Outside an evil winter’s wind was about, deceitfully usurping every niche of the land. Warmth was tricked into little corners from where it could not survive. Thus it was a quiet evening in the local pub and grill, where even Luke the Dude was minding his own business.
The Prof crept in slowly, hunched over like a soldier defeated after a long and brave battle. I nodded. He nodded our bartender towards the Jägermeister and proceeded with the manifold ministrations of his long-serving pipe. Of course he’s not going to smoke it, Herr Oberst Doktor Rauchenmeister Aaron Motsoaledi, it’s just a lingering habit. Like turning on the wall switch and expecting light.
And so it was. Even Jean-J was morosely Gallic.
Of course, Big Ben was having none of this. The local pub and grill has always prided itself in its reputation for good beer, good food and, above all, good company – albeit somewhat sabotaged in recent times by loud music, but what can you do, noise will conquer meaning – and Big Ben knew his rights. It was his money paying for the beer after all, and if it was not presented with an ample serving of good company, he would take his custom elsewhere. And the Governor knew in which patch of shade he could then insert his beer. (Or words to that effect admittedly not quite so delicate, My Lord.)
“What ails thou?” Big Ben enquired jovially from Luke the frowning Dude.
“Arrumph!” announced The Prof, gaining time to ratchet down his thoughts from their no doubt loftier wanderings. “It’s ‘thee’, Double E, not ‘thou’. Please do not assault the Queen’s language in her more classical forms. Thy attempts at current colloquial abuse are painful enough to the ear.”
This would have rendered more sensitive souls perpetually silent, well, at least until the next round, but not Big Ben. He knew his rights and being jovial was one of them. “Thank you, Prof,” he laughed, “what ails thee, LD?”
By now none of us was peacefully minding our own business, least of all Luke the Dude, who had just been slapped between the shoulders by a jolly large man. Getting back on the bar stool, he started expressing his evidently troubled thoughts slowly. “It’s this minister, he said, the one running the police, Auntie Ria Phiyega.”
“She’s not the minister,” lectured Colin the Golfer, “she’s the bloody commissioner. And careful how you spell Riah or, for that matter, Riyah.”
“Spelling Shmelling Ha!” opined Luke the Dude. “Who asked you? You know who I mean: Auntie General Ria. But I’ll give you that she’s bloody alright, isn’t she? After that business at Marikana.”
“Well, speaking of spelling,” said The Prof in his enlightening way. “I, too, was intrigued by the lady’s first name. Could it be, I asked myself, an Africanizatian of Ria? Such as we have seen, thanks to the learned Mr Graham McIntosh – I don’t mind saying a UCT man like myself – with Mundell and Mandela, Holmes and Holomisa?
“So, I decided to do some research. And there it was, lo and behold, General Phiyega was christened Mangwashi Victoria. Of course the Ria came from Victoria. And if you look on the government’s own website, you’ll find that this spelling is indeed correct.”
“Ha! I told you spelling shmelling, didn’t I?” Luke the Dude exclaimed modestly. “So I’m right and that scratch golfer is wrong! More scratching than golfing, isn’t he?”
“Oh, sod off,” said Colin the Golfer.
“So why is she worrying you, Luke?” Big Ben was uncharacteristically bringing us back to the point.
“That one,” reminded Jean-J. “You have forgotten. As is often the case.”
In-between dirty looks at all and sundry, Luke the Dude remembered. “It’s this Marikana mess. Ten people dead before; another 34 dead on the day. A massacre of striking mineworkers last seen in the days of General bloody Jan Smuts, isn’t it?” Luke is a refugee from Gauteng. He still supports the Lions rugby team. But we suspect he does that mostly to provoke the more vocal Province militants.
“All a bit long ago; why are you still pondering it,” enquired the Prof.
“That’s part of it, isn’t it?” said Luke. “She was the general all that time ago and she still is the general today. I should think someone has to take the blame. Someone has to take responsibility. Fall on the old sword and all that. Say sorry to the nation and offer a decent resignation. Piddle off. And the one doing the piddling off must be the minister or, if you must split hairs, the commissioner. Even better, both of them. They’re the ones responsible, aren’t they?”
“And if they don’t have the decency to go, fat chance, they should bloody well be fired. That’s what I say,” said Colin the Golfer.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” protested Big Ben. “You can’t just run around here like some Donald Trump on a bad-hair day firing people. They’ve got rights, you know. It’s not like the old South Africa when FW could just fire generals to keep Mandela quiet. Innocent until proven guilty, that’s what my party teaches us!”
“Unless that Marius Fransman, that one, concocts some slander against the DA, then your party propagates ‘guilty until proven innocent’!” countered Jean-J. “Worse when the target is Israel; they are called Zionists and Apartheid Israel and remain guilty even after proven innocent!”
“Maybe we should not wander too far from the issue,” soothed the Prof. “Big Ben does have a point, although in a, shall we say, more mature democracy, someone would certainly have taken responsibility. But the government did appoint the Farlam Commission to investigate the massacre and to identify the guilty. As it turned out, the police and police management in particular, were held responsible. The minister is off the hook, for reasons not clear to me, but the commissioner may well get fired.”
“Quite right,” approved Colin the Golfer.
“And how does Auntie Ria react?”persisted Luke the Dude. “Not me, she says, doesn’t she? I can’t help it, nothing to do with me, she says. Fire someone else. And you know what upsets her most of all? Wait, here, I’ve got it, my boy made me a print-out from eNCA; I’ll read it to you:
“The Marikana Commission of Inquiry blamed the massacre on the police. Phiyega’s statement comes amid media reports that she’s digging in her heels ahead of an inquiry into her fitness to hold office. She’s said to be particularly aggrieved because she’d only been in her post for two months at the time of the massacre.”
“I think she has a point,” said Big Ben. “How much can she learn in two months?”
“Now that’s just it,” exasperated Luke the Dude. “Commissioner of Police is a very responsible job. You should only be appointed to it after you have already proven, repeatedly and over time, that you can do it. Already. From the first day. On-the-job training is for apprentices and waiters. Not for people earning multi-million-rand salaries to take life-and-death decisions. How does her head work? Why does she think she deserves a job she cannot do?”
The silence was broken by the Prof, “The Nats helped Afrikaners by giving them jobs as stokers and wheel-tappers. Those who excelled, advanced. Our present masters appoint their cronies, cadres and comrades to the top jobs in the country. And now they are forcing business to do the same. The results will be the same. Lights out.”
The chill was creeping in. Outside an evil winter’s wind was about, deceitfully usurping every niche of the land.