Category Archives: A new year

2015 – halfway mark

Poisonous Pens

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

There are many conflicting thoughts running around in my head today, so this blog may turn into three!

Over the past week I have, among other important happenings, received three scurrilous, long-winded messages on two WhatsApp groups, with, as always, Barack Husain Obama the huge, terrifying monster through whom our entire world is about to be destroyed.

These barbed missives always come with a plethora of Bible verses to support the author’s viewpoint, and to terrify the global Christian community into a frenzied outpouring of intercession. For what outcome? Donald Trump as the new President of the United States of America? Will this man stop abortion and homosexuality? Seriously? Because those seem to be the only two issues that this group of right-wing bigots can offer up as any sort of political fodder, unaware it would seem, that abortion has been around since conception began, as has homosexuality. Please don’t think that I condone these. I don’t. I just happen to think that more pressing social problems exist in the world like extreme poverty, children denied access to health and education, rhino poaching and the destruction of the world’s habitats are all hugely important issues in my book. But I quote those two because they are the issues that are touted so monotonously.

My bible is extraordinarily clear: we are to love all men, win them to Christ that not one be lost. Math 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4.

That includes Muslims. And blacks. And Hispanics. And Jews. And women. And gays. Everyone.

What saddens me, and yes, annoys me to distraction, is that the basis of these messages is always false, aimed at the un-initiated, who mindlessly send them on to numerous people and never think to check the veracity of what they are reading. Has every person who signed up to Obama-care received a chip, and thus received in themselves the 666 mark of the beast of Revelations? Did not the Bush administration moot the suggestion of a two-state solution to Palestine and Israel?

Not according to poisonous pens of these authors. Their statements are blatantly untrue, and easily ascertained as such. But still the mails do the rounds, and people waste time reading them, forwarding them, that could and should be spent on real issues. Even people of colour, who seem unaware of the innate racism that drives these people, are caught up in religious fervor associated with sending these messages on.

As I pondered these messages, a revelation dawned. These are not claptrap to be facilely discarded and scoffed at. These tracts have played a very real role in bringing Donald

Trump onto the world stage.

Reading Numbers 13:33 through all of chapter 14, we see graphically the result of the false report brought by 8 of the 10 spies who were sent to check out the promised land. Sadly there too, the majority were believed. When Joshua and Caleb averred, and stood for the truth they were threatened with being stoned. The result? An entire generation spent 40 years wandering in the Wilderness, until everyone one of them, with the exception of our two true men of faith, was no longer.

What all must have happened in the known world of that time as a giant and barbarous nation held sway? How many people in neighbouring countries died? What of the battles that ultimately had to be fought before the Israelites were able to claim what had been promised them half a century previously? And the sin of the Israelites that brought this about? they didn’t trust God. If we need to convince an world that one man is able to wreak so much havoc, what does that say of our faith in God?

My fear is the consequences today of a concerted effort by what at best can be described as right wing fascists, demented in the fear that anyone unlike them, especially if they happen to be black, might prove to be more worthy than they, will be a world sucked into chaos in a vortex of hate and irrational fear.

Christian, you need to examine yourself. You need to test your motives against the light of the perfect love and freedom we have through the sacrifice at Calvary. If you have taken any part in this campaign, passed on a message, not sought God’s will before acting on it, you need to get face down before your Maker in repentance. You need to seek forgiveness from Him and from those who may have been hurt by your action. Do it the same way you sent on the false hood, through email or Whatsapp, it doesn’t matter how, but you need to make it right!

Then ask your Father, who loved you enough to ensure your salvation, to fill you with that perfect love that drives out all fear.

If we are truly rooted and grounded in love, if we understand who we are in Christ, then our identity must be secure. And if we are confident of our standing, accepting of who we are, then we have no need to fear others. We can relate as equals, equal but different if you will, but as people who are able to accept others, respect their differences, and pray for all men according to the will of our Father in heaven.

 

 

So Who is the Real Loser?

It’s four and a half hours since I awoke to a silent house, no hum of fridges, or water pumps, or daylight switches humming their warning that they are about to go off.

I don’t mind too much. I’m broke so every minute that my meter is blank, I think of all the units I am saving and smile. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but I have a gas ring so I can have a cup of tea, even make a meal. I have candles and rechargeable lights, all the mod cons needed to deal with outages such as these over the years. Others have generators for emergencies.

I remember driving home from work one Sunday afternoon many years ago in the foulest of weather: wind, driving rain, trees bending and breaking – scary. It was the onset of Cyclone Domoina, or ‘Zamcolo’ as it is known here. In front of me was a truck easily identified as belonging to the Swaziland Electricity Board as it was known then. As fast as poles crashed down, they were putting them up, an amazing effort in the face of huge adversity, and well worthy of great reward.

Before Christmas, with scant warning, we were told the staff of SEC were going to begin a sit-in, or go-slow or some such action because they had not received their annual bonuses. That doesn’t worry me too much either. Power outages in my area are endemic, sometimes as many as seven times in a day the power goes off. At times it comes straight back, or we can wait an hour or longer. We seldom have twenty four consecutive hours of uninterrupted power. All of which contribute to a gradual degradation of motors, and we then have the expense of replacing fridges, modems, water pumps, irrigation systems, the list is endless.

A number of times we have been out for ten or more hours at a stretch. We are told the technicians have gone home, or they are waiting for the storm to pass, or we don’t get any explanation at all. That is always assuming we can actually get someone to answer at the call centre. I doggedly left the phone ringing for forty minutes once. Twice I have received follow up calls after reporting the lack of power, once three days later, the other time a day later. I mean, please, why waste money on the phone call?

Today we were told that the technicians now only start work at 8am, which happened to be some three hours after our power failed. It is heading for 10 am, so over five hours I’ve saved a goodly number of units, far less than SEC has lost! All of which must be translated into revenue, or loss of earnings for the Company.

So who is really the loser in a situation like this? As I see it, the degenerating service offered by the Swaziland Electricity Company is causing more people to look to alternative forms of power. Solar is no longer as expensive as it was, companies like Guba show how waste can be converted to gas, wind is another option. I have friends who have converted almost completely to solar, and take very little from SEC. Another has made numerous alterations to their home and will soon not only be off the grid, but in a position to sell power back to SEC.

I certainly, if I am ever in the happy place of owning my own house, will look at alternate energy sources. I love the idea of self-sufficiency, not being dependant on someone unwilling to get out of bed to go to work on a rainy morning. But as more people look at these options, the workers of SEC may find that not only do they not receive any bonuses, but they may not have jobs to go to either.

 

Goodbye 2016! Goodbye bigotry?

Goodbye 2016

I was watching a review of 2016 on eNCA that outlined instances of racism that made headline news in South Africa during 2016. This question of colour has to be one of the most invidious ills of this era, a time when it should be so far in remission as to be non-existent. But the opposite is true, not only in Africa but globally.

Growing up here in Swaziland I was pretty well protected from the day to day unfairness of the apartheid system. My mother would mutter darkly about the “Nat Government”, the word communist was bandied about by other adults, we had to watch what we did and said when we crossed to border into South Africa. I had no idea what they were talking about, and I only gradually awoke to the realities of the political system that dominated all our lives, even those of us resident in so-called independent territories or protectorates when I reached early adulthood.

My first brush came at the age of 17. I was working for Khosi Noge who had started a factory under the newly formed SEDCO called kuKhanya kwemaSwati, making dresses out of Java print and tishweshwe. She had to go to Johannesburg to buy supplies, and wanted me to go with her – a white in the party would carry more more weight, even a gangly uninformed teenager. That part I only figured out much later. Khosi told me that they would book me into a hotel in Germiston, while the rest of the group would stay with her brother in Katlehong, the perennial satellite township associated with towns in South Africa.

I agreed nervously when still in Swaziland. But I had been in boarding school in Pretoria for 6 years and I knew that Germiston was a hotbed of rapists, murderers and thugs. The closer we got the more I felt fingers of fear clutch at my innards at the thought of being alone in some dimly lit hotel in this town of lurid iniquity. As we reached the outskirts, Khosi gave instructions to start looking for a place. That was it.

“Khosi, you are not leaving me alone in a hotel in Germiston. I’m coming with you.”

“You can’t come with us,”

“I’m coming with you. I’m not staying here on my own.”

Silence. Muttered conversation.

“You are not allowed in the townships.”

“Why not?”

“Only black people stay in the townships.”

“I don’t care. I’m a Swazi. I’m staying with you. You are not leaving me here alone.”

It was an interesting week, starting with having to hide on the floor between the back seats of the Toyota Hi-Ace, covered with blankets, as we entered Katlehong. I had to stay hidden during daylight hours, emerging only after dark, protected by a throng of youths who constantly made sure the coast was clear, as I went to call home from the callbox. Our last night there one of the children had a birthday, and Khosi’s brother had organised a movie which was shown against the wall of the garage. It seemed most of Katlehong turned out to watch. One old lady came up to me, touched me, then patted my chest, tears streaming down her face.

“I never believed I would see a white person here with us. I pray God I live to see the day when this happens all the time.”

Back in Swaziland my mother was having many nervous breakdowns, convinced each time the phone rang it would be someone to tell her I had been arrested under some arcane law. Now I know I must seem incredibly thick, but I still did not get it. I lived here, among Swazis. My mother was a civil servant and we had people of all races and cultures walking into our house, and had done since I could remember. My father had broken tradition way back in the 1950’s by insisting a number of clerks in his office be allowed to join the Piggs Peak Country Club because they were good tennis players. My neighbours were black, the nurses who took care of me when I was desperately ill in hospital were black, what was the big deal?

At the end of that year I went to Johannesburg to work and study speech and drama at evening school. I struggled at times, mainly because I didn’t remember to look at the signs. I would stand at the wrong bus stops, enter the incorrect section of the Post Office, sit on wrong park benches. Sometimes people would correct me gently, other times they looked at me with deep resentment, sometimes they shouted.

I still found it hard to understand the arguments that waxed around me, so I had no firm opinion, and the propaganda machine was efficient enough to ensure that no white person of my age really knew what was going on. It was only when I came back to Swaziland and began to read books banned across the border that the penny began to drop. I started with Robert Ruark’s “Uhuru”. That icon of the BBC World Service, Mick Delap sent me Donald Wood’s “Biko”, where for the first time I got to read a transcript of Mandela’s speech at the Rivonia trial and realised the extent of the misinformation disseminated by the “Nat” government. For the first time in my life I felt uncomfortable in my white skin. It worried me. I had many conversations with the late Tars Makama, who would seek to reassure me, but he couldn’t. When the crunch came, as I believed it had to, no one would have time to ask if I was for or against the black man. My skin would be my downfall.

That was then, the seventies, which soon were followed by the turbulence of the eighties. During those decades I came to terms with who I am, and decided to embrace my whiteness, not allow anyone to make me ashamed of who my God created me to be. At long last the nineties arrived and sanity seemed to prevail: black and white stood side by side for hours in election queues, the prophets of doom and naysayers were silenced as a rainbow nation was birthed. No one was naïve enough to believe the transition would be smooth sailing – there was a lot of history to overcome – but there was definitely a pride that South Africans across the colour spectrum had achieved what many other nations had not: a peaceful transition from oppression to freedom. The future beckoned, hope burned powerfully as the constitution was drawn up, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission got underway, the will to make South Africa strong and united was incontrovertible.

So where did it all go wrong? Or has it gone wrong? Are the slurs really slurs, or have we become over sensitive? If so, why? Let’s face it, many expectations have not been met, poverty persists, the divide between rich and poor seems to widen inexorably, the have’s seem secure in their wealthy arrogance while the have-nots dwindle into ever increasing despair. And through all the insecurity generated by uncaring politicians suspicion of anything that does not look like me creeps menacingly through our societies and explodes at some insignificant person’s thoughtless rant.

Many of us have been called names, mostly based on colour or gender, age too, any difference will do, and for the most part we ignore this, knowing the name-caller is reacting to some stress in much the same way as we ourselves have done on occasion. Every now and then I have to breathe deeply as a black brother or sister merrily trashes me in the vernacular, unaware that I understand what they are saying. But I have a choice. I can react, take it to heart and lash back. Or I can swallow it, and determine not to allow that speech to colour my attitude towards others. Not easy, but if we are grounded and sure of who we are, we can do it.

Prejudice is born of fear, and fear is the opposite of love. Scripture tells us that perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). I hate that which I fear, and I fear that which I hate. It’s that simple. What is not so simply is figuring out what I fear, and why.

Back to the racism discussion. Every now and then, a racial slur hits a nerve. And on reflection, I think it needs to, in order to remind each one of us to watch our tongues, to search our hearts for attitudes that are not pleasing to God. Leviticus 19: vv11-17 describes very clearly how we are to deal with those around us, dealing honestly with all, considering other’s needs as much as our own, and by so doing honouring God.

My prayer for 2017 is for each one of us to experience that love that drives out fear, that soothes the torment of insecurity, and allows us to live in peace, respecting those around us. I pray, too, for our leaders, all through southern Africa, that they will respect the roles they have been given, to take care of their people, and deal fairly with all.

May the wounds of the past remain in the past, and may 2017 be the start of a new season, rich in blessing, in peace, in love.

 

Brave the Storm, or Surrender?

The hiss of the kettle coming to the boil on its nest of coals at precisely three o’clock was a welcome call to gather for tea and biscuits. Some had taken advantage of siesta time and slept, some relaxed on chairs on the lookout, some got to know each other better

“We are going to go the confluence,” Aron announced.

Happy sounds of assent greeted his pronouncement.

“I believe it really is an amazing sight,” Rozz said. “It would be such a shame to be here and not to see it.”

Tea drunk, anoraks and backpacks retrieved we headed for the game vehicle. There was some last minute activity in the small kitchen, as everyone organised drinks and snacks for the walk, and for the drive back camp.

Threatening clouds
Threatening clouds

We set off on what was now becoming a familiar track, heading east. As we gathered near the young Baobab, Aron looked anxiously heavenward. Clouds threatened, the light was not good.

“We will walk straight to the confluence this time, along the riverbed, and come back the same way.”

There was a delicious sense of excitement as we made our way down a steep path, and arrived on the riverbed. As we clambered onto a large outcrop rocks, a hippo rose up through a great swirl of water, took one indignant look at us, and fled, leaving a huge, white-crested wake. He stopped a short way ahead, and stood quivering in what could have been fury, or fear.

Last minute instructions from Aron, overlooking the Oliphant's river. The confluence is around the corner at the bask of the mountain on the right.
Last minute instructions from Aron, overlooking the Oliphant’s river. The confluence is around the corner at the bask of the mountain on the right.

Aron and Absolom were in a hurry, but still made sure that each of us managed to climb the steep steps of the rocks, and that we put our feet on safe footholds. The hippo was shaking his head and snorting, looking around for fellows to join him in his condemnation of this intrusion into his domain, when there was a familiar rumble, a flash and the rain began to fall.

“The rain is coming, and it is not going to stop,” Aron was concerned. “Are you happy to continue?”

His anxiety made me uneasy, but we really wanted to see the confluence. We decided to continue. Soon the rocks were black and glistening, the light worsened. I felt my foot slip. I am an asthmatic, and did not know how my lungs would hold out if we had to make a dash for it. The hippo gave another flick of his enormous head.

“I’m sorry, but I am really not keen to carry on,” I said.

Aron stopped immediately. “The rocks are going to get more slippery. And we will have to come back up there,” he pointed to a barely discernible path on the lower slope of the bank.

There was a moment’s silence as everyone thought over the odds.

“I am also not happy with a weapon in the wet, which may not fire.”

With that, and another look at the agitated hippo, and we all agreed that turning back was the better option.

“We’ll go for a drive instead,” Aron reassured.

“Will we try again?” someone asked.

Both guides shook their heads.

“It’s obvious we are not meant to go the confluence. Let us listen to the bush.”

Our Faithful chariot!
Our Faithful chariot!

Once back in the vehicle, snacks and drinks appeared as we settled down to enjoy a drive in a part of Kruger Park where we were the only people.

We came across a bull elephant, and watched enthralled as he manoeuvred a tree trunk out of the ground, and then debarked it, delicate moves from one so large. We saw a pearl spotted owlet, close, only a couple of metres away, nestled in the fork of a tree.

“Look at that giraffe, he thinks he is sheltering from the rain,” we all laughed at the animal whose head towered above the shrub he was sheltering behind.

Night came fast, and it was dark when we arrived back at the camp, delighted to see the cheery glow of the log fire, and with the aroma emanating from the kitchen where Shadrack was working his magic.

It was a good day in the bush. Not the one we had planned, but a good day nonetheless, it was the day the bush ordained.

Arrival at Bush Camp

The air in the safari vehicle tingled with a sense of expectation as we left Letaba and headed south. Conversation was a little muted to begin with as we tentatively explored our new companions, and wondered if we would merge well over the next couple of days.

Aron assured us he would not be stopping for minor sights, but if there was anything we particularly wanted to look at we should alert him. Our first experience of his proficiency as a guide came as we stopped on the low-level bridge across the Oliphant’s River, where both his and Absolom’s knowledge of birds became apparent.

James, who had told us he really wanted to see Ground Hornbill was delighted a little later when we came around a corner and there was a threesome of the handsome turkeys. After looking our fill, we turned off, onto one of those delicious looking roads with a “no entry” sign. I have always wanted to go on one of those. I sighed happily.

The antelope we saw seemed nervous, and after a quick look at us, all ran away. I wondered if it was because they seldom saw vehicles, or if it was a sign of fear inflicted by poachers. The temperature had gone from 36 degrees the previous day to the low twenties, and clouds were gathering. We stopped for a leg stretch and a log-gather, and had our first taste of walking freely in the bush.

The sun was dipping fast, and Aron showed us his artistic side as he stopped for us to record the sunset, far from the hue and cry of civilization.

Aron stopped for us to capture the sunset
Aron stopped for us to capture the sunset

Night fell fast, and just as the journey seemed interminable we came to a gate, guarded with skulls and horns. A quick indication of the location of the four huts, and toilets, and an injunction to meet when we were settled to hear about the “Politics of the Bush” had us scampering off smartly. By the time we had claimed our bags, checked out our rooms, a cheerful fire had been made, and our two guides were waiting for us. The excitement, and for some, terror, of a slender snake slithering across the boma floor alerted us to the need to look where we were going!

It was later identified as a reticulated centipede eater.

The ground rules were simple: no food in the rooms, keep the toilet seats down or deal with any thirsty squirrel that might have drowned in the bowl, how the gas geysers worked. Our morning call would be at 5 am, water would be provided in a basin outside our rooms, and we were not to leave our tilley lamps untended in the rooms. Dinner was served shortly thereafter.

The Swazi contingent were housed here, together with Beryl
The Swazi contingent were housed here, together with Beryl

Chef Shadrack did us proud, so with full tummies, and the thought of rising before dawn, most of us headed for bed.

 

Words, Wonderful Words!

Language can be such fun!
A few days ago I was left a copy of our local newspaper, and was reading the classifieds (the only pages worth reading) when I came across the following under a section entitled “Livestock and Poultry”:

3 saws and 1 boer +-55kg

I was delighted and hooted merrily. But it got me thinking about language, about communication, about words. After all, I’m supposed to be a writer and this is all a part of my craft. I realised that, certainly in this part of the world, it is all about what is familiar. I don’t know about you, but I tend to link strange words or ideas in order to remember them and I guess this is what has happened here: sows and boars are not familiar words, but everyone knows what a saw is, and boers? Well, in this part of the world we know all about them!

For those uninitiated, boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer, but in the apartheid years the word took on a different connotation, describing a race of people who were to be feared, and yes, hated. The boer was the nationalist, the hater of blacks, the representatives of the apartheid regime.

On the flip side, the word is also an acknowledgement of the root characteristic of the Afrikaner people, tough, hardy folk of the land. In the light of this, is a boar so different to a boer? Boer is a word that is familiar, and so it is easy to substitute it for boar.

Another gem much flaunted in this country is the word “temporal” which is consistently used instead of “temporary”. The latest one is a sign saying: “Beware! Temporal exit!” outside and enormous building site. I have visions of lines of tipper trucks heading into outer space through some eternal portal, and wonder if they are off to prepared the highway for the rest of us mortals who, for now at least, are earthbound.

Which brings me to my favourite sign of all:

I Love that Crocodiles can own Flatdogs!

It gives me such pleasure to know the crocodile has a flatdog!

I want the killing to stop!

A family of kudu - one of the noblest of African antelope
A family of kudu – one of the noblest of African antelope

I was fortunate to be invited to spend a night in Swaziland’s premiere game park, Mkhaya, recently, where I took this picture of a small family of kudu.

It occurs to me that whilst there has been a huge outpouring of horror in Britain, and here in South Africa at the killing of a famed lion, Cecil, by a dentist from America, it is just possible that there is a large mass of people out there who do not understand how aberrant trophy hunting is to many of us who live in the beauty and wonder of Africa.

The thought that sightings like these I have included might become a thing of the past makes us angry. Angry because it is mainly people who do not live here, who have no affinity for our bush, who come and callously take lives for a reason that to us is unfathomable, be it rhino horn for potency, ivory for decoration, or heads to sightlessly adorn walls. I have watched television programmes where people foreign to Africa come and claim to be “Lion whisperers” and ponce around the bush yelling and screaming at the dignified kings of the savannah, waving sticks in their faces to make them cower, showing their “respect” for the great white man from across the ocean! The utter savagery of the cheek of such egos, the total lack of regard or respect for these great cats, sets my teeth on edge.

To my thinking, killing simply for the sake of it, call it sport if you will, shows a further lack of respect for God’s creation. I know there is an argument for cows, sheep, goats and pigs too, but in the main these are slaughtered humanely, there is no question of extinction hanging over their heads, and they are killed as food, not trophies. There is a distinct difference.

For how much longer will we be able to enjoy sightings such as these in our beloved Africa?
For how much longer will we be able to enjoy sightings such as these in our beloved Africa?

The onus to stop the killing is being put on the heads of African governments, which is fair to a degree. But I think the governments of those nationals who boast the most about their killing sprees should also take some initiative. Start a register of hunters, limit permits allowing trophies to be brought home to their countries, introduce laws to protect their own wildlife and above all, educate, educate, educate about the value of the natural world around us.

I don’t know what all can or should be done, but I do know that I want the killing to stop. I don’t want to be confronted with photographs of mutilated rhino carcases, and pictures of magnificent lions, elephants, buffaloes, bears, alligators grotesquely posed with their murderers grinning maniacally in victory.

I want the killing to stop. Please!

Of Roosters and Rain

It is fortunate that, whilst I have people living close to me, I don’t have neighbours in the traditional sense of the word, given the happenings around here first thing Monday morning.

We had some much needed rain over the weekend, accompanied by freezing temperatures. There were heavy snowfalls on the Drakensberg mountains of Lesotho and neighbouring kwaZulu-Natal. The winds sweep off these mountains onto the plains and valleys of this little Kingdom, rattiling badly fitting windows, draughting under ill-matched doors, all essential building faults if we are to survive the heat of summer, but a killer at this time of the year.

Unseasonal rain in the middle of the dry season and the inevitable happened. Water got in where it should not have, and the borehole pump went silent. There are five houses drawing water off this borehole so the sound of air emanating from the tap in the kitchen is cause for instant alarm. Torch found, coin tossed as to who would go out in the dark and wet to check if there was anything to be done – that was a no-brainer, the youngest lost the toss!

The pressure gauge was dormant – a quick jiggle of the wire housing and the familiar purr started up. Thank heavens. Not only was it night, it was Saturday night, and in this part of the world weekends are still traditional rest times for the majority of businesses and services, so the chances of finding anyone to help were remote.

We got through Sunday. Monday dawned clear and glorious, rain washed mountains glowing in the pre-dawn light, no smoke, all fires quashed by the weekend rain. I woke up the younger member and we stood enthralled by the view in the early morning chill, then we noticed a strange movement along the side fence of the yard. A heavily garbed man was moving cautiously along the narrow pathway, stopping now and then, crouching, then moving on. This is a farm, there are many workers, maybe he was checking the canal which brings the irrigation water, so we didn’t pay much heed initially.

But his movements were strange, so I left the refuge of the doorway to find out what he was up to. As I rounded the corner of the house, I saw, to my horror, water cascading out of the elevated water tank. From no water to overflow, which was worse? I had to stop it, fast!

I yelled at my son, who said “Switch it off at the DB”.

Now, to get to the DB I had to lose my coffee cup, ideally don a raincoat, and figure out how to open the board. Thinking on my feet I ran and turned on a tap to mitigate the flow cascading earthwards, balanced the coffee cup on the little shelter for the switches, and manfully tried to slid the cover off the db board while being showered from above with freezing water! Bear in mind I am clad in gaily checked winter pyjams, topped with a warm sweater, disreputable crocs on my feet.

Meantime the strange figure on the other side of the fence had now been joined by another. In between trying to stop the deluge I asked them what they were up to.

“I’m looking for my chicken,” replied one.

“What chicken?” I asked. He lives in a room close to me and I had never seen any chickens around.

“My chicken,” he repeated, a slight hint of hysteria in his voice.

“Is it alive, or dead?” I asked (You can tell I was not functioning too well) at which point the poor lad broke into siSwati. “It is a big chicken from the homestead, and it is missing.”

The saga of the missing chicken has continued unabated for two days. Not dumb, this homestead bird, it scarpered at the first chance it got, and is happily buc,buc,bucking around in the sugar cane, and giving the occasional yodel to let us all know it lives yet.

No amount of food throwing or cajoling has convinced it to come home. This morning our creative young man arrived with a dog in tow.

“Have you caught your chicken yet?” we asked.

“No, but I have brought the dog. The dog will find the chicken in the sugar cane and bring it to me!”

It is now late in the day. My friend has disconsolately returned his friend’s dog, and a few minutes ago, I heard a happy squawking from just within the confines of the cane.Monday's Mayhem (640x478)

With this Smoke, There are Many Fires

As a fire rages through forested slopes, the sugar cane in the foreground waits to be burnt!
As a fire rages through forested slopes, the sugar cane in the foreground waits to be burnt!

The dry rasp of fresh wood smoke in my throat tickles me awake. I feel my lungs recoil, and hear their familiar wheeze of protest.

It’s fire time in this part of Africa, and a pall of noxious smoke smudges the landscape. For the most part, the burning is indiscriminate.

It’s honey time, we have large pine and gum forests that offer plenty of food and shelter to bees, so young men go and smoke them out of their hives. They make a few extra cents selling the dripping combs along the side of the road. The more entrepreneurial will strain and sell it in bottles of various sizes and hues. Frequently their smoking goes awry, resulting in furious forest fires, that cause millions of rands worth of damage each year.

Subsistence farmers believe that if they burn the grass at this time of the year, it will be healthier in spring. This legend is lent truth by virtue of the grass looking nutritiously green as it emerges from the blackened and charred matts. No amount of reasoning can persuade them that burning pastureland causes more damage than good – myriads of erosion ditches haphazardly littering the countryside fail to convince. Many huts are lost to fire at this time of year, and sadly a number of lives too, especially of children too small to run fast enough from the flames.

More controlled burning is done by the Sugar Farmers. Another myth is that cane needs to be burnt to increase its sugar content. In fact, it is burnt simply to tidy out the dead leaves, to make it easier for the cane cutters to do their job. There are probably thousands of acres under sugar along the east coast of Africa – a couple of years ago I drove under a pall of smoke from this valley in Swaziland to beyond Chinevane in Mozambique. I thought seriously during that trip of starting a campaign to ban sugar!

After all, we all know that too much sugar is bad for you, right? So no sugar, no smoke, no hips, to laboured breath was my argument. I also feel sad that where once citrus orchards and banana plantations flourished in attractive rows, the concerted green wall providing the promise of millions of calories now waves indolently in passing breezes. What happened to the health fad, I wonder?

But for me, the biggest blight of fires, is the one born of necessity. To so many of us electricity is a right, but to the vast majority of Africans it is a privilege to be coveted. The ugly spectre of poverty raises its head, as I see children with eyes red-rimmed from inflamed conjunctivae, listen to dry and hollow coughs, and notice the awful puckerings caused by burning logs, or trying to manage precariously balanced kettles of boiling water.

And all the while our politicians and leaders show little regard for the plight of the people they have promised to lead, focussed only on wiping each and every honeypot clean. Africans have long given up fighting this inequality, knowing they are dealing with people who have no conscience. Those who want something better for themselves, and for those to come after them, are the ones who flee north, willing to risk their lives, because either way, they will die.

I watch European leaders argue about what to do with the migrants, and I find myself shouting at the television – deal with the problems, the issues, deal with the leaders!

Then the story of Bashan breaks, and my heart, and that of many Africans breaks a little more