We all know how difficult it is to be sure of the future in this country. Even some of the most ardent believers in the prophecies of Siener van Rensburg must sometimes wonder how much longer we will be subjected to this madness and whether it will ever be resolved. Even Saints Peter, Thomas, and others who had more reason than anyone else to be faithful, were tentative about their beliefs at times.
I go through similar moments every so often, and somehow there is always something which crops up out of the blue to remind me in no uncertain terms that it’s not a figment of the imagination that South Africa has ticked just about every possible box for nationwide civilinsurrection. This is one of those moments or, in this case, series of moments over the course of a year. It’s a true story, but I have been circumspect about some people’s details.
About one year ago I met a man called Alex Shostakovich who escaped from Yugoslavia almost four decades ago, and ended up coming to SA with the assistance of – if I recall correctly – NATO. He is a Croat. To cut a long story short, one day during a drive to Park Station to collect some freight he told me “Frederick, the way things evolved towards civil war in Yugoslavia is exactly how they are evolving in SA. Of course, I wasn’t in Yugoslavia at the time but I watched everything from here, and my family told me whatever I couldn’t find in the newspapers in Johannesburg.
The same recrimination by dominant towards weaker; the same attempt to use the law to take away their property; the same dispute in the newspapers over who is good and who is bad; we’ve got it all here now in South Africa and it is becoming more, not less”. Needless to say, I was astonished at the idea of a reliable pattern. In fact, I was more than astonished, I was sceptical – not at the idea of civil fragility and menacing antagonism in this country, but at the possibility that it is predictable in that way.
Some months ago I repeated that story to the Croat husband of a friend of mine in Craighall Park, a highly-intelligent and successful man who came to SA after the Yugoslav civil war and he replied “No, Frederick, not exactly the same; EGG-ZETLY the same, no diff-a-rence!” in his loud and broad Slavic accent. He then proceeded to describe eloquently how he does not mention this to South Africans because people don’t believe him and because they sometimes give him the impression that they feel that he doesn’t have a right – as Johnny-Come-Lately – to speak as if he knows everything about our circumstances. So he keeps quiet and watches as we pursue a course which is, in his opinion, predictable. That was more than enough for me, as you can imagine. But it got even better. About six or eight weeks ago I told that twin tale over the phone to my telefriend-in-preparations Leopard. Before I could finish she shrieked “Wait, wait, and don’t say any more! I want to tell you a story!” By that time I didn’t have much of a say in the matter, so I shut up and listened.
Some of you will recall that there was recently a bomb threat at a Johannesburg shopping centre. Well, a few days afterwards Leopard was buying something in a shop, and as she was about to do the transaction at the till a man delivered the Caxton community newspapers, and dumped them on the counter and walked out. Leopard happened to observe the teller glance briefly at the front page of the uppermost newspaper in the pile, before turning her attention back to the till. Leopard’s eyes followed hers for a second and she saw a report on the previous week’s bomb scare in the shopping centre. Then, as the teller began to ring up the sale, she started to weep softly. Initially Leopard minded her own business, but the woman behind the till became, well,sort of debilitated – she was struggling to ring up the sale, although she was trying her best, so Leopard assumed that perhaps it was a severe case of women’s matters and she decided that in that case the lady wouldn’t mind her, Leopard, as a woman, prying; she’d feel safe, and she’d appreciate the compassion. The woman fobbed Leopard off, but she began to weep harder.
Then, recalling that the woman had glanced at the newspaper’s headline, she took a chance and asked “Were you here when they had the bomb scare? Did it frighten you?” Again, the woman didn’t want to talk about it, but eventually she broke down in sobs whilst choking out the following tale in a broad Slavic accent: “Twenty year ago I come here with one child in right hand, and one suitcase in left hand, and no money. Money I use all up to get here. I come from Croatia. I no want to go back to Croatia to work like dog for no money, now. But I see now happen everything exactly same like Yugoslavia before. South Africa people no see this. But me I see happen everything exactly same. South Africa people no believe me when I say come civil war like Yugoslavia, but how can not come civil war when happen in front everything exactly same?”
This is perhaps just another anecdote amongst millions in our country, and you possibly have even better ones to tell. But I chose to write about it for two reasons. Firstly, perhaps when it happens three times over something is intended for sharing, and secondly because even the third chapter of this story is poignant to me even; you see, I know the shop in question very well because it sells a niche product of which I once had a collection. Are these words for the wise? You be the judge.
May God bless you with a deepening and strengthening of Faith.
Frederick von Strass.