Tag Archives: zuma

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. 



“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


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…

Waiting…The State of the Nation

Credit: toothless.co.zz

Credit: toothless.co.zz

“Is he still there?”

Vetfaan sits down with a contented sigh as Boggel pushes his beer over the counter. It’s been a long, hot day in Upington, where he picked up the new gasket for the Massey Ferguson at the station. As usual, the train was late, causing him to spend two endless hours in the dingy café around the corner.

“Yep. Still there, sitting on that old bench on the platform. Nothing has changed.”

“It’s sad, isn’t it. Being blind and deaf since that accident in the mine. I wonder if he’ll ever know he’ll never recover? I mean, it’s been almost thirty years now. Surely the penny must have dropped?”

“Well, if it did,” the cynical smile on Kleinpiet’s face is completely without humour, “he wouldn’t have heard or seen it. Poor bugger.”

They all know the story of Dark Dan, the deaf and blind man. He used to be a foreman in a gold mine, but after the stick of dynamite exploded while he was inserting it into the hole he had just drilled, his life was changed forever. The mine did pay him a modest amount every month – far too little to support his family, according to gossip – and he survived on the meagre bit of money he collected in his upturned hat on the platform.

Although everybody knows about Dark Dan and the tragedy of his life, they all agree that he isn’t somebody to pity. He is far, far too proud to accept sympathy. Dressed in his old shabby suit, he insists on wearing a tie. He’ll sit there, ramrod-straight, staring with his unseeing eyes at the distant horizon; only moving his head when a friendly hand touches his shoulder. That’s the only way to tell him you’ve dropped a coin in his hat, see? And then his lips would curl up momentarily when he nods to show his appreciation. 

“I wonder what he thinks about all day? I mean – he can’t say anything and he can’t communicate at all. Can’t hear, can’t see. And when he tries to talk, his words are warped and warbled at such an unnatural pitch, nobody can understand him.” Vetfaan shakes his head. “It must be hell.”

“True. His vocal chords got blown away as well, I think. He’s just a shell with thoughts he can’t express. No input, no output. And nobody can help him. Such a pity.” 


 The way Life treats all of us, can hardly be described as fair. Gertruida often says this, and then usually adds she’s not talking about the inability of the local government or even the rate at which the country is being run into the ground. No, she says, it’s a general remark about the way things turn out. Lovers quarrel. Tractors break down. The rains stay away for too long. That sort of thing – the stuff we have to put up every day.

Just the other day, when yet another dust storm swept over the small town of Rolbos, the only telephone link t the outside world was broken when the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer lost its way and struck one of the poles that kept the wire aloft. Now, one must understand that the inhabitants of the small town aren’t in the habit of calling friends all day long. This may be due to the fact that they have very few friends, but still: the thought that they were suddenly completely cut off, caused a considerable amount of discomfort. What would happen, for instance, if Oudoom had a stroke? Or if the next delivery of beer was delayed? Such calamities could completely disrupt their way of living in the Kalahari.

“Now we’re just like Dark Dan,” Precilla noted as the thick dust clouds made Boggel light some candles on the counter, “nobody can hear us and we can’t see.”

“You shoulnd’t say that, Precilla. It’s not fair. We, at least, know this storm won’t last. Poor Dan’s storm will never pass.”

“He’s a strange cat.” Signalling for another beer, Vetfaan turns to Kleinpiet. “In the time Dan has sat there, the entire country changed. The Nationalists were defeated, Madiba became president and we won the Rugby World Cup. After that, nothing much good has happened. Some members of the ruling party got rich and many more common citizens became poor. Maintenance of roads and hospitals and schools ground to a complete standstill, Mbeki was ousted and now Zuma is being fired in the most gentle way.

“And through this all, Dark Dan just sat there, hoping somebody would drop a coin in his hat. His world has become a bench on a deserted platform.” Reflecting n the thought, Gertruida adds: “Just like us, I suppose.”

“It would be nice if we could do something about his situation.” As always, Precilla is the one with the soft heart. “He does have a family and they see to it that he is dressed and gets to the station every day, but that’s about it. What else do we know?”

Of course, like in so many such cases, Dark Dan’s circumstances were pure speculation. The group in the bar shrugs in unison. No, they don’t know. Don’t know about his family, whether he has a wife, nothing about children. Nothing. His support structure – they all agree he must have people caring for him – is totally unknown.

“That’s not right.” By now, Precilla is upset. “We know he’s there, but nothing more. Over the years people – us – have simply accepted he’s there; a lonely old miner, begging on that platform. We should have done something about it years ago.”


It’s Gertruida (who else?) who finds out about Dark Dan when she visits the humble shack in the township.

“You’re the first – the very first – person to come and ask these questions. In all these years nobody bothered about Danny. He was my responsibility and that’s where it ended. Nobody cared.”

Bit by bit, over the flask tea and cookies Gertruida brought along, Dark Dan’s sister Sarah tells the story of how Danny (as she calls him) got married on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so many years ago.

“It was a beautiful ceremony. A real preacher and a real cake – not a fake one so many people use. His wife, Rebecca, looked stunning in the wedding dress her grandmother had worn when she got married. Now, in those days, there was no question of a honeymoon. Where would a black person go?” Sarah pauses and looks up as if she expects an answer, then shrugs at the futility of it all. “He had to be back at the mine on Monday.”

They had one evening and one day to celebrate their wedding. Dan was ecstatic. They spent the time in her shack in the township – Rebecca told a neighbour the next morning how happy they were in those moments.

“But, later on Monday morning, the secret police arrested Rebecca because she had distributed pamphlets in the location a month or so before.

“You know, Missus Gertruida, such news travelled fast in those days. The neighbour told a friend. The friend spoke to some people. Within an hour, everybody knew – including the miners, even those underground. That’s when Danny heard about it. He was setting a charge when one of the men whispered to him what had happened.” Sarah sighs as she stares at the folded hands on her lap. “The rest, Missus Gertruida, you know already.”

“And Rebecca?” Gertruida has to know.

Sarah looks up while a tear streaks down her cheek. Her only answer is a shake of the head. “He’s at the station, Missus. All dressed up, tie and all. He’s still waiting for her.”


“Maybe it would have been better if Gertruida stayed at home.” Precilla hesitates before she continues packing the tinned food in the basket. “Now we’re involved. We are, in a manner of speaking, responsible.”

“For the past?” Boggels voice conveys his dismay.

“No, Boggel. For his future. That man is on the station, waiting for somebody who’ll never get off the next train. Or the next. Or the next. It’s so incredibly sad.”

Gertruida puts down the newspaper, hiding the banner headline. She’s been reading about President Zuma’s ‘fatigue’ that forced him out of politics lately.

“Deaf. Dumb. Blind.” She holds up three fingers. “Complete ignorance, complete isolation… Poor man, he’s in the dark all the time, without a clue of reality. Living in a world of his own.  Like us, he’s waiting…waiting for brighter future that’ll always be a day away.” She stops in mid-sentence, suddenly struck with a thought. “Oh my! I’ve just delivered the President’s State of the Nation Address…”

The Judging of Oscar Pistorius

Credit: News24.com

Credit: News24.com

“I’m glad we don’t have TV in Rolbos,” Dabbing an eye, Precilla switches off the radio, “to think your every tear and every sob gets transmitted right around the world. It must be terribly humiliating.”

“Listen. This isn’t a case of who did what. Oscar shot that girl and he deserves to be tried in an open court.” Servaas tugs at his collar – like he always does when he’s angry. “You can’t go around killing people and then say you’re sorry. It doesn’t wash. The law must take it’s course and the crime must be punished.”

Oudoom shakes his head. “I agree with Precilla. No matter how guilty he is, I question the circus the trial has become. I mean – think about the girl’s family, for goodness’ sakes! Can you imagine sitting there, listening to the advocates painting different scenario’s? The one says it was an accident, a case of a cripple frigthened for his life. The other guys says, no, not like that. He says Oscar is a man well acquainted with guns, a man with a short fuse, and he blew her away because he was angry.

“Two pictures on one canvas – the one the truth, the other a lie. The judge must make the call on what she’s heard in court. The public has the right to know the verdict, that I agree. But in the meantime, hours and days worth of TV and radio go into reporting every sniff and every tear. Why? Not because people are interested in the verdict – well, maybe they are, but that isn’t why they tune in to these broadcasts – they want the drama and sensation. They want to speculate and gossip. And I don’t think that’s okay. The bigger wrong may be the killing of Reeva, but I can’t condone the sensationalism that accompanies the case.”

“Yes.” Vetfaan holds up his empty glass for a refill. “Either we should have all high-profile cases on TV, or none at all. I’d like to see old Zum-Zum in the stand, answering to Gerrie Nel or that Le Roux guy.” He drops his voice an octave. “I put it to you, Mister President, that you have been engaged in a serious attempt to lie your way out of trouble. You lied to parliament, didn’t you, because you thought you could get away with everything?” 

Vetfaan turns to address Boggel behind the counter. “Milady, with due respect to the court, this man still has to answer on more than 700 counts of corruption and other issues. His liaison  with the Gupta’s and the Shaiks of this world has tarnished his credibility as a witness. I put it to you that such a man is unfit to lead a country.”

Now he raises his tone slightly, assuming a different persona, to confront the little crowd at the counter. “Oh no Milady. My learned colleague has sketched a terribly skewed picture of one of Africa’s foremost leaders. High trees and much wind and all that, you know? We have to take into consideration the background of our great leader. Was he not a fearless fighter against the scourge of Apartheid? Did he not father 21 (or thereabouts) children by various ladies? Does that not indicate a man of great capacity – a man of high morals, a man of vision, immensely popular amongst his compatriots? And oh, Milady, let us not digress into trivialities like arms deals and a few cents here and there. Look at the greater picture, Milady, and I put it to you that this case is a travesty of justice.”

Gertruida gets up to stare out of the window. It is another hot day in the Kalahari, with a lonely dust devil dancing slowly past the church on the other side of Voortrekker Weg.

Mr and Mrs Bumble

Mr and Mrs Bumble

“The law is an ass,” she quotes, “just like a donkey. The famous phrase is attributed to Charles Dickens, who published Oliver Twist in 1838 – the same year the Great Trek started. It’s something Mr Bumble said when it was put to him that the law supposes he is the boss in the house. The origin of the phrase goes back to the time Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape. It was George Chapman who published Revenge for Honour in 1654 and he wrote: ‘Ere he shall lose an eye for such a trifle… For doing deeds of nature! I’m ashamed. The law is such an ass.’

“The point, gentlemen, is that the law is blind. It only sees the letters on the pages, it doesn’t allow for creative thought. So we can frown and grumble about Pistorius, but the law knows only one way to come to a decision. Oscar is guilty and he’ll be punished. Does that mean justice was done?”

Gertruida waits for some response, gets nothing, and sighs before answering her own question.

“No. For justice to be done, you have to reinstate the circumstances and conditions that existed before the crime. Putting Oscar in jail doesn’t do that. Reeva is dead. A family lost a daughter with a bright future. An athlete has lost the respect and adoration of thousands of fans.

“Justice? No. Revenge, maybe. But it won’t fix anything.”

“Ja, Gertruida, you are right.” With the upcoming elections, Kleinpiet is more worried about voting than the court case in Pretoria.  “But what about our president? Why don’t they arrange a debate between him and Gerrie Nel? Wouldn’t that be something?”

Oudoom finishes his beer and gets up to leave.

“You lot! All you did this morning was to cry out for justice and revenge. Law this and law that. Sensation. Drama. Gossip. And this in the time when we remember the events surrounding Easter Time. Should we all not become quiet and contemplate the ultimate sacrifice Jesus brought to free us from such things? What happened to forgiveness?”

“That’s the point, Dominee.” This time, Gertruida uses his official title. “Jesus was crucified because of the law of the time. He was innocent, but that didn’t help Him. And that, Dominee, should tell us something: human judgement is flawed at its core. We choose to apply laws as it suits us. And then, just like in Dickens’ time, we want to hang sinners in public. We want to rant and rave and point fingers. That, unfortunately, is human behaviour. But…we also turn a blind eye to the many wrongs in our society. Maybe such high-profile cases soothe our consciences into thinking that there is still some justice left in the world. We condemn a man who did something terrible, but we manage to ignore the drugs, the crime, the farm murders, the raping of children and women.

“One major court case, and we go crazy. A million less obvious wrongs just get accepted as being part of a normal society. And…I simply don’t think that will ever change.”

“Sister Gertruida,” this time Oudoom, too, uses his sermon voice, “I shall now return to my home. I shall think about Easter. I shall spend time in prayer. And then I’ll try not to spend Easter Weekend as an advocate for the defence or for the state. I’ll want to spend the next few days contemplating kindness and peace and forgiveness and love.”

In the silence that follows the old clergyman’s departure, Boggel polishes some glasses behind the counter.

“You think we should pray for Oscar during Easter? Or for that matter, that our president shall receive the wisdom to tell the truth for a change?”

They all look at Boggel with surprised faces.

“What?” Servaas is the first to respond. “You crazy? Listen, it may be in God’s power to change a man’s thinking – or even the way we follow the Pistorius trial – but in the end we do what we do because we are human. We ignore, condemn, gossip, lie and cheat. And worst of all, we think the law protects us against such things. We pay more respect to our flawed laws than we do to our religion. So, yes, let us pray – but before we do, we must take a step back and ask ourselves if our all own actions are just and fair. If the answer is no, then each of us is – like the law – an ass.”

He, at least, gets a whispered ‘Amen’ from Gertruida.

The Hyena will eat itself…again.

hyena_with_leg“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan stares out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Kleinpiet nods. “Ja, there’s just about nothing for them to eat in the veld. I’ll have to start buying feed for mine.”

Boggel knows this type of talk: it’s bad for business. Once the farmers have to spend money on their livestock, they just can’t afford to drink the way they used to.

“It’s difficult to say which is worse: the drought or the politics.” If he can get them to concentrate on less important matters, they might think less about their immediate problems. “Now that Uncle Jacob has to answer for Nkandla, the newspapers will have a field day..And there’s the Oscar trial as well.”

“But that’s not politics,” Vetfaan objects. “Nkandla has nothing to do with ANC policies; it’s about one man who lied to parliament. Uncle Jay simply stole public money, that’s what. Now, if that happened in Europe or the ‘States, he’d have to resign. Accepting personal responsibility is what democracy is all about. So…we can’t blame the ANC if one of their members gets seduced by power.”

“No, Vetfaan.” Servaas knits the bushy brows together. “Individual responsibility is important, I agree. But there should be more: the party must act. The top structure in this case – the ANC – should have taken an official stand on this, like they did with Malema. If they said, one of our members is out of line, we’ll sort out the mess…well, if they said that, then I would have tipped my hat to them. Well done, I would have said. Maybe I don’t agree with all your policies, but I respect the way you keep the party clean. That’s what I would have said. Now I can’t, because they aren’t saying anything.”

“Ah, but you don’t understand, Servaas. There are members of that party that can’t sleep well at night. They know the president can hire and fire at will. Should they demand justice, they’re thrown out of the tight circle of friends who control the party. And with that, they lose the benefits of supporting Uncle Jay. No more fancy cars, big salaries and a chance to dig into the many opportunities to make a buck on the side. It’s the old story: you don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you.”

“So,” Servaas snarls, “we’re stuck with the mess? No solution and no way out? I don’t think that’s fair at all.”

“It’s like the drought, Servaas.” Kleinpiet points at the dust devil swirling down Voortrekker Weg. “Remember what the veld looked like after the last rains? It was green and lush with flowers everywhere. Now it’s dry and dusty and bare. But, mark my words, the rain will come again, and we’ll sit here and talk about the new fountains and springs that appeared everywhere. It’s a never-ending cycle. And then the next drought will come and we’ll wait for rain once more.”

They all know that much is true, at least. The Kalahari does that. It’s a region of extremes with maybe a handful of seasons in a lifetime when Mother Nature is kind to the veld.

“You think politics work the same way? That we’ll recover from this mess?”

“Indeed, Servaas.” Boggel joins the conversation. “Remember when one Rand bought one Dollar? Two Rand to the Pound? Those were good times for the economy. Now it’s all shot to pieces, but it’ll improve. Once we show the world we’re serious about productivity, corruption and crime, our political drought will be over.”

“Sure.” Vetfaan’s sarcasm is obvious. “If you think that’s going to happen in our lifetime, you must have a fantastic relationship with the Tooth Fairy. It won’t happen. Remember the saying about absolute power? It creates absolute corruption. And absolute corruption perpetuates itself. Think what you want, but I’m not holding my breath on this one.”

“!Ka once told me the story of the hungry hyena. Many years ago, he said, a pack of hyenas had a leader. He was big and strong and fast. All the hyenas were afraid of this one, and they always allowed him to eat the best part of the carcass before they dared go near the spoils.” Boggel, who can tell these Africa-stories with many hand gestures and the right facial expressions, has their complete attention. “Well, the pack was so successful that they eventually caught all the other animals in their region. Not a hare or a buck or a bird was left. They grew hungry and angry – why were they made to suffer so?

“Then they decided to do the only thing left for them: they must eat the weakest member of the pack. This they did. Then they became hungry once more, and they ate the next…and the next…and the next.

“Eventually, of course, only the strong leader was left. Now he was alone, and had nobody else to eat. He was so used to having the best of everything, and having as much as he liked, that he just couldn’t stand being hungry. So he did the only thing left for him: he started chewing on his tail. Then his legs. And – as you can imagine – he ended up eating himself. All of himself.

“And then, when only his dry bones were left, the animals started coming back to the veld. Kudu and Gemsbok and hare and all the birds. And when the veld teemed with game once more, one day, a pack of hyenas decided this was a good place to live.”

The group at the bar waited for Boggel to go on. Surely the story can’t end like that? But in the silence that follows, they realise the story ended where it began. Like the seasons of drought and plenty, the story is an everlasting circle, with no beginning and no end.

“I hope we get rain soon.” Vetfaan says again,  staring out of the window at the clouds of red dust on the horizon. “My sheep aren’t looking great these days.”

Expect No Surprises in Retrospect

images (58)“2013 was a terrible year,” Servaas says as he sips his peach brandy. “We had the Valentine’s Day Murder, Nkandla, Madiba’s funeral…” Dressed in black, the old man’s expression says it all. “I don’t suppose there’ll be any good news in 2014 either.”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t scold him for being so negative. Instead, she smiles and rubs his bony shoulders.

“I know, Servaas. It was one bad headline followed by another. They had shootings in America, explosions in Kenya and now England is being flooded. It’s a world-wide thing.”

He seems slightly surprised at her support as he gives her a wintry smile.

“I think the end of the world is near. We’ve just about trashed the place, anyway.”

“The only end that’s near, is the last day of 2013.” Boggel serves another round. “Look, you guys, at the end of every given year, you can look back in despair. It’s natural. People die. Love fizzles out. Promises were broken. Life is, in those immortal words, the drink in your shot glass. You never quite know what to expect.” Smiling mischievously, he adds a dash of mampoer to each glass. “But then again, you can either go and have a sip of tap water…or accept and enjoy the mix you got served with.”

“A  goody-two-shoes optimist! I hereby declare my life complete.” Servaas rolls his eyes, snorting loudly.

“No, Boggel is right. Look at us: we’ve had such a lot of fun with our president this year. He’s given us much joy. Especially when his sign-language interpreter told the world: Watch my lips. I never, ever, used taxpayer’s money to build my swimming pool. He was much more convincing than Clinton, don’t you think?” Vetfaan reaches down to make sure his fly is closed properly.

“Ja, and he almost convinced me he had nothing to do with the Gupta debacle, either. He’s really good, that man. I’m sure he’ll be even better in the new year.” Holding out his glass for a refill, Kleinpiet burps softly. “I mean, what’s the use of having a president if you can’t believe him? So, with a little practice, I’m sure he’ll get to the point where we won’t question him any more.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you, Kleinpiet. They’re going to replace the poor man – and then we’ll have to endure the promises of a better future all over again. It’ll take months – maybe years – for the new president to become such a smooth hand with words. Political gymnastics isn’t an art you get born with, remember? It takes time…

“At least we’ve got an election coming up in 2014. Auntie Zille and Missus Ramphele are going to ruffle a few feathers, if you asked me. It’ll be an interesting year.”

“Forget it, Vetfaan. Maybe as much as 50% of our adult population rely on social grants. In 1998, only 2,5 million citizens received such grants. In 2012 the official figure grew to 16 million. I can imagine the figure is even higher now. And remember: we only have 13 million individual taxpayers. Now, no matter how unhappy the productive part of our population is, they can never hope to outvote the ANC. The math is simple: we won’t see much of a change in 2014.”

“You’re right, Gertruida.” Servaas finishes his drink. “Add to that the increasing tendency to strike for unrealistic wages, the inability to spend government’s budgets wisely and the rampant corruption, and you end up with a state in a downhill tumble.”

“I’m just popping out to get my black suit,” Vetfaan says.”If you can’t fight them, join them…:

“I’ve only got a little black number,” Precilla blushes as she sits down. “And Kleinpiet says I can only wear in in the house…with high heels, of course.”

“Yep. It’s the black number that’ll do it, every time. It’s very powerful.”

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that 2014 will see many changes in many aspects of many lives;but at the end of it, we’ll look back in the same despair. Some people will die. Some loves will fizzle out. Even more promises will be broken. And, true to the deceiving nature of human beings, we’ll then try to convince ourselves that 2015 will be better.

Just like this year.

Yeah, right.

It’s so good – The song all politicians sing before an election…

C’est si bon
Lovers say that in France
When they thrill to romance
It means that it’s so good
C’est si bon
So I say to you
Like the French people do
Because it’s oh so good
Every word, every sigh, every kiss, dear,
Leads to only one thought
And the thought is this, dear!
C’est si bon
Nothing else can replace
Just your slyest embrace
And if you only would be my own for the rest my days
I will whisper this phrase
My darling, my darling…
C’est si bon!