Tag Archives: zuma

The Wounded Buffalo of Society

Alfred_Jacob_Miller_-_Wounded_Buffalo_-_Walters_37194056

Wounded Buffalo: Alfred J Miller

“Told you.” Gertruida switches off the radio. “The ANC is in a corner. No way they can afford to fire their own president – they’ll just create an impossible situation for themselves. I mean: he’s also the president of the ANC, remember? He dishes out the goodies and they all want some.  On the other hand, the ANC isn’t stupid; they are all too aware of the fall-out of the series of scandals Zuma has landed them in. The only thing they can do now, is damage control.”

“Shew, Gertruida. Why can’t he just resign, like the Iceland guy did? Take the honourable way out and get it over with. As things stand now, we’re in for mass action, strikes, marches, protests and civil unrest. The government has prodded the sleeping giant of society for too long and they’re waking up with a headache – and they don’t like that. The cost of mass action is going to be more than the mere building of a private home in Nkandla.”

“Resign, Servaas? After the way they got rid of Mbeki? No, Zuma will sing his songs, dance his dances and giggle his way through all this. I’m guessing, but the cost of the upgrades at Nkandla won’t even put a dent in the savings he’s accumulated after 1994 – and especially after he became president.. Money isn’t the object. Remember, he used to be in charge of intelligence in the ANC – he knows all the secrets and he’s wielding that knowledge with great finesse. You cross that man at your own peril. He’s got the power, the contacts, the money and don’t forget: he holds the keys to many opportunities. He’s in the game for all the wrong reasons – and that’s why they can’t get rid of him.”

Servaas sighs. The great promise of democracy has turned into a curse of a one-party state. Whichever way he looks at the future, he simply cannot see much hope. And if he feels like this, how much more would the poverty stricken masses be despondent at the prospect of a bleak future?

“They’ll burn a few more libraries, I suppose.”

“Yes, Servaas, just like the government burnt the constitution. Tit for tat.”

“It’s like that buffalo the hunter wounded a few years back, remember?”

Gertruida looks up sharply. Yes, she remembers the incident that happened  on the farm in Limpopo. Vetfaan’s distant nephew owned a hunting farm in the Bushveld, where overseas hunters paid handsomely to hunt a variety of game. During the hunting season of 2013, a hunter got excited and shot at a huge buffalo, wounding it in the shoulder area. The buffalo went for the hunter. Vetfaan’s nephew realised what was happening and tried to bring the charging beast down with a head shot. The bullet glanced off a horn. Another shot went wide. This all happened in a fraction of a second.

The buffalo, enraged and in pain, wasn’t going to stop. The foreign hunter was going to die. Vetfaan’s nephew then ran from his hiding place, positioning himself for a better shot – the very last chance to save the hunter. The buffalo swerved, suddenly focussing on the new adversary.

“He died heroically, didn’t he? Poor chap. But at least he saved that stupid hunter’s life.”

Servaas nods. “That’s exactly my point. A good man died to save a stupid one. And now the ANC is doing the same thing. They’re positioning themselves between a wounded  society and a stupid hunter. Only: this political buffalo is not as fast as that one in the Bushveld. It’s a slow, ponderous animal – but once it focusses on a prey, it won’t give up until it’s trampled its enemy to death. It happened to every empire you can think of – from Babylon to the Romans and the British Empire. King Leopoldt, Reagan, prime ministers and presidents – history is littered with the corpses of men and women who thought they could outsmart the system. Fortunately, the buffalo always wins…”

He gets a fondly surprised smile from Gertruida. Yes, old Servaas has seen governments and parties come and go. He, like the rest of the population, is no stranger to change.

Vetfaan walks in, dusts his hat and sits down with an expectant wink. Time for a beer; he’s been servicing his old Landy and it’s hot out there.

“The weather is changing,” he says conversationally. “The wind is picking up.”

“It is, Vetfaan. It surely is…”

Our very own Firefrorefiddle, the ultimate Fiend…

51Z7RPtdZkL._AC_UL320_SR240,320_“Funny, isn’t it?” Gertruida, true to her nature, doesn’t elaborate for a while. She wants a response and won’t continue until she gets it.

“Um?” Vetfaan gives her the obligatory quizzing look.

“Life runs around us in circles, Vetfaan. What goes up, must come down. Today’s losers are tomorrow’s winners. History repeats itself over and over again.” She busies herself with her beer, knowing she’s done enough to pique interest. She gets it with the second “Um…?”

“The world has been oscillating between Radical and Conservative,” she goes on. “Ever since the beginning of time, the real war on earth has been between the aggressors and the pacifists. Then, of course, the pacifists become the aggressors and everything goes up in flames for a while. After a suitable period of time, the pot gets taken from the stove, everything settles down…and then we do it all over again.”

“Depressing, Gertruida. That’s all I can say about that. Talk about something nice for a change.”

Gertruida stares at the ceiling for a full minute before saying anything. “You think life is a musical, Vetfaan? Dancing girls and happy endings? Well, wake up, will you?” Suddenly feeling a bit guilty about her rebuke, she continues in a kinder note. “Have you heard about Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell?”

***

It wasn’t Lloyd Webber who created Gus, the theatre cat, but T.S. Elliot, who described the old cat in  Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Gus, originally called Asparagus, used to be a great actor once. Now, old, decrepit and no longer the darling of the stage, poor Gus is left with the memories of his previous successes.

His best ever performance, he remembers well, was when he played the role of Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell. That scoundrel cat broke into every house and stole everything he wanted. He used to be so good, Gus recalls, that he thought he could never be caught.

And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.

Gus used to have what is called the gift of the gab. He could talk in a way his audience simply couldn’t ignore.

“I have played,” so he says, “every possible part,
And I used to know seventy speeches by heart.
I’d extemporize back-chat, I knew how to gag,
And I knew how to let the cat out of the bag.
I knew how to act with my back and my tail;
With an hour of rehearsal, I never could fail.
I’d a voice that would soften the hardest of hearts,
Whether I took the lead, or in character parts.

Now, his fiery performances are a thing of the past, and Gus – the Theatre Cat – can only dream about his glory days. The younger generation is taking over, something Gus finds a bit unacceptable.

“Well, the Theatre’s certainly not what it was.
These modern productions are all very well,
But there’s nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
That moment of mystery
When I made history
As Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.”

***

“That’s much better, Gertruida. I like it when you talk about something different for a change.” Vetfaan winks, sips his beer and then suddenly looks up. “So, what happened to Firefrorefiddle?”

Gertruida smiles – he’s put his foot right in the trap.

“You see, Vetfaan, life has a way of turning the wheel. Firefrorefiddle tried one last daring heist. He  broke into the bank and opened the safe. And then, while he was staring at the stacks of gold that soon would be his, his admiration for his own special abilities made him drop his guard. He didn’t see the security guards approaching. And that was the end of his thieving ways, much to the relief of the people of the Fell.”

“Firefrorefiddle brought about his own downfall? His ego got in the way?”

“That’s right, Vetfaan.”

Vetfaan sighs. He’s been tricked again. Gertruida’s story wasn’t about T.S. Elliot after all. He should have known better.

“Did Eliot really create that story? I mean the one about the bank and the safe?”

Gertruida flashes him a condescending smile. “No, Vetfaan, he only invented Gus. The ending is the South African version by our very own president.”

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”                                                                                                       T.S. Eliot.

The Porcupine and the Coconut

154768913“So now the president is offering to pay back the money – at last? After all those commissions and enquiries he simply ignored and laughed away in parliament?” Servaas puts down the paper with a sarcastic smile. “I’d say that’s mighty big-hearted of the man to eat humble pie for a change.”

“Ag, Servaas, you’re being your old facetious self again!” Gertruida throws her hands in the air in mock horror. “It’s all about not fighting the battles you cannot win. The Constitutional Court is about to hear the case and the municipal elections are just around the corner. He’s performing plastic surgery on the wrinkled face of the governing party -even though he knows it’ll leave lasting scars. Better to cut your losses than to erect a house on sand.”

“He’s good at that,” Vetfaan smiles. “Erecting things, I mean.”

They giggle about that for a while. Then Gertruida tells them of the porcupine and the coconut…

***

One day, she says, Porcupine found a coconut in the desert. Now, this was a strange thing, for the coconut was completely out of place: it simply didn’t belong there. Porcupine wondered about this, but when he shook the coconut, he heard the milk swill around inside.

“Now this thing may be very precious,” the porcupine mused, “I shall take it to my home to prove how farsighted I am. Nobody else has one like this – they’ll all admire me for being so clever to own a coconut that’ll benefit all. I’ll wait until it starts germinating, then I’ll plant it. It’ll become a huge tree, with fruit and shade.”

images (20)Oh, and how the other animals admired Porcupine’s new object! Zebra liked the hair on the surface, while Gemsbok thought it resembled the tsammas that fed him during dry seasons. Elephant sniffed at it, thought it was foreign, but still said it was a nice thing to have.

But in all communities you’ll find that not everybody accepts what others admire. Hare, for instance, asked what good does the coconut do, sitting there on a shelf in Porcupines house? And Owl, wise as always, remarked that such a thing could only bring bad luck if it were to start growing.

“Keep it on the shelf – don’t try to do anything with it. As a showpiece it’ll be okay, but if you really think planting such a tree will be useful, you’ll only be disappointed.”

And so the coconut stayed in Porcupines house, where the other animals  could see it. Although some maintained that it underlined Porcupine’s powers, after a while others started doubting it. They asked owl to explain.

“It doesn’t belong here, see?” Owl shrugged. “We are used to living in the desert. Our world is a harsh one, where you survive because you understand the circumstances. Now that coconut…well, when it starts growing, it’ll need water and nourishment and lots of care. More importantly, if Porcupine really tries to grow here, it’ll steal our precious water. And, mark my words, it may survive a good season or two – but when times are tough, or it becomes too big and thirsty,  it’ll die. And to what avail, I ask you? If anything out here can’t contribute to our well-being, it’ll simply be a thief and a scoundrel that’ll rob us of our livelihood. No, it might be a nice thing to look at, but in the end Porcupine will regret taking it home.”

Porcupine ignored such remarks, of course. Instead, it watched as the coconut sprouted a few little roots and started growing a stem.

“Oh, how beautiful my coconut is!” Porcupine was  very proud. “In all the desert, this will be the most beautiful of all things. I shall care for it, make it grow, and the others will see my powers.”

To keep the coconut alive, Porcupine had to water it every day. Whenever its roots became dry, its fragile leaves drooped and hung limp. No longer was the coconut able to sustain itself with its own milk and oil – Porcupine had to spend his days carrying water from the little fountain that supplied water to all the animals in the desert.

One day, the animals gathered to discuss the situation. Coconut was using so much water, there was almost nothing left for them.

“Let us get rid of Coconut,” Hare said. “Coconut must fall!”

Many of the other animals simply nodded, because their mouths were too dry to speak.

When Porcupine heard this, he became exceedingly angry. “We,” (Porcupine loved using the royal plural), “have brought this wonderful thing to the desert. If you do not revere Coconut for it’s beauty and power, you’ll regret it. Moreover, Coconut provides shade for you to protect you from the sun.”

“Protect? Protect!?” Hare was furious. “It has grown so high that even the birds cannot nest in its silly things it calls branches. As for us down here, it only provides shade for you. Coconut has left us with no water and no shade. You, Porcupine, have brought great hardship upon us.”

For a long time the animals only complained like this, but nobody dared face Porcupine with his terrible quills. And then, at last, the fountain dried up completely. It was no longer possible for Porcupine to sustain the tree he had planted. Some animals died. Some animals sought for a new home.

In the end, all the animals suffered.

Ever since then, Porcupine had to hide from the rest of the animals, and had to search for food at night. His wonderful Coconut had ruined his reputation as a powerful creature. Walking around in daylight, proud of the object of his power, became impossible. Instead, he became a shadowy figure of the night, causing the other animals to scorn him as he dug around for roots in the moonlight.

It took a long time, but in the end Porcupine secretly wished he had never found the coconut.

By then it was too late.

***

“Well, that’s a nice story, Gertruida. I don’t understand why you felt like telling it now, but I’m sure there’s a moral  hiding in it somehow.” Servaans beckons for another round of beers. “But to get back to the point: do you really think the prez is going to pay back the money?”

Vetfaan shakes his head. “The fountain, Servaas, has dried up. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a heavy thud one of these days. Tall trees do that when they crash to the ground.”

Gertruida’s new National Anthem

zuma-must-fall-CPT-tourist.width-370“The old one is nice,” Gertruida shrugs, “but what does it say? Every nation is dependent on God’s grace and blessing – that’s true.  And we should be loyal and proud of who and what we are. So, in my book, our National Anthem – as beautiful as it is – doesn’t imply anything unique or new. I mean: every song should have a message, shouldn’t it? Something fresh and inspiring that’d encourage people to forge a better future.”

Gertruida does this sometimes. She’d make an outrageous statement – completely out of the blue – and then wait to see what the others do with it. Sometimes this habit unleashes heated debates, which helps them pass the time of day. One can never be sure if she is really serious or whether she’s just rattling their cages for the fun.

“Look, Gertruida, I grew up with Die Stem before politics intervened. We sang it in school, at funerals and in the army. I never thought it’d become such a political controversy, yet I understand that people wanted to incorporate other verses to include the entire community. But…I’ve become used to N’kosi Sikelel and quite like the song. Now you want to change it…again?”

“Calm down, Vetfaan! Look, let me try to explain…” Gertruida takes a long sip from her glass before continuing. “Okay. When you hear ‘rugby’, what do you see?”

“Why, the Springboks, of course?”

“And people overseas? If you say ‘Johannesburg’, what do they think?”

“Um…gold?”

“Well done, Vetfaan.” Gertruida beams her pride at the burly farmer’s answers. “And Kimberley?”

“Diamonds!”

“Great going Vetfaan. The point is: when you mention a name or a place, you immediately associate it with some mental picture in your mind.That’s the way our brains are wired. Now let’s take a step to the left and follow another line of thought.”

This, too, is typical of the convoluted way Gertruida’s mind works. Straight lines, she always maintains, are for fence wires.

“We are stuck with arguably the most unpopular president in our democratic history. Madiba was a wise leader. Mbeki was clever. But currently we have a clown that laughs his way through parliament. Have you listened to what even the children say about our esteemed First Person?”

 

Vetfaan collapses in a fit of laughter. “Really? If the kids can see through the farce, why do people still vote for him?

“Oh! People! I guess they voted in good faith for the Madiba dream to continue. They trusted the ANC, believing the political party was there for them. Nobody – really, nobody, especially not the majority of the voters – foresaw the chaos that would follow the last election. Who could have predicted the fiasco of corruption, lawlessness, the virtual bankruptcy of our airlines, ESCOM, the railways, the postal services? And what about housing,  our roads and the lack of service delivery? Look at our airforce and navy. Even the education sector is collapsing.  If people had known what they were voting for, they would have been more careful about where they drew their crosses.”

“No argument there, Gertruida. But what has that to do with a new anthem?”

“An anthem is a song. A song has a message. That’s important to remember. Now…back to the questions.” She flashes an encouraging smile. “When you say: ‘South Africa’, what do foreigners think or see? Let me help you here:  who is the Face of South Africa?”

Vetfaan’s response is immediate. “Madiba. They see Mandela.”

“But he’s dead, Vetfaan. You have to choose a living person, one that interacts with the rest of the world right now.”

Vetfaan blanches. “Oh, my….you mean? Really? Our president? Gosh no! That’d be grossly unfair! We have such wonderful people here – kind, wise, caring people. Like, maybe Desmond Tutu for instance. Writers like Adam Small. Singers and songwriters like Johnny Clegg and P J Powers. We’ve got doctors, scientists, philosophers…and Boggel, of course. Why would a German or an American associate our country with Zuma?”

“Because the majority chose him, dummy. He’s the Number One, The Leader, The Face of South Africa.”

Vetfaan slumps down on the counter, holding his head in his hands. “Gimme a Cactus Jack, Boggel. I desperately need one now!” He looks up with a bewildered frown. “So a new anthem will change all that?”

“That’s what I think, Vetfaan. An anthem is a message to the world. We tell the world out there who we are and what we strive for.Listen to this: it’s more catchy than God Save the Queen, has more rhythm than Advance Australia Fair, and easier to sing than Chichewa. No disrespect to those countries, mind you, but it’s such an easy song – the whole country knows the words already.

“Most importantly, this song tells the story of where we are right now, and what we want to see happening in the near future. As far as anthems go, I think this one will be very popular.”

Vetfaan listens. Smiles. Slaps Gertruida’s back. Orders a round on the house. Yes, dear Gertruida has a way of shaking things up in Boggel’s Place. If only she could do the same on a much larger stage…

(Author’s note: This is a satirical piece, using fictional characters to voice fictional opinions. The National Anthems of various countries are not ridiculed, neither is any disrespect implied. The #zumamustfall hashtag has, however, gained unprecedented popularity in the social media, and is here addressed in the way it should – tongue-in-cheek with a wink and a smile.)

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 Greatest Show on Earth…or not?

Zuma Satire

There’s a kind of hush in Boggel’s Place today as they wait patiently for the Honourable President to deliver his State of the Nation Address. It should be a stately affair to showcase the immaculate vision and excellent leadership we as South Africans are proud to present to the world at large. Servaas remembers the days when Oom Blackie Swart was the president and went about in his humble ways. Surely, he maintains, subsequent presidents will try to surpass the standard of honesty and quiet humility our first president set. After all, parliament is the example of the finest men and women in the country and we should be extremely proud of how they rule over us.

Gertruida reckons it’s all a dust storm in a tin mug, but Vetfaan can’t wait. He says some presidents might stumble, but it’s time for others to run…

Kleinpiet has been busy all day researching the perfect State of the Nation Address. He says it’s been invented a long time ago by a gentleman called David Davies, who used to broadcast on LM Radio, If our esteemed First Citizen could say something like this – after bidding us all a fond goodbye and final farewell – he’d be a happy man.

The Fable of the Curse of the Riverine Rabbit

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Riverine Rabbit. Note the innocent-looking face the permanent smile and the beguiling eyes.

Gertruida has a way of telling stories that seem completely irrelevant. But then again, if you know Gertruida, you realise that her stories are rather convoluted tales that – although old and originating in a different time – are timeless. They speak about issues that are as relevant today as it might have been when the first Bushman told them to his audience around a fire on a dark and stormy night.

Take, for instance, her fable of the riverine rabbit…

***

Long ago, when the Karoo was an inland lake and the San hunters still respected all forms of life – that is, many centuries before ‘civilisation’ exploded all over Africa and destroyed the paradise  forever – the Riverine Rabbit had dreams. Big dreams. Being clever and more nimble than all the other animals, the rabbit decided to proclaim itself as king over the land it roamed. 

Of course, a king had to have a castle. Not any old castle, mind you – a castle that would proclaim its importance. It had to be the most impressive dwelling of all, there for the rest to see and to be envious about. Of course, no rabbit can build such a magnificent mansion on its own, so the rabbit spent many days thinking about how to manage this impossible task.

One sunny day, when all the animals gathered at the watering hole, the rabbit climbed onto a big rock. 

“If you make me your king,” he shouted, “I shall see to it that you all have houses. You simply can’t go on living in the wild – it just won’t do. So I promise to build homes for all of you, where you can shelter from the cold wind in winter and the hot sun in summer.” He hesitated a moment, allowing the words to sink in. “Now, what do you say?”

The animals found this exceedingly strange and sat down to whisper amongst themselves. 

Klipspringer

Klipspringer

“A house?” The hyena scratched the itchy spot behind his left ear. “I’ve never had one. It would be nice, I think.”

“Ah, yes, a home.” The  impala eyed the lion suspiciously. “I can do with some protection.”

“I’d love a shelter,” the shy klipspringer murmured. “I hate being so exposed in the veld all the time. It makes me feel so…vulnerable.”

“Well, then,” the rabbit said, “we must all work together. As your king, I command you to collect all the things we’d need. Grass for the thatch, logs and rocks for the walls. Warthog can begin scooping away some earth, so we may have a dam. And elephant can start uprooting some trees to clear away an area in which we can build. The Hawks will provide security and lion can guard our materials.

“As your king, I shall not be working with you. I have much more important things to do.” He laughed softly. “Kings, as you will find out, are master organisers, not workers.”

The animals slaved themselves to a standstill for their king. They carried rocks, dragged logs, gathered bundles of grass. These they brought to the open space the elephants created, next to the new big hole warthog had made for the dam.

“Now the fence,” rabbit ordered, explaining that the new housing project needed to be secure at all times. Rhino and elephant then constructed a high fence, using branches torn from thorn trees. When the last branch was placed, all the animals were inside the enclosure. Following the orders given by rabbit – who was lounging stately in the shade – the construction of the mansion was started.

The animals were all excited by the project. The huge mansion had many rooms, and places to play and eat and have fun. They all agreed that they would be very happy in such a wonderful dwelling.

After many months, the building was complete. The animals were very tired at this time, and were relieved when rabbit informed them that they would have a rest for a few days. “We’ll move in after that,” he informed them, “and live here happily ever after. But now I suggest you all go back to your old places, collect all your belongings and return with the full moon.”

The animals obeyed quietly. They had hoped to move in immediately, but if the king issued an order, you obeyed. That is the way of kings, not so?

A very tired elephant lifted a few of the thorny branches to open a gate in the fence, and the animals trudged off to rest in the shade of the trees at the places they had lived before. They waited. And waited. Until the moon was full…

In the bright moonlight on the evening of their return, they stopped at the fence. It was immediately apparent that the fence had been strengthened by tying the branches together with poisonous creepers. Elephant shook his head – no, if he touched that fence, he would die. If any other animal would like to try…? They all shook their heads.

Inside his new house, rabbit laughed and laughed as he watched form a high window. Those animals can be as angry as they like; he, rabbit, had tricked them into building the most wonderful home, ever…!

But then, one day, a storm brewed on the horizon. Not just any old storm – a real bad one, with thunder and lightning like no animal had ever seen before. Knowing that a veldfire was sure to follow the lightning, they all huddled next to a rocky hill, hoping they would escape the wrath of the storm.

They did.

But the veldfire raced across the plains, burning the grass that would have fed them in the season to come and destroying the trees under which they used to shelter from the sun. On and on the wall of flames marched…until it got to the fence around rabbit’s mansion.

And they watched as the fence went up in flames and the rabbit sought shelter in the dam that warthog had dug.

And the animals sighed and went back to their old ways of living, vowing never to trust a king again.

***

“That’s a great story, Gertruida!” Vetfaan pats her on the back. “But what’s the moral?”

“The riverine rabbit, Vetfaan, is one of the most endagered species in the world. Only a few are left. The fable is correct in that these rabbits never stray far from water. The have the most intricate burrows and are the only rabbits that have their young underground, They also…” Gertruida pulls a face, “…have to eat their droppings to get enough Vitamin B – it’s produced in their bowels by bacteria, see?”

“Ugh! Eating your own dung? That’s horrible…”

“Yes, Precilla, it is. The rabbit daren’t roam too far from it’s home to find enough nutrients in the veld. The other animals have not forgiven him at all.”

“Soooo….” Boggel brightens and raises an enquiring eyebrow. “You’re telling us the president is in for a tough time when he delivers his State Of the Nation Address? Is that why you told us about the fable?”

Gertruida flashes a warm smile at her friend.

“O course, Boggel. The veldfire is racing towards Nkandla. We’ll watch that fence burn down soon….”

 

‘Sometimes alone in the evening,I look outside my window
At the shadow in the night
I hear the sound of distant crying, the darkness multiplying
The weary hearts denied

All I feel is my heartbeat
Beating like a drum
Beating with confusion.
All I hear are the voices
Telling me to go,
But I could never run.

Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a new tommorow
Cos’ in my African Dream
There’s a dream that we can follow’

Songwriters: Alan Lazar, Marilyn Nokwe

Too Many Termites in the Nkandla Woodwork

drywood_termites“The problem with the news,” Gertruida says because she knows everything,”is that you simply can’t believe it. The most believable part of any newscast is the weather report, and even that is merely an assumption. Look what happened today: they said it would be sunny and warm, and now it’s overcast and cool.”

This is true, of course. A bank of clouds suddenly formed towards late afternoon, bringing with it an unexpected chill.

“Ja, the news is as unbelievable as our politics. Look at what happened in parliament yesterday. I heard on the news that things got out of hand, the speaker left the House, and that the ANC ramrodded their report through, saying Zuma had nothing to do with the Nkandla fiasco. It’s a disgrace.”

“You must understand one thing.” Gertruida gets up to make her point. They all know: when she does this, she is deadly serious. “The ANC will desperately try to protect their own. That’s the only way they can remain in power. If they admitted their president did wrong, they’d have to face the consequences. There’d be more investigations, which would bring more corruption to the surface. Don’t think Public Works is the only department involved here. The Nkandla Project is only the tip of a very sick iceberg. Once you start unravelling the ramifications of who-did-what and who-benefitted-how, you’d probably fillet open a very corrupt carcass. Nkandla, I’ll tell you, is a symptom of a disease more deadly than Ebola – and the ANC knows that.”

“Ja, but they buried it yesterday.” Vetfaan sighs. “Now parliament has ruled on the matter – the ANC majority simply outvoted the opposition, it’s so simple – Nkandla isn’t going to be an issue any longer. They’ve hidden the controversy behind a quasi-legal barrier, allowing the president to walk away squeaky clean.”

Gertruida doesn’t get upset. Never. She doesn’t allow emotion to dictate her reason. Not ever. That’s why it’s so surprising when she flushes to a deep red, flares her nostrils and hisses at Vetfaan.

“Nkandla. Won’t. Go. Away!” Taking a deep breath, she calms down before going on. “Listen Vetfaan, only a fool will think this was the last you heard about Nkandla. Many, many presidents and ministers have tried to survive lies in the past. Nixon couldn’t do it. Clinton became an embarrassment. Look at what happened in Italy and France. No, my friends, the old saying is true: truth has faster legs than lies. You can’t lie your way out of trouble. At some stage – now, a month later, ten years later, it doesn’t matter – the truth will always overtake the lie and expose it in the harsh light of reality.

“This ANC’s effort to exonerate Zuma from any wrongdoing isn’t the end. Like Churchill said: it’s the end of the beginning. Mark my words: there are just too many termites in the woodwork. The house is still standing, but the structure is already riddled. It’s a question of time…”

download (3)“Well, we don’t have to feel too bad.” As always, Boggel tries to lift the mood in his bar. “We’re not the only country where the president’s house is an embarrassment. Casa La Palma in Mexico is also going to be the undoing of a president’s dream. It, too, boasts underground parking, elevators, a pool and gardens. And I hear it was a ‘gift’ in return for certain…favours. The termites, Gertruida, seem to be spreading..”

Servaas knits his brows together in a furious scowl. “Well, that’s it. I’ll never vote for the ANC again!”

Of course they laugh at this. It is exceedingly funny to think that Servaas ever voted for them, anyway. But the humour represents only the ears of the hippo in Servaas’s remark. He is echoing the sentiment of thousands of men and women in South Africa – men and women who stood bravely side by side in the fight for democracy. And now that this same democracy has turned into a farce, people are taking a good, hard look at the progressive failure to live up to a once-beautiful dream.

“The winds of change…” Gertruida whispers. “It’s only a breeze now. The storm will come.”

And that, they all agree, is a weather forecast you can believe. Time to close the windows and bar the doors, indeed.

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…

Waterloo in the Kalahari

train 3 leaving station close“Those were the days,” Vetfaan says when Kleinpiet reminds him of their time in the army. “The best part was when you got a pass to spend time with your family. Those train rides back home were quite a bit of fun. At every station we had to get off to buy more beer…”

He smiles at the thought: a thin, almost sardonic smile, as he remembers the stop at Mariental, on his way back to South Africa.

***

Two weeks! After a particularly hectic period of fighting, Vetfaan’s platoon were rewarded by some much-needed time off. He naturally didn’t want to spend that time in Rundu or Grootfontein and headed southwards, homewards, to his parent’s farm in the Kalahari. If there was one thing he needed now, it was the silence of the dunes. No pill, no psychologist can restore a broken spirit as fast and as well as the quiet hours amongst those magnificent sandy mountains.

There were quite a few soldiers on that train, all of them heading home, which resulted in a party of note while they progressed through the arid wastelands of South West Africa. Windhoek came and went. So did Rehoboth and Kalkrand. By the time they pulled in to Mariental, they’d discussed cars, booze, ABBA (that decadent new band with those girls) and how strange it’d be to wear something else than browns again. They told jokes, laughing again and again at the one that was told fifty miles before.

And they drank. Alcohol took away the memories of blood and vomit; dimmed the thoughts of broken limbs and gaping wounds. And the more they drank, the more they tried to forget the friends that would never share a drink with them again. And, like it sometimes happens during war times, their party petered out into a drawn-out silence – a wake for those who were less fortunate.

At Mariental it was Vetfaan’s turn to get a fresh supply of beers. He was glad to escape the gloomy atmosphere in the compartment and wandered into town. It was a Saturday, and a kindly old gentleman directed him to the bottle store at the end of the street. Ten minutes later he staggered back to the station, carrying the two crates of beer.

And watched in dismay as the train pulled out of the station, heading towards Keetmanshoop.

***

“I had to do something. My mates were on that train and I had the beer. I was sure they wouldn’t miss me so much, but the beer…now that was a catastrophe! That’s when I decided to hike to Keetmanshoop in the hope of catching the train there again.”

***

agnetha-liveHe had scarcely taken up his position next to the road, when  – much to his surprise – a vehicle screeched to a halt next to him. The surprise wasn’t the willingness of a driver to pick up a young man in uniform – in those days people seemed to consider helping a soldier as an act of patriotism – the surprise was the vehicle and it;s rather attractive driver. The fire-engine-red Mustang was driven by a young lady who looked remarkably much like Agnetha, the sexy singer they’d so recently discussed.

“Going to Keetmanshoop, soldier?” The startling blue eyes were staring at him, knowing his answer.

It turned out to be a memorable trip. She asked him a million questions, most of which he answered with a stuttering mumble. H couldn’t  tell her much, of course. The excursions into Angola were highly sensitive; one of those obvious secrets of the time – and one everybody speculated about.

“Look,” she said eventually, “you’re fighting a losing war. There’s no way you can win. We need…” and here she hesitated only for a second, “…we need guys that can supply us with information. Somebody like you. Somebody with real inside info. And we’ll pay you well…”

***

“There I was, young and innocent and … interested…and this woman with the body of an angel and a face to match, offers me an opportunity to turn into a traitor. You can imagine my thoughts. Although I’d been drinking all the way from Rundu, I was sober enough to realise what she was asking me.”

***

Vetfaan showed his disgust. Shaking his head, he stared at her in dismay and moved to sit as far from her as possible.

She laughed at that, saying she understood.

“You poor, poor boys. You get fed a constant stream of lies, half-truths and propaganda. Of course you believe you’re fighting for a true and just cause. But…there is a bigger picture. There is a world out there, and it’s changing. In the last fifty-odd years, women got to vote. In 1966 – at last – every citizen in the United States got the right to vote. Communism is dying and soon Russia will break up in many smaller states. The Berlin Wall will fall. And…the Nationalists will surrender power to the ANC. That is the future of South Africa, and it’ll be a bright and wonderful one at that, too. The communists aren’t your enemies, your government is. These things, soldier, are facts. I’m sorry, but I have to tell you your war is a futile one.”

Then, more than even when she asked him to spy, Vetfaan was convinced the woman was deranged. He shook his head again, staring at the barren countryside flashing past. He wanted to tell her about the way the Chinese and Cubans were killing young men in their quest to establish communism in Southern Africa. Their aim was not to liberate the black masses because they were such benevolent friends – they wanted to get their hands on the vast mineral resources hidden under the soil of his fatherland. And look at what the Soviets did to churches and the Russian culture? No, this woman had no inkling about what she was talking about.

At the age of barely twenty, Vetfaan trusted the news on the radio, the articles in the newspapers, the sermons in his church and – above all – his superior officers. The opinion of this young woman – as beautiful and as alluring as she might be – would never sway him to betray his country.

“You’re wrong,” he said as they neared the town of Keetmanshoop. It was a simple statement, but said with much bitterness and conviction. When one is young, one tends to have set ideas about the way of the world.

“Why?’ Her question was equally blunt.

“Because we’re protecting the country. The whole country. If we were to lose this war, everything we’ve built up over the centuries will be lost. Roads, hospitals, schools, factories, mines. We simply cannot hand over reigns to individuals who want to strip the country of its resources. Our government, I have to tell you, have the best interests of all South Africans at heart. That’s why we’re up there – for God and country. Whites and Blacks. That’s why.” Vetfaan felt he delivered his speech well – it was text-book stuff right out of the lectures he listened to during his basic training.

They drove into Keetmanshoop and Vetfaan got off, heading towards the station without saying goodbye.

***

“That’s such a sad story, Vetfaan.” Emptying her glass, Gertruida watches the big man with sympathetic eyes. “And you never saw her again, I suppose?”

He nods. “No. Later, I heard other soldiers talking about the girl in the Mustang that gave them a lift. Always on the remote roads in South West Africa. I always listened to those stories, wondering how many young men fell for her ploy.

“And it was clever, I must admit. Pick up a tired, footsore soldier, returning from the war up north, and sit him down in a Mustang and a beauty queen. Some would have fallen for it, I’m sure.”

Kleinpiet suppresses a hiccup. “Well, tonight we’ll listen to the president giving the State of the Nation address. He’ll tell us how they plan to employ millions. He’s going to turn the economy around. He’ll say how serious they are about eradicating corruption. He’ll emphasise education and health care – and how much they’re doing for social upliftment. It’ll be a repeat of previous speeches, just dressed up nicely to sound optimistic.

“He’ll sound just like that blonde in the Mustang. Or like Vetfaan on the train. No matter how you string words together, you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

He gets a nod from Gertruida. “Well, here’s my guess: this is the last State of the Nation address by President Zuma. He’s slowly being sidelined to make way for somebody who hasn’t had his hand so deep in the till lately. Maybe somebody with less wives and even less children. Maybe he’ll hint at his deteriorating health, saying the pressures of government has worn him down. Mark my words – if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the hidden messages.”

Yes, Vetfaan thinks, we’re all in that Mustang, listening and talking and trying to convince each other that we have the answers to the country’s problems. Some will fight a war, others will strike or argue, and yet others will sit quietly, waiting for the storms to pass. We’ll continue to believe in righteous causes and rich rewards. But, in the end, we’ll all hurry along to catch the train at a dusty station, hoping it’ll carry us to freedom and peace.

But like that day in Keetmanshoop, the station might very well be deserted and the train long departed.

***

The station master eventually offered the forlorn soldier housing for the night. They talked, like true patriots do, about how important it was to preserve and protect their way of life.

The next day Vetfaan was hitch-hiking again. This time he wasn’t facing south at all; he returned to his base near Rundu. There was a war to be fought, after all.

***

“History,” Vetfaan says heavily, “will keep on repeating itself. Presidents will come and go. Liberals and conservatives will fight. Traditionalists will warn about radicals. Capitalists will square up to communists. And, in the end, we’ll keep on insisting to fight wars we cannot win.”

“Maybe.” This time, Gertruida s smile is genuine. “But what keeps us hoping, is the future. No matter where we’ve been, we can always hope to reach a brighter tomorrow. That, my friends, is the only way.”

Kleinpiet writes ‘For God and Country’ on the counter top, using the froth from his beer. After staring at it for a long minute, he wipes out ‘Country’ with his sleeve.

“Enough lies,” he says. Then he invites them all to a braai on his farm tonight. “Not for the meat or the beer,” he reminds them, “but because I don’t have a radio or a television.”

Of course they all accepted, The president isn’t going to tell them anything they don’t know already. That train has left the station a long time ago…