JJ felt torn by conflict.
Intrigue and distress now wrestled one another within his mind—the review of his secret video needed completion; though he wanted its insight, he hated the inevitable wedge it would drive into his family.
Throughout the long drive back to Cape Town the arguments with his kin were a litany inside his head so that he’d decided to take a few days to let the whole matter settle. Distracting himself with the pressing executive duties that had mounted in his absence; contracts needing review and points of new negotiations requiring his input.
He’d of course romanced his wife and topped her up with attention and affection, before packing her off to see her own family for Thanksgiving. Then he’d gone to his beach house to find some solace.
All night he’d tossed and turned, the sound and smell of the sea just meters away was a comfort made of white noise.
For all the family tensions, the embrace of community in those few weeks of his visit back to Carnarvon had made his beach house seem a lonely place; his yammering TV now created some atmosphere—News, sport and re-runs of old 1960’s Star Trek episodes that he loved for their simplicity burbled away—old human dramas that dealt so innocently with the convolutions of integrity juxtaposed with the unfolding dramas of mid twentieth century perceptions of modernity out in space.
Before dawn he’d woken and spilled out of bed to go jogging. Five barefooted laps at the water’s edge, back and forth across the beaches that girded the bay, gave him a short but intensive workout; the soft cloying sand made his lungs and thighs scream for mercy.
The South Atlantic was a bath of ice. Diving into it felt like a slap across his face, the crushing tourniquet of cold like an iron maiden of needless mincing his brain. He jogged back up to his house and took a cold shower that felt warm in the rising dawn.
Martha, his housekeeper, emerged from her quarters, “Morning sir, breakfast on the deck?”
“Hello Martha. Please… Two eggs sunny side and bacon, no toast, but tomato, mushroom and fried banana out here please.”
Twenty minutes later and the first rays of sun had clawed up over the mountain behind the house and begun to explore the rocks at the southern extremity of the crescent bay with its headland jutting out to sea.
JJ sighed and closed out the morning papers in the browser on his electronic tablet, then opened the video where he’d left off back in Carnarvon.
The grumbling cantankerous aging men in that worn old kitchen of his youth immediately came to life, battling imagined monsters from his forgotten past. The scene came flooding from the screen into his modern haven and it instantly sullied the prosperity he always felt here in his paradise setting.
The grimness of that suspicion-laden negative world of his father, family and community, self-imposed for countless generations, was like a heavy gravity of despair; a mean thing pulling the light and happy mood of his morning into the shadows, into the morose myopic place that is the siege mentality of his people.
He dabbed the play button; “…Our friends and visitors from America will be arriving in days. They’re first on a Mission to Uganda to have meetings about the reversed legislation on the death penalty for homosexuals,” the Dominee was saying and it struck JJ like a crowbar over the head to see the connection between Evangelist hysteria over homosexuality and its vicious homophobic implementation in Africa so plainly revealed.
“They need to start that good work here,” Andre grumbled, and all the others nodded in grave accord.
“They will,” Gert the stern old Dominee assured them. “When our new friends arrive here, they’re going to meet with Religious Freedom SA—RFSA, Andy’s group in South Africa.” He turned to the stranger, “Maybe it’s a good time to introduce yourself and the details of good work you’re doing for us all, Andy.”
Andy thanked the Dominee and briefly recited his resume.
As he began to speak the penny dropped for JJ. The initial glimpse of the man’s face had been vaguely familiar to JJ, but he’d sat with his back to the camera and JJ had forgotten he was there. But the more he spoke, the more his nasal whining became unmistakable. He had recently been featured on a national TV news magazine, drumming up cross-denominational support for his RFSA, claiming that his biblically inspired rights to beat children and to keep women in their place were under attack.
By all accounts, according to what Andy was relating, they were already getting support from America… It was alarming:
“…And, because we are going into this fight as one,” Andy was saying, “I want you to know that we are not alone; let me expand on that from our charter.”
He cleared his throat and began to read in his thin voice; “God is calling to all Christians to put aside doctrinal differences and to stand up together against the ungodly laws that threaten to overwhelm our nation. God insists that together, we halt government in its attempts to systematically remove our freedom to believe and to teach and to live by the Word of our God in its fullness and in accordance with our interpretation of the Bible. The enemies of God want to make man’s laws above God’s laws. We declare that this is a proclamation that we will die to defend. There is no option for any Church that holds its God as true to watch from the sidelines as the secular forces drive an anti-religious doctrine against us. As they presume to tell each man what he may or may not believe and how he should act according to those beliefs. If you fail to speak out now and join our cause you may soon find yourself in a land that implements a freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.”
JJ shook his head, mouth agape at the claims. He’d recently seen the hysteria over the trumped-up issue being drummed from many angles in the press.
The Dominee then added his own piece, “Isaiah tells us that ‘When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him’.”
“Add any gospel that vaguely fits, Gert, why don’t you,” JJ spontaneously challenged the video.
“This is great news,” Dr. Louw the school principal was saying to general approval. “I have just had a letter from one of our concerned parents about major attacks against schools teaching biblical lessons.”
“That OGOD organization?” Gert asked.
“Yes… they’re making big problems for us… but we have a right and an obligation to teach scripture in our classrooms.”
“This is what we’re fighting against,” Andy asserted.
The issue skirted the same territory, as an argument he’d had a dozen times with is father. JJ recalled how well even Dara had argued it in published blog under his ‘Memes’ pseudonym; Dara had cleverly first made the case that religion is nothing more than “superstition dressed up in a funny outfit and wearing a ridiculous hat.” And he’d underscored his claim with dictionary definitions that closed the case on it:
“Religion is the worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God.” He’d expanded the definition; “God is a supernatural being, and superstition is the belief in supernatural causation based on belief.”
Dara had gone on to argue that definitions allowed the words religion and superstition to be transposed, one for the other.
Dara’s Meme character had argued a point that now rang true for JJ as these old men grumbled about their authority being eroded; that it is nonsensical for religion to be given any say in education:
Meme’s had said; “It sounds acceptable that “Religion has this or that view in education; it sounds acceptable only because we’re accustomed to people hearing it, but let me use the other word—superstition, and listen to how absurd the same sentence sounds: ‘Superstition has this view in education’; and, ‘superstition insists on that right’; or… ‘we must approach a particular problem in education from some other superstitious viewpoint’.”
That superstition must have its say in what children think and learn is indefensible, JJ could only agree; the change of word revealing the madness of it; “My superstition is the superstition of peace!”—“Well… my superstition is superior to your superstition, because…”
Now in the video before him, JJ was watching a man with a Doctorate in education extolling the virtues of why he should be allowed to beat his own brand of superstition into impressionable kids. It made him want to hurl his reading tablet over the wall onto the beach below.
Dr. Louw was still expanding on the details of the various actions being brought against him as an educator that he felt were his biblical right to ignore, “This nonsense about not hitting the children? This country is in the mess it’s in, because we can’t hit them anymore. But I do; I know my Bible and I know my rights to my beliefs and I know my obligations to my Maker; so, if the kids entrusted to me step out of line I donner them like I was beaten—It did me no harm! And, they appreciate it too, when they’re older, they appreciate it… they come and thank me.”
JJ’s head involuntarily shook side to side; “I don’t thank you, you brutal old fuck,” he snarled at the screen. He was finding it difficult to rein his emotions in. The insidious connections and maneuvering and outmoded mindsets all revealed in such quick succession.
He’d grown up under a regime of beatings; beatings from his father and beatings from the Dominee and beatings from this same principal.
His blood surged and boiled in his ears and he cut the video for a moment to regain his wits. In spite of a Constitution against it, it was all still going on in the dark corners of the country; obsolete thinking in teachers too lazy and locked into an old-fashioned mindsets to find an alternative to violent resolution.
Andy was giving the principal rousing praise; “We do the same through our church. We are not going to back down to their laws. We follow the laws of God, first and only.”
There were grunts of agreements and vigorously nodding heads.
“And you, you sniveling little turd…” The whole unpleasant business of listening to these men planning a regression for the country was making JJ intensely angry.
Andre suddenly appeared at the camera, his face filling the screen. He looked for one quizzical moment at close range directly into the camera and unnervingly into his son’s eyes, then the whole image rocked violently as he looked down and stooped—the sound of bottles within the fridge clinked as the refrigerator was pillaged.
Martha had brought coffee out and heard the tone of JJ’s fury and looked at the screen; the man she saw there she’d met only once and instantly disliked.
“Is it your father, Meneer?” she asked.
She was very fond of JJ and thought of him as a son. In many regards he let her act like a mother; a strange cultural interaction that had grown up between the master and servant classes over the century or two of their interaction across the sub-continent.
“Thank you Martha. Ja it’s my pa; some unpleasantness from home that I need to understand and deal with.”
He’d paused the video.
She nodded sagely, “But they’re a long way away, this is a different world… you mustn’t let them make you angry.”
JJ knew that she had an uncanny ability to take in at a glance an entire volume of interpersonal strife or gossip. He smiled at her, “Yes, it’s a different world but every day our worlds get closer, more entwined. They don’t want our world, but they don’t want us to have it either.”
She went about her business and he took a lingering sip from the mug and a long hard look out over the ocean. Dogs romped, lovers held hands and a family with a toddler were making sand castles and laughing together.
“I can’t take much more of this shit,” he said to himself, but he wanted to get the review over with so that he could put it aside and not return to it.
He hit ‘play’.
“…it’s not stopping there, Deon,” Dominee Gert added to their gathering mood of perceived oppression. “Our synod is coming under pressure over women’s rights. They want us to let women become Dominees now. And we must have homosexuals in our church.”
Andy confirmed and reinforced what had just been said.
“And I told you all twenty, thirty years ago when they wanted us to allow hotnots to come to the church that it was just the start,” Jan, the old army Kommandant chimed in.
JJ bridled at hotnot—an ugly racial slur so easily used by men he used to respect back in a time when he was infected with their madness.
“Ja, Jan, we all saw it coming, but what was there to do? We got sold out by that turncoat De Klerk.” Andre added.
“Fok, Pa!” JJ spat back at the screen, “Are you never going to let it go?”
In the 1990’s, the Afrikaner, South Africa’s President, FW De Klerk brokered the end of apartheid, South Africa's racial segregation policy. De Klerk won a Nobel Peace Prize for his support of the transformation of South Africa into a multi-racial democracy by entering into the negotiations that resulted in all citizens, including the country's black majority having equal voting and other citizenry rights.
“Manne,” the Dominee declared on the screen, “these matters are all urgent and they are draining to us. We are all agreed and hundreds of groups like us are at this moment wrestling with all of these matters. We are lucky now that God is waking groups like us up all across the land and the world. I don’t care if you call your God Allah or if you pray in a Synagogue—our God is the same God and our enemies are the same enemies. It is time for us to put aside our differences now and fight for our rights and our history.”
The agreement was not enthusiastic, but it was unanimous.
“We have seen the faithful splinter over the decades into many churches; now the time has come for us to join back together. This is the moment our God has chosen to bring his lambs into one flock. Ours is an old tradition, the Americans are bringing a new tradition—their way is too much noise and drama and howling for me, but it is perhaps something that the younger generation will respond to. It is something I will learn from when they are here; they will encourage our youth service to use their format. I say we embrace them, we focus on our similarities and put aside the differences.”
He shifted into a preaching mode, his voice mesmeric with melody and prose:
“I want us to be paaaart of this Global movement,” he sang. “Nooooobody can deny that we sit in a backwater to the cities, but as Gawwwd did not deliver His own son into a royal household or a city but instead to the poorest of the poor and most downtrodden, so too is He now allowing the Devil to deliver to us… to His people in this dry land… the opportunity to hold His sword and rise with it and cut the head off the beast.”
JJ almost expected to hear a roar of approval from a vast crowd so intense and consuming had been the speech; but the Dominee was not yet done.
“We will return our people to their roots. We will embrace the black and brown men as our children; we will make them God’s true servants and once more do our bidding on His behalf. This machine the outsiders wish to build, they say it is to find how the universe ‘evolved’—now I ask you; they can’t explain to us how their own evolution is supposed to work… how a monkey can give birth to a man, and before they’re finished with that lie, they want to make the lie bigger and say that even the universe evolved… from what… I ask you? From what?”
The passion of it all overcame him and his voice caught in his throat.
The old man, JJ thought, looked about to suffer a stroke. Strangely, the words didn’t sound like his; they sounded repeated… contrived and learned.
Things were turning decidedly interesting; the Dominee began laying out the strategies they’d adopt in using the Bushmen for the land claim.
“I have been advised that under no circumstances should we suggest to them any form of Land Claim. Under the Act, a Land Claim becomes very messy; it will take a lot of resources and create a mess of unintended and definitely unwanted consequences. Our aim—the aim they must want—is a Cultural Heritage site.”
He went through his files and pulled out a stapled sheaf, “Now I want to read to you the basis on which the claim will be made,” he cleared his throat:
“In his State of the Nation address 2014 the President uttered a promise that provisions would be made ‘for the recognition of the Bushman Khoisan communities, their leadership and structures.’ It is important to remember that the Khoisan people were the most brutalized by colonialists who tried to make them extinct, and undermined their language and identity…”
JJ paused the video; the irony of what he was seeing unfold too staggering to believe; These sentiments being read aloud by the Dominee had, over decades gone by, so many times been roundly condemned and damned by this same man from his pulpit.
JJ marveled at what treasons the Dominee’s mind must have been screaming as he read these truths, trying to make them palatable in pursuit of his current agenda;
“…Apartheid mythology taught that the first settlers entered a religious vacuum when they landed at the Cape and encountered its indigenous inhabitants. This is manifestly untrue. Far from being an ‘empty container’ into which religion could be emptied, Khoisan culture was already religiously rich.”
As the Dominee put the paper aside, JJ saw the sheaves of it betraying a palsy, a shaking with fury; the words that spoke lies against his people were a poison chalice that circumstance forced the Dominee to drink from;
“We know that those are all propaganda lies, but using them is critical to our cause—it’s the academics’ own lies and the rooineks’ own laws that we’ll use against them.”
“Fantasties!” Jan the Kommandant exclaimed.
The Dominee picked up the sheaf and continued, “While the early settlers included a small number of Catholics and Jews, only the Reformed faith was officially recognized. The passing of the Voluntary Act in 1875, while recognizing the importance of religion in the Colony, effectively re-constituted faith communities alike as voluntary societies, and to these ends...”
Infuriatingly the screen suddenly went blank mid sentence. JJ checked the progress bar—the recording was over—the rest of that meeting far away in another time now lost to him.
“FUCKIT!” he cursed, and Martha stood bolt upright at her mop. “Sorry Martha.”
The entire recording had exceeded three hours—the battery on the computer had died on the recording.