This fear of Angora rabbits is unique to our burly farmer in the Kalahari, and it is still as real and acute as it was when he found the dead rabbit staring back at him with unseeing eyes in the kraal that used to house his sheep. It’s a story nobody dares tell in Boggel’s Place, for it reminds them of the time they all hoped for a better South Africa, way back, after the ’94 elections. That’s the time when everybody invested heavily in tinned food, bottled water, guns and religion. It’s also the time Vetfaan sold his entire sheep flock to the ANC.
We all know elections are never free and rarely democratic. The voter is captured by some ideology or policy he thinks will benefit him personally. The ANC knew this (they still do) and handed out T-shirts and free meals at their rallies. A well-clothed voter with a full tummy does not care what rhetoric is blared out over the loudhailer – immediate needs are far more important than some ideology and promises that’ll fade away in a few week’s time. So, when the elections loomed on the horizon, the future ruling party used the funds they got from well-wishing sympathisers in Europe, England and the USA, very wisely. A man arrived on Vetfaan’s farm with a suitcase full of money and a fleet of trucks.
“We need your sheep, Mister Vetfaan. All of them. It’s for our meetings in the Northern Cape, see? We need to feed the masses on a diet of meat and political jargon. If they understand the first bit, the second part is unimportant.”
Vetfaan is a realist. He knew where the elections were going to take the country. So, he counted the money, suppressed a surprised whistle and made the deal.
The results of the election is a matter of historical fact. However, the results of Vetfaan’s transaction are far more traumatic than the effect of the Weapons Scandal and Nkandla combined. When he realised he had a suitcase full of money, a farm and a completely empty kraal, Vetfaan approached Gertruida for advice. As always, she had a unique plan.
“Angora rabbits, Vetfaan. They multiply faster than the president’s wives, you can shear them four times a year and they’ll eat hay and some Kalahari bushes. Lots of good nourishment for a hungry, reproducing rabbit all around us, Vetfaan, and the price of that wool is far better than a sheep’s. The fibre is much in demand right around the world; you’ll be able to export and benefit from the fall in the rand. It makes sense, don’t you think?”
To cut a long story short: that’s what Vetfaan did. His flock of Angora rabbits was the talk of the district. The old kraal was spruced up and soon housed a myriad of hopping, long-haired rabbits – mostly doing what rabbits do best. His flock grew at an alarming rate.
Platnees, however. would have absolutely nothing to do with the furry animals. “Eish! Those things are the tokoloshe, Mister Vetfaan. They’re not rabbits like we have in the Kalahari – look at them! They are bad, bad news, you’ll see!” Platnees put more bricks under the legs of his bed, burnt some herbs and consulted his ancestors. They confirmed his worst fears: the rabbits were gremlins from another time; they represented evil spirits with ominous intentions.
Enter now the young Vrede, the town’s dog, who had developed a liking in Kleinpiet. Although it was generally agreed that the dog didn’t belong to anybody in particular, Vrede seemed to prefer Kleinpiet’s leftovers and spent most of his time next to Kleinpiet’s back door. Vrede, the ex-police dog, was the result of careful breeding over many years. He had been trained to identify crooks, criminals and other corrupt officials. But somewhere in his illustrious ancestry, a champion rabbit-chaser had left his mark on Vrede’s genes. It was an instinct he could not deny or suppress – he simply couldn’t help himself.
So, when the dry west wind carried the scent of rabbits over to Kleinpiet’s back door, Vrede sneaked over to Vetfaan’s kraal to help himself to a tasty meal. Vetfaan wasn’t amused.
“Your bloody dog ate one of my rabbits, Kleinpiet. That’ll be R600, thank you very much.”
Kleinpiet paid up – for the first rabbit. But when Vrede’s excursions resulted in more rabbits being dinner for the hapless hound, Kleinpiet pleaded poverty. Arguments ensued. A long-standing friendship almost got wrecked on the rocks of Vrede’s instinctive drive to supplement his diet with tasty rabbit meat. Kleinpiet tried to rescue the situation by keeping Vrede indoors at night and on a leash during the day. For a full two weeks nothing happened.
One dark and quiet night, Vrede managed to get out once more. The next morning he presented Kleinpiet with a very dead rabbit. Oh, how he scolded that poor mutt, calling him the names of all the politicians he could remember! Vrede, cocking his head to one side, tried to look contrite at first but started growling softly after a while. Being reprimanded for following his instincts was one thing – but having to endure comparison with the new leaders of the country did not sit well on his conscience. Kleinpiet’s tirade eventually blew itself out and the two of them sat down on his veranda to contemplate the prize Vrede had brought home. Platnees walked by at that moment, saw the rabbit and ran off, shouting that he knew those things were omens of doom.
“Tokoloshe, Mister Kleinpiet, that one is evil! If you killed it, it comes back for revenge. Hai! Bad luck, bad, bad, bad luck!”
Kleinpiet was beyond despair as he watched Platnees race off. What will Vetfaan do? Shoot Vrede? Bad luck, indeed!
Noooo! He’d have to make a plan.
So he did.
Kleinpiet inspected the fluffy body; there were only a few superficial bite marks and a lot of doggy slobber all over the corpse – causing a lot of red Kalahari sand to stick to it. Okay…think! Using some of Precilla’s left-over shampoo, he went to work in the bath before going on a hunt for her brushes and hair dryer. Three hours later he sat back to view his handiwork.
The rabbit, he concluded, looked even better in death than when he was hopping around in that dusty old kraal! Then he had to wait for the cover of night to carry out the next step – returning the rejuvinated but still deceased rabbit to his rightful place on Vetfaan’s property. As most of the crazy plans the Rolbossers dream up end in some type of catastrophe, it is quite surprising that Kleinpiet managed to carry out this part of his campaign without a hitch. The spruced-up rabbit was placed next to the feeding trough in the kraal, propped up by a strategic rock to keep it sitting upright. Vetfaan would wake up the next morning, find that the poor little animal had died from natural causes and be none the wiser…
Not to be…
Kleinpiet was just having his second rusk with his first mug of coffee, admiring the sunrise, when a very upset Vetfaan shuddered his old Land Rover to a halt in front of the veranda. Kleinpiet wiped away a bead of sweat and locked Vrede in the bedroom.
“Charlie! Charlie died!” Vetfaan cried as he stormed up the steps leading to the veranda. “I saw it with my own eyes!”
Kleinpiet managed to look puzzled. “Wha…?”
“My prize stud, my sire of a multitude, the king of the roost, is no more. Blew out his last breath. Copped it. Took the fast elevator upstairs. Followed the white light. The damn rabbit died, dammit!”
Kleinpiet suppressed a smile – this was going according to plan. Great! He made sympathetic sounds. “Charlie? That was his name? Shame man! But you have other males, don’t you?”
“That’s not the point, Kleinpiet. You don’t understand! That thing died. He was dead!”
“Calm down, Fanie. Have some coffee.”
“He must have pumped the well dry, poor thing.” Vetfaan’s eyes were wild, worried and surprised all at the same time. He settled down somewhat after some coffee. “Three days ago, I picked him up. Dead as a doornail. Stiff as a rod. Hell, man, I was upset but what could I do? Poor thing! Well, the least I could do was to bury him good and proper – which I did. Put a little cross on the grave and even some flowers.
“Then, this morning, there he was, sitting next to the feeding trough with the females sniffing at him. I checked his grave – it’s been opened, the flowers scattered all over the placed and the cross gone.” Vetfaan took a deep breath. “That rabbit rose from his grave, Kleinpiet!”
Kleinpiet didn’t know what to say but somehow managed to keep his face straight. “Um…maybe Platnees is right, you know?”
If you visited Vetfaan today, you’d notice that he went back to farming with sheep – much to Platnees’s relief. In Boggel’s Place you won’t dare say anything good about Angora rabbits – an uncomfortable silence will follow. Vetfaan hates it when they remind him of Charlie, the dead rabbit that insisted on a last meal.
Gertruida, however, once remarked that Charlie was much like the ruling party today – dead but still sitting at the feeding trough. She also said they mustn’t ignore stories of tokoloshes and evil spirits, especially not when the newspapers carried headlines like we’ve seen lately.
The strange thing is that even Kleinpiet now agrees with Platnees. On dark, quiet nights, a strange, furry animal occasionally hopped over the sparse little lawn in front of Kleinpiet’s veranda. It seemed a bit agitated, sniffing here and sniffing there – as if it was looking for something. On Platnees’s advice, Kleinpiet once took a much-chewed wooden cross from its hiding place behind his wardrobe to put it on the grass. He swears he saw the apparition snatch it up in its tiny hands before running off.
Of course, he has never breathed a word about this – but then again: nobody has ever asked him about the bricks under the legs of his bed, either.