster a“They tell a story,” Gertruida says after Boggel switched off the radio, “up in North Africa. About the treacherous nature of man.”

She waits, knowing they’d want to hear more. The news of the horrendous xenophobic attacks caused them all to fall silent as they searched for words to describe their feelings. Yes, the government proved once again their inability to grasp the reasons behind the attacks, failing to act timeously to the repeated warning signs over the last few years. Most of the unrest during this time coincided with the burning and looting of foreigner’s shops, a fact the authorities chose to ignore. Xenophobic tendencies were evident as far back as the Marikana incident and even before that. But, always too keen to please the masses they need to vote them in power, the government remained silent about these crimes.

“Ag, go on, Gertruida. Tell us. We know you want to.” Vetfaan signals for another beer. Although he is mildly interested, his mind dwells on the sudden nature of recent events. Why did the authorities not see this coming? Surely there should be enough ears on the ground to pick up rumblings of such impending disasters? Or is there something more sinister behind these attacks? He doesn’t believe in the so-called ‘third force theory‘ – no, somebody or something must have orchestrated these attacks to occur in such a wide-spread manner.

Oudoom nodded his encouragement. Anything to divert their thoughts from the mess in ESCOM and the national airline, the corruption in the police, the disastrous land reforms, the state of the roads, the failure of service delivery…



Once upon a time a kind man found a baby snake in the veld. He picked it up and took it home, as it quite obviously was an orphan. The snake was well-cared for and eventually grew up to be a big, healthy adult.

Oh, he loved that snake! It kept the rodents away from the corn and scared off the rabbits that eyed the vegetable garden. But the snake watched his kind master and wondered…

Then, one day, the snake wrapped itself around the man’s neck. Just like that, out of the blue. “You say you’re a kind man, and yes, you’ve fed me well. But in reality you are ungrateful and selfish. You raised me to serve you, not because you were compassionate. I shall kill you for that.”

“Oh, no!” The man cried. “Of course I’m grateful. Ask the ox.”

The ox chewed it’s cud and thought about the whip that drives him to pull the plough. “No, you’re not.”

The man panicked. “Well, the ox isn’t a clever animal. Ask the cow. Go on, ask her…she’ll tell you.”

The cow cast her big, brown eyes on the man and moo-ed softly. “That man pulls my udder and takes my milk – every day. For my whole life, he’ll just steal my milk. And when I run dry, he’ll kill me and eat me. No, man is ungrateful and selfish.”

Desperate, the man told the snake to ask the tree.

The tree didn’t hesitate. While it rustled it’s leaves, it whispered: “Man isn’t grateful. He eats my fruit and sits in my shade. One day he’ll chop me down and burn me for cooking his meals. Grateful? Oh please….”

The man’s wife had been standing outside the door, listening. Knowing that the snake will kill her husband, she went in and started making the snake’s favourite dish with cream and porridge.  The snake hesitated at first, but then let go of the man to eat the meal the woman had placed on the floor. 

“Quick, now is your chance!” The woman handed a stick to her husband, who hit the snake repeatedly until it died.


“Gee, Gertruida, is that it? The whole story?” Kleinpiet shakes his head. What a horrible story!

“That’s the way they tell it in Kenya, Kleinpiet. It’s typical of the stories you find up north – they leave you to complete the narrative after the storyteller falls silent.” Gertruida smiles her all-knowing, superior smile; always keen to show off her vast knowledge. “In this case the story leads you to examine the concept of kindness and gratitude while it exposes the greed of man. The ox, the cow and the tree gave unselfishly, but in the end man will destroy them, too.  It also makes one realise that we have to examine our actions carefully – we have to look at ourselves as others see us. You may think you are such a hero, but in reality your motivation may be selfish greed.”

“I still think it’s sad. Why kill the snake?”

“Because the snake asked the wrong question, Kleinpiet. Because the snake looked and saw how lazy the man was. The man was simply using everything around him to do his work and to enrich himself. You know what? The man became so embarrassed when he realised the snake was right, he killed it. A dead snake can’t spread the word…”

“But the word was spread. You’ve just told the story?”

“Yes, Kleinpiet.” Gertruida suddenly looks old and tired. “The story will always escape, no matter how hard you try to kill it. That’s what the news was all about.”

Thou Shalt have no Statues

Credit: iol.co.za

Credit: iol.co.za

“First Rhodes, now they’ve defaced Gandhi as well.” Gertruida sighs as she folds the newspaper. “Called him a racist, and poured paint over the statue. I know he used the maligned K-word, but so did the rest of the world in the 20’s. I’m not saying it’s right, but context is important. There is no question that racism was the norm in earlier times – it is not logical to apply today’s norms to the years when the world still struggled with the concept of equality.”

“It is strange,” Boggel adds, “that races have taken such a long time – centuries – to get to this point in time. Even now the system is flawed. Previously, Whites were in charge. Now the pendulum has swung the other way.”

“But why use skin colour to define identity? Look at us – we’re a mixed lot. Sammie is a Jew, with his own culture and beliefs. Mister Stevens is more English than a cup of tea, and he doesn’t know a Marino from a Dorper. The fact that he shares the same amount of pigment we have in our skins, doesn’t make him sing De la Rey all day.” Shaking his head, Vetfaan signals for another beer. “One day people will identify with their culture – not their skin. That’ll be the start of real democracy.”

“Ag, Vetfaan, then they’ll start saying the Xhosas are better than the Vendas, or the Zulus are superior to the Sothos. Culture or skin, it doesn’t matter. It is human nature to want to be at the top of the ladder. Any excuse will do…”

“So – for now – we’ll just sit back quietly while they take down all the statues? First Rhodes, but soon Paul Kruger, Botha and dear old Queen Victoria?”

01300542702710141569413260945“Well,” Gertruida puts down her glass with a thump. “The Americans can be glad they don’t have the same situation over there. Remember Abe Lincoln? He made a speech in 1858, saying: ‘I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races.‘ His statue would have no chance over here!”

“Ja,” Oudoom agrees, “Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist and Reagan supported the Apartheid regime. If you want to talk about a flawed past, America is a good place to start.”

“Don’t forget about England. Or Germany. Or China…I can go on and on. There is no country with an unblemished past” Oudoom sits down gratefully, accepting the beer Boggel slides over the counter. “You know, I think God created diversity with a purpose. Instead of creating a one-dimensional herd of humans, He made us into a multitude of many-faceted societies, so that we can build on our strengths. What do we do? We use diversity to weaken. We emphasise differences of ideology and appearance in an attempt to prove superiority. A wise man once said it’s only a fool who judges history – the wise will learn from it. We simply fail to grasp that simple fact.”

“So what do you suggest, Oudoom? That we retain the statues that are offensive to others?” Gertruida smiles – there is no correct answer to the question, is there?

“I’m saying,” Oudoom says after thinking a while, “that we should either have statues…or not. In a hundred years or so, todays heroes may be seen as villains. And the outcasts of today might very well be seen as people who stood at the forefront of progress. Who knows? The point is that history will always be a subjective subject. It depends on the individual observer. Today we have the King Shaka airport – but in the future somebody will remember that his hands weren’t clean at all. Some ascribe the worst atrocities and human rights violations to the great Zulu king. Remember the mfecane?”

“So…no more statues? No more streets and towns named after struggle heroes?”

“History is a fickle thing, Gertruida. One should never forget that it is virtually impossible to reflect all sides of all stories in the past. Yes, there have been villians. We certainly had some very bad men and women who shaped the history we have to live with. But…that’s where the point about context comes in. Only when you consider all the angles of a specific event, can you judge people like Abe Lincoln or Paul Kruger or Ghandi. And, surprisingly, not only will you find that they did what they had to do, but that they may have contrinuted in some small way to a better world.”

“So you’re saying….?”

“Let those of pure mind cast the first stone. I mean, labelling Rhodes as a colonialist, sounds a bit racist to me…”

And so the discussion goes on and on. In the end they decide, quite wisely, not to erect any statues in Rolbos. The cost of removing such monuments could be spent much more wisely over the counter of Boggel’s Place. Peach brandy and peace are surely more acceptable than fighting over a piece of bronze.

The Prince of Words

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes

“So they found him at last,” Gertruida says with a satisfied smile. “He can now be buried properly, monument and all.”

“Who? The president?” Servaas looks up sharply – it sounds like good news.

“No, you dummy, Miguel Cervantes.”

“He the new president?”

Gertruida rolls her eyes. Such ignorance! “Cervantes, Servaas, was one of the greatest writers Spain ever produced. He was born a long time ago, in 1547, the same year Edward VI banned execution by boiling in England.”

“And they say we are backward?”

“The point is – if you’ll stop interrupting me – that Miguel Cervantes created Don Quixote, an erant knight with high ideals. Despite his blustering stupidity, he was an extremely wise man.”

“Now that, Gertruida, makes a whole heap of sense. Just like our parliament.”

“Well, I’ll have you know he could have written a speech for the country, seeing the vote of no confidence in the president was defeated by the ruling party’s inability to see the wood for the trees. Listen to what he wrote in 1605: Don Quixote was addressing his faithful squire, Sancho Panza at the time, after suffering severe setbacks.”

Bear in mind, Sancho, that one man is no more than the other, unless he does more than the other. All these tempests that fall upon us are signs that fair weather is coming shortly, and that things will go well with us; for it is impossible for good or evil to last forever. Hence it follows that the evil having lasted so long, the good must now be nigh at hand. So you must not distress thyself at the misfortunes which happen to me, since you had no share in them.

Servaas doesn’t know much about knights, old-time chivalry or squires, but he understands the bit that evil can’t possibly last forever. In his mind, parliament has degenerated into a circus: good enough for entertainment but not really huge in the problem-solving department.

“And, whats more, Servaas, he wrote something else that comes to  mind…”

I do not deny that what happened to us is a thing worth laughing at. But it is not worth telling, for not everyone is sufficiently intelligent to be able to see things from the right point of view.

“Wow! He should have been our president, Gertruida.”

“You wish. But still, even though he died a poor man, at least he’ll be honoured by a monument. People from all over the world will come to pay homage to his genius.”

Servaas thinks about this. Cervantes, dead but honoured for his honest wisdom. The president, alive, and scorned for his devious ways.

“We live in a crazy country, Gertruida.”

“Indeed, Sancho.”

“My name is Servaas.”

“Oh…but you sound like him.”

The Bird that would be King

Albatross_Atl_YN_1_clive_harris_01_november“Fire,” Gertruida said, “is a natural phenomenon. Ever since the first thunderclouds gathered in the sky or the first volcano erupted, flames have been at work on dry grass and old wood. Fire isn’t there just to make light and cook food – nature needs fires to clear land, to help seeds germinate and then allow new growth to take over.”

“That may be true, but the fire in Cape Town destroyed much more than a few old trees. Houses, resorts, forests and the mountainside  will need a lot of time and money to recover. People have been left without homes. Animals were burnt to death. I can’t see the bright side this time, Gertruida, I just can’t.” True to her nature, Precilla dabs a tear.

“Nature – like Life – works in endless circles, Precilla. The forest of today is so often the burnt landscape of tomorrow. Beauty yields to age just like summer must bow to winter. Once we understand that, we know that the devastation we now see, will return to be the fairest Cape of all in the near future.”

“Does it always work that way? Even with people?’

Gertruida sighed. This question, she knows, leads to the one exception of the rule. “Not always. You see, Nature will recover from fires and floods and droughts – simply because Nature accepts the cycles of fortune it is subject to. In contrast, we are prone to overstate our importance, which may very well lead to permanent damage. Let me tell you an old African myth, Precilla. . Maybe it’ll help you understand…”


Once upon a time – long, long ago – the earth belonged to the birds. Not only were they the only ones who knew the secret of navigation and seasons, they also could fly high to look for fountains and rivers, forests to live in and safe places to nest. Over the years they became more and more numerous as they occupied the most fertile pieces of the land.

One bird, in particular, outstripped the others in wisdom. It was a  huge animal with beautiful plumage – the envy of all the other flying species.

“I shall rule over the land,” he said as he surveyed the vast continent, “for I am bigger and more beautiful than the rest of my family. And,” he added smugly, “I am so much cleverer than they.”

So this bird – his name I shall tell you in a moment – set about proclaiming his kingship. “I am of royal blood,” he cried, “and all the animals will pay homage to me. It is my right!”

While it was true that this bird could fly higher and remain in the air much longer than everybody else, the other birds accepted his claim and then addressed him as their king. For a while this brought great satisfaction to the self-proclaimed monarch and he bore himself in a manner befitting his new rank. He was gracious and kind and took a keen interest in all those under his proverbial wing.

Then, one day, the big king-bird soared high on the winds and looked down at the small animals grazing on the plains below.

“Is it right,” he mused, “that all the feathered animals proclaim me as their king, and yet those with hooves and paws ignore me? They are surely too small to oppose my rightful claim.”

So the big bird soared down to land next to a tortoise.”I am now your king. You shall respect me as such.”

And the tortoise, slow and small like he was, drew back into his shell to contemplate this.

Next, the bird approached a jackal, repeating his claim.

And the jackal, as clever as he was, slipped into a burrow under a rock to think about it.

Then the bird found a porcupine and informed him that he had to bow down before the new royalty.

And the porcupine rustled his quills and withdrew to analyze the situation.

Finally, the bird landed next to a lion. Before the bird could finish his proclamation, the lion smote it heavily with his huge paw, cursing the bird for being so forward.

“As the king of all the animals, I will not allow such foolish talk. You, who have inflated your importance to the point where you are deceiving not only others, but also yourself….you will henceforth not return to land. You will soar over the oceans, vainly searching for peace and rarely put your feet on solid ground again. Sailors will stare at you in fear, as you will be the symbol of misfortune and bad luck.  A king you shall never be, only a servant of the winds.”

The lion turned to go, but the badly injured bird pleaded for mercy.

“Please, Lion, do not leave me like this. I am but a poor bird and your curse will make me poorer still. Have you no mercy?’

And the lion turned to look at the bedraggled imposter and felt sorry for him. “I am, indeed, merciful. I shall grant you one wish.”

The bird didn’t hesitate.

“Give me something – anything – to help me?”

Lion thought about this and finally agreed. “I shall give you the sharpest eyes of all – so that you may gaze upon the land while you are flying over the oceans. You shall see the land and the rocks and the rivers. You shall observe the animals grazing and playing and hunting. But you, banished over the ocean, shall only see and only observe, for you have laid claim to what isn’t yours and tried to rule over what you have no right to. Your eyes, Bird, will be your punishment and your reward, which will be as one.”

And so the Albatross gathered his feathers and limped away. After he regained his strength, be flew to the ocean, where he resigned himself to his fate.


“That’s such a sad story, Gertruida. But…why tell it now?”

Gertruida smiled as she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you see? It’s the story of South Africa. It is also the story of most countries. The rulers of today will one day – if they live long enough – wonder why they didn’t go about their tasks with more compassion and kindness. They’ll look back and see what they have lost.

“Sadly, it isn’t only the politicians and the rulers who suffer this lot. It happens to common people – like us – as well. And the source of this hardship, Precilla, is greed. It’s the ego. It’s the demand to be more important than we are.”

Precilla thought about it for a long time. Then: “The fire in the Cape has come. Now it is gone. And nature will recover?”

Gertruida nodded.

“But people who succumb to greed and ego will lose what they craved for? Rulers and subjects alike?”

“Yes, Precilla. The proud and unbowed necks of too many, will wear the albatross of their folly in the end. It’s in every newspaper, every day – radicals, extremists, fundamentalists – once you proclaim that you have not only all the answers, but the only one, the winds over the vast ocean awaits you.”

“The Cape is lucky, then. It’ll recover.”

“Yes, Precilla. That’s the message. Nature can complete it’s cycles. Humans don’t.”

Survival of the Fittest?

images (11)“That was most unpleasant.” Gertruida goes harrumph and finishes her beer. “Imagine that? We’re being investigated for being honest.”

“What did you expect, Gertruida. Those poor men have to investigate somebody – and if not the criminals, why not us? We’re exactly the type of people that disrupt the peace and quiet in the country. The baddies sneak around and do their thing in silence, and at night. We, however, tend to get rather rowdy within minutes of Boggel unlocking the front door.” Servaas goes tsk-tsk and orders another beer. “We certainly have a lot to learn.”

The watch the black BMW drive off, not quite managing to miss the big pothole. The crunch of the chassis on the road causes the patrons in the bar to relax  a little, The visit by the three men had been as unexpected as unpleasant. Dressed in black suits and sporting Raybans, Gertruida immediately recognised the secret service attitude. However, after the two-hour grilling, she still isn’t sure whether they are from the police or some other government agency. True to the nature of these things, the men didn’t bother to introduce themselves properly.

The list of questions seemed endless. Who are they? Who funds them? Why are they constantly criticising the government in general and the president in particular? What are their plans? Do they have a stockpile of weapons? What’s this about them planning to declare their own republic? Did they not respect the high office of the president and other parliamentarians?

Oh, the men were friendly and never threatened the group at the bar in any way, except to discuss amongst themselves the expense of hiring a lawyer and how difficult it’d be for these backward people to meet such accounts. They also talked about the overcrowded jails, the gangs that are more powerful than the Minister of Correctional Services, and how popular a few white faces in the cells would be.

In the end they left, asking – nay, ordering – them to be more careful in their denunciation of the government that tries so hard to rule fairly over the obedient masses in the country.

“Well,” Boggel slides a cold one across to Servaas, “at least we never said anything about the president showering, the way he’s losing weight, or how one of his wives tried to poison him. If we start telling the truth, we’d be in deep trouble.”

“Stop moaning like that, Servaas. Lets concentrate on saying nice things about the way the country is governed. There has to be something….”


“O-o-okay.” Kleinpiet scratches at his five o’clock shadow, staring at the ceiling. “Let me see. We can consider awarding prizes for the top performers in the higher echelons. Mmmm. Not a bad idea.”

Vetfaan catches on immediately. “Like the Order of the Hammer and Sickle for somebody who’s getting the Russians to build nuclear reactors here, and the plans to dump the waste somewhere in the Kalahari?”

“Oh. My. Word! Talk like that will see you sent to Siberia, Vetfaan! How can you make such statements? Those men will make a sharp u-turn in Grootdrink if they heard this.” Precilla is clearly upset. “It’s like proposing the De Klerk Medal of Courage to anybody who speaks out against the quota system in sport.”

“No, I’d like to see somebody brave enough to accept the Jan van Riebeeck Award for Responsible Thinking. You know? Somebody who can point out the cause of all the strikes, land reforms and Marikana.” Boggel smiles smugly at this brilliant suggestion. “And while they’re at it, they can have the ceremony to convey the Order of the Iron Bar – First Class,  to the architect who now has to bear the blame for the swimming pool at Nkandla.”

After this they consider the Weighless Award for the politician who loses the most weight, the Shower Award for the cleanest parliamentarian, and the Cirque du Soleil Medal for the best clown in the House. Surprisingly, they all go to the same person.

The group at the bar gets so deeply involved in the discussion that they fail to see the black BMW stop in front of the veranda again.

“These people are mad,” the man in the back says as he removes the earpiece.

“You are right, comrade.” The driver sets the air-conditioner to ‘Freeze‘.  “It is a common malady that occurs in such isolated places. These men and women have too much time to think, then they come up with these crazy ideas. Politicians try do it, too – but their ideas are harmless: they just talk. We’ll have to report this to headquarters.”

The man in the passenger seat remains quiet. He actually likes the drift of the conversation in the bar. Having a bit of fun amidst the chaos in the country shouldn’t be halted by the law. In fact, he’d want to see them encouraged; especially after the silly idea of establishing a university here. These Rolbossers, he reckons, could have had marvellous careers in Escom or Sanral. But, sadly, these people lack the drive and ambition needed to aim for such illustrious careers.

They’re just too honest to be employed, unfortunately.  And, since the survival of the fittest (or the most creative at factual gymnastics) is a law of nature and politics, these people won’t be a factor to consider in the near future.

He sits back to allow his compatriots to discuss – at length – their report. Let them talk, he thinks, and let them write that report. In the end nobody’s going to read it, anyway. The officials concerned have bigger fish to fry: like whose turn it is to pop out for KFC.