Tag Archives: politics

Rolbos University to Offer Postgrad Degrees

edukacja_1“They should be more careful.” Vetfaan points at the photo of our ambassador to Japan and grunts. “I mean: why claim you’re a doctor when it’s so much more impressive to say you’re a professor? The problem with our politicians – as I see it – is that they lack ambition. If you have to lie about your academic achievements, lie big. Tell the world you were the rector of some university, don’t settle for a mere PhD.”

“But that’s the problem, Vetfaan. To make it stick, you have to have a legit university. Putting a fake degree or a fake university on your CV is stupid. Ellen Tshabalala, Pallo Jordan, Carl Niehaus, Tembakazi Mnyaka,  Mninwa Mahlangu and Mohau Pheko have all tried hard to hoodwink people into believing they were cleverer than they are, just to expose their lack of insight when their claims were investigated.”Gertruida adjusts her glasses like the president does to emphasise her point.”Mind you, it shouldn’t be that difficult….” She allows the unfinished sentence to hang in the air.

“What?’

“How difficult can it be? Why can’t a group of individuals get together, establish a university, and dish out certificates. Instead of our politicians having to send out thousands of dollars to some fake institution overseas, we can make it so easy: keep the money in the country, issue the degree in one of the eleven official languages and create new degrees. No politician worth his salt will be able to withstand a degree in Culinary Sciences – they have to know how to make KFC in the office. Think about the time saved if they don’t have to stand in a queue at McDonalds? ”

Kleinpiet’s suggestion that he be appointed as Senior Lecturer in the Dept of Sport raises a few eyebrows until he explains. “Stretching the Truth 101 should be an obligatory course before being allowed in parliament. Jumping the Queue will be popular too, as will Slight of Hand as an advanced course. Running for President, Shooting the Breeze and a Certificate in Nepotistic Relay will surely draw many students.”

“I still think the way to a politicians heart is through his stomach. A PhD in Advanced Sushi will see you right to the top.”

“Even better,” Boggel adds, “will be a legal faculty to issue degrees in Parole Law, Advanced Dossier Misplacement and Legitimate Corruption.”

“No, you guys. This is wrong in so many ways. Shame on you for joining our leaders in their quest for dishonesty.” Oudoom seems genuinely upset. “Any form of fraud is a crime, you should know that by now.”

“But that’s the point, Oudoom. Instead of tempting our esteemed politicians to lie about fake degrees, we are going to help them stay on the straight and narrow by offering them a honest alternative. We’ll offer nice certificates” They all crane their necks to see Precilla’s drawing.

stanton_degree copy_edited-2 copy

In the end, they all agree that this is, after all, a good idea. If all the fraudulent degrees originated from a central source, the government would save millions by not having to pay agencies to do background checks on ambassadors, senior officials and other political appointees. One simple telephone call would be all that is necessary. Servaas even suggested that they be made the official fake university, which earned him a round on the house.

“Look, we advertise it the way it is: a discombobulate faculty for incongruity. That way, everybody will know what it’s about.”

Oudoom grudgingly accepted the proposal on the condition that they replace the words ‘Rolbos University’ with something more academic, like ‘The African School of Learning’.

They are still arguing about it…

Will the Honourable Cockroach please step forward?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Half-eyed Girl and the President.

Twitch-Inside-Image-1Klaas Vermaak and his wife, Sophia, had only one child, born in the year Armstrong stepped out on the lunar surface: the strange and almost sightless waif called (quite inappropriately) Hope. Gertruida said her problems were due to the Uranium people later found underneath their farm, but more popular opinion had it that she carried the heavy burden of her grandfather’s sins, who had been a minister in D F Malan’s cabinet. In the end it didn’t really matter who or what got blamed, it was poor Hope that suffered.

Except that she was exceedingly thin and remarkably pale, her most obvious abnormality was the curious way her pupils had formed. Like upside-down half-moons, only the lower parts of the pupils were black, indicating that only those bits of the lenses allowed light to be focussed on the retinas. This, as one can understand, allowed Hope only to see the few metres on the ground in front of her. If she really wanted to see ahead, she had to tilt her head completely back to squint past her pert nose and over her pale upper lip. Despite this, her partial sight allowed her to get by without a white cane or a friendly Labrador as guide.

Sometime in her infancy, her desperate  parents took her to a clergyman to pray for her – after visits to the country’s top specialists advised against surgery. The religious healer prayed long and with passion…but when they went home, her eyes remained just the same.

Resigned to her fate, little Hope lived with her parents in sad isolation. She had no friends, didn’t go to school, and never had a birthday party or a sleepover. Hope took to reading after her mother taught her the basics of the alphabet. This, she found, was something she could do relatively normally, with her head up high and the book held tight against her chest. Not really being able to help her father on the farm or her mother in the kitchen, both parents were overjoyed that their daughter started devouring books to pass the time. In the beginning that involved the two books in the house: the Bible and a collection of hymns. Realising the need for more, Klaas Vermaak started buying books at bazaars, auctions, the second-hand book store in Upington and whenever the library sold off its old, dilapidated stock. The result: Hope knew almost everything about everything there was to read about by the time she was twelve. She could quote Tolstoy, the Bible and Fitzgerald with consummate ease although she found the work of Stephen Hawking rather challenging.

Around the time she turned sixteen, her fame as a very knowledgeable person  had spread through the district. She was, as Gertruida puts it, the first human Google. Whenever a child wanted to score extremely well in a school project, all they  had to do was to get in the car and drive over to Klaas Vermaak’s farm. There, within an hour or two, the project was completed with so much information that an extra exercise book was usually necessary.

Hope, however, found these visits boring and frustrating. People didn’t come to visit her – they were only interested in what she could do for them. Still, it was better than spending the days alone – especially after she had found a new interest in the process: shoes!

Shoes fascinated her . As she could not see the faces of her visitors, it was quite natural for her to study the footwear of those in her company, Soon, she associated specific shoes with specific people, and created a type of catalogue of shoe-people in her mind. She read a lot in the scuff marks (walking in the veld, playing games at school, roughing it up with other boys), shiny shoes (diligent student, strict parents, poor family) and raised shoes (spinal abnormalities and low self-esteem). Gym shoes, church shoes, high heels, platforms, sandals, boots, pumps – all these spoke to her, telling her about the personality and habits of the wearer outside the confines of her tiny room.

It became a game, a pleasurable intellectual exercise, to guess these things, making her look forward to the next hopeful who awaited her encyclopaedic  explanation of lesser-known facts. This was her personal, private form of amusement; something she didn’t share with her parents.

Klaas Vermaak was a staunch Nationalist, whose family helped bring about the Apartheid regime in 1948. As a elder in the church and a member of the Day of the Vow committee, he upheld the policies of Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha – whose photographs were displayed prominently in the lounge of their home. When the finger wagging, lip-licking Botha and his entourage paid a visit to the electoral constituency of Upington, the Vermaaks were chosen to show the president the way the farmers eked out a living from the dry Kalahari soil.

Sophia – as can be expected – panicked. A president in her humble home? Here? Yes, Klaas assured her, PW  was on his way and they’d better make sure he left with a favourable impression. It’d only be a short visit, her husband declared, just for tea. The president, she ought to know, was a busy man.

The house was cleaned. A cake baked. Cups and saucers were borrowed, the silver spoons (a heirloom, reputedly brought over by an ancestor from Europe, never used in living memory) polished, and Ouma Vermaak’s doilies arranged just right in front of the best chair in anticipation of the visit. Klaas’s church suit was pressed. Sophia carefully stitched the loose bit of lace back to the bust of her wedding dress. The president was coming and they’d look their best.

Botha surprised them by arriving in khaki. To identify with the farmers, see? Short-sleeved and immaculately ironed slacks, the important man smiled his tight political smile when the Vermaaks greeted him at the door in their best attire. Sophia introduced their daughter, who stared straight ahead and thus was able to grasp the outstretched hand of the president with the first try.

The cake was superb. Botha complimented the tea set, admiring the spoons. The president chatted amicably about the conditions in the Kalahari. He told the family that he, too, was a simple man working under difficult conditions. Like them, he was a humble Afrikaner who feared God and followed biblical directives. They shouldn’t think that he, as president, occupied the highest seat in the country because of fame or money, Botha said, not at all. He simply did what was best for everybody, keeping the communists out and ensuring stability in the country.

“Not true,” Hope whispered in the silence that followed Botha’s monologue. Her parents were horrified, the president kept on smiling, and she repeated the two words.

berluti

Berluti: Verona Leather Oxford Shoes £1,400

Klaas then quickly ushered the president outside to show him the sheep and the tractor he had cleaned up for the occasion, telling the big man that his daughter had…certain…health problems. The president understood, yes? Botha nodded, smiling still.

But, banned to her room, Hope wiped a tear from her half moon eye. She was right, she knew it! The shoes, that’s what gave the president away. Berluti shoes. The most expensive shoes in the world. No true Afrikaner would wear those on a farm, even if he could afford them.

The president was a fake. His smile was fake. And his compliments were fake.

***

Jacob-Zuma-dancingGertruida says Hope was sent away after that – to Worcester, where they had a school for partially sighted children. There she eventually consulted a new eye surgeon, who corrected the defect in her eyes with the most modern equipment. At the age of 25, she finally was able to see properly; but she still looked at shoes whenever she met somebody, playing her shoe-game in her mind.

She says her vote will go to any candidate with scuffed, well-worn shoes; a hard-working, honest man whose shoes tell of commitment and trust. Of course, this isn’t going to happen in the near future, but she lives up to her name in quiet desperation. Until then, she prefers to look at the world like she did before: only a few metres in front of her feet. The view, she says, is much less disturbing.

Riding a Rhino

the day after 1_edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And when will that happen, Gertruida?”

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

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

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

The Silence of the Emerging Porcupine

Credit: listal.com

Credit: listal.com

“The world,” Gertruida says as she folds the newspaper, “is a mess. You have Al Qaeda running around with bombs, ISIS holding Syria at ransom, North Korea making ominous noises, and Croatia in chaos. What about this barbaric practice of beheading people – or using children as suicide bombers? And we’re not immune, either. With a woman being raped every four minutes, rhino poaching – almost three a day – and farm murders, we’re at war with crime and gangsters in every level of society. And now we have rioting around Johannesburg, with shops being burnt down and looters being shot.” She sighs, throws the newspaper on the counter and signals for a beer, “People killing people…when will it end?”

“Ja, Gertruida.” Kleinpiet draws a gallows on the counter top with a stick-man dangling from the rope. “You once told us about that beautiful animal that got angry. Remember?”

***

Once upon a time – long ago – a beautiful animal roamed the veld. Like other creatures, it had a head, a body and four legs. If anybody cared to look, such a person would have said: yes, indeed, this is an animal, just like the others around here. But then that person would have looked again, and remarked on its beauty.

You see, this animal had a face that made you smile. It seemed to be happy all the time while it was sniffing the ground and digging for a nice, fat root below the surface. Everybody agreed that the Creator must have been in an exceptionally good mood when He brought this animal forth to live on Earth.

It had the softest fur, the cutest little legs and a tail all the other animals envied. But, most striking of all, was the upward curve of the lips. Neither drought nor flood could erase that smile. In short: it was a harmless, joyful little creature that went about its business quietly.

But some of the other animals didn’t like the happy creature. They looked at it with jealous eyes and told each other that there must have been a reason why it was so happy.

“It’s got a secret stash of food somewhere,” the hyena said, “hoarding it all for himself. Look at him: he’s always got that silly smile on his fat face. We all live off the veld, so we are entitled to make him share his food with us.”

“And I can’t see why he should be happy at all.” The vulture’s scowl made him look even more acrimonious than usual. “I hate happy animals. They’re just too…” He searched for the right word, finally settling on, “…alive.”

“I believe,” the snake said,”that we have a responsibility. It is fundamentally wrong to allow that creature to continue the way it does. We must correct its ways.”

So the three of them; the hyena, the vulture and the snake; set about tormenting that beautiful, happy animal. They stole it’s food. The hyena chased it about. The vulture swooped from the sky to scare the animal they now labelled as ‘the enemy’. And one day – a most unfortunate one, indeed – the snake coiled itself around one of the animal’s young, suffocating it before inflicting a poisonous bite.

This happened over a period of time, you understand, but when the baby animal died, the beautiful, happy animal finally lost it’s smile. It shed it’s tail in anguish…and changed the soft, beautiful coat for a set of dangerous quills. No longer would it allow the others to torment it – enough was enough!

And so the animal world lost the innocent beauty of a little creature that meant no harm to them. It changed into a walking fort, an armoured fighting machine that even lions and leopards avoided. It became solitary, moving about at night with the frightful rustling of its quills warning off any imminent attack.

download (3)Hyena was its first victim. When the scavenger tried to harass it again, he got stung by so many quills, it took months to heal. Even today, you can see the spots where the scars were.

And when vulture swooped down from the sky again, he lost all his neck feathers when he crashed into those quills.

Cape-VultureEven the snake tried to kill this new animal, but try as he might, he couldn’t get his teeth  into his victim. He suffered tremendous injuries as a result of the quills, causing his face and body to be covered by scales to this day.

And so, the greed and envy of the other animals caused the disappearance of the most beautiful of all animals. They had created a formidable fighter, who relied on his impenetrable armour to ward off any threat. The other animals ignore these defences at their peril.

***

“Why do you think about that story now, Kleinpiet?” The usually small furrow between Gertruida’s brows deepen as she glances over at him.

“That fable, Gertruida, is happening all over again. Religious fanatics, political fundamentalists, despots, corrupt officials, terrorists, criminals of every description – they all are busy destroying the beauty that once existed amongst mankind. And one day – like the Parisians did recently – there’ll be a cry of enough is enough! Already we have the kangaroo courts in the townships: people simply don’t trust the drawn-out judicial system where dossiers get lost and clever lawyers allow criminals to roam free. What’s the conviction rate for burglary in South Africa? 10%? Less? And what percentage of murders get solved?” He frowns, thinks hard, and shakes his head before answering his own question. “Maybe 20%? I dunno. But it is true to say that crime pays. And that common people – you and me – are getting fed up with this lunacy. Some say there had been 80,000 farm attacks since 1994. We can’t go on like this.”

Kleinpiet’s little speech causes an uncommon silence in Boggel’s Place.

It’s a contemplative quiet, something that is happening all over the world. It’s the stillness after a lightning flash, before the rumble of thunder reaches the ears. It’s the echo of the mute rebellion – in London, Paris, Washington…and many more small communities all over the world – in which the soft fur of beauty is slowly changing into dangerously unforgiving quills.

The So Religious Bar of Soap

images (1)Oudoom’s sermon on pride  and ambition caused a lot of talk amongst his flock. They did have their feet on the ground and (mostly) an eye on heaven…but the scathing remarks about the country they belong to, causes more debate in Boggel’s Place than the beautiful message of humility and kindness.

“We used to be a Christian nation,” Vetfaan says while they wait for Boggel to fetch the cold beer from the cooler. “Well, if not Christian, then at least we tried to be civil. Nowadays, everything goes. Farmers get murdered, the prisons are overfull, crime is a booming industry, rape and assault are  everyday occurrences. Corruption is rife.  And yet our government insists they subscribe to biblical guidelines.”

“Ja, remember when Jacob Zuma returned from Jordan in 2003? He said he had been to the river where Jesus was baptised – and that if he looked at someone, that person would be blessed.” Gertruida goes harrumph! adding that some of his family members can confirm that. “But he also said that God was with the ANC from its inception and that they’d rule until Jesus returns. In 2009 he said: ‘People who love God must not play with their votes, they must vote for the ANC…We in the ANC know God.’ And my favourite in 2011: ‘When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven… When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card you will be let through to go to heaven … the holy ones belong to the ANC.'”

“Don’t forget Ramaphosa.” Servaas loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, like he always does when he’s angry, “He declared South Africa is a ‘a God-fearing country‘ and that the government ‘recognises the importance of the Lord‘. In the same speech he said the ANC always makes certain that they ‘stay close to God’s light.‘ and they conduct themselves ‘in accordance with what God prescribes’.

“What about the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court? He said he got a ‘signal from God’ that he had to be appointed to that position.”

They fall silent as Boggel returns with a crate of beer, causing the bent little barman to look up in surprise.

“You guys been gossiping about me?”

“No Boggel. Not gossiping and not about you.” Precilla leans over to pat him on the shoulder. “We’re lamenting, like the old Israelites did. Our leaders are no longer thinking about the words of Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika when they sing the national anthem. The blessing they ask for has more to do with bank accounts than with compassion. So we were talking about the way they use religion to achieve their goals.”

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S Thompson

“So what’s new? The old Nationalists had the church in their collective pocket as well. Remember how the Synod told everybody that Apartheid was right? And how many of our Prime Ministers had degrees in theology? South African politicians simply love telling the people how religious they are – especially when elections are just around the corner.” Boggel pauses as he slides the beers over the counter. “I read a wonderful book a while ago. The Rum diary, by Hunter S Thompson….”

“We’re discussing the political hijacking of religion in the country, Boggel, not the writings of an author I’ve never heard about!” His voice tinged with exasperation, Servaas knits his brows together in an angry scowl. “Don’t change the subject!”

“Wait,” Gertruida smiles as she holds up a restraining hand. “I think I know where Boggel is going to with this one.”

“An interesting book, to say the least. Thompson saw the way greed destroyed the lives of ordinary men and women and set about writing the novel in the early sixties. It was rejected by the publishers and only found its way to the shelves in 1998. I believe Johnny Depp discovered the manuscript amongst Thompson’s papers. The movie was made in 2011.”

“Tell them about the quote, Boggel. Go on…it’s so apt.”

Boggel blushes slightly at the encouragement, takes a deep breath while concentrating hard, and manages to recall the words Gertruida is hoping for. The words had stuck to his mind ever since he heard it first, simply because it was so absurdly true.

“It’s in the movie, Gertruida. Hunter didn’t write those words, Bruce Robinson did when he directed the film. Still, it is a fine way to reflect Hunter’s anger at the way the politicians corrupted the country.”

Afterwards, they all agree that Thompson might as well have written The Rum Diary  about South Africa. And that Robinson’s words were as true today as when the script was written.

‘This country was built on genocide and slavery, and then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.’

E volavo volavo felice
più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
mentre il mondo pian piano spariva

And I flew, flew happy
Higher the sun and even higher
While the world disappeared slowly’

In the movie Paul Kemp (Thompson in real life and played by Depp) has this to say about religion in a voiced-over scene:  “I wonder what it is you might think about our different worlds. He looked at me kinda sideways and said, “Human beings are the only creatures on Earth who claim a God, and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one. Does the world belong to no one but you?” And when he said it, I was taken aback. Not because of who was doing the talking. Because I finally understood the connection between children scavenging for food, and shiny brass plates on the front doors of banks.”

Today he might have replaced ‘banks‘ with ‘Nkandla‘.

The Most Honourable Rolbos Parliament

Whenever the patrons in Boggel’s Place get bored of taklking about the drought – which is often – they love talking about less serious matters, like the parliament, for instance. It is here, they all agree, that people have fun and relax – a veritable example to the masses of hard working folks  who  have no sense of balance in their lives. Gertruida says people die of heart attacks because they bottle up stress, try to do the impossible by making ends meet and by paying their taxes regularly. This, she maintains, is a mentality of self-destruction. To live a full and happy life, one should let off steam occasionally, be transparently honest, and deserve the respect of your peers.

After Vetfaan’s experiment to generate electricity, the group in the bar reverted to parliament mode – just to show the burly farmer how much they appreciated his efforts. After all, the dream of making Rolbos independent of ESCOM’s efforts to deprive the country of lights at night (which Servaas believes is driven by the diligence of South Africa’s booming crime industry) is a honourable endeavour and something one should encourage, not to make fun of.

“I say, Honourable Vetfaan, you certainly made that fan turn at a tremendous  speed. Quite laudable, I’d reckon. A fine effort.”

Kleinpiet doesn’t address this statement to Vetfaan, of course. That would be unthinkable in a parliamentary setting. No, under these circumstances, the statement is vaguely addressed to the Speaker, who is none other than the inimitable Gertruida. Like our esteemed Speaker in the House, she knows everything.

“Thank you, Honourable Kleinpiet. Do I have a second for that motion?” Gertruida wears a powdered wig, something Boggel insisted on after following the Oscar trial. She has donned her glasses for the occasion to convey the gravity of being in charge of parliament. Servaas actually laughed out loud when she took her seat behind the counter, an effort the others agreed fitted in well with the conduct of a seasoned parliamentarian.

“Honourable Speaker, I would like to second the motion by Honourable Kleinpiet about the fantastic achievements by Honourable Vetfaan. Although his experiment failed dismally, I can think of several precedents in government that was lauded in a similar manner for similar results.”

Several grunts of ‘Aye’. ‘Yesss’ and ‘Eissh!’ followed this statement, much like the ‘hallelujahs’ during a charismatic sermon.

“I object, my Honourable Lady. When you consider the result, there wasn’t much honourable in what Honourable Vetfaan did.” It is Precilla’s turn to play the role of the opposition. She’s wearing a blue T-shirt and does a rather convincing little toyi-toyi dance to emphasise her point. “I demand a commission of inquiry to investigate the waste of money associated with the events surrounding the experiment. A fan was dismantled, a dynamo destroyed and I calculate that 40 litres of petrol was wasted. Petrol, Honourable Speaker, we have to pay for….”

She doesn’t get any  further as the Speaker rules her out of order. “Honourable Precilla! Please retract that statement!”

“May I remind you, Honourable Lady, that there is only honour amongst thieves?”

“Order! Order!!” Gertruida bangs the empty peach brandy bottle on the counter.  “Retract the statement, Honourable member.”

Kleinpiet sniggers at this, muttering that there’s nothing honourable about his member.

“Well, Honourable Speaker, then I’ll quote Socrates to you: “The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” Sooo…I’ll pretend to retract the statement, which makes me honourable.”

Getruida doesn’t even flinch. “You dare to throw quotes at me, Honourable Precilla? Well, in my position, I simply lo-o-ve the honour associated with it. Let me quote you Shakespeare:”…I love the name of honour more than I fear death.” So, my dear Honourable Precilla, you shall leave the house and return with an appropriate apology.”

To be chased out of the Rolbos parliament like this, is no disgrace. Like in the institution in Cape Town, all the words and all the posturing are merely symbolic, and designed not to humiliate, but to amuse. When Precilla returns with a freshly baked milk tart (made the old-fashioned way), she receives a standing ovation.

“I don’t feel so honourable any more,” she says, batting her eyes at Kleinpiet. “I move that we ajourn this session and get on with real life.”

“And I certainly second that.” Kleinpiet hugs the honourable member of the opposition. “We have more…pressing matters to attend to.”

***

The occasional Rolbos Parliament, just like the real one, may seem a bit chaotic if you didn’t know the protocol. In fact, concerning both these houses,  Fiodor  Dostoevsky  worded it masterfully in Crime and Punishment when he wrote “Everything which is of use to mankind is honourable.”  Gertruida reminds the group at the bar of these famous words as they finish the milk tart.

“We use our parliament for laughs, you guys, and that makes it a honourable thing. After all, your beliefs don’t tell the world who you are, your behaviour does. So, as long as those chaps in Cape Town keep us in stitches, it makes them useful. How honourable is that?”

***

Disclaimer: Boggel denies any resemblance with the REAL parliament, saying no adult would ever descend to such low levels like we find in Boggel’s Place. He’s still arguing with Gertruida as you read  this. Fortunately, they have a goodly supply of peach brandy, which will see them hugging at the end of the evening. And that, you’ll have to agree, is completely unparliamentary.

Our Fathers Broke the Rainbow…

x35Last Sunday – after Oudoom’s sermon on The Sins of the Fathers, Gertruida said that Life is an endless circle. What has been, will be again. Vetfaan said that’s true; he remembered Frikkie, the son of Fists Fourie, who also was jailed after his wife walked into the door once too often. Vetfaan reckons those men should have been much more circumspect in choosing their wives. And Kleinpiet agreed about the Sinning Father Syndrome, reminding them that Innocent Tshabalala became a lawyer, just like his dad..

Still, it was a sobering thought. Precilla said it isn’t fair that a great-grandson should bear the burden of punishment for somebody he didn’t even know, whereupon Servaas said we all suffer because of our president. And – he asked – who in town actually knew the man?  The fact that the president is still around while his sins are visited upon us, he said, must say something. “Maybe his wrongs are so great and so many, that waiting for a few generations is out of the question, hey?” Of course everybody laughed at that, but it wasn’t the laughing you’d usually hear in Boggel’s Place: it sounded too harsh, too hollow.

The sermon also had another effect on the townsfolk: they wanted to find out what their great-grandfathers did – hoping to discover pious and upright citizens of the first order (Servaas’s words). To their utter and collective dismay, this turned out to be a false hope. Gertruida knew, of course, that her family history contained a bootlegger, a diamond smuggler and a cattle thief. Vetfaan checked out the inscriptions on the first pages of the old family bible noting with concern the description of a forebear as ‘a rascal not worthy of our name‘. In Kleinpiet’s case the situation was even worse. In the carefully annotated diary his mother used to keep, she wrote about ‘Oupa Piet’, the candidate for the National Party in the fifties.

“Well, I have no such worries,” Boggel announced. “As an orphan I don’t have a family – hence I have nothing to worry about.”

“Oh no, Boggel. You can’t get off so easily. Unless you were hatched from an egg, you had a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.” Servaas ignored Kleinpiet’s remark that chickens had daddies too, and continued. “You’re just like us. We’ve all got to take what’s coming to us, I’m afraid.”

***

Of course Oudoom helped them to understand that it’s not so simple. If, he said, generations persist in sinning, it is only natural to think that the sins  – which originated earlier in the family – would be continuously punished. “If grandpa taught his children to do something wrong: why then, you can’t just punish grandpa, can you? Go read Ezekiel. He made it abundantly clear.”

“So you say that we can’t blame previous generations for the mess we’re in?”

“Don’t be simplistic, Servaas. But your remark does touch on an important issue: the ‘sins of the father’ does not necessarily imply a family connotation. ‘Fathers’ can also be seen as ‘Leaders’  and ‘children’ as ‘followers’. We talk about ‘the founding fathers’ and in Africa we use ‘father’ as a form of respect. So, as much as we apply the term to families, we may also use it to refer to society at large.”

“You’re talking about the National Party again?” It is well known that Oudoom frequently laments the decision of the Synod in 1957.

“Oh no, Servaas. Not at all. I’m looking ahead, not to the past. The past is history, we can’t do anything about that. But the future? It rests on the present. And when I look at the leadership in the country, I see problems. What have they done to strengthen the moral fibre in the land? They’re sooo big on human rights, children’s rights, women’s rights – you can go on and on. But what, I ask you, did they do to God’s rights? I mean, those are the most important of all, aren’t they?

“I’ll tell you: they legalised Satanism. Banned prayer in schools. Opened the parliament with an imbongi. When elections come about, they attend church services to get votes – but once the results are in, do we see the TV cameras focus on a politician  on any given Sunday?

“So, maybe we should consider our ‘fathers’ in South Africa very carefully. If you were to look down from heaven – would you have been proud?”

***

Boggel maintains it is sometimes better to be an orphan: being fatherless isn’t so bad when you are given a clean slate to start off with. Gertruida reckons that was the dream in 1994, but it all went horribly wrong afterwards.

“We talk about the Rainbow Nation because it’s such a nice term. But remember: the rainbow, according to the Bible, is a symbol of a covenant God made with mankind. In Revelations, it is said that a rainbow around the Throne. The rainbow, it seems, signifies peace and forgiveness.”

Gertruida sometimes says things that make people think. And occasionally, her knowledge of everything is quite astounding, like when she reminds them that the human eye can see no black, white or brown in the rainbow,

“But what has that to do with sinning fathers, Gertruida?”

“Everything, Servaas. We’re big on symbols and words, but small in action. To talk about peace and tolerance is one thing, to live it is quite a different matter. We need leaders whose aim is to guide the country to a honest, respectful place where life and property mean something. We need fathers who are true to the oldest guidelines we know. Ask Oudoom, he’ll tell you.”

And he does, by quoting two verses.

  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
  • As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

Oudoom says a true father to the nation should encourage compassionate discipline. According to him, that’s the way to add colours to the rainbow. And, he says, that’s the only way to repair that symbol we so love to talk about while it is disappearing from our skies…

Nero’s Nkandla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

e2133 Domus aurea print1

Domus Aurea

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

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

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

“And his palace?” Vetfaan has to know.

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

“Surely the people rejoiced at all this?”

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

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

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

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

The Father of Our Tragedies

Aeschylus_Bust

Bust of Aeschylus

“When an elephant gets angry at you, he settles the score by resting his head on your chest. Really hard and really long – after he pinned you to the ground. That’s what I heard, at least.”

Vetfaan shudders at the thought. It’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place, and the conversation slewed to the many different ways in which life may end – or dying, to be more specific. With the political scene constantly moving south, this seemed to be a very natural thing to do.

“Ag, Vetfaan, being crushed by an elephant may be an apt metaphor when you think about it. We small people don’t really feature in the greater scheme of things. If Zuma builds a new home, takes a new wife or buys eight nuclear power stations…what can we do? Death, taxes and silly governmental decisions – those are inevitable. We might as well stop worrying about it.” Shrugging her shoulders, Precilla orders another beer.

“There is the story of Aeschylus, of course…,” Gertruida says with an appropriate pause at the end. She knows they’ll want to know what she’s talking about. They don’t disappoint her.

“Well, he lived about 500 years before Christ. He was a writer.” Again the tantalising silence as she sips her beer. Kleinpiet rolls his eyes and stares at her with pleading eyes.

“Oh, come on! You guys should know all about that famous Greek? He was the father of soapies.”

When Servaas slaps her playfully, softly, on her cheek, she smiles and relents by telling the story.

“Aeschilus was a playwright, you see? Before he appeared on the scene, the Greeks certainly staged plays, but they had a single actor on stage, backed up with a chorus. It was more – as I understand it – a way of musical story-telling. Then Aeschilus changed all that. He brought in the concept of tragedy by placing two actors in a conflict situation. The chorus wasn’t so important anymore – the actors acted out the story. And of course, there had to be a winner and a loser, hence the tragedy. He wrote plays which enthralled the audience so much that – according to an old book, The Life of Aeschilus  – ‘they caused young children to faint, patriarchs to urinate, and pregnant women to go into labour.’

“In those days trilogies became popular, with tragic episodes following each other; much like the Americans do with their TV programs. And, in contrast to preceding efforts, his actors had to dress up and be made up to look like the character they portrayed: like Zeus or Achilles and so on.

“Anyway, today we honour him as the Father of Tragedy, the one who introduced mankind to the reality of everyday life – on stage. He was hugely successful in his time, but I think only seven of his plays survived.”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “What has that to do with unusual deaths, Gertruida? That’s what we were talking about.”

“Oh that?” She smiles enigmatically. “Of course. You see, he heard a prohesy about his death. It was said that something would fall on his head, killing him instantly. So he solved the problem by staying outside, never venturing into buildings and cities. He thought he was safe.”

“So he died of old age?”

“Nope. According to Pliny in Naturalis Historiæ and an earlier writer, Valerius Maximus, an eagle  carried a tortoise high into the air, looking for a suitable rock to dash it on. Mistaking Aeschilus’s head for a rock, the eagle dropped the tortoise on target, killing the playwright.”

“So the father of tragedy died as a result of a flying tortoise?”

“Indeed. You see, if you are destined to die on a certain day in a certain manner, that’s the way it’ll be. You can’t escape fate.”

Oudoom clears his throat. He doesn’t like this type of argument.

“Don’t worry, Oudoom, we all know that such old tales are often fables and bits of oral history that get distorted over time, And, remember, those stories were written up long before Christ, which must make us look at them in context.”

With Oudoom suitably placated, a comfortable silence settles in Boggel’s Place while they mull over the life and times of that old Greek.

Credit: Independent Newspapers. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

Credit: Independent Newspapers. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

“Yes,” Servaas says suddenly. “Tragic trilogies. Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma. Today our modern playwright is the Parliament and let’s agree – they certainly dress up according to the drama they depict. They still use a chorus, though, when they protest.”

“Aeschilus all over again?” Vetfaan raises an eyebrow. “So we wait for a flying tortoise to bring sense back to our politics?”

He gets a slow nod from Gertruida. “Something slow is going to happen really fast one day. You’ll see, it’ll happen. Already the press and the media are baying for the head of our beloved President. It’s almost as if they know something we don’t. Or perhaps they are busy preparing the nation for a change. But, in the end, we have to agree that a tortoise can be as deadly as an elephant. It’s surprising how effective they can be under the right circumstances.”

“Falling tortoises and waning support…you may be right, Gertruida.”

Gertruida merely smiles that  smile again. She’s wondering who will be the eagle, and what form the tortoise will take. The tragedy, she thinks, is that the play on our political stage is so well written, that – like Aeschilus proved in his plays and with his demise – the end will come as  a surprise to everybody.

One of the main actors may be sacrificed, but the play will go on – and it can never be a comedy. Yes, she thinks, we’re doing Aeschilus proud…