Port Nolloth, 00:01

31 March 2017, 9:06 am

From the archive, a short piece of fiction written for a Sunday Times special, set in South Africa, 2030.

“Fifty dollar!” the tuk-tuk driver yelled over the noise of helicopters chopping air over heavy loads at the docks nearby and revellers in the streets banging drums and setting off fireworks. The Atlantic was black as oil, the outlines of two abandoned diamond dredgers visible in the light spilling from the perimeter of the United Northern States of America naval depot. Out in deeper water blinked the lights of a hospital ship.

Lionel Powell wasn’t in the mood for haggling; he paid and crossed the road to Hunan Joys, a resto overlooking the docks. He was jumpy and winced at a loud bang from a large cracker. It was Freedom Day, the holiday celebrating the peaceful settlement reached between colonial settlers and native peoples back in 1913, but all he cared about was some rutting and recreation after the major fubar three weeks ago at Cuito Canaveral.

The resto was noisy with troops either back and battered from Cuito or fresh-faced and anxious on their way there. The kitchen was down to serving seal steaks and rice and salt fish. On special were PRC ratpacks, pilfered from bases after China’s withdrawal from the People’s Republic of Xaoteng. Hunan’s hosts and hostesses were struggling against waves of groping hands by troops who couldn’t afford them. But the simbays were full and the staff had to keep the hope of sex alive.

“Beer?” Hunanje, the owner, asked him.

Early skirmishes with Southern African troops had emboldened UNSA and Brazil, who poured more troops and equipment into a massive push north, the front stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. But behind this canon fodder, well-bunkered in Ximbabwe, Xambia and central Angola, were the PRC’s 6th, 7th and 3rd armies. The UNSA advance had stalled under a series of fire storms for which its troops were ill-prepared. Old hands like Lionel were veterans only of suppressing civilian uprisings in Canada, a last-gasp land grab as UNSA influence dwindled elsewhere, and they were shaken by the PRC armies’ ferocity.

Sechuana was scorched earth, its network of frack wells and pipelines, extending from the Carew in the south, had been set alight during the PRC retreat and was now a toxic no-go area. After the setback at Cuito, UNSA was consolidating, allowing troops who had been on long tours back as far south as Port Nolloth, its major base on the west coast from which it hoped to advance a prong through Namibia in order to encircle the PRC 6th and 7th armies in Ximbabwe, while its allies, lead by Germany, battled through the east coast and interior.

“Susy or Sean tonight? Or both?” Hunanje winked at him.

Lionel wasn’t in the mood.

“Simbay? I’ll put you on the short list.”

Most of the troops distrusted Hunanje, but Lionel liked the old man. At least he knew a bit of the history of the place. Historical South Africa.

The PRC had been driven north, but its allies, India and Indonesia, still ruled a third of the place, their respective territories stretching along the east coast. And the Republic of Xaoteng – the part that China had occupied – was a mire of ever-shifting allegiances among the Africans and the 50 million Chinese settlers. Things were precarious.

“Happy Freedom Day!”

A civilian had burst through the door and set off a cracker. As Lionel winced, there was a much louder bang outside. Lights and machinery clicked off. The hush lasted a few seconds, then the sirens began wailing…


Dear Comrade: Letter to Mandela

13 July 2008, 10:52 am

Following is the English version of a letter to Nelson Mandela, commissioned by the books editor of Rapport in celebration of his 90th birthday. The Afrikaans version appeared in Rapport, 13 July 2008, with minor cuts and variations of meaning:

Dear Comrade

Firstly, even as I have never been a member of the ANC (or any political party), allow me to address you as “Comrade”. After all, growing up into a politicized young adult during the 1980s in this heart-breaking country, I shared (and still do) many of the broad visions of the future that the ANC then held.

You are now 90, and I wonder, when you look at everything around you, what goes through your head? We are a long way from the heady days of my own politicisation, and, of course, a long way from your own birth, from your eventual entanglement with and incarceration by the Pretoria regime of old. Your life has been remarkable, but you don’t need a snotkop writer to point this out. So I won’t go into detail about your achievements and credentials. Neither will I engage in my normal anti-hagiographic critique of which my friends have heard enough.

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The Joys of Smoking

16 August 2001, 12:27 pm

(originally published at World Online, 16 August 2001. Alas, it’s no longer online.)

I LOVE life. I love it because I love smoking. I’m drinking coffee and smoking away as I write this. At my desk, in my room, where I CAN smoke.

Not too long ago, at some literary thing in Cape Town, I bump into the editor, skulking like James Woods behind the giant Strelitzia, sunglasses in one hand and dragging on an absolute or final light cigarette. ‘Fuck! Absolute lights!’ I laugh in derision.

As scum of the earth, we naturally huddle around our common plight. ‘The last enclave of offense against bourgeois health,’ I joke.

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You can’t get lost in the samoosa triangle

1 September 1997, 1:37 pm

(originally published as “‘n Moerse Samoosa” in Student Life, September 1997; to understand the racial ‘anthropology’ behind this article, first read “Fish and chips for the Soul“.)

THE TRIANGLE is geometry’s favourite form. Circles, rectangles, squares, trapezia — all are composites of triangles. And the triangle is powerful. In soccer, keeping players in inter-connected triangles is effective as attack and defence.

Some mysticism surrounds triangles. There’s Pythagoras and his hypotenuse. And there’s the Bermuda Triangle.

A triangle can be divided into smaller triangles. Take the Samoosa Triangle. Nationally, one can plot the points of a giant samoosa from Cape Town to Durban to Johannesburg. Apartheid kept the samoosa out of Vrystaat, but Euclideans say things are changing.

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Fish and chips for the soul

1 April 1997, 1:27 pm

(originally published as “Slap chips for the soul” in Student Life, April 1997)

YEARS OF observation show that white people smell their food and coloured people kick other people’s dogs. Black people wear fuzzy socks. In the 70s, brothers who sniffed their chips applied for reclassification and let sleeping dogs lie.

Thus our divided community. But these divisions are artificial. My launderer indicates that even Wit Wolwe own fuzzy socks. Whites thus should raise their ankles and express black pride. And brothers can sniff – without fear of being labelled play-for-white – AND wear fuzzy socks to matinee discos.

And thus the ubiquitous chip: whether slap or crisp, it husbands the nation’s unity. Yes, fish-an’-chips, soulfood of the nation.

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That Nescafé Moment

1 March 1997, 1:12 pm

(originally published as “Bean me up” in Student Life – now SL – Magazine, in March 1997 [!])

I’M ADDICTED to LIFE because in life I can drink Java. When I die, I won’t wake to smell the first 500 mils. of the good stuff. Waking with that dried cow-pat feeling in the mouth, nothing starts my day like a toothbrush and half a litre of fresh brew.

This past season was a special pleasure since Santa delivered my funky Bosch grinder. Lazily, I ground the bean and brewed away, rolling a cigarette before I poured the coffee. Aah… don’t forget the cigarettes.

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