Tag Archives: politics

Following Ariadne’s Thread

ariadnetheseus krauss8,3.jpg“People still argue about her, you know? Was she a goddess? Was she immortal? Or was she, like you and me, simply human? Or…most disappointing of all – is she only a myth, after all?” Gertruida simply loves doing this when the group in the bar has grown tired of discussing the drought and the latest blunders by our bungling party in power. She’ll throw out a sentence like that and pretend everybody knows exactly what she is talking about. Then she’ll get out her book of crossword puzzles and ignore the rest.

Servaas sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes before digging an elbow into Vetfaan’s ribs. “Your turn,” he whispers.

The problem with small towns – if Rolbos can even be elevated to such high status, more often being called a hovel or sometimes a ‘small collection of scattered buildings’ – is that the set routine about how things are done, is seldom subjected to logical scrutiny. Their behaviour is governed by the way things were done in the past, and that’s the way it’d be done next week…or next year, for that matter. Servaas had taken the bait the last time Gertruida egged them on, so now it is Vetfaan’s turn.

“Ag, okay then, Gertruida, we give up. Who you talking about? Our previous Public Protector? She certainly  fits the bill… ”

“She’s much older than dear Thuli, Vetfaan. Much older and  … much too young.. Like Thuli, she had a analytical, logical brain which she used to solve the most difficult problems with. And, sadly, like Thuli, there are many voices condemning her today as an unfaithful and two-faced character. The only difference, maybe, is that our heroine belongs to Greek mythology, while Thuli is very much alive and well and living in our midst.”

“Oh, for the sake of Vrede,” Servaas gestures to the town’s dog, patiently waiting for a bit of biltong on Boggel’s pillow beneath the counter, “stop the nonsense. Who – or what – are you going on about?”

“Why, Ariadne, of course.” Gertruida rolls her eyes in mock horror. “Didn’t you know? I thought everybody knew about the stunningly beautiful girl who helped Theseus to slay the Minotaur in the labyrinth.”She stares at the blank faces for a few seconds before sighing heavily. “Oh my. Surrounded by the crowd of super-gifted intelligentia once more.

“To slay the Minotaur, Theseus had to find his way through the labyrinth to get to the creature/man. And once he’d managed to kill the beast, he had to find his way back again – a seemingly impossible task. Enter Ariadne with a ball of twine, which she handed to Theseus. Then, much like Hansel and Gretel did with their breadcrumbs, Theseus knew exactly what route to take to get to the exit of the labyrinth again.

dePasse16002gs.jpg“So, today, if you talk about Ariadne’s Thread, you talk about the ‘solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding – such as a physical maze, a logic puzzle, or an ethical dilemma – through an exhaustive application of logic to all available’. Simply put, it says that you must consider all the ways to solve a problem and that logic will dictate the best route.

“So, Ariadne’s thread helped Theseus to accomplish the apparently impossible, just like we have to in the current political climate.” Gertruida drew two sketches on the countertop to illustrate her story:

Minotaurus-in-center-300x232.gifimages (1).jpg

“A grand story if ever there was one.” Servaas suppressed a bored yawn. “But your analogy to our politics doesn’t make sense.”

“Oh, it does, my friend. You see, the majority of people approach our current situation on an emotional basis. They argue that the ruling party deserves credit – and loyalty – because of the struggle to free the country of Apartheid. That’s why our prez cannot say two words without harping back to the past.

“But, of course, the ANC of Sobukwe and Biko and Mandela has passed on a long time ago. The high ideals of the struggle have been replaced by individual greed and chronic megalomanioses. To keep the masses voting for them, the ruling party has to remind them of the past – all the time. And then, of course there are the 2,3 to 5 million (depending on which source you believe) taxpayers who have to support 17 million recipients of social grants. Logic whispers, Servaas, but money shouts.

“There’s no logic to our electoral system, see? There is a huge difference between democracy and being held at ransom by the masses who cast an emotional (as opposed to a logical) vote.”

“Old news, Gertruida. We know that.”

“True. Everybody does. But we need somebody like Ariadne to give us the thread so we can slay the Minotaur and still get out of the Labyrinth alive. We need respected people to stand up and tell it like it is. We don’t need emotional votes, neither do we need emotional criticism. We need logic to be resurrected in our society, with people choosing their words and actions wisely and … logically. Ariadne’s way, in fact.”

Vetfaan slices off a piece of Kudu biltong and slips it to Vrede.

“I’ll drink to that. May our Ariadne  have enough thread for a nation.”

“So, what happened to Ariadne?”

“Nobody really knows, Vetfaan, there are variations in the myt,.depending on who tells the story. Some say she committed suicide, others maintain she was abandoned on some island. Most agree that she had a sad end.”

Servaas nods slowly. “The price of honesty. That’s the problem. Few are brave enough to face the truth…”

 

There’s a grave waiting…

images.jpgThe cemetery at the foot of Bokkop – outside the small town of Rolbos – is a rather lonely spot. Bearing in mind the handful of people living in town, one can understand that the cemetery cannot be compared to those in larger places like Loeriesfontein or Lekkersing. Why, the bustling community of Riemvasmaak sees far more of the extremes of human life than our little hovel in the Kalahari.

One of the most recent graves belongs to Siena, old Servaas’s sadly-departed wife. He finds solace in the memories of many years of marriage to the soft-spoken lady, as well as in the cold beers Boggel serves in the little bar. He says the one sustains the past while the other props up the present, The future? Servaas says it’s far too dark to contemplate at all..

Still, despite the relative freshness of Servaas’s loss, there is a new mound of red sand at the edge of the cemetery – just a oblong heap is sand with no cross or any other form of marking. And, because the place is visited so rarely, it is quite likely that the soft night winds will flatten the surface again before anybody should visit the grave of a departed loved one.

Now, the good people of Rolbos are not superstitious and they do not harbour gullible thoughts on irrational subjects. No, they will always find the most logical answers to the most difficult questions, like the time Gertruida questioned the decision-making prowess or our government. It was Vetfaan who reminded her that we – indeed – do not have a government in the classic sense of the word, but that we have been reduced to insignificance by a group of megalomaniacs. Good governance, he said, was an oxymoron, just like effective policing or, more recently, the term ‘public protector’.

So, should one of the Rolbossers notice the freshest grave in their burial place, he (or she) would want to know why he (or she) missed such an important event and why he (or she) didn’t have the opportunity to question Oudoom on the Church’s approach to thorny social issues. But, being summer and unbearably hot, the townsfolk spend their time in the most logical (and comfortable) place, enjoying a few cold beers and sensibly avoiding the scorching heat outside.

But it’s out there, on the plains of the vast desert, that death finally had the last say and the noble existence that once lived proudly, ceased to be. It simply had no fight left, no desire to compete against the odds that were becoming more and more unfavourable every day. Life is like that, not so? The risk of death increases with every passing minute, every hour of life that speeds by. Like a playful puppy, it keeps on crawling nearer, no matter how hard we try to ignore the inevitable.

The neglected mound next to the rusting fence is the last resting place for a pair of twins, in fact.  The inseparable Siamese siblings, Truth and Integrity rest here in eternal peace after a life-long struggle to impress upon the country the essence of their existence. Through the years they have been battered into submission – first by the Church, then by the media and finally by a succession of political leaders. Although sick, diseased, fatigued and in dire straits, the twins battled on bravely. They refused to succumb to the ever-increasing tide of scorn and lies levelled at them, prepared to fight to the last.

And they did. They fought bravely, making sure that the facts of so many lies and corrupt dealings got to the right people  at the right time; using newspapers, TV and common men and women to expose the greed and corruption eating away at the fabric of our society.

And then came the final blow; the act that killed the twins in such a cowardly manner that generations to come will hang their heads in shame. Professors in Political Science will tell the story for as long as there are students that listen, while others who had followed the liberation movement in the past, will stare at the pages of history books in shame.

Truth and Integrity might have stood a chance of survival under different circumstances. Had the country had a government of honour, the twins would have been with us still. But, with State Capture nearing completion, the final blow came with the appointment of a man to parliament who has no respect for the twins. He killed them with his tears, his lies and his desire to serve not the country, but the man who has shown a singular  and progressive lack of political insight over the past few years.

But, one must admit, the nature of Life is a strange phenomenon.Yes, the little mound of red earth will flatten as the winds caress the fine granules of red Kalahari sand away to the open plains. And yes, for a while people will forget the twins ever lived.

But…

How strange then, the fact that people forget so easily? That the odds of dying increases with every breath? And just like Truth and Integrity aren’t real people but still have died, so there are others that will have to succumb to the inevitabilities we all have to live (and die) with. Nothing remains hidden forever, just as nothing lives forever.

So, Mister President, the blood of the twins is on your hands – and those of your current favourite little friend, he of the crocodile tears and the many questions of his role in load shedding. Enjoy your season in the sun – for time marches on and Deceit and Corruption will have to die as well. The risk of that happening increases with every passing minute, Mister Commander in Chief. And when they, at last, cease to be – as they must – your family and the rest of the country will remember.

They’ll remember.

Everything.

With limitless shame.

Vetfaan’s SONA and #Time to face the music.

It’s been a custom for a few years now, so  – once again – Vetfaan is cajoled into predicting what (and how) the president will deliver his yearly State of the Nation  Address. To do this, he has to practice saying numbers the way only Number One can, which isn’t easy.

 

“…This year, we will spend one thousand, two million and five rands on improving the fire pool. I fully expect my cattle herd to increase by three thousand…listen carefully…three point twenty-five per cent, allowing me to pay back the money at a rate of fourteen rand and  fifty seventy every month. This will prove not only my innocence, but also my unquestionable integrity…”

“”What about the seven hundred and eleventy-three cases of corruption you are dodging?”  As this is only a practice session, Servaas feels free to interrupt. “#Pay back the money is nice, but #time to face the music, seems more appropriate now.” He waves a clenched fist in the direction of Boggel, who immediately realises it’s the old man telling the world he needs a new beer.

“Eish, you are a racist pig, Servaas. It’s people like you who make this country ungovernable – did you know that?” Vetfaan pushes an imaginary pair of glasses back onto his nose bridge. “Let me explain it to you – very slowly, so you may understand.” He now points a finger at his audience while he does a little hip-wiggle. “Look, Africa is the biggest continent in the world. It is so big, her rivers never reach the sea and it took Jan van Riebeeck more than sixe…six…sixteen hundred and…ah. Never mind. He took a long time in coming here, understand?

“Now, before Jan van Riebeeck, there was no corruption. Nothing. People never had to make laws about corruption because there was none. That is history. Go on, look it up: if you find a single law aimed against corruption before Van Riebeeck’s arrival, you can come and spend a weekend at Nkandla – free of charge.

“But then Van Riebeeck came and South Africa had to have something they never had before – laws. These laws governed the way the Dutch people lived at the Cape. Were they African laws?” He pauses for effect.  “No. They were laws imported from Europe. Why?” Again he waits a second. “Because Europe invented corruption, that’s why. One of my reading friends looked it up: it’s a Latin word. It appeared in its current form sometime in the fourtieth…er…fourteenth century – in English. Which must have been just before Van Riebeeck bought his ticket to come here. So that, I must add, is just another argument against colonialism. The Dutch and the English – they started the problems down here.”

“But what, Mister President, about the help you received during the struggle years. Were not the Brits and the Dutch deeply involved in your fight against Apartheid?”

Vetfaans eyes flash his anger. “How dare you corrupt a perfectly good argument with facts?  You must realise we had help from America and Russia as well. How could we foresee Trump becoming president? Putin, at least, is on my side. He said so, after we spoke about the nuclear powerstations. And don’t you go on believing Putin is a bad man – You’d be surprised to know how generous he was with me. He said Nkandla is nothing…for him it’s small change. The way he appreciates my friendship goes far beyond the Nkandla debt – in fact, I’ll be able to settle that score as soon as the Russian stations connect up to the power grid.”

“And the Chinese? They’re your very best buddies now? What will the Guptas say about them?”

“Servaas, you’re testing my patience here. I’ll keep my answer short. In politics you don’t have friends. Never. You have business partners, even though you’ll never admit that in public. In fact, you have to be very quiet about that. And if people start asking questions, you start talking about Jan van Riebeeck, colonialism and white monopoly. At the same time you get the illiterate vote by promising land reform, increased grants and nationalising the mines. Being president, my friend, is a question of playing the ends against the middle. Ask Donald Trump – we’ll never be friends, but I think he’d be a good African leader.”

“Aren’t you proposing more colonialism with that statement?”

Vetfaan sighs theatrically. “That’s the difference between you people and myself. You guys think in straight lines. That’s stupid.”

“…and your mind weighs up the convoluted odds of corruption, Van Riebeeck’s arrival and Putin’s generosity?”

“Servaas!” Vetfaan is so angry he almost forgets to use the right accent. “The fact that you are ignorant does not give you the luxury of an opinion, you hear? Anyway, you voted for the wrong party, so even if you had an opinion, it wouldn’t count.  And what’s wrong with Putin, anyway? Trump loves the man.”

“You seem to harbour a deep respect for Mister Trump, my president?”

“Well, his forefathers didn’t come to South Africa, did they? They went west, Van Riebeeck went east. So, he’s the opposite of Oom Jan. That makes him a good man….”

Boggel holds up a hand. “Hey you guys, stop it now. You were supposed to be funny – but the way you’re going on, will have me in tears just now – or applying for a Visa to the US of A.  I wonder if they’ll allow me in?”

Vetfaan sits back, relieved that his SONA is over. “Visa into America?  Go there and leave Rolbos? Are you completely crazy? I’d rather have Zuma than Trump.”

“And why would that be?”

“With Trump you’re never quite sure whether he is truthful or if he sticks to facts. He makes you doubt, you see?  With Zuma you don’t have that problem at all…”

“So the SONA doesn’t matter?”

“That’s right, Servaas. The SONA won’t change a thing. They’ll have the imbongi shouting the praises like in medieval times before things got a bit … more sophisticated. Then the prez will dazzle us with his ability to waltz through figures and facts without touching sides. Then you’ll have some of his friends telling you how well  he manages the stress of the highest office – even though he seems to be losing a bit of weight recently.  The opposition will scoff. And on Friday….we’ll all be just where we were on Wednesday, except for the surprise of the few who  thought the bovine faecal level couldn’t go any higher.”

Politics, religion, media: who trumps who?

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Credit: Mail & Guardian

“So the land of the free is going to get their own version of a modern-day dictator?” Servaas throws out the bait – it’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place again.

“Not if you listened to some religious leaders, Servaas. They paint him as The Recsuer – the man who’ll bring back proper values and some pride in being an American.” Vetfaan doesn’t sound overly optimistic though. “And, whatever one’s opinion, one must agree that the world needs a bit of a shake-up. Look at us: we’ve become spectators and not participants any longer. We listen to the news, cluck our tongues and promptly distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedies around us.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan, but whose fault is that? The churches insist on preaching good news every Sunday, saying God will fix everything in the end. The politicians say we mustn’t worry, everything is fine. The newspapers contain so much bad news, we skip over the articles. So…the church, the politicians and the media are completely out of sync. Who to believe? In the end, none of the above.”

Vetfaan nods. “We’ve become so self-absorbed that old-fashioned charity, good manners and compassion have flown out of the window. The nett result? We’re ostriches – head in the sand and please pass me by.”

“Well, we can’t say much about the US of A; not with the mess we’ve got in governance…and in our churches. First gays are sinners, then they’re not. Now they’re again.  And some pastors prescribe Doom insecticide and petrol as tests for your belief in God, while the  ANC  says it’ll rule until Jesus comes again. Zuma claims God is on his side…”

“And then his tent gets blown away by a freak storm?” Vetfaan can’t help interrupting. “Some say it was an act of God. Doesn’t sound like He’s amused by Zuma’s antics.”

“Well.” Servaas puckers his lis like he does when somebody oversteps the religion line. “People seem to think they understand God and His ways. This, my friend, is true for any religion you care to think about. So you get radical lefts and conservative rights, and they all claim to be preaching the word of The Creator. In the old days, a preacher would be very careful – even humble -with his interpretation of certain verses. Now, however, it is he brash and the outspoken pastors who fill megachurches … or start wars.

“It’s almost funny, Vetfaan. The more we advance in technology, the more naive society becomes. I think advanced societies get so clever that they don’t think any more. They gain knowledge but lose wisdom…which is terribly sad and stupid. Ponzi schemes, religious radicalism, crazy politics – you’d think that an intelligent community would be aware enough to sniff out the fraudsters…but they don’t.” Servaas sighs. “Well, I’m glad I live in Rolbos. The drought is real The sand between my toes is real. Boggel’ Place is real.

“And that’s good enough for me. Zuma, Trump and a whole lot of modern-day social structures can pass me by. As long as they are only virtual realities, they can stay other side of the Orange River…please and thank you.”

The Circus Lion of Society

2B66E2C400000578-0-image-a-56_1439753878897.jpg“Isn’t it strange how some people manage to convince themselves that they  – or their deeds – are invisible? Fact is: the things you have done and said in the past, remain as historical facts. And, what’s more, we live in a digital age in which information is not only freely available, but it also spreads at the press of a button.”

“Ja, Gertruida, that is true for Trump and Zuma. No matter how much they’d like to bury the past under a heap of horse manure, there just aren’t enough horses around to help them out. Their actions – or lack thereof – remain as timeless accusations against their characters. It simply won’t fade away as the days and months roll by – in fact, they become more visible.”

“Society,” Gertruida pouts like she does when she’s in her cynical mood, “has become a circus lion, Vetfaan. We’ve been cowed into subjection, tortured to submission and dominated into impassive insensitivity.Where is that steadfast honesty and integrity our forefathers were so famous for….”

“At least some of them,” Vetfaan interjects, ignoring Gertruida’s disapproving frown.

“…and fought for so hard?” Gertruida ignores the taunt. “And, let me remind you: this never was a white or brown or black issue. Sure, we had some very bad apples spread widely through the development of our country, but somehow our spirit of adventure always had a foundation of justice to it. The Great Trek and the Freedom Struggle had more in common than meets the eye: both were quests for freedom from oppression and both were driven by men and women who sought civil justice. The methods differed, but the basic premise was the same.

“Somewhere along the line, however, we always seem to muddle things up. Power corrupts, Vetfaan, and that’s the bottom line. Too much power ends up in the very same oppression we tried to escape in the first instance.”

“That’s when we become circus lions?” Vetfaan arches an eyebrow.

“Sure. A lion is a vicious animal, a superb hunter and known as the king of the jungle. Then man comes along with a whip and beats the natural instincts out of him. The lion submits, forgets who and what he was, and becomes a plaything – a party trick to amuse the crowd. If the lion believed in himself, he’d easily overpower the man with the whip – he’d snap the ringmaster in two, jump out of the ring and go back to being a lion. But the poor animal has lost the will to fight. He’d rather jump through a few hoops to earn his measly dinner of donkey chops than roam free and live off kudu steaks.”

“Okay, so we’ve become a nation of cowards. What’s next?”

Gertruida stares at her friend for a second or two before answering.

“Time. That’s the answer. That, and the power of history. Lions don’t keep record of who growled what and when – they lack the skill of understanding history. And to them there’s no yesterday and no tomorrow – they eat, hunt and sleep as and when the need arises. We, on the other hand, cannot escape the past and are very much aware of the future.

“Nations – throughout history – have gone through periods of oppression. There have been autocrats, dictators and madmen throughout the ages, who’d thought their whips would be enough to keep the lion of society at bay.” She sighs, orders another beer and shrugs. “Name one empire – one single leader – who has survived it’s own injustices? Don’t even bother answering that, Vetfaan, we both know the answer.”

“So America and South Africa are in the same boat?”

“No, my friend. We are at the point where the lion is about to snap the whip in two. America’s circus is still in training…”

The Horizon Hunter #6

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Cape Town, 1998

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve never been back.”

***

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

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

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #5

000_ARP1530688.jpg“Being a free man – or a free youth – was wonderful. I went back to Aunty Florrie’s house and found out a lot had changed in the meantime. Mom called me aside that evening.”

***

“It’s been fifteen, sixteen years since your father left us, Mo. He never returned from that operation into Angola and all I know is what they tell me: missing in action. Now that it’s safe to make official enquiries, I’m still not sure what had happened to him. I must assume he’s dead – the army even offered me a pension of sorts.

“So now I’ve met this man, James February. A good man, Mo, who loves me. We want to get married.”

Mo thought it was a great idea. Mary Cronje, his mother, was not a young girl any longer – she deserved to have some love and joy in her life. Mo, however, couldn’t get himself to accept James as a father. Having grown up without such a privilege, he had learnt to fend for himself, think for himself and set his own boundaries. Anyway, his real father – of whom his mother occasionally made mention – remained an enigmatic figure in the back of his mind. He’d fantasised about the man; conflicting thoughts imagining a fearless soldier as opposed to somebody defending apartheid. At times he’d wish he had known him, at others he despised the very idea.

James February tried his best to befriend the rebellious youth, and succeeded to some degree. After all, James was a prominent political figure, somebody who commanded respect from the community. And James, knowing as he did what trauma the youth had lived through, treated Mo with great care and compassion.

Mo was now almost seventeen and James tried in vain to enroll his stepson in a technicon or even a university – but with no formal schooling, it was impossible. The solution was to appoint Mo as a personal assistant and chauffeur. At least, James reckoned, that’d keep the boy busy.

Mo’s old network of friends and contacts also welcomed him back after his imprisonment. Mo was the hero, the one who refused to divulge anything about their activities despite the severe interrogation. For a while, Mo was quite the toast of the town and feted as a minor celebrity.

The elections of 1994 saw the inevitable change in government. James was appointed on the Mayoral Committee of Cape Town. The future, it seemed, could not be anything but rosy. Had it not been for Mo’s old network, it might have been.

The problem surfaced one evening in 1998 at a local shebeen where Mo and his old friends were having a drink and chatting about the bad old days. By then, they could laugh at the hardship and the many close shaves they had had, and Mo’s story was told over and over again.

“It’s just a pity things are getting out of hand again.” This remark by Steven Plaatjies resulted in a sullen silence. Yes, it was true. The politicians were in it for their own good and rumours of rampant corruption were common. “The more things change, my friends, the more they stay the same.”

“I’ve heard some stories,” Keith Petersen nodded. “And it’s not just the ministers and high-ups. Local government is equally bad. If this goes on, the government will lose Cape Town.”

“Impossible!” Mo rose to his feet, shaking his head in disbelief. “James is working hard to improve conditions in the Cape. I know – I’m with him all the time.”

Keith laid a placating hand on Mo’s shoulder. “Listen, Mo, we’ve been friends for a long time and I wouldn’t want that to change. But…you’ll have to open your eyes, man! Already there’s talk about the possibility of the Soccer Cup coming to South Africa in 2010. Some say it’ll definitely happen. And who’s meeting with construction companies all the time? James! And why? Because he’s worried about a stadium? No way, my brother. The big guys are making deals – big deals – that’d line their pockets very nicely, thank you. Tell me Mo, you’re the chauffeur. Where have you been taking James the last few weeks?”

Mo shook his head. James? Corruption? What were they talking about? Yes, James must have visited all the major construction companies in the Cape, but he thought…

“Look, these things are planned years in advance. Remember Lucy Adams, the auntie who’s a cleaner in the premier’s office? Well, she has to throw out the trash every day. And boy! The stuff she finds in the wastepaper baskets! No we,” Kieth pointed at the rest of the group, “didn’t want to talk about it – especially not you – but now it’s become too much. You’ll have to help us, Mo, otherwise everything we fought for will go down the drain.

“You see, apparently the premier, the mayor and certain officials – James is amongst them – are skimming a lot of money from different projects. But now they’ve become greedy – they want more and they think they’re untouchable. The big prize is the Soccer World Cup, with Cape Town being one of the host cities. It seems as if there are people out there that’d do anything t make that happen. They want to get a piece of the action while most people are still wondering if the soccer will really come our way. The way I read it – it’s already in the bag. Money, Mo, is what is at stake. The World Cup is a mere sideshow.

“Aunty Lucy is great and she finds papers. But you, Mo, are right on the spot. Keep your eyes and ears open. If our suspicions prove to be correct, we’ll have to go high to stop these corrupt deals. Maybe…even to to the president.”

Steven Plaatjies agreed. “Mo, you’ve been tortured. We’ve fought hard. In the old days, we ran around selling dagga – that was nothing but a way to survive. Then they promised us a better life – and have you seen any difference? I haven’t. It’s because our politicians don’t care a owl’s hoot about us common people. They sit in their air-conditioned offices, wheeling and dealing and filling their wallets. We have to stop this.”

And Mo, only barely an adult, found the tears welling up. Did not James buy that big BMW just the other day? And did he not promise a holiday in Mauritius over Christmas? What about the diamond earrings he gave Mary?

The next day after work, he visited Achmad Sulliman. If anybody knew about crime in Cape Town, the drug lord of the city was sure to know. Achmad was careful how he chose his words, but he was as honest as he could have been with the boy he had rescued as a baby.

That was the night Mo’s journey really started.

 To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #4

download (8).jpg“Life in Atlantis was okay, I guess. The neighbours all knew our story and warned us many times whenever the inspectors were checking up on people’s ID’s. However, my mother refused to send me to school – the danger of exposure loomed too large. Anyway, I was an unregistered child, remember? Basically – as far as the officials were concerned, I didn’t exist.”

***

Mo’s mother found work as a waitress in Cape Town itself, which involved a lengthy train trip to a fro every day. Mo stayed at home, under the care of Achmad, her brother, for a while. Achmad was the main middleman in the supply of dagga (hashish) to the local community. A friend of a friend had a hidden plantation in the Transkei and he had several distributors who acted as agents in the Cape area. In the days before drug lords, Achmad was the king of Atlantis.

Dealing in illicit drugs  was (and still is) a nefarious and dangerous business. Achmad could not survive without a network of dealers and informers. A lot of people depended on him for an income and quite a few were deeply indebted to him in more ways than one. One of them was the lovable Aunty Florrie.

Florrie was a remarkable woman. She used to be a social worker and even helped out at the small local school for a while, but the slippery slope of alcoholism deposited her squarely in the cul de sac of addiction. She was one of Achmad’s runners and – despite her sales – could never quite get out of debt with her supplier. Achad made her an offer she could not refuse: if she housed Maria and her child, her past transgressions would be forgiven. No more debt. A new start.

Florrie grabbed the opportunity and not only provided a roof over the poor mother’s head, but also started teaching the child the basics of reading and writing. Mo proved to be a fast learner.

At the time, Mo’s identity remained a huge problem. Achad suggested that he’d arrange with ‘some people he knew’ to register the child in his name. A sympathetic Methodist pastor agreed – rather enthusiastically – to baptise little Mohammed Sulliman, clearly a convert to Christianity from a Muslim home. Now, with documents from the church and Achmad’s ID papers, the Department of Home Affairs had to be convinced that the child’s birth simply wasn’t registered due to an oversight by the Sulliman family. Money changed hands. Mo Sulliman became a real, official person.

Aunty Florrie continued her home schooling simply because it kept Achmad off her back. No, she didn’t think formal schooling would bring out the best in the child – not at all. He was far too clever to be immersed in the second-rate teaching the government provided (she said) and she provided individual teaching, didn’t she? The other side of the coin also deserves mentioning: so profound was M0’s influence on Florrie’s life that she almost stopped using drugs. Almost. Not quite.

Initially Aunty Florrie guided Mo through the basics of learning quite successfully, but when the boy was about nine years old, her addiction flared up again. Achmad was dismayed and then had to face the problem of an almost-ten years old boy who never had formal schooling. A government school was out of the question – but what to do with a ten-year old kid with nothing to do? The solution: recruit Mo as a runner to make deliveries to the agents. images (22).jpgThis was a brilliant move. While his other distributors were adults, mostly convicts and generally known to the police, the little boy could fool them all. The only problem was his rather white skin – which was solved by generous applications of Coppertone and plenty of sun.

And so, gradually over the next two years, Mo became familiar with the underbelly of the Cape’s drug world. In turn, people accepted the little runner as one of their own, while his reputation of always managing to avoid the long arm of the law eventually earned him the respect of  a number of ex-convicts and other individuals surviving in the world of petty crime and other illicit activities.

At the time, the Anti-Apartheid Resistance Movement was gaining ground amongst the Coloured people of Atlantis. The community was ripe for rebellion – after their forced move from District Six, the mood in the community was distinctly anti-government. AARM needed informers and made a deal with Achmad: they’ll smuggle the new drug, LSD, to him, in exchange for information. Achmad’s network fitted their requirements like a glove: his distributors and users worked in the affluent houses of Cape Town and some were cleaners in government departments. A few even were employed as officials and clerks. And they all could be trusted to be true to the cause as long as the supply of drugs was guaranteed.

Mo became the trusted runner with stolen documents, secret messages and  drugs – a heady mix of danger and adventure for the youth who understood the necessity of secrecy all too well. But, in the end, even this elusive runner became the focus of police activity, for the officials also had their own network of informers. A reward was posted and Mo was caught.

What followed is not something Mo wants to talk about. His interrogation was merciless and involved the usual methods used on other so-called terrorists. Solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, water – these and other ways of making him talk were all used. However, young Mo stubbornly refused to answer any question, repeating over and over again that he knew nothing. He was a street child, homeless, with no real family. Yes, he knew Achmad Sulliman, he was an uncle. And yes, Achmad had adopted him, but that was a long time ago. No he didn’t know where his mother was. He survived by scavenging on the streets – go on, ask anybody in Atlantis: they’ll all confirm that he was seen here and there, doing odd jobs and living off scraps. His interrogators redoubled their efforts. Mo remained unbroken.

The one thing Mo still remembers, is a visit from Aunty Florrie.

“I only heard – later – that she had died a week before. I didn’t know that.  But one night, while I was shivering from being cold and wet and hungry – suddenly, as if by magic – Aunty was there at my side. I was so disorientated and confused, I didn’t question her presence or how she got there.

1990-02-03.jpg“Well, she held me in her arms and made soothing noises. It was wonderful. Then she told me I had to be strong, everything would change soon. I would be free again, she said. She said I must remember the date: it was Thursday, the 1st of February, 1990.”

Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, Aunty Florrie was gone. The next day, on the 2nd of February, President F.W. de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance movements.

 ***

Mo sat back, his characteristic smile replacing the scowl of recounting his experiences during those terrible days.

“I thought that would be the end of it all. You know – Mandela was freed, there were talks about a negotiated settlement and even free elections for all. And…you won’t believe it…my interrogators arrived on the Monday after De Klerk’s speech with new clothes and a hamburger. They said it didn’t matter anymore and that I’d be freed that Wednesday. A doctor came and examined me. They even sent a pastor to give me a lecture on forgiveness!

“Me? I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d be set free and that the beatings stopped. I was old enough to understand that everything had changed, but too young to be cynical about it. So, on that Wednesday, I was ushered to a back door in my new clothes, given ten rand and told to bugger off.”

Mo sioghed. “You know, I really thought that was the end of my troubles.” He shook his head. “Had I but known…”

To be continued…

The Horizon Hunter #2

mandela21.jpgMo, the man of such mixed ancestry and culture, had never doubted that his passage through life would be an arduous one – to understate the obvious. His very name already suggested  – in fact: implied – a lifetime of being an In Between Man; the huge misfit in a society so diverse that even the norm was impossible to define.

So, as he walked out of the little town of Rolbos, one can understand that he felt somewhat elated. The time he had spent in the bar with the townsfolk was quite possibly the best respite he had had for a number of years; for they all sat down together, debated (without resorting to heated arguments) and tried to make sense of what passed as civilisation at the time. They had their differences, of course: Servaas, as the arch-conservative and Gertruida who tended to be more liberal (open-minded, as she termed it), could not agree on the principle of free tertiary education for all.

“Look, if you have the potential, you should be able to obtain a degree,” Gertruida had been adamant about that.

images (21).jpg

Credit: laafriquemedia.biz

Servaas could not be swayed. “Yeah? Then you’ll have more riff-raff burning down university halls and libraries! Tell me, Mrs Know-it-all, how does it make sense to protest in favour of education while you destroy the very facility you want to study at? Those kids aren’t students – they’re hooligans. You want to hand out free, substandard degrees to everybody – just to keep the youths happy? What do you think the international acceptance of our degrees would be? I’ll tell you: they’ll smirk and ignore our graduates as idiots. No, you have to earn a degree, Gertruida – that involves time spent on your backside, studying… and not jumping around to some moronic chant, brandishing a box of matches.”

Vetfaan then asked the question they could not agree on: “Is tertiary education a right…or a privilege?”

Boggel had intervened and told them to relax – it wasn’t the students fault. “It’s a question of monkey see, monkey do, guys. Those students grew up in households where protesting was the only way to survive. At first they protested against apartheid – and we all agree that was a justified cause. Then the country settled down for a ‘new democracy’ and everything went pear-shaped all over again. The politicians promised the world and delivered a pebble – and all the while they helped themselves to the goodies in the state’s candy store. So, the parents took to the streets again. Nothing happened. They burnt municipal buildings. Nothing happened. They murdered politicians…and still nothing happened. Despite everything, the poor people had to put up with inadequate hospitals, inferior and overcrowded schools, almost non-existent service delivery, horrible sanitation and a future filled with worse conditions than they ever had in the past. Protests were the only way to draw attention to their lot and that’s what they did.

“So these kids – the students – have this as the template for change. Burn, destroy and intimidate. It’s proven successful – to various degrees – for their parents, so why not do it themselves? It is another form of township justice, a social kangaroo court of a society frustrated beyond all reasonable bounds.”

“But that doesn’t make it right, Boggel. Why must Rhodes fall, fees fall, tolls fall…and Zuma remain unscathed?”

“Wrong, Servaas. Zuma will fall. If history insists on remembering Verwoerd as the architect of apartheid, then future generations will read about the corrupt king who destroyed Mandela’s legacy.”

The conversation drifted this way and that until they all agreed that the country was in an in-between state. Gertruida summed it up.

“Death and birth share certain similarities. It may be painful. It may be slow. To the impatient it takes far too long. To the optimist, it may hold hope. In the end, it’s an inevitable process with a certain outcome. The only answer is patience – and the expectation of change. It’ll come, you’ll see.”

Mo sat down under the big old thorn tree next to the road with a smile hovering about his lips while he contemplated an unexpected thought.

“Why do I have to keep on searching for answers? Why slog away day after day, hoping for an answer beyond the horizon?  Did Gertruida not say something about the vulnerability of mothers?”

Yes, he can recall her exact words:

A mother is most vulnerable at birth. She is stripped of all dignity and completely defenseless. What is happening in the country today? I’ll tell you: she’s giving birth. It’s a painful process without dignity or respect. She’s crying out for help and understanding. The infant she’ll bear, will be a helpless struggler, unable to comprehend the challenges it’ll have to face in the future. It’s a bleak picture – but not without hope.

“So we’ll just have to be midwives, Mo. Instead of condemning her, we should ease the pain; support her in her hour of need. Understanding the process is already half the cure. And if we do, we’ll have to lend a helping hand to rear the newborn infant and guide it to maturity.

“You see, Mo, the country is just like you – an unenviable mix of rich and poor; an amalgamation of gene pools, cultures and beliefs. It is unique but at the same time, a picture of what is happening across the globe. We’re in the process now – it cannot be stopped. 

“The future? Ah, my dear Mo, it’s as bright – or as dark – as we choose it to be. It’s up to us.”

Mo got up slowly, the smile wider now. Why journey farther in a futile search? No, he finally had found the other side of the horizon. He gathered his few belongings and returned to the road. Not for a moment did he wonder what the Rolbossers would say when he – once again – pushed open those swing doors of Boggel’s Place.

The Jackal in our Midst…

KAROO.jpg“I’ve read another one of Lawrence Green’s books last week,” Servaas says slowly as he puts down the paper. “Titled ‘Karoo’, it tells the story of the region in the fifties. What I found most intriguing,, was the tale of a Mr J.S. van Pletsen, a farmer in the area. He raised a jackal and kept him like one would keep a dog. Highly intelligent, the creature was. But, as he grew older, he started biting the other dogs on the farm. He would not, for instance, let them near his food bowl. And he’d eat the other dog’s food – as if he never had enough. Eat as he might, he just couldn’t satisfy his hunger. He’d steal mice from the farmer’s cat, raid the pantry and kill chickens at random.

“Now this jackal, you must realise, grew up with a litter of pups from the farmer’s dog. He acted like a dog, looked a bit like a dog and learnt tricks like a dog. In fact, when he was younger, he could pass as a dog. But then he grew up and he became what he was designed to be – a marauding scavenger. He simply could not deny his heritage or the message conveyed by his instincts and genes. They say a leopard can’t change his spots, but neither can a jackal.”

“Yes, I read that book – fascinating stuff, like all of Green’s books.” Gertruida – who knows everything, isn’t about to be outdone. “In it he tells another story; this one about Broken Toe, the cleverest jackal of them all.

“His tracks were first noticed on a farm in the Riversdale district, in 1924 if I remember correctly. Characteristic, they were, with one toe obviously crooked. Man, that jackal was a killer! He wasn’t satisfied with killing enough to eat – oh no! He would wade into a flock of sheep and kill at random, just for the sake of killing. His range included a large tract of land and he terrorised the farmers until they put a handsome reward on his head. It didn’t help, of course. Broken Toe was far too clever. They organised dogs, hunting expeditions and hired professional hunters – and still Broken Toe eluded them all. For eleven years that jackal had the farmers at his mercy; he struck when and where his fancy took him. Poison and traps were useless.

“Only a lucky shot by a hunter from Darling, a certain Mr Fick, ended Broken Toe’s reign in 1935. By that time the tally of his victims stood at 4000 sheep and an untold number of chickens. His identity was confirmed by the broken toe he had sustained as a pup – in a trap – and Fick claimed the reward.”

“A remarkable story, indeed, Gertruida. I also enjoyed his telling about the one jackal hunt where all the farmers got together to get rid of the jackal threat. Six hundred men on horseback, armed with rifles, shotguns and even dynamite, were accompanied by what Green describes as an army of dogs. At the end of the hunt, only nine jackals had been killed and one farmer was wounded by a charge of buckshot in the butt.”

Vetfaan has been listening with a smile hovering on his lips. “Jackal? Yes, they’ve been around forever. They steal, kill, maim, raid and cause mayhem. Devious critters, hard to catch, even harder to get rid of.  And it’s not just the animal jackals I’m talking about. We have several in our own species, as well. In fact, we’ve got a whole party full of them.”

“Ye-e-e-s.” Servaas nods slowly, following Vetfaan’s drift. “Our Broken Toe is the one with the shower, isn’t he?”