These balmy summer nights in the Colony, are often best enjoyed clutching a tumbler of Klipdrift with a troupe of tree frogs acting as orchestral backing to one's conversations with good friends like Diktak Taljaard.
Diktak and I don't see each other very often and when we do our conversation can be likened to to the firing of muzzle loaders from opposing trenches - great explosions of gunpowder and shot, followed by periods of silence as we reload, particularly when politics is mixed with fine brandy!
It was during one such period of silence the other evening,when the road to Sulenkama began a sudden traverse of my mind, bringing with it memories of the years Diktak and I spent plying our trade as Commercial Travellers, in the then, Republic of Transkei.
Ja Nee Oom Schalk, The Republic of Transkei! In those days there were many such "Republic's" in South Africa - We had Venda, Ciskei, Qwa Qwa and Bophututswana, to name but a few - A map of our country, brought out at the time to illustrate the sovereign borders of these new "States", resembled an attack on cartography with a paint ball gun!
They were created by the National Party Government, in order to devolve itself of whole blocks of existing citizens, who were proving troublesome and not at all inclined to support the Nationalist ideology of Apartheid.
The rationale behind the thinking was that the creation of these 'sovereign independent states' within the borders of South Africa would allow millions of black and coloured people, who disagreed with "Nationalist thought", to find an unfettered opportunity to agree with their own thoughts, in their own Country.
There were any number of "Uncle Tom's" who were Paramount Chief's and the like, amongst the various black tribes the "Nat's" were hoping to re-citizenize, who were only too happy to accept the pieces of silver that came with the title President of Qwa Qwa, or Ciskei, etcetera,etcetera...
With tee-shirts, parties, sweets and promises, these retreaded Iscariot's, were soon on the campaign trail to convince their poor and needy that they were leading them to the promised land of equality and opportunity.
They were well armed - they promised houses and the South African government obliged. They promised jobs and the South African taxpayer obliged , building factories, where factories had never existed complete with incentives to employ even the unemployable.
Government Department's, mirroring those of South Africa , were created in each new independent State and filled with Ministers, Director Generals and thousands of salary earners who had never before earned a salary! Roads, health-care and public transport systems were upgraded and ambitious public works projects including lavish ministerial housing estates were undertaken to reinforce the desirability of citizenship.
Ja Nee, Oom Schalk, it was an unstoppable force that met very transferable subject's... the dream of a white Nirvana seemed eminently possible and was embraced by people punting a desperate ideology and supported by people of all colours and mercenary persuasion!
Diktak, a staunch Afrikaner, reminded me that there was even a faction of the Afrikaans community, at the time, who felt that they too should be allowed to aspire to their own independent heart-land within South Africa When this dream was denied them by the Nationalist Government in Pretoria, this right wing extremist group, the AWB, invaded Bophututswana (one of the States created) to forcibly attain their dream of self rule via coup de tat!
The Defence Force of Bophututswana, however, was not going to let a group of right wing, white Afrikaner extremists take from them the Country given to them by the other group of right wing, white Afrikaner's, they dispatched them, to meet their Maker, filled with bullets made and supplied by Pretoria.
Looking back at that period of our history and comparing it to the current dispensation, Diktak and I became increasingly aware that the ills that prevail now, such as tenderpreneur-ship and connected employment-deployment and widespread corruption, had their origins well honed in that time.
The politics of proximity to power and favour, was and remains, an essential ingredient in the recipe of financial success in Africa.
Casino licences became commodities well paid for via private invitation to negotiation. Tenders for construction and supply were not based on price and ability but rather the extent of the fringe benefit attached separately to the awarding thereof .
An example of this was the tender for the revamp of the road to Sulenkama. It was awarded to a cafe owner in Umtata, whose knowledge of road building was only equalled by his knowledge of how to serve deep fried chips!
He bought a second hand grader and removed what was left of the sub-strata and drainage structure.
Using the same method he employed in toasted sandwich construction, he then layered the base with various types of stone and sand and rolled it with a heavy roller. He completed the job in record time and then invited The Iscariot's in their tinted window, blue light chariots, flanked by out-riders with guns and sunglasses to inspect his handiwork.
A grand opening ceremony complete with 'Shisa Nyama', Johnny Black and lofty words extolling the advantages this new road would provide to the poor of the district were delivered to great applause and the rolling thunder of an imminent summer storm.
If summer storms could talk, I think they would confess to the Transkei being their playground of preference. A playground where they can bombard the earth, it's people and their property with great missiles of lightning like a sniper camouflaged in cloud and then wash away any evidence of dastardly deed by flooding the plains and valleys with great buckets of rain, some that bring succour... some that bring pain!
As large drops of rain and ragged rapiers of lightning began their collision with the road to Sulenkama, the "Blue Light Brigade" beat a hasty retreat, stage right, to Umtata, accompanied by a symphony of sirens and coinage of silver.The road builder and toasted sandwich constructor with payments given and received, departed stage left to Durban, en route to Greece and retirement.
The local populace, confident that their lifeline to civilisation had been well restored, trudged home to their mud hut's, through a sodden veld, praying that the lightning would spare them for another day of drudgery,
I was hoping Oom Schalk, to end this letter to you with those fairy tale words...."and they all lived happily ever after", but the summer storms were relentless in their assault on the Transkei that year and quickly stripped the road to Sulenkama of it's strangely layered toppings rendering it both unpalatable and impassable in record time.
Instead I will end by raising a glass of Goedehoop Port and wonder why our previous dispensation chose such a circuitous route to inevitable failure and capitulation.... Diktak says he will raise a glass of Allesverloren to the people of Sulenkama and their stoic capacity to sing whilst they continue to endure. 'The Loota Continua!'
A Circus of Salesmen with order book codes, dusty miles and well worn roads.
We would gather at night and croak like toads, in pond's full of whiskey at familial nodes...