Tag Archives: zuma

Coulrophobia is alive and well..

12060d75ff7931e6cad9fc882e79b3ce.jpg“I think it started with The Joker in the Batman movies. That guy was as evil as they come, and boy, was I scared of him! Although…,” Servaas smiles wickedly, “I sort of admired his stupidity. Imagine taking on Batman? It’s a one-horse race, but still he didn’t give up. Evil would never trump Good, yet it didn’t prevent The Joker from trying.”

Gertruida nods. “Yep. A real bad guy. Wikipedia describes him as: ‘ a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor…‘ Interestingly, he associated himself with various criminal elements, like the Injustice Gang and Injustice League. In short, a very realistic figure who resonates quite remarkably with us  – almost 80 years after he was first created. Interestingly, The Joker was created on April 25, 1940, just about two years before our prez was born.”

“Amazing coincidence, Gertruida. To create such characters in the middle of WW II might represent some form of logic. I mean, while everybody is shooting at everybody else, it is only natural that that period of time gave birth to some rather strange characters. I mean, Bob Hewitt was also born in 1940.”

“Ooooh…you just can’t generalise like that, Servaas! Some good people also started life in that year. Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Kitch Christie, Eddie Barlow, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert – to name only a few.” Despite her stern tone, Gertruida pats her old friend’s shoulder. “It’s not the year, Servaas. It’s not the war. We simply have to stop blaming the past for everything – as if it absolves us from all blame and gives us the right to condemn modern society.

“The choice to become a criminal is a purposeful movement away from what is just and fair – by the individual. It is he or she who decides to swindle others in the community and steal or murder or act unlawfully. To blame it on circumstances is the original cop-out. To blame it on racism or apartheid or whatever other wrong, has become the norm – but think about it. Is it justifiable to engage in criminal activity because Jan van Riebeeck started something in the Cape, establishing a world-renowned and terribly strategic port? So successful was his endeavour that we may not breathe a word about ‘colonialism’ today.”

“That’s  Greek word, isn’t it?”

“It is. The Greek word kolon, means ‘limb’, and because of stilts, was also associated with clowns. Of course, if you say ‘kolon’ today, people hear ‘colon’ and think about the temporary store for stuff the body wants to dispose of.”

“Huh?”

“Ag Servaas! The word coulrophobia has it’s origins in the way the old Greeks amused themselves. Some men would walk about on stilts and thus try to be funny. They elongated their kolons to appear comical. They were the original clowns, see? So, in an obscure way, the word Kolon is the parent word for colony (a limb of the sovereign nation) as well as for clown.”

“So, if a colony is run by a kolon, we get coulrophobia?”

“The pathological fear of clowns? Just so, my ancient friend, just so.”

Gertruida’s Fish-in-a-Bottle Analogy

images (2).jpg“You see, in the beginning everything is small  – but that tends to change as time goes on.” Gertruida smiles at her little audience in Boggel’s Place. After their protest march on Friday, they have decided not to talk about politicians for a while – but now it’s Monday and it’s time to take stock of recent events.

“Are you talking about babies, relationships or lies, Gertruida?” Servaas brushes his bushy brows flat with a drop of beer. “Nothing new there, I’m afraid.”

“Actually – yes and no. What I’m really referring to, is the fish-in-a-bottle analogy.” Her smile widens as she enjoys the blanks stares she gets. “It’s simple, really.”

***

One day, a man noted a number of small fish in the pond near his house. They were exceptionally beautiful and exhibited all the colours of the rainbow.

“I want those fish,” he said and strolled off to find a net somewhere.

“Haven’t seen a net for ages,” his friend said when asked. “It’s not something we do. Anyway, some of those fishes are quite poisonous, I’m told. Best to leave them alone.”

But the man was determined and made up his own net with bits of string. Then he thought about a container to keep the little fishes in and once again his friend advised against it.

“If you keep fish in a container, they will need to be fed. And you’ll have to clean the thing every now and then – fish swim around in their own poo, you know?”

images (3).jpgStill, the man ignored the advice. The only container he found, was an old wine bottle – the type with little handles at the neck. It was also a very precious bottle, something that had been in the family for some time. This, the man thought, would be a great container for the fish.They’d have plenty of room to swim around in and the clear glass would display their colours beautifully to anybody who cared to look. And who cared if the fish were poisonous – they’d be safe behind the glass. Anyway, they were to be looked at, not handled or eaten.

The man started catching the fish with his net. It was slow going at first, but he soon got the hang of it and he quickly filled up the bottle with a small school of lively fish bodied. Their colours were even more remarkable inside the glass container, causing the man to puff out his chest in pride.

“Nobody in the whole, wide world has fish as beautiful as mine,” he boasted. He’d spend countless hours admiring his fish, feeding them and watching them grow.

And grow…

And grow.

In time, the fish became so big that he wanted to put them into a larger container, but there was a problem. By then the fish had grown so big that he couldn’t get then out of the bottle any longer. The neck of the bottle had been large enough when the fish were small, but now – having been fed well and grown to a considerable size – the fish could no longer negotiate their way out of the bottle.

“My fish have grown too much!” The man wailed. “They are now trapped inside my bottle. Even if I wanted to, I can no longer set them free or return them to the pond.”

And still the fish grew and grew and eventually became so big that they no longer could swim in the bottle. They just hung there, suspended in water, eating all day while their scales slowly lost their lustre.

“Oh, how ugly and fat have my beauties become! I used to be so proud of them, but now they’ve become bloated and fat and lazy – and I cannot get rid of them.” The man wept as he tried to imagine what the fish looked like before.

“You have to break the bottle,” the man’s friend suggested.”Set them free in the pond and get rid of them.”

“But my bottle! It’s such a precious bottle! I belonged to my father, and his father before him. If I break the bottle, I’b be betraying their trust and disrespect their memory.”

“And if you don’t, the fish will die in that bottle and you’ll have to wait for everything to rot away before you’ll be able to get them out – piece by piece. Either way, the bottle is doomed. Either way, the fish get out. Your choice.”

The man didn’t know what to do. In the end the fish died, they rotted away and the bottle stank to high heaven for many years afterwards.

And the man had no choice. He discarded the bottle – which nobody wanted any more – and regretted the day he first thought of catching the beautiful little fish in the pond near his house.

***

“Oh, I get it.” Vetfaan’s face lights up with excitement. “You’re talking about the cows coming home. The chickens return to the roost. And being hoist by your own petard?”

“Exactly. The ANC tried to restrict the havoc Zuma caused by closing ranks and proclaiming their unyielding support for the president. Well, a while ago this might have worked and they could have gotten away with it. But now the elephant in the room has grown too big to ignore. The fish is now too big for the bottle. The only way ahead is now to break the bottle and set Zuma free to face the music, or to remain steadfast in their support and die with him inside the bottle. Either way, the ANC is causing terrible damage to the party’s image. The darling of world politics have become the skunk.”

“You mean a junk-skunk?” Vetfaan manages a lopsided grin.

“Just so, Vetfaan, just so.” Gertruida doesn’t return the smile.

The Pig, the Hogs and the Rest.

pig-1422160_960_720.jpgThe three little pigs grew up but they never forgot the fear and the hatred of their youth. Although the big bad wolf no longer blew houses down or threatened to eat them, the three of them insisted on building an impregnable castle, high up on a mountain. Of course, Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, insisted on being honoured as Leader.

“See how clever we are,” said the Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, “not only did I kill the wolf, but look at the luxury we now enjoy.” The clever Pig stuffed another tasty treat into his already-full mouth and grinned happily as his personal servants rushed to wipe the spittle from his chinney chin chin. “And as long as you do exactly as I say, you’ll be rewarded as well, my loyal comrades.”

They all nodded for they remembered Sitting Duck, the poor creature who once dared question Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. Sitting had asked whether it wouldn’t be fair if all the food was distributed to all the animals. Surely, Sitting argued, the poor working animals deserved reward for their hard work and loyalty. The question caused a classic Pig explosion.

“What? Reward those stupid workers? Are you completely mad? You give them a small reward and next they want my palace! You, Sitting Duck, will now leave my palace and work amongst those you admire so much. Go now! I’m sick of your pathetic face. I never want to see you again.”

So Sitting Duck left the palace to become just another of Pig’s victims. Pig had become quite famous for his temper tantrums after that and many of his erstwhile friends soon tasted the sharp whip of his wrath. But Pig didn’t care. There were many, many others waiting at the gates of his castle in the hope of being invited in. These, called Waiters, knew all too well that nobody in the castle ever did any real work and that they received much more than they’d ever need – simply by agreeing with everything Pig said.

One day, Pig decided his castle just wasn’t big enough. His many Piglettes, Piglets and other family members had become so numerous, that the rooms in the big castle were all occupied. This happened soon after the Hogs – a family from the Far East – arrived with many clever ideas and a lot of money. The Hogs were members of a little-known family of distantly related Boars, a radical group of relatives known for their cunning ways. And Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks instantly recognised their genius and agreed with everything they said.

The Hogs, however, belonged to a dark and secret society which believed in pig sacrifice. Once they befriended a pig, it was their aim to get everything such a pig had. This, they called ‘bleeding him dry’ and was the origin of the saying “bleeding like a stuck pig”.

But first the Hogs had to get Pig to play along with their plans, which Pig gladly did. Initially the Hogs kept their promises and Pig was handsomely rewarded for his cooperation. Then Pig got greedy.If the Hogs could make plans…why, so could he! And then, Pig told himself, he’d become even richer, add more rooms to his castle and be known throughout the world as The- pig-who-outwitted-them-all.

So Pig came up with The-Most-Dastardly-Plan. He was going to steal all the money in the land, with which he’d not only build a few rooms, but castles for his extended family. By then, Pig’s greedy ways had made him to believe he had the right to everything in the country and he lived like that. He could eat more than everybody else, even Wolf, way back then. No amount of anything was ever sufficient. He wanted more…always more.

And the animals outside the castle saw this and shuddered. “We must stop Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks,” they said, “for he is taking food from our mouths.” And the animals outside the castle protested and protested, while Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks stood inside his castle, laughing at them.

Then something strange happened. Some of Pig’s friends inside the castle had to admit to themselves (softly at first) that maybe, just maybe, Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks, was the biggest manipulator in the land; that he used them all for only one reason: to increase his wealth.

“We had been used by Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks,” they whispered amongst themselves. “Look at the animals outside. Not a single smiling face, not a single happy creature. They all are suffering because Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks had tricked them out of their rights and their belongings.”

The more these animals whispered, the more they became convinced that something had to be done with Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. One by one, they quietly left the castle, until only the Hogs and Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks remained. That’s when the Hogs – clever as they were – decided that they had had enough. Taking everything they could, they, too, left one night.

Poor Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks. He was left all alone in his huge castle and could shout (or laugh) at nobody any longer. So lonely was he that he longed for company – any company – even Wolf. But in the wide, marble-tiled corridors of his massive castle, only the mocking laughter of the Hogs remained.

And it drove Pig-who-had-built-with-bricks completely mad. He spent the rest of his days believing that he still ruled over the country, while the animals couldn’t stop ridiculing their former leader. And while the poor pig played his make-believe games, the rest of the animals started repairing the damage the Hogs had caused.

And later, much later, they all lived happily ever after.

But it took a long, long, very long time.

Rasputin Syndrome in South Africa?

Григорий_Распутин_(1914-1916)b.jpg

Grigory Rasputin

“Now, Rasputin – as you may know – was a rather enigmatic figure about whom there is still a lot of uncertainty. He was never a monk and had no religious training, but he became known as a mystic, a prophet, a spiritual healer and received (according to him) the gift of clairvoyance.” Gertruida is in full cry – it’s been a long night but the group in the little bar just can’t settle down. The cabinet reshuffle has caused a lot of debate, with the consensus that the country is in for a stormy future. As usual, Gertruida wants the last word. “But…he had an eye for a shapely figure, especially if the lady was well-connected or rich.”

“Gee Gertruida, do we really have to listen to a history lesson? Pravin Gordhan just got axed – as did that nice man, Jonas – and we’ve been trying to make sense of it all. And still you insist on telling us about some crazy Russian?” Servaas shakes his head – what is the world coming to?

“Listen, that man, Gigaba? I’m not so sure. He really sent tourism into a tailspin with all the new regulations. If he doesn’t understand the economy of tourism, how can he handle the whole country’s finances?”

“Wrong idea, Vetfaan.” Servaas wags a finger at his bleary-eyed friend. “You have to think big. He has to do much more than just balance the country’s books – he has to handle our president’s affairs.” He waits for a moment to allow the sentence to sink in before adding: “Which includes much more than mere money, I might add.”

“Rasputin never had any formal education and was illiterate until well into his adulthood. Despite this, Rasputin met the Tzar in 1905, bedazzled the ladies of the court and caused the Tzar to fall under his spell. Man, he really got under people’s skin, but the Tzar protected him at all costs.” Gertruida manages to ignore the other two. “But, ironically, it was his interpretation of sin that led to his fall from grace. You see, he believed that repentance was necessary for salvation. But…how can you repent if you have no sin? So his theory was simple: to prove he was not suffering from the sin of vanity, he…er…forced himself to be a fragile human creature and took to sex and booze to create the sins he had to plead forgiveness for.” She smiles at the incredulous looks she gets. “Yep. And you know what? Some of the most powerful people in Russia actually fell for that ruse.”

Vetfaan pokes a finger in the air. “I think I get what you’re getting at.”

“Good. And it was this spiral of increasing drunkenness and sexual exploits that caused his downfall, together with his complete inability to refuse bribes.”

“But they got rid of him in the end, didn’t they?”

“They did, Servaas, but it wasn’t easy. On November 19, 1916, Purishkevich – an important chap in government – made a rousing speech in which he stated: “The … ministers … have been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin.”  It was the speech that started the plot to murder Rasputin.”

“Probably the only thing to do under the circumstances and at that time in history in Russia.”

“Yes, Vetfaan. Of course. Things were so much simpler then.These days even presidents have rights. But, to get back to Rasputin: first a lady attacked him and stabbed him in the stomach, causing severe injuries.”

“So he died?”

“No Servaas, he didn’t. A surgeon operated on him – in his home – and he recovered. Then a group of conspirators invited him to supper. They gave him some cake, laced with enough cyanide to kill five men. Rasputin didn’t bat an eye. So they shot him, and he fell down. Still he didn’t die. They shot him again, several times. Still Rasputin lived. So they rolled him in a rug and threw him in a river, where he drowned. At last Russia was free of Rasputin, but not of his legacy. He was the reason Russia doesn’t have a Tzar any more.”

A heavy silence hangs in Boggel’s Place when Gertruida finishes her tale.

“One man, delusional and somewhat charasmatic, with a love for women and money. And he, singlehandedly, caused the collapse of an empire?”

“True, Vetfaan. History is a strange animal, you know. It keeps on repeating itself.”

 

Free Giveaway: A troupe of Bumbledragons.

Whist_marker.jpg“You know, in these days of such racial sensitivity, gender questions and religious turmoil, one has to be careful whenever one opens one’s mouth. Calling somebody a donkey or an ape will force you to see a magistrate, and if ever – oh my! – you compared somebody’s intellect with that of some insect, you’ll end up in jail, I’m sure.”  Gertruida slaps down an ace on the pile of cards and collects the packet. “But really, Servaas, that was a stupid move. You cannot expect to win the trick with a king if you know the ace is still out there somewhere.”

Ever since the group at the bar became disenchanted with their endless discussions of current politics, whist has come to their rescue. This age-old card game is not as simple as it seems, and involves bit of concentration – something often lacking in most people when they consider the state of corruption in the country.

“Yes, but I thought…”

“Ag Servaas, you are the original Bumblepuppy.” Gertruida simply has to show off, knowing that the others will be puzzled by the ‘new’ word. Actually, it is not new, but has its origins way back in the 17th century.

“A what?” Vetfaan smiles – he knows he has taken the bait, but curiosity got the better of him.

“You don’t know?” With arched brows and a mocking smile, Gertruida puts down her cards. “Okay then, let me enlighten you.”

Bumblepuppy.jpgOriginally, Bumblepuppy was a game played on a slanting, flattish surface with nine holes at one end. Round pebbles  – or stones – were rolled from  the player’s end, to finish up in one of the nine numbered holes. Then the scores were tallied up and a winner declared.

“But later the word found its way into whist. You see, because they used uneven river stones to roll down that flat surface, they never could be quite sure where the stone would end up. You could score a 1 as easily as a 9 – so it really was a game of chance. In some ways, you can compare Bumblepuppy with today’s slot machines: the only thing you can be sure of, is that you have a chance to win. The odds, however, are stacked against you

whist_history.jpg“So, a Bumblepuppy is a gambler with money to burn – a careless  player about to lose. That’s why whist players took over the term a century later. When you play like Servaas, putting down your best card with the full knowledge that somebody else would trump it, you are a Bumblepuppy. Servaas could have taken the next hand if he played his 2. But no! He hasn’t been concentrating on the table, so he shot himself in the foot. His best card is now gone and he is doomed to lose this hand.”

Boggel gets up to fetch a new round. “So it’s just like recent developments in politics, then? Trump wins in America, Zuma bamboozles the public, Escoms’s people are resigning, Abraham’s got egg on his face and our ministers get manicures from rhino poachers?”

“Much the same, Boggel. Only they aren’t playing a game,  even though they are gambling.”

.Servaas slugs down some beer and  – quite uncharacteristically – burps loudly. “Bumblepuppy? Those guys? No way! They’re Bumbledragons and you can have them free.” Without apologising, he goes on. “Come on, Gertruida, deal the next hand. Give me some good cards for a change. I need them.”

“Yeah. You and a whole parliament of others. And you know what? A Bumblepuppy can never win. It takes time, but it cleans out your wallet, guaranteed. And once that happens, you have to leave the table – those are the rules.”

“So there’s hope for us? For the country, I mean?” Boggel’s hand is a good one – he’s going to win this one for sure.

“Give a Bumbler enough rope, Boggel, and he’ll lose his money…and his footing.”

The Circus Lion of Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.)