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Rainbow's End: Chapter 2 - A History - And A Decision

...He shifted his position to reduce the pressure on his leg and felt the bulk of his firearm in its holster. It never left his side, as he did not know when he would need it...

Jake van der Wiklden continues his novel about a civilisation at crisis point.

Often, when sitting quietly on his mine dump trying to spot any movement or activity down below through a pair of binoculars he had salvaged, he found his mind wandering back to where it had all started. How had a country, internationally regarded as a leading light on the African continent, descended into the desolate and essentially useless panorama that lay before him? During his working years he had been fortunate to meet with several leaders in the fields of human behaviour and training and develop-ment but one comment, made by a professor from the Wits Business School, had stuck with him: ‘Every system contains within itself, the seeds of its own destruction’. Whether the quote had been original, or copied from someone else, was not clear but it made him realise that he needed to spend some time looking within the system for the cause of the calamity.

Sub-Saharan Africa had once been sparsely populated by indigenous tribes. The ravages of slavery in the north, tribal wars, and the hunter/gatherer nature of these peoples had led to a steady southward migration. When the tribes migrating south had arrived in Southern Africa they split into three distinct groups, the Herero/Ovambo (as he knew them) moved out to the west, the Sotho/Tswana group moved down the central areas, and the Nguni peoples moved down the east coast. Their subsequent contact on the borders of their territories had led to many tribal disputes and wars. Students of these migrations, as told and retold by the elders of the tribes, spoke of tribal wars, disputes within tribes, and the steady flow of people towards the south, both to flee from the conflicts, and to meet the needs of their hunter/gatherer existence. The different tribes also laid claim to certain areas, primarily based on the occupation of the territory.

The new settlers, the European tribes, arrived by sea from the Netherlands, England, France and other countries, and landed in the south and in the south-eastern parts of the country, bringing with them their cultures, their beliefs and their traditions. This should have been an early indication that it was not going to be a peaceful, or an amicable part of the sub-continent. They also started to spread beyond their original areas. They moved to the North, the East and the West, and came into contact with the southward moving groups. There were very few records of peaceful contact between the black groups and the white groups at the time. Wars and disputes were a norm, rather than an exception.

Since the very beginning, land acquisition had been an ongoing problem. The governing of disparate groups would have been a vexing situation for Solomon of old. The ‘governing’ of the new territory, first imposed by the Dutch and taken over by the British was not recognised, or accepted by everyone. Artificial borders, and laws that favoured one group over the other in these matters, were usually poorly defined, and poorly demarcated. The inter-tribal wars, the atrocities, the cruelty and callousness shown by all of the participants, created deep and lasting hatreds that grew and festered. This eventually created a country filled with a people divided. This was certainly not a unique experience in the world. The lessons of the Spanish conquests in South America, the British rule in India, and the colonial occupations by the French, the Belgians, the Italians and the Germans had created similar situations in the rest of the world, and showed how common the phenomenon actually was.

South Africa, with all its natural resources, was clearly a country to be desired. The tribes wanted freedom of movement for their nomadic existence and food for their cattle. The settlers wanted to farm on the same land. However, both the settlers and the wanderers had to contend with the group that had discovered, and sub-sequently started exploiting the mineral resources. Fences went up, borders were declared, and people became locked into territories. Depending on the artificial boundaries imposed, groups formed and split and faction fights became common.

Classic examples of faction fighting were between the Xhosa and the Zulu, essentially the same people with a very similar language. The English and the Afrikaans speaking whites competed against each other in the Boer Wars and eventually settled in communities that were pre-dominantly either English or Afrikaans. The Sotho group that settled in Basutoland, renamed Lesotho, an independ-ent kingdom, did not seem to get along with anyone. Over time the groups and divisions grew.

The sad part seemed to be that, even in the face of a common enemy, South Africans would not work together. During the Second World War, there was a huge division about whether or not to support the war against Hitler. The indigenous groups did not feature much in this, although many black men became soldiers; usually relegated to the menial roles of stretcher-bearers, cooks, and the like. They served well, even heroically. However most of these groups did not even know there was a place called Germany, and only a few had heard of Europe.

So perhaps the words of the professor were more accurate than he had known, and the seeds of destruction were very real, and ever present. The question was; what had fed and fertilised these seeds until the very real cataclysm started some ten years ago, and what had finally brought the destruction he now saw before him? The signs had been building up for some 20 years before that, but people chose not to pay too much attention to them. It appeared that the national bird of South Africa was far closer to the ostrich with its head in the sand, than to the elegant, stately crane.

The authorities refused to heed the warnings that were given by industrialists, businessmen, some of the saner politicians, and even the environmentalists. The daily newspaper posters on the street light poles spelt out the message: More corruption; more crime; more misman-agement; more money being squandered; more hammer blows to the economy and more government action to protect its own. The rulings of the courts were ignored. Anyone who criticised the regime made a speedy exit, with considerable help from those within the party, while law enforcement sank to levels never known before.

The advice of the western world was treated with scepticism and disdain. Alliances were struck with countries and people whom the rest of the world regarded as pariahs. It almost seemed as if the government had made a conscious decision that many countries in the rest of the world, regarded as pariah states, had to be befriended and pro-tected by the South African government. Perhaps the old adage about ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ applied here. One African leader repeatedly stated; all the rest of the world wanted to do was to re-establish colonialism, but in the next breath, he berated the world colonialist leaders for not helping his country financially. He added that the donors should not expect a reckoning for any funds they might provide as that was not part of the deal.

He pondered on the issues for a while, and recalled that a member of the United Nations had once said that Africa was like a black hole into which you threw money. Jack could not understand why the countries seeking money and relief never seemed to get any further ahead. It was true, as reported in the international press, that the warlords, the criminals, and the politicians in the countries being assisted, made huge profits out of selling the relief supplies. Many of the leaders of the countries being assisted had chased the aid workers out of their countries. They claimed that the aid workers were spies and enemy agents and many of these well-meaning, but in retrospect, naïve people, were held for ransom, or cruelly and publicly put to death.

Jack, reminding himself of the CNN reports on these atrocities, regained his perspective. Why should any country give aid to someone who was going to abuse that self-same aid, and then come back a year later, demanding more?
The children were caught in a cycle of starvation/ relief/starvation, which had no chance of ending, because the local populations were unable to restore the agrarian situation and produce their own food; a situation aggravated by persistent droughts. The politicians, warlords and criminals took the supplies, and either sold them, or used them for their own people, while the children suffered the pain and the anguish of continuous hunger. Seed was merely seen as another source of food, and the starving populace seemed to have neither the strength, nor the will, to plough and to plant. It could hardly have been a surprise when the donor countries, themselves struggling with internal financial woes and increasing demands from their own population to solve domestic problems first, had forced them to cut back on foreign aid, and then, to stop it altogether.

The entire African continent had been caught in the same cycle in which very few of the countries ever became self-supporting, instead a culture of holding out the begging bowl had taken root – with the accompanying accusation that the situation was all the fault of colonialism. Very few, if any of these countries ever looked inward and asked ‘What did we do wrong?’ Were we too inexperienced, too dependent, too naïve to develop our own countries?’ Clearly, there were many critical questions, but few useful or realistic answers.

Jack remembered a discussion he once had with Kunene, a Zulu work colleague he had encountered at the beginning of his career, who had intellectually challenged him. He had asked Jack, without any malice: ‘What gave the colonialists the right to impose their values, their cultures and their views on us?’ This question had led to a lengthy yet interesting discussion. Kunene held that he had missed out on the life his father and grandfather had once lived. The men would sit on their stools in the sun watching their wives till the fields. Later their wives brought them sorghum beer, which they had made. They would, for pleasure, count their wealth, which comprised their cattle, their crops, and their children. Several children meant that they would be well looked after when they were older. This was their tradition. They rose with the sun, went to sleep with the sun, made children, and did not experience the pressures of clocks, schedules or calendars. They moved with the seasons, and the weather, had a strict tribal hierarchy that simplified decision-making, and were only threatened when marauding tribes tried to steal their cattle. Occasionally, their chiefs called upon them to make war against other tribes who had invaded their territory, or whose territory they wished to invade.

He had countered Kunene’s argument with the development of roads, hospitals, communication systems, education, people living longer, and children surviving their early years; infant mortality rates in the past had been very high. Kunene, had responded that these changes had, in effect, destroyed the very factors that had made their lives viable. They were a nomadic people who moved on regularly, never over-grazing, or impoverishing the land. Their way of life soon weeded out the weak. The natural law of survival regulated their lives. He maintained that when man was so stupid as to interfere with the natural order of things, he destroyed nature’s balance, and made life complicated by introducing unnatural stresses and pressures.

‘A waste of resources,’ he argued. ‘Because when the nomadic tribes moved on they usually left those who were old and infirm behind to whatever fate befell them. Children born with defects could not contribute to the maintenance of their lifestyle and its demands, and were simply disposed of at birth.’ When questioned about the morality of this, Kunene would merely shrug his shoulders, and look skywards, as if to say – that is the way it was.

Certainly, the introduction of the homelands and the locations had forever destroyed the nomadic lifestyle of the Southern African tribes. The ever-increasing antipathy that existed between the various races in the country, especially with the legislating of racial barriers, had created a whole collection of powder kegs. The fuses were lit and burning slowly, and every now and then one of them exploded.

‘Where were the rays of light?’ Jack asked himself, trying to focus on the good things that must have existed. There was the magnificent scenery of the country, the patchwork of landscapes, from oceans to mountains, and from the arid, yet beautiful desert, to the rolling green fields. What had happened to the much-vaunted spirit of Ubuntu, the caring for others? Where were the caring, nurturing people who had willingly given of their time for charity work; driving ambulances, running shelters and food kitchens for the poor? His mind ran through all the good things; the sporting achievements; the medical and scientific advances; the great things predicted for the country, yet all he achieved through his deliberations was to reaffirm the enormity of the loss.

He shifted his position to reduce the pressure on his leg and felt the bulk of his firearm in its holster. It never left his side, as he did not know when he would need it. He took it out and looked at it, removing the magazine and checking its loads. As he looked at it, he wondered, not for the first time, if this were not perhaps the best way out. A quick exit; no more pain; no more anguish about paradise lost; just a loud bang, and oblivion.

Deep within him, something stirred, rebelling against the thought. He did not know where it had come from, nor even if he welcomed it. His mind would not accept that he was the only survivor of the fate that had befallen his friends and family and all the other inhabitants of the country. He had to do something, rather than sit on a hillside and die – he needed a plan, a goal. Yet how he wished he had someone to talk to, someone to help him.

Almost subconsciously, he picked up a piece of paper, and based on his earlier training in business, he began to formulate a goal, reasoning that if he set things in motion, he would come up with something. It would certainly be a better option than dying unnoticed and alone. He had to do something.

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