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Ian Martin

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Frikkie And Plug Honoured

They would have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics, but because they had no academic credentials they were instead given the Peace Prize.

“Well, let’s face it,” said Plug, “although there was nothing altruistic in our intentions, the consequences have been beneficial to our verminous species, Homo sapiens.”

He and Frikkie were seated at the dining table in the Camps Bay apartment, composing their acceptance speech. Plug was typing on his laptop, and Frikkie had his back to the view, which, he said, wasn’t worth a glance on an afternoon like that. The sea was a boring colour, neither blue nor green, and the sky was a mess.

“These scientific names are from Latin, right? ‘Homo’ is man, but what is ‘sapiens’?”

“Wise,” said Plug. “Wise man. That’s a good one, hey?”

“Fucking hilarious,” said Frikkie. “What’s ‘stupid’ in Latin?”

“Dunno. Google it.”

Frikkie used his thumb for a bit, and they eventually agreed that ‘stultus’ was what they were looking for. Homo stultus. Foolish man.

“I am going to say that we were driven by a desire to improve the lives of billions of poor people all over the world. I’ll say that we were looking for a way to redistribute wealth and reduce inequality without inflicting any pain on the wealthy. If the wealthy had been required to make any sacrifices, the bastards would never have agreed to come on board, and nothing would have changed.”

“Sounds fine,” said Frikkie. “Tell them any old bullshit you like.”

“I won’t admit that uplifting millions of people was an unintended consequence of our clever scheme to exploit the poor by converting their destitution and squalor into tradable commodities.”

“No it wouldn’t look good to say we don’t really give a stuff about the plight of the poor, and would be quite happy to sort them out with some heavy-handed Smarty Eugenics.”

“Hell, I wouldn’t dream of breathing the E-word. Shit no. I am going to waffle on about the nobility of spirit lurking beneath the surface of every human being. Even your filthy beggar grovelling in the gutter for a stompie or a crust of bread.”

“Yah, that sounds good,” said Frikkie. “What’s that word they always use? Domitable, or something?”

“Indomitable. Good one, Frikkie. The indomitable human spirit. Fuck! Euphemism for ‘insatiable greed’. I must use that platitude at least twice. But I need to keep my creative juices flowing, and I feel that now would be a good time for a dry Martini. Have I ever mentioned that Luis Bunuel created all of his surreal masterpieces while totally pissed on dry Martinis?”

“Many times, many times,” said Frikkie, going to the bar and getting busy with gin and vermouth. “That Louis Bunwell was a drunken poes, if you ask me. That’s why his movies turned out totally senseless, even if they are weirdly funny. Feel like a joint as well?”

“Feel like is one thing. Write a speech is another. If I get too lekker I will lose the plot. But you go ahead.”

Frikkie returned with the drinks and, while Plug continued to type, lit up and began to do some surfing.

“Will the King of Sweden be there?”

“Nope. But the King and Queen of Norway will. We’re going to Oslo, not Stockholm, remember?”

“Ah, yes,” said Frikkie. “I was thinking, maybe you could include a joke or two. Just to lighten things up a bit. We could tell a Norwegian joke about the Swedes, which would go down well in Oslo, I’m sure. Here’s a good one. What do the Swedes call their King? Answer: Tarzan. Get it? Tarzan, king of the Apes.”

“Not bad,” said Plug. “I’ll try and work it in.” He began to stare at a blank space on the wall, and when his glass registered close to empty he spoke once more. “Interesting that you mention Tarzan. Remember how we used to play in the trees when we were kids? Tarzan was my hero, my role model. Brought up by a bunch of apes, he was able to move on and get somewhere by using his superior intellect.”

“I didn’t like that dude,” said Frikkie in a high-pitched voice, trying to speak without exhaling. “Those apes attempted to teach him some manners, but it was a waste of time. I used to dream of being an ape and throwing him out of a high tree in the jungle, and when he hit the ground he would break his cast iron balls.”

“Remember how you used to crap from the tallest tree, and I used to charge the other kids to come and watch? Who would have thought we would turn out to be billionaires, and one day be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?”

“No one,” said Frikkie. “You would have to smoke a couple of joints and wash down some mushrooms with half a dozen Martinis for you to imagine something like that.”

“Yes, it really is hard to believe how much we’ve achieved.”

“You could say we are at the pinnacle of success. But what the hell are we going to do next when we get back from Norway?”

“Who knows?” said Plug. “But don’t worry, we’re bound to think of something. We always do.”

Frikkie And Plug Turn Shit Into Gold

Khaya Vista looked out over a sea of shacks, and that is why it was named Khaya Vista. Also, it was situated right there in the township of Khayalitsha. Like The Phalex in Alexandra, it was a 20-storey tower with eighteen luxury apartments, each with its own balcony garden and pool.

“You can actually see the cableway,” said Frikkie. He was looking through the tripod-mounted telescope in the direction of Devil’s Peak and the mountain. Then he switched his focus to the shanties and RDP hovels below, and began to examine township life in detail.

“Hey, I’ve just seen a guy taking a crap in a cardboard box!”

“Fascinating,” said Plug from his floating lounger. “A shoe box?”

“Bigger than that. Christ, but this sun is hot!”

He turned aside, stepped into the water, and let his sweaty bulk sink.

“Yah, this is too much,” said Plug, and he rolled off the lounger into instant relief.

They were drying themselves in the shade when a babe came out to check on their wellbeing.

“This is rum weather,” said Plug. “Two Daiquiris, please. And don’t forget to have your shirts off when the guests arrive.”

The guests he was referring to were the Chinese billionaire and his entourage. They were expected to land their jet in the next hour, and then they would be brought directly to Khaya Vista.

“You don’t think 50 is a bit steep?”

“Hell, no,” said Plug. “We can drop to 45, but anything under that would be insulting, like implying he was a cheap skate, or didn’t have the bucks to afford the classiest penthouse on the Cape Flats. Remember, this guy paid 20 million Euros for a castle in Germany, and for that replica of the Versailles in Florida he coughed up a cool $95 million. This is small change.”

“Do you know anything else about him?” asked Frikkie. “I mean, what’s he doing here, anyway?”

“It’s a kind of bizarre story. He came to Africa for the first time about three months ago, partly on safari, but mainly looking for business opportunities. He liked the look of Cape Town, and when he was doing the tourist thing, he was taken up to Rhodes Memorial, and it blew his mind. They must have fed him a bit of a history lesson and now he is the number one fan of Cecil John Rhodes. He has this fantasy in his head, and he sees himself as a heroic entrepreneur about to colonize and exploit the whole of Africa on behalf of the Chinese Empire.”

“Sounds a regular asshole,” said Frikkie. “Maybe we should up the price to 60?”

Plug adjusted the climate on the patio and introduced the scent of lemon blossom to mask the stench of Khayalitsha, which was wafting up in the summer heat. Frikkie began playing with a touch pad, getting the cameras to zoom in and out of life down at ground zero and display it on the overhead screen. He found a group of men standing around half an oil drum raised off the ground on cement blocks.

“Can you go in closer?” asked Plug. “Shit, man, look at all that meat! They must have cleaned out somebody’s freezer in Bishops Court. And look what that character is swigging like it’s beer. That’s Chivas Regal, for God’s sake!”

“This is cool, hey?” said Frikkie. “This is what we must sell this Chinese punk. From here he can look north and dream of stealing Africa’s riches, and at the same time he can look down and perv on uncut reality.”

“Uncut reality? I like that,” said Plug. “That’s what we’re giving him, and that is what he must pay for.”

Seeing men busy with a braai had made Frikkie peckish, and he picked up the patio phone and asked for refills and some snacks.

It wasn’t long before two black babes arrived, one with the drinks, the other bearing a platter of canapés and asparagus and dips. They were comely babes, wearing traditional bead necklaces and grass skirts, and that was about it. They gave the two men plenty of opportunity to fondle them with their eyes, and then they withdrew.

Frikkie went out into the sun again and stood at the balcony rail contemplating the tens of thousands of ramshackle structures stretching into the distance. When he returned to the cool shade of the patio he looked distracted, as if he was listening to something stealthily gnawing its way into his head.

“It’s a pity,” he said, sipping his cocktail. “You know, it’s a real pity we can’t sell all this stinking poverty to someone. I mean, there must be some way of packaging it. You know, like the way the bankers were able to package debt and sell it on to other bankers, who in turn repackaged it and sold it to yet more banker wankers. I mean, if you can sell something as crazy as debt, you should be able to sell poverty?”

Plug was still enjoying the pleasure of remembering the comeliness of the catering staff, and it took him a few moments to process Frikkie’s words and register their content.

“Frikkie, my mate, are you suffering from sun stroke, or is this a stroke of genius? If the latter, then we are going to have to do some serious work on it. Debt has value because the creditor can charge the debtor interest. If the debtor doesn’t pay, the creditor seizes the goods and sells them. Take a look down there and tell me what you can sell. A cardboard box with some shit in it?”

“No, man, you’ve got me wrong,” said Frikkie. “I’m not talking about the non-existent assets of the poor. I’m talking about the needs of the poor. You know this carbon trading bullshit? The rich pay the leaders of poor countries to keep their citizens poor and not consume resources, so the rich can continue leading an unsustainable lifestyle.  We need to come up with a crafty scheme like that.”

The image Plug had been ogling was now totally erased and Frikkie waited patiently while his partner cranked up his cerebral machinery.

“Mmm. Definitely not sunstroke. How to turn the needs of the poor into a saleable commodity: that’s the question, is it? Then we need to describe and quantify those needs. If we assume that poor people all over the world aspire to live like a middle class American, we must ask what it would cost to get a shack dweller up to speed. A decent house, a car, private education for the kids, private health care, and all that stuff. Let’s say it would take a million dollars per household, multiplied by a billion households. That gives us a thousand trillion dollars to fix the problem.”

“That’s a shitload of money,” said Frikkie. “Imagine the prosperity that would be generated if that amount was injected into the world economy. But where would it come from?”

“Take a pill and be happy,” said Plug. “You just print the stuff, the way the US does to fund its growing deficit, and you leave succeeding generations to sort out the annoying repercussions. No sweat.”

“Okay, that sounds cool,” said Frikkie. “So the money is available; now we must work out the details. Let’s say we want to build a hundred thousand nice, comfortable houses for all the Khayalitsha indigents down there. How would it work?”

“Well, let’s see.” Plug found his cigarette box and pen, and began to make some calculations. “It should be possible to put up a properly built, modestly proportioned, 3-bedroomed house, fully furnished and with all mod cons, for a million rand. Agreed? Right, now 100 thousand houses at a million apiece, gives you a hundred billion rand.

Not a bad project, hey? Imagine landing a R100 billion job.”

“Yah, and imagine what a monumental fuckup it would be if it wasn’t run properly. You would have to keep the government out of this as far as possible.”

“That goes without saying,” agreed Plug. “If we are talking about selling global poverty, this would have to be administered by an international organisation like the United Nations, and there would have to be proper planning and tendering procedures. And whoever is awarded the contract would be obliged to make use of local labour as far as possible.”

“What if there are not enough skilled artisans to do the work?”

“That would just be another need up for sale,” said Plug. “Training colleges would have to be set up all over the place. In fact, it would mean overhauling and extending the entire education system.”

“The more I think about this, the more I like it,” said Frikkie. “Just by turning poverty into a commodity, poor developing countries suddenly convert their liabilities into assets. Overnight, a sprawling squatter camp becomes a gold mine. Get caught shitting in a shoebox, and you will become the instant celebrity who launched a hundred thousand flush toilets.”

“Frikkie, I’m beginning to think you might have come up with an idea so revolutionary it could change the course of human history. And its great strength lies in its universal appeal. Even the all-powerful one percent who are content with the status quo would get behind this project. It would not be long before they began to grasp the implications of unlocking such a vast amount of potential wealth.”

The men at the braai had disappeared and Frikkie went in search of more uncut reality. He found two women bent over 20-litre paint drums overflowing with soapsuds.

“Look at this,” he said. “This is a perfect example of how poverty traps people in a hand to mouth existence. These women will spend five hours doing their washing, carrying buckets of water, breaking their backs and ruining their hands, when a middle class housewife can get the same amount of work done by using her automatic washing machine and allotting just fifteen minutes to the task. Being poor makes one highly inefficient at even the most basic of daily chores.”

“And it’s almost impossible to free themselves,” said Plug. “Billions of people all over the world are condemned to subsist like this, because our mental processes have evolved too slowly to cope with the explosion of scientific discoveries and technological applications. You could say, on a certain level, we are still too pernicious and odious a species to get our brains working for the common good.”

“That’s for sure,” said Frikkie. “It’s in our nature not to help anyone if we can’t see how it would be to our advantage. You know, I once asked my father why he never gave a cent to beggars or vagrants. And you know what he said to me? He said he wouldn’t piss on a bergie if he was on fire.”

“That’s a gem!” said Plug. “Your father was a true philosopher and a poet. “That aphorism perfectly sums up the selfish and mean-spirited attitude held by the one percent in their dealings with the rest of humanity. It’s just such a misanthropic outlook that keeps the masses stuck in poverty, unable to extricate themselves, short of a little help from the rich. The only way out is to persuade the wealthy elite that they can make a lot more money by moving people out of poverty than by leaving them where they are. That is why this idea of yours is so brilliant.”

“Yes,” said Frikkie, trying not to sound self-important. “It didn’t come to me in a flash, like some ideas do. No, it kind of crept up on me, and when I turned around there it was. But listen, it’s one thing to have some inspiration, and another thing to turn it into bucks. How are we going to make sure we are rewarded for developing such a powerful concept?”

“We will have to be careful. As with many other milestones in human development, it could be said that this is just common sense, and all we are doing is pointing out the obvious, and the commodification of poverty was about to happen anyway, and had nothing to do with Frikkie Welgemoed and Plug Davis. Bastards! It takes a Copernicus, or a Darwin, or an Einstein to point out the obvious. I think we are going to have to set up … Ah,  the Chinks must be on their way.”

A topless babe had appeared and was shaking her knockers at them to get their attention.

Frikkie got the entrance foyer onto the screen in time to see the arrival of their client and his buddies. The tycoon was tall and well built, and looked more like a Japanese rugby player than a Chinese businessman. He wore a pith helmet and a safari suit, and was animated and cracking jokes, and clearly having a good time.

“Looks alright,” said Frikkie. “Kind of reminds me of Jackie Chan.”

“This is our man,” said Plug. “Sixty million it is. Let’s go and greet him as the elevator doors open, and welcome him to his new home in Africa.”

Frikkie And Plug Go With The Tide

Frikkie and Plug had made a lot of money. So much so, they hardly knew what to do with it. That’s why they didn’t think twice when it was suggested they park a hundred million in a Venture Capital account, with the idea of backing a smart idea when they spotted one.

“We will encourage inventive entrepreneurs to give us a good return on our investment,” was how Plug phrased their mission statement.

“Do you remember George?” Frikkie asked. “From 29 Bantry Road? He was the one who worked for an NGO, and was into saving the planet. Well, we were in touch just the other day, and when I mentioned we were now venture capitalists, he told me about a genius who had devised a way to turn gravitational force into electricity. He said it was a brilliantly simple idea that used the tide to power a generator, and had huge potential to provide clean energy for next to nothing when compared to the hydro, wind and solar options.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Plug. “A genius, you say? From where?”

“Gansbaai. Ever been to Gansbaai?”

“Uh-uh.”

“Me neither. It’s the other side of Hermanus. Ever been to Hermanus?”

“Twice,” said Plug. “A lot of very rich people have houses there, and it’s a popular place to retire to and die. Also any number of tourists looking for whales and sharks.”

When Frikkie and Plug drove through Hermanus on their way to Gansbaai, they overtook two hearses, got stuck behind a convoy of three buses crammed with foreigners toting cameras and binoculars, and then nearly crashed into an octogenarian driving an electric cart at 5 kilometres an hour. When the town was behind them Frikkie put his foot down and got the Bentley back up to speed.

They cruised past Stanford, waved to a cop hiding under a bush taking photographs, and floated over lovely open countryside for the last 25 K’s that led to their destination.

The bell in the NGK steeple was striking 12 noon when they rode into the coastal dorp of Gansbaai, aka Big Two Town. They parked above the old harbour and Frikkie made a call.

“He’s the maintenance man at one of the abalone farms and can only get away during his lunch break. He will be here around one.”

They crossed the road to Oppie Dek, sat under an umbrella, drank beer and ate toasted sandwiches, and watched a trawler down in the harbour being loaded with ice.

“What did you say his name was?”

“Bleeker. Jerry Bleeker. This could be him.”

An elderly bakkie had rattled to a stop, and a man of about 50 got out.  He wore a blue boiler suit jacket, jeans and rubber boots, and, like his vehicle, he looked as if he had seen his fair share of hardship and strife. Frikkie went down to meet him while Plug settled the bill.

Jerry was not a big talker. They followed him past the cannery and along the coast for a kilometre to the new harbour, where the fishing trawlers were tied up.

“Appearances can be deceptive,” Plug said to Frikkie. “It’s hard to imagine there is a genius lurking beneath that rough exterior.”

“Many geniuses have lived in poverty and only been recognised after their death. He could be that kind of genius.”

Frikkie parked next to the bakkie and the venture capitalists trailed the inventor out towards the end of the wall where the boats were moored. After some 50 metre’s Bleeker stopped at a steel ladder leading down into the water five metres below. Next to the ladder and attached to the concrete wall was a cradle containing a large plastic box.

“Inside is one ton of ballast, my big, specially designed flywheel, and the generator,” Jerry explained. “It’s very basic.”

He climbed down and, standing on the contraption, began to work a lever back and forth, causing the box to settle lower in the water. Then he took hold of the flywheel crank handle and swung it, first slowly and with much effort, and then faster and faster until he disengaged and threw a switch. They heard the generator whine into life and he climbed back up.

“I’m just going to fetch a lead and a power tool,” he told them. “ To demonstrate.”

He was gone quite a while, and Frikkie and Plug were able to tune in to their surroundings. The cool sea air smelt of iodine and guano, the gulls were shouting about the scarcity of pilchards and sardines, and they could feel the energy coming from the ocean as it heaved and subsided on the other side of the wall.

When he returned, Jerry looked more relaxed and cheerful, and smelt of brandy. A few pulls from a bottle under the seat had put a different complexion on the day, and he had allowed his hopes to rise.

“Now I will prove to you that the tide is the answer to South Africa’s energy shortage,” he said, after having descended, plugged the electric cable into a power point on the box, and climbed back up to where they stood waiting.

He connected an angle grinder to the lead, grasped the tool in both hands, and pressed the trigger. The motor screamed into life and he ground some rust off the ladder, sending sparks and bits of flaking metal flying.

“There you are,” he said, laying down the power tool. “The energy comes from the rising tide, and it’s free, and it never fails.”

“What happens when the tide begins to ebb?” asked Plug. “Does that mean six hours without power?”

“Hell, no,” said Jerry, and he laughed at such a foolish suggestion. “At high tide the force on the drive train is reversed, and the one ton weight keeps up the tension as it falls two metres to the low tide point. Then up it comes again. Up down, up down. The tide is a slow pump that will raise and lower one ton, or a thousand tons, or a million tons, all depending on what you choose to float on the open sea to capture the power of the moon’s gravitational influence.”

“Well, I’m fucking amazed,” said Frikkie. “You could say I’m suitably impressed. Why haven’t you already sold your invention? You’re sitting on a gold mine, man”

Jerry Bleeker’s shoulders slumped and there were tears in his eyes.

“I told George about it, and he said I should patent the design first, otherwise they would just steal my idea and I would get nothing for it. But those patent and copyright lawyers charge so much it would be impossible. I only earn twelve thousand a month, and I don’t have any fixed property to raise a loan with, my wife is a diabetic and confined to a wheelchair, my son is a retard, and my daughter steals from us to fund her drug habit.”

“Shit, that sounds heavy,” said Frikkie. “Look, Jerry. You go back to work now, and me and my partner will work something out, and then we’ll give you a call. Okay?”

Jerry went off and Frikkie and Plug drove to the Gateway Shopping Centre and sat outside at the Wimpy and ordered waffles and cream with their coffee. Plug took out his cigarette box and pen.

“It would be irresponsible to give this guy a whole lot of cash,” he said. “It would probably ruin his life. Look what happened when you won the Lotto. You squandered the millions in no time, and you nearly murdered that Eva woman in the process.”

“Don’t remind me,” said Frikkie. “I’ve come a long way since then.”

“We can give him 5 million to clear his debts, get himself a new bakkie, buy a house and furniture and stuff, and take a holiday. In addition, we can set up an administered trust that will guarantee him a good monthly income.” Plug made some calculations and then continued. “To give him 50,000 a month, he would need 600,000 a year. If the investment earns 10% interest, he would require 6 million. Then there’s inflation to bear in mind. Another two million? That would bring it to 8 million.”

“Make it ten,” said Frikkie, and he ordered another waffle.

“Right, ten it is,” agreed Plug. “That should set him up very nicely. Five in cash, and ten in trust. I think 15 million is a pretty generous offer, don’t you?”

“More than generous,” said Frikkie. “When we tell him, I expect him to jump in the air and do a somersault, and then run in circles screaming like a madman.”

And that’s exactly what Jerry Bleeker did.

As soon as he signed on the dotted line, the lucky genius got his money. Six months later the patent was registered and they made contact with a heavyweight at Eskom. A deputation arrived in Gansbaai to view a 10-ton prototype of the Bleeker Tidal Generator, and half of the delegates gasped in horror, while the other half farted in alarm.

“It is a brilliant invention,” said the main honcho, “but it is ahead of its time. This has the potential to scupper the nuclear deal just as the President and his cronies are about to sign contracts and receive their kickbacks.”

“If you’re not interested, we’ll try the fucking Americans,” said Frikkie, and he spat on the harbour wall next to some fresh Cormorant shit.

“And the Chinese,” added Plug, taking out his phone and getting Google to speak some Mandarin.

The Eskom honcho buckled at the knees and had to be propped up against a dolos.

“It has worked out even better than we expected,” Plug told Frikkie a week later. They were in the business lounge waiting for their flight to Europe. Plug was headed for his villa in the Swiss Alps, and Frikkie was going on a private cruise in the Aegean. Plug had just checked emails. “They have agreed to 250 million for us to hold back for a year and let the deals go through. Then we’ll be free to go to the open market and power up the world. But knowing how long it takes the politicians to get their act together, I stipulated they pay us a further 500 million if it drags on another year.”

“Beautiful,” said Frikkie. “Now we can enjoy a break without having to worry about any more hassling with those Eskom boneheads. And let’s hope Jerry is having a great time, too. He’s gone to the Kruger Park for two weeks, hasn’t he?”

Frikkie And Plug Get Real

One evening Frikkie invited Plug over to meet Clarissa. He had given Annetjie the boot, because she had failed to meet expectations, and Zelda had committed suicide. In her farewell note Zelda blamed Frikkie for her death, but refrained from mentioning anything about her bipolar schizophrenia and heroin addiction.

“I don’t need any more of that shit in my life,” was Frikkie’s comment after he had delivered a moving eulogy, waved goodbye to the hearse, and accepted a cup of lukewarm tea in the church hall. “Women are nothing but grief.”

“Yes, but what about your hormones?” a well-meaning mourner had asked him. It was a valid point.

For some time after Zelda’s demise he placated his hormones when they became strident by calling Jasmine and having her send round a companion for the night. But he found it increasingly difficult to feel any ardour for these women and he derived no lasting satisfaction from the impersonal encounters. Then he heard about RealGirl dot com.

“Hello, Clarissa,” said plug. He took her hand, which was small and soft. She was sitting with Frikkie on the couch watching men running about on a flat green surface painted with white lines. At intervals, tens of thousands of spectators shouted in unison, thereby giving purpose to the activity they were witnessing.

Aware of how deeply Plug detested its intrusive presence, Frikkie imposed silence on the screen and then plunged it into darkness. He got up to pour drinks.

“Nice hair, fabulous figure,” said Plug, settling into an easy chair. “Just your type, Frikkie.”

“Yes, I chose her from the online catalogue, and I wasn’t disappointed when she jetted in from the States this morning.”

“So you’ve still got to …er…get to know her?”

“I didn’t want to rush things,” said Frikkie, handing his friend a vodka, lime and soda. He sat down again and rested a hand on Clarissa’s knee.

Plug sipped his drink and stared. After a while his eyes became unblinking and glassy, and Frikkie knew he was no longer looking but thinking.

“Yes,” said Plug after several minutes, as if the word meant something despite being marooned in the middle of nowhere. “Yes,” he said again, adjusting his glasses on his face and focussing on Frikkie, “it seems that the human brain has evolved to the stage where constructed, or virtual reality has overtaken unmitigated, raw reality as the main interface between the external world and us.”

“Huh?”

“Billions of people now experience large chunks of their life by passively watching images on a TV screen, a computer monitor or a cell phone instead of engaging directly with the reality that is filtered and presented to them as news, or sport, or entertainment.”

“Is that so?”

“Take navigation,” said Plug. “These days, if you are driving from A to B, you hardly bother to orientate yourself using landmarks and the position of the sun, and you certainly don’t think about north and south, east and west. You just keep glancing at the dot you have become on your phone, or trust the Garmin lady when she tells you to turn right at the next intersection. And ships’ captains and airline pilots rarely bother to look out the window.”

“And that’s bad?”

“I’m not saying it’s good or bad,” said Plug. “I am just telling it like it is. Another example is the weather. Who still takes the trouble to predict if it will rain tomorrow by relying on their powers of observation? People used to be alert to a shift in wind direction, cloud type and formation, and colour in the sky at dawn and dusk. Not any more.”

“Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning? My father used to say bad weather was on the way when there was a ring around the moon. Talk shit. There would be three weeks of brilliant weather, and when it finally broke he said it was on account of that stupid ring around the moon. Kak! I’m quite happy to get a reliable, up to the minute forecast on my phone, any time day or night, thank you.”

“Yes, but at least your father was interacting with his physical environment on a one to one basis, and was aware of nature. Now people don’t even go outside to sniff the air.”

“I suppose you’re going somewhere with this?”

“I’m getting there,” said Plug. “What I am saying is that there is an increasing tendency to value objects and experiences not for their intrinsic qualities but for an image associated with them. The brand has become more than the product. The real product has been diminished and sidelined by its simulacrum, and people have become more susceptible to manipulation by those who are able to generate hype and promote the message underlying the image. Which is usually about buying something, no matter how ephemeral or worthless it might be.”

The liquid assets in both their glasses were exhausted and Frikkie got up to remedy the situation.

“So you’re thinking of ways to package shit and sell it as brown gold?” he said, now having a pretty good idea of how Plug’s mind was working. “What kind of shit?”

“There are a couple of possibilities that really appeal to me,” said Plug. “One is fake rhino horn. Many people in the East have been duped into believing that powdered rhino horn has supernatural qualities that make it effective as an aphrodisiac as well as a cure for cancer. Despite scientific proof that it is made of keratin, just like any other species of animal horn, it has become a highly sought after commodity fetching a ridiculously inflated price. It wouldn’t be that difficult to mass produce an artificial product indistinguishable from the genuine article.”

“I don’t know about this,” said Frikkie. “We could pick up serious trouble with the law if we start dealing in such stuff.”

“There would be nothing illegal about it,” said Plug. “We would be selling fake rhino horn, not the real thing. We would make that quite clear. If the people who buy it from us want to pass it off as poached rhino horn, well, that’s their problem.”

“Okay, that makes sense. So we would be selling to poachers and middle men?”

“Initially, yes. Then, as we slowly saturate the market, the price would come down until supply exceeds demand, consumers realise what gullible idiots they have been, the bubble will burst, and the rhino will be saved from extinction. And we would have made a lot of money while the going was good and before we sold out.”

“Well, that sounds pretty bloody cool. I like it. I think we must go for this in a big way. Refill?”

While Frikkie was busy with the bottles, Plug got up and cupped Clarissa’s chin in his hand and tilted her head back. Her full red lips were slightly parted and, as he had suspected, she was toothless. This mouth was designed for Frikkie’s pleasure, and Plug felt a twinge of envy.

“And what about that other brilliant idea you’ve had?” asked Frikkie once he was back on the couch.

“Ah, yes, stolen art works. It occurred to me that a famous painting or piece of sculpture acquires different value once it has been stolen and disappears.”

“How so?

“Well, in the first place, its high value is due to its fame and the hype around it,” said Plug. “The original owner usually pays more for the prestige of owning it than for the artwork itself. When a painting is stolen its fame receives a massive boost on account of all the publicity around the theft. If recovered, its value will have appreciated far more than if it had not been stolen.”

“Makes sense. Are we going to buy an expensive artwork and then stage a burglary?”

“I thought of that,” said Plug. “Too risky, though. If we were found out they would nail us for fraud. No. Instead, I was thinking of targeting the vulgar billionaires who would happily buy a work from the professional art thieves, and offer them a high quality replica of a stolen masterpiece. “Instead of forking out $5 million, they could pay us a mere 500 thousand, hang it on the wall, and boast to their odious pals that it is the original.”

“And it could be. That’s clever,” said Frikkie, nodding his head repeatedly, as if he was suffering a bout of Parkinson’s. “The asshole owner of the forgery would never allow it to be examined by experts. Pity we wouldn’t be able to sell more than one copy.”

“Why not? Unless the original was recovered, no one would ever be able to dispute the authenticity of our product. We could sell any number of copies until the real thing turned up. Only then would the bubble burst.”

“I like this,” said Frikkie. “It works on the same principle as the fake rhino horn. We can be strictly up front about the product and leave it to the creep who buys it to tell lies and play games, if that’s what turns him on.”

Over another drink or two they began to work out the plan of action that would be needed to set up a horn factory and an art duplication studio. By now they were well accustomed to this more mundane side to the strategising process, and after a while Frikkie began to show signs of restlessness. Plug got to his feet.

“Well, Frikkie,” he said, “it’s getting late and we can work on the details tomorrow when we are fresh. I’m sure you and Clarissa are ready for bed.”

“Yes,” said Frikkie, accompanying Plug to the door. “We’re going to watch a bit of porn, and then we’ll hit the sack. See you tomorrow.”

Frikkie And Plug Eat Steak

“When you come to think of it,” said Frikkie, “it must have been a real pleasure living in South Africa 30 years ago. In those days the cops used to donner the hell out of the non-whites at the slightest provocation, and your average black man thought long and hard about laying a thieving hand on someone else’s property.”

“Now that the police are no longer allowed to use those brutal tactics of old, they have become ineffectual,” agreed Plug. “And because they are so open to accepting bribes, they have become little better than the criminals they are supposed to put behind bars.”

Frikkie was driving. They arrived at the Ndabeni Impound Centre and went in search of Plug’s Merc. While on their way to Franschoek for lunch Plug had received a call informing him that his vehicle had been found abandoned near Khayalitsha, and he was requested to come and positively identify it.

They followed a uniformed official bearing a clipboard, a potbelly and a fat arse down rows of parked vehicles until they reached the wrecks.

“Is this your car, Meneer?”

Plug had imagined his new Merc to be parked in the basement of his Camps Bay apartment building, and not in a government yard in Ndabeni. He felt a little weak.

“It’s the right colour, and that’s my number plate. Where are the wheels?”

“The wheels have gone for recycling,” said the official. “The residents of Khayalitsha are very good at that.”

The thieves had driven Plug’s car at an angle into a concrete barrier wall and bounced off, the way a drunk crashes into a solid object, lurches sideways, hits the ground and rolls into a ditch. A drunk would have been badly bruised. Plug’s car was a write-off.

“Your car’s a write-off,” said Frikkie.

After signing a form, Plug phoned his insurance broker, and then they got back into the traffic.

“We were supposed to be enjoying some larney cuisine in Franschoek,” complained Frikkie. “I’m fucking hungry. I feel like a steak. Cattle Baron?”

They drove to the Cattle Baron at Century City and Plug ordered a 200g sirloin, and Frikkie attacked a 400g slab of rump that was still bleeding, the way he liked it.

“You know,” he said, wiping around his mouth and chin before dropping the paper napkin onto a plate deserted but for some gravy and half-chewed pieces of gristle, “when I eat a good piece of meat like this, it makes me feel strong again. I feel like I can cope with this shit. Like my place being burgled and your car being taken out. And this fucking load shedding bullshit.” The lights had just gone out. “I feel like this is all just a minor irritation, and I can handle it without feeling anything, and if anyone gets in my way, I’ll just drill the bastard with my Glock and not give a god den fuck. Only problem is, a big steak like this makes me constipated.”

He called to the waitress and told her to bring him a Pink Lady.

“The top brass apartheid cops soon saw the way things would go, and they bailed out in the first three years of democracy,” said Plug, picking up the conversation where it had been left off before they went to look at his car. “They were mostly Afrikaners, the ones intelligent enough to suppress their racism and make rational assessments and realistic predictions about where things were going. They understood that with the lifting of the heavy white hand hordes of black trash would be let loose, and stealing other people’s property would become the preferred method of making a living. These cops saw that there was no future for them in the new SAPS, and that law and order was an endangered species, and that the way to go was private security.”

“Yah,” said Frikkie, “just like …Eina!”

Frikkie had been poking about with a toothpick, and had inadvertently punctured his gum.

“You were saying?”

“Yah,” said Frikkie again, “just like private security, private education, private health care. Private every-bloody-thing. If you want anything to work, you have to go private. Now it’s going to be private power, with your own private generator, if you don’t want to live like a powerless third world moegoe. Next it will be private water.”

“The positive thing about living in a dystopia like South Africa is that the rich get greedier as the poor get poorer,” said Plug. “This is what those top brass cops understood. They saw that the rich and the powerful wouldn’t be prepared to make any sacrifices in order to bring about systemic change, and would choose to beef up security and build the wall higher. And those cops were right.”

“So, are you thinking of us getting into something to do with protecting rich scumbags and their possessions?”

“I was toying with the idea,” said Plug. “But it’s kind of grimy and doesn’t really appeal to me. Something more imaginative, something intellectually more kinky is knocking at the door.”

“Let it in, let it in.”

“It would be something aimed at the mega wealthy,” said Plug. “Have you noticed how, at a certain stage, the very rich cease to be troubled by self doubt and their social conscience departs for good? Instead, their arrogance takes over and they become utterly contemptuous of the rest of humanity.”

“You’ve always been contemptuous of humanity,” said Frikkie. “Aren’t you just like them?”

“No, I am different to them in that I don’t share their delusion of superiority. I acknowledge that I am just as contemptible as those I despise. In a way, it makes me more culpable than them when I behave badly. But let’s get back to devising ways of making money out of persuading this odious elite to squander their ill-gained wealth on a hyper real display of extravagant consumption.”

“What have you got in mind?”

“It’s actually based on a South American concept,” said Plug.

“Not surprising,” said Frikkie. “When I went to Rio last year, there were all these super cars and bullet proof limos parading up and down, and just over the way was a massive, stinking falafel teeming with dirt poor no-hopes on the lookout to rob and murder someone, just like in South Africa.”

“Favela. Not falafel.”

“Yah, Favela. You know what I mean.”

“Yes, Brazilian society is almost as unequal as ours,” said Plug. “I was looking at some pictures of Sao Paolo the other day, and I noticed this apartment block that had gone up right next to a Favela. A gleaming white, ultra modern high-rise stepped like a wedding cake, with a private pool on every level.”

“Weird,” said Frikkie. “And right there next to a slum? That’s kind of cool, hey? I mean, it takes balls to come up with an idea like that.”

“It got me thinking about doing something along similar lines right here in Jozi or Cape Town.”

“Alex would be good,” said Frikkie. “Nice and close to Sandton.”

“Right. We could put up a 15 or 20-storey tower block of luxury apartments right in the middle of the poorest part of Alexandra. Major security features, of course. A 3 metre high wall, armed guards, an electrified steel collar on the outside of the building, cameras, motion sensors – that kind of thing.”

“Yah, and each apartment would have a big balcony with some garden and a pool and a gas braai. What else?”

“The basement and ground floor would be for parking,” said Plug. “The first floor, above the electrified steel collar, would be bullet proof glass, floor to ceiling on all sides, with a gym, a bar lounge and a superette.”

“Awesome!” Frikkie enthused. “The shack dwellers would be able to view the larnies working out in their fancy gym kit, or knocking back shots at the bar. Fantastic at night. The place would have its own power supply, I take it?”

“Of course. And water, too. People this rich would never dream of living at the mercy of Eskom and Rand Water.”

“You know,” said Frikkie, “at first this seems like a crazy idea, but the more you think about how decadent it is, the more it grabs you. To live like this is to demonstrate your power and your wealth, and to show just how free you are from all that morality bullshit you were brought up with.”

“Yes, that’s what is so appealing,” said Plug. “Your money liberates you and you are able to despise the poor for their weakness and dismiss their misery as self inflicted. In fact, their poverty and the hardships they have to endure confirm their worthlessness and attest to the innate superiority of the wealthy.”

“How about access?” asked Frikkie. “Access could be a problem. The super rich aren’t going to want to drive their Aston Martins down a potholed lane flanked with shacks in order to get to their mansions in the sky.”

“Certainly not,” said Plug. “No we would have a fenced in private road cutting through the township straight from the highway. It might cause resentment, but what the hell.”

“You know, something has just occurred to me,” said Frikkie. “Maybe we could start a new craze. You know the way a rich housewife takes her daughter to ballet lessons in a V8 Discovery? Well, maybe we could sell them custom-made armoured vehicles. Something like a modified Marauder or Ratel fitted with luxury features.”

“Frikkie, I think you’ve just struck gold! The new status symbol. It would make such a powerful statement, defining the grotesque face of today’s South Africa and reflecting the psychotic nature of her citizens. Also perfect for resisting hijackers and driving through service delivery protests. And for going through red robots and sorting out taxis. Yes, that really is an inspired brainwave.”

Frikkie looked pleased with himself, then got to his feet in a hurry.

“I had better get to the Gents,” he said. “I think that Pink Lady is about to do the trick.”

Frikkie And Plug Launch The Dismissal Agency

When Plug and Frikkie went to the States it was their intention to sell the concept of Smarty Eugenics to the United Nations. A meeting had been arranged with top officials at the WHO. But on their arrival at JFK four gents in suits, open neck shirts and shiny shoes waylaid them. Claiming to represent the biggest corporations in the pharmaceutical industry, they said they had got wind of Smarty Eugenics and were eager to discuss a deal with the intrepid entrepreneurs from Mzansi. Frikkie and Plug put up no resistance and allowed themselves to be whisked off to The Knickerbocker on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street. Over lunch the men from Big Pharma were forthright.

“Our industry is driven by the pursuit of profit,” one of them said. “Alleviating the suffering of humankind is low on our list of priorities. If it doesn’t involve the purchasing of our products, we have no interest in improving the physical and mental wellbeing of consumers.”

Between them, they made it clear to Frikkie and Plug that they saw Smarty Eugenics as a serious threat to their long-term profitability. If it were to be implemented the population would be reduced and the demographic would be younger and healthier. Youth and good health were anathema to the pharmaceutical industry. What they thrived on was an ageing society, sick in both mind and body. This was why they were prepared to pay handsome bucks for the Smarty copyright in order to mothball it.

“How handsome?” asked Frikkie.

“Twenty.”

“Twenty?” Frikkie was incredulous.

“Yes, twenty million dollars. How does that sound?”

Frikkie was choking on a mouthful of soufflé after nearly falling off his chair.

“We wouldn’t consider anything less than forty,” said Plug, cool as a komkommer straight from the fridge.

“They will settle for thirty,” he told Frikkie, as they stood shoulder to shoulder in the john and emptied their bladders into two of the hotel’s state of the art urinals. “This is standard bargaining procedure the world over. The buyer offers way less than what he is prepared to pay. The seller knows this, so he doubles the figure, and they end up splitting the difference. It’s real dumb, but it gives the impression neither party has lost face.”

Back at the table the offer was upped a little, and the price came down a tad. After more pretence at haggling, the magic figure was finally reached. Bingo! Thirty million it was.

They all showed their teeth and shook hands. Then they drank champagne, which was also part of the standard procedure. In the evening, to further celebrate the deal, they took in a Broadway show that was so expensive there was hardly anyone in the audience. Then they returned to the Knick, the classy girls arrived, and they retired to their rooms for the cherry on top.

$30 million converted into Mickey Mouse money back in the failed state was equivalent to about R360 million. Added to income from their other business interests, this meant that Frikkie and Plug were under no pressure to get involved in any new moneymaking schemes. However, they were now so used to being on the lookout for new opportunities, they couldn’t resist setting up the Dismissal Agency on their return to the glorious republic.

 

“I would poison her if she turned out to be another Constance,” said Frikkie. “Rattex would do the job just fine. Or I could consult Doctor Pillay and get him to prescribe something he thinks more appropriate.”

Frikkie was telling Plug what he would do to his next housekeeper if she turned out to be anything like the previous one, who he had fired and now suspected of being responsible for the burglary while he was in the States.

“You know,” said Plug, “this is a dilemma faced by employers of domestic staff throughout the country. How does one dismiss a worker without risking almost certain reprisal in the form of a break-in that will be undetected by your compromised security arrangements? I am sure a company specialising in solutions to this problem would be stretched to keep up with the demand for its services.”

“Something like a Dismissal Agency, as opposed to a Recruitment Agency? Sounds a cool concept. But, apart from selling poison, what would this company offer?”

They opened their third beer. From previous experience, they had discovered that the first beer made the brain receptive, and it was with the second that inspiration occurred. Development of the central idea took place while consuming the third beer.

“What we will offer is not going to be cheap,” said Plug.

“Peace of mind is worth a lot,” said Frikkie.

“The employee will be fired without warning on the last day of a month, and be paid a month’s salary in lieu of notice, and we will insist on giving her a lift home. It will be made clear that we now know where to find her if we need to speak to her in the future. Meanwhile, our technicians will have been busy changing the locks and arranging with the security company for new codes and remotes. On the following day the perimeter fortifications will be raised by half a meter, and the voltage to the electric fencing will be upped to concentration camp levels.”

“Awesome,” said Frikkie. “And id the client is still shatting himself we could offer round the clock surveillance for the first three months.”

“Good thinking,” said Plug.

“And when we drop her off we can tell the maid that if there is a break-in she can be sure her RDP hok will burn to the ground soon afterwards.” Frikkie said this with grim satisfaction, because he was contemplating a mental picture of Constance standing in the road watching her house go up in flames.

Over the next few days they worked out costs and put together a workable business strategy. A month later the first Dismissal Agency was launched, and the initial response was so overwhelming they immediately set in motion plans for the franchise to be rolled out in every city and town in the country. It was clear they had found a gap that was crying out to be filled.

“For the overwhelming majority of South Africans, socio-economic conditions are deteriorating rapidly,” Plug said to Frikkie as they drove out of Stellenbosch and headed for Franschoek for lunch. They had just officiated at the opening of the 50th Dismissal Agency branch. “The growing tension between rich and poor is resulting in more and more crime. It’s clear from the success of the Dismissal Agency that security is one of the healthiest and most promising sectors of the economy.”

“Are you thinking of us setting up our own private security company? There’s a lot of competition out there.”

“We must put our heads together and look for an imaginative niche,” said Plug.

To one side the unsightly squalor of an informal settlement sprawled towards the horizon, and there was the smell of smoke and unwashed humanity. Then they emerged into picturesque vineyard country and ahead of them was the blue mountain range against an almost cloudless sky.

Frikkie And Plug Discuss The Domestic Servant Problem

“They cleaned me out,” said Frikkie.

He was taking Plug through his mansion, and his voice bounced about in the empty spaces and made him sound like a guide showing tourists around a mausoleum.

“Must’ve been an inside job,” said Plug. “You say they even took the beds?”

“They even took the fucking beds,” said Frikkie. “No forced entry, and the alarm didn’t go off. All the time in the world.”

“Suspect anyone?”

“That lazy bitch, Constance,” said Frikkie. “I fired her just before we went to the States. Maybe I should have waited until we got back.”

“At least they didn’t take the outdoor furniture,” said Plug. They sat under the big umbrella on the terrace and Frikkie extricated two beers from a six-pack the thieves had kindly overlooked in the garage. “And they couldn’t steal the view. You are fully insured, I take it?”

“Of course,” said Frikkie. “But you know how much hassle this is going to be?”

“This is one of the major drawbacks to living the affluent lifestyle in South Africa,” said Plug. “It’s all very well being waited on hand and foot, but cheap labour comes with a whole lot of crap you really don’t want to have to deal with. From the moment they arrive in the morning it’s nothing but trouble.”

“You’re telling me? That bloody Constance used to drive me crazy. ‘Good morning, Constance.’ ‘Good morning, Mister Frikkie. How are you?’ Of course I had to say, ‘Fine, and you?’ That was her cue, and for the next half hour I would have to listen to all the shit going on in her life. Expensive sob story shit. Her son had been mugged on the train; her husband had been retrenched; bus fares were going up; her grandchild needed an operation. Jesus, there was no end to it, and she constantly needed help. If it wasn’t a handout, then it was a loan. And if it wasn’t a loan, it was a handout.”

“Yah, I know, I know. And if you don’t help them, they make you pay, anyway. Not only do they get dikbek surly, they deliberately break stuff, and hide things, and work incredibly slowly.”

“And when you don’t give in and keep them happy you never know how they will take revenge,” said Frikkie. “Sometimes Constance would serve up a meal, and there would be a very smug look on her face. And I would catch her watching me intently as I sniffed my Scotch and took a sip.”

“That’s their standard procedure with brandy and whisky,” said Plug. “They take their 25 percent and top you up with piss, and there’s no way you can tell without having the stuff tested in a laboratory.”

“They are never happy, no matter how much you give them,” said Frikkie. “I paid that ungrateful cow twice the minimum wage. Four thousand a month, plus breakfast, plus lunch, plus tea, coffee and biscuits whenever she felt peckish. But it was never enough.”

“It seems the more you give them, the more they want,” said Plug. “But that’s typical of human nature right across the board. Our own extravagance and wastefulness corrupt our employees’ values and they become consumed by envy, greed and gluttony. Just like us.”

“You could be right,” said Frikkie. “But I find it hard to feel guilty just at this moment. In fact, I’m convinced that it is me who is the victim here. Christ, my house has been stripped bare!”

“You are lucky you weren’t at home,” said Plug. “They might have roughed you up, or worse. And the vehicles?”

“No, my car was at the airport, and the SUV was with the panel beaters.” Frikkie did not seem to derive much consolation from this. “Now I’ve got to replace all the stolen goods and find another housekeeper. And what if she turns out to be another Constance? Man, I feel trapped!”

“You could downsize and move into a flat and not bother with servants at all,” suggested Plug.

“Are you joking? And have to sweep and vacuum, and wash and iron and cook and do the dishes? And clean the toilet? Are you crazy, or what?” He was treating Plug’s remark with the contempt it deserved. “What’s the point of being rich and not having servants?”

Plug pulled another two bottles of beer from the plastic wrapping.

“All over the world rich people are faced with this problem,” he said. “There is something both shameful and shameless about letting strangers into our homes and getting them to wait on us and clean up our mess, and then sending them back to their hovels and their domestic problems. Yes, the way we exploit poor people by paying them a pittance to work in our palatial residences is shameful. And the way we expose ourselves to these strangers is obscenely shameless. It is not surprising that this relationship between employer and domestic worker is fraught with conflict.”

“You know what that woman said to me when I told her I couldn’t afford to give her another raise only six months after the last one?”

“Mm?”

“She said that the Bible teaches us not to tell lies. Can you believe it? When she knows I am the Archbishop of a church with hundreds of thousands of devout followers? What kind of respect is that?

“No respect at all,” said Plug.

“Then she starts asking me questions like I’m standing in the dock at the TRC. Not that the TRC was worth shit.”

“No, the TRC was worth less than shit. What kind of questions?”

“Well, stuff about the cost of living. She points at my feet and asks how much those boots cost, and looks at a cash slip and tells me R3800 and says she earns R 4000 a month.  And she tells me I look stupid in these boots, and they give me blisters because she heard me telling someone on the phone that these boots are killing me and make my feet stink. And I can waste R3800 on these boots but I can’t afford to give her a R200 a month raise?”

“Their ears are always flapping,” said Plug. “And they have phenomenal memories. Where did she get the cash slip?”

“Hell, I don’t know. She had a whole fistful of them. She held up one about half a metre long. Groceries and booze from Woolworths. Close on seven thousand for a trolley load. And she starts going through items. R90 for a little piece of Blue Vein cheese. R70 for a little tin of oysters. Eighty bucks for an asparagus and mushroom quiche. R240 for a Black Forest cake. Then she starts going through all the meat; all the steak and kebabs and ribbetjies and rashers in marinade. Danmn it, she says it’s enough for six families! And then the wine. R660 for six bottles of Chardonay. 900 for six bottles of Merlot. R720 for six bottles of bubbly.. And then, and now she’s shouting at me, the big bag of dog food. R620! For a dog! And I can’t afford a R200 a month increase? At the end of it she is baring her teeth like a wild animal and I can see she really hates me for the life she has to lead.”

“There’s no way we can deny she has got a point. What we pay them and what we spend on ourselves is utterly shameful and entirely inexcusable. And what we expect them to do for us is despicably shameless.”

“You keep going on about this shameless shit. I mean, what’s so shameless about employing someone to do domestic work for you?”

“It stems from our ingrained sense of superiority,” Plug said. “We think it’s perfectly fine to take this stranger into our home and let her mingle with us and observe us in intimate detail, and allow her access to all our personal stuff and not feel in the least bit embarrassed. After a while we say she is one of the family. But we mean she is one of the family the way the family dog is. Because she is socially inferior we regard her as not quite human like us, and so it doesn’t matter that she knows all this stuff about us.”

“Yah, I kind of see what you’re getting at,” said Frikkie. “Like you don’t care about farting in front of the dog, or letting it see you naked. And even when it comes into the bedroom while you are busy with your partner, you just tell it to fuck off back to its basket in the kitchen, and carry on with what you were doing. Yah, you don’t feel skaam at all.”

“It’s a version of a very old story,” said Plug. “If you dehumanise people it is so much easier to exploit and abuse them.”

“Yah, now you mention it and the more I think about it, it is kind of weird,” said Frikkie. “I mean, I would hate it if a friend or colleague could observe me the way Constance did. It would be a gross violation of my privacy, like having some pervert with his eye to the keyhole watching me in the shower. And then walk around knowing this about me, and maybe telling other people about what I get up to in the bathroom.”

“I bet Constance used to watch you through the keyhole,” said Plug. “You know, that after a time their role changes, and their job is no longer just doing the housework. They become forensic investigators, scrutinising every minute detail of your life.

They examine your dirty washing as they load the automatic, analysing odours and stains. As they hang the clothes on the line they picture you in them, especially your underwear. When they make the beds they are on the lookout for signs of sexual activity. Scrunched up toilet paper and tissues reeking of ejaculate and juice are there under the bed for the maid to pick up and dispose of. Your shameless behaviour confirms your deep lack of respect for her. And for yourself.”

“You seem to know all about it.”

“I do,” said Plug. “I’ve seen it with my own domestic, Blessing. She is far more of a curse than a blessing, but I am too scared of the consequences to get rid of her. You know, I have even seen her using her phone to photograph my stuff, including documents. They all have smart phones and can go home and blow up the images and analyse the info. In this way they are able to compile a body of evidence that cannot fail to have you convicted. The moment you fire them they hand you over to the tough guys who come round and administer justice. That’s what’s happened to you.”

“I know,” said Frikkie. “She knew the codes and the passwords, and she would have made copies of the keys.”

“Over the years she has been going home every night and reporting back to her husband, her kids, her relatives and her friends about all the grimy details of your disgraceful life, and telling them what a mean son of a bitch you are, and they have been urging her to steal as much as possible from you, in the way of sugar, tea, coffee, biscuits, sweets and chocolate, loose change, booze, toiletries, and just about anything she can lay her hands on without arousing too much suspicion. And when you eventually fire her there is unanimous agreement that you deserve the full treatment. And that’s what they’ve given you.”

“Don’t keep reminding me,” said Frikkie. He drained his beer, jumped to his feet, screamed, “Fucking lazy cunt!” and hurled the empty bottle at a tree some twenty metres away.

To Plug’s astonishment a man materialised out of nowhere and began raking up non-existent leaves as if this was his one-and-only chance of making it to Hollywood.

“Frikkie, this is a problem faced by all employers of domestic staff. It is now virtually impossible to dismiss a housekeeper, or even a gardener, no matter how unsatisfactory their performance might be, because you are then left in a suicidally defenceless position. Your expensively elaborate security system is reduced to junk status, and your only option is to relocate to another town. Or country.”

“Not a damn,” said Frikkie. “I know what I’m going to do if I end up with another Constance.”

“And what’s that?”

Plug Invents Smarty Eugenics

After their weekend break in the bush Plug and Frikkie had to get back to administering their growing empire. It was about a week or so later, and Frikkie was sitting in traffic. He was returning from a Church meeting at which he and his team had rehearsed a particularly tricky miracle. The N2 was backed up with ten thousand vehicles on account of a woman who had tried changing lanes while brushing her hair with one hand and texting with the other. Plug’s call came in time to prevent Frikkie’s impatience turning into full-blown traffic rage.

“Got a moment?” Plug asked.

“A moment? Fuck, I’ve got the whole of eternity, by the looks of it.”

“I’ve been thinking about euthanasia, ever since you told me about your brother,” said Plug. “It occurred to me that there must be a huge demand for a professional service specialising in the termination of the sick and the elderly.”

“You don’t say?” said Frikkie. “The sick and the elderly will soon outnumber the young and the healthy, because they cling to life like flies cling to fresh shit. But hold it, Plug. I’ve got to deal with this guy hassling me.”

A traffic jam vendor, still wet behind the ears, had misread Frikkie’s contemptuous glance as an expression of keen interest. He was displaying his sign work fashioned from galvanised wire. He tried LOVE, then PEACE, followed by HOPE. His mistake was to hold up FAITH.

Frikkie lowered his window, and emptied half a can of pepper spray in the young man’s face, the way he would have saturated a cockroach so that even if it scuttled under a cupboard it could never recover from that amount of Doom.

The vendor’s next big mistake was to stagger back against the side of a shiny new Hilux double cab valued at nearly half a million. The Afrikaner in the passenger seat looked like he pumped a lot of iron when he wasn’t playing club rugby, and he got out of that fancy bakkie in a hurry and struck the youth four times with a length of thin-walled black plastic pipe, once on the back of the head and thrice across the shoulders.

“You were saying?” said Frikkie, moving his car twenty metres closer to home.

“Yes,” said Plug. “I think we can make a lot of money helping people to give their sick and ageing relatives a compassionate send-off, the way you did for your brother. But I’ve also had another idea that involves euthanasia on a much bigger scale, and would benefit the whole of mankind.”

“The whole of mankind? Are we going to sell this to the United Nations?”

“That’s a possibility,” said Plug. “I was giving some thought to the way medical science has advanced over the past 50 years, and how we have now reached the stage where millions of people are living for up to thirty years beyond their natural sell-by date. The sick and the aged are encouraged to keep going indefinitely in spite of them having to endure a ghastly existence characterised by chronic pain, indignity and humiliation, boredom and disappointment, and a growing sense of futility and hopelessness as their personalities dissolve and they succumb to galloping dementia. But clinging to life is big business, and serves the interests of the medical fraternity, private hospitals, retirement centres, medical aid schemes, and the pharmaceutical industry.”

“I know,” said Frikkie. “I checked out how much it would cost to move my parents into frail care at the Village of Golden Harvest. R13,000 each! That’s the basic monthly rate for a single room with bathroom. Then there’s all the extras.”

“Exactly so,” said Plug. “Enormous resources are squandered on making people hang around at death’s door for years on end. But this is patently unsustainable. The burden on the younger generations has become too great, and the system is on the point of collapse.”

“So what can be done?” asked Frikkie. “Mass euthanasia, I suppose? Is that your solution? I think we might have a problem selling that one to the World Health Organisation.””

“You are right,” said Plug. “No, mass extermination wouldn’t go down well, because it sounds too much like the Final Solution. What I have in mind is far more humane and subtle.”

He then proceeded to explain how Smarty Eugenics would work in theory and in practice. Participation in the programme would be compulsory for prisoners, drug addicts, alcoholics, the unemployed, the physically or mentally disabled, the chronically diseased, and all citizens over the age of 60. Temporary exemption would be granted to anyone able to prove they were economically active, independent, and not a burden on society. The rest would be required to take daily medication in the form of three brightly coloured chocolate beans.

“Smarties?”

“Yes,” said Plug. “These Smarties would contain a moderately addictive narcotic, so there would be no problem getting people to take them. They would all be the same, apart from the funky colours, and they would all taste the same. Except for one in a million, or one in a hundred thousand, depending on the specific programme. And that one would contain a lethal dose of cyanide.”

“Got it!” said Frikkie. “But how do you choose who is to get that one in a million?”

“That’s the beauty of this scheme,” said Plug, and Frikkie could hear that his friend was having trouble trying to sound modest. “Only the fixing of a percentage would require human intervention. Otherwise it’s purely up to chance who gets the lethal Smarty. Call it Fate. Or the Will of God. And, of course, it goes without saying the existence of lethal Smarties would be top secret and only known to a very select few. ”

“This is so beautifully simple!” enthused Frikkie

“Yes,” said Plug. “But first we have to refine the idea and turn it into a saleable commodity. The money lies in the Smarties, the dispensing machines and the computer software.”

“Let’s get this straight,” said Frikkie. “Take an old age home, for example. There are a hundred old toppies dozing and drooling in front of their TVs, and we want to get them down to 75 in the course of a year. How would it work?”

“We use some maths and statistics,” said Plug, and Frikkie pictured him taking out his cigarette box and pen. “A hundred old fogies on three Smarties a day over 365 days would consume 109,500 units of the delicious but dangerously deceptive candy. At the beginning of the year that amount would be placed in the dispenser. Twenty-five of these ordinary Smarties would be removed, and twenty-five lethal Smarties would replace them.  The dispenser would thoroughly mix its contents, and then dispense 100 batches of 1095 Smarties for each old toppie. From here on you could say the system is armed, unpredictable and neutral.”

“I like the sound of this cool logic,” said Frikkie, and he changed into second, shot forward, and slammed on his brakes just in time to pull up three ball hairs from the car in front of him. “But I can already see a flaw in the system. What happens if someone has drawn more than one cyanide pilletjie? He or she can’t die twice.”

“That’s alright,” said Plug. “The computer program would handle this next time round. The same way as it would take into account the old people dying of natural causes and not Smarty eugenics. You win some, you lose some.”

“This strikes me as a very fair and humane way of reducing the population,” said Frikkie. “I can’t foresee any objections on moral grounds, can you?”

“Not at all,” said Plug. “By making the lethal dose unpredictable and random, no one can be held responsible and there is no way the outcome can be manipulated. Smarty eugenics is a foolproof way to solve an otherwise ethically tricky problem.”

“Beautifully simple,” said Frikkie. “In just a couple of decades we could reduce the population and improve quality of life by weeding out the old, the sickly, the stupid, the lazy and the criminal. In a generation we would be left with a much healthier society. Now it’s just a matter of implementation. How do you propose getting the scheme off the ground?”

The traffic had begun to flow at last, and Frikkie was keeping very close to the car up front, just in case some arsehole tried some sneaky manoeuvre like cutting in in front of him.

“It will take about 2 weeks to arrange visas for the US,” said Plug. “In that time we must put together a really slick presentation and set up meetings. Frikkie, I think this could turn out to be our biggest venture to date.”

Frikkie Euthanases His Brother

“I couldn’t stand suffering to see him like that,” said Frikkie.

“Don’t you mean you couldn’t stand seeing him suffer like that?”

Frikkie was telling Plug why he had euthanased his brother. The one who had broken his back when he was impaled on a stake after Frikkie had pushed him out of the highest tree in their garden 30 years ago.

“No,” said Frikkie. “I’m talking about my suffering, not his. You can’t suffer for somebody, and they can’t suffer for you. It’s your own suffering you have to deal with. Anyway, I couldn’t stand it any more, so I euthanased him, and now neither of us is suffering.”

From the veranda they overlooked a waterhole, and behind the silhouetted trees the sky was turning red as the light faded. They sipped their Jack and Coke and listened to the lioness grunting and crunching on bone. Ten minutes earlier they had been watching a group of gemsbok at the water’s edge when the predator attacked and brought down a young male, and the rest bolted. They had watched the buck thrashing about and heard its bellows as the lioness got stuck in and began tearing off chunks of meat while they were still fresh.

“I suppose you euthanased him mainly because his suffering disgusted you?” said Plug. “Was the quality of his life really so bad? I mean, you threw a lot of money at trying to care for him. Surely he derived a certain amount of pleasure from being alive? Didn’t he love soapies? And wasn’t he a fast food junkie?”

“When he wasn’t watching soapies or having handfuls of KFC shoved down his throat, he did nothing but complain and feel sorry for himself,’ said Frikkie. “He was verbally abusive to everyone who took care of him, including my mother. The nurses never lasted for more than a few months. He became obscenely obese and developed diabetes, and was on insulin as well as blood pressure medication and a whole lot of psychiatric drugs. He had lost most of his toes, his one heel was turning gangrenous, and his eyesight was going. One day I visited him and it just hit me. I thought, no, man, this is totally fucking crazy! And that’s when I decided enough was enough.”

“So how did you do it?” asked Plug. “If you don’t mind me asking?

“No, that’s all right,” said Frikkie. “I planned it carefully, and started by getting Mister Delivery to bring us his favourite lunch: Nando’s peri-peri chicken with a roll and chips. Double portion for him, of course. With his diabetes he is not supposed to drink Coke, but I said it was a treat and spiked it with brandy. By the time the nurse had finished feeding him and left us alone, I could see he was feeling lekker. A soapie was playing in the background and I told him I would show him something much better, and I switched to a porn movie. I could tell from his breathing that he approved of my choice, and I called Jasmine, who was outside in her Lamborghini listening to a Mozart horn concerto while she waited. I pointed to the carnation, the box of chocs and the envelope with the three grand, and asked her to go real slow and gentle, like she was doing this to Jesus Christ, just to remind him he was a man. Then I left her to it.”

“And when you returned? How was he?”

“I could hardly recognise him,” said Frikkie. “Serene, man, serene. All the tension and frustration had left him and it was like he was in a trance. I got him to drink some of Doctor Pillay’s morphine cocktail, and when I could see he was floating on a cloud up in the warm sunlight, I told him I was going to give him his insulin. His breathing was already shallow, and after a couple of minutes it stopped altogether. It was very quiet in the room. Just the sound of trickling as his bladder emptied and the pee ran off the waterproof. I tell you, apart from the smell of piss, it was the most beautiful experience of peace I have ever had.”

“And you felt no guilt or remorse?”

“Hell, no,” said Frikkie. “For what? Instead of leaving him to the scavengers I made sure he went in style. They were already talking about amputating his foot. You know how much it costs to have your foot amputated at a Mediclinic? You pay the physician to refer you to his pal the specialist with the scalpel, and the specialist sends some of your foot to his buddy the pathologist, and the rest of you to his old mate the radiologist. They all agree that your foot is rot, and off it must be chopped. This decision has cost maybe 25 or 30 thousand. When the cleaner who comes in to mop the floor could have given you the same diagnosis just by sniffing the stench in the room. But then she doesn’t have shares in the Medical Aid scheme and Mediclinic, does she?”

“And by the time you come round from the anaesthetic your other foot’s gone vrot, I suppose?” said Plug.

“You said it,” said Frikkie. “They’ll keep cutting off bits at 150 thousand a shot until there’s nothing left of you or the Medical Aid runs out. Instead of assisting you to die with dignity when the writing first appears on the wall.”

Down at the waterhole a hyena that was hanging about for leftovers guffawed in the dark, as if it had just heard a really good joke.

Frikkie And Plug Put The Statues To Work

“Did you see how that dude nearly ran us over with his trolley?” said Frikkie.

“I did,” replied Plug. “He probably thought we were arrogant white trash trying to push in front of him.”

They were making their way to the Business Lounge prior to catching a flight to OR Tambo.

“I didn’t like his body language,” said Frikkie. “He was driving that thing like it was a taxi.”

“Cool it,” said Plug. “That man is a potential customer. From the look on his face he would happily pay for the kind of experience we are going to be offering”

In the lounge they got themselves coffee and settled down to wait in comfort.

“It’s a good name,” said Frikkie. “Payback Park. First Apartheid Parks, and now Payback Parks. I’m sure they will love the concept.”

‘They’ were the President and the Minister of Arts and Culture. Frikkie and Plug had an appointment to see them at the Union Buildings the following day.

“Of course they will love it,” said Plug. “They will also love the generous percentage we’re offering. And the CEO position.”

“I think he will give it to that nephew of his,” said Frikkie.

“Which one is that?” asked Plug. “He must have more than a thousand nephews by now.”  “The one with brain damage,” said Frikkie. “You know, the one who crashed his car into the wall at Caesars Palace?”

“Oh, that one,” said Plug. “Now, while we are waiting,” he went on, “I think we should go over our presentation.

“It will help to pass the time, too,” said Frikkie. So we are going to tell them this will be a smart political move, and will help defuse the growing anger at lack of transformation?”

“Yes,” said Plug. “By removing all the old statues that glorify the historical narrative as told by the white oppressors they will demonstrate to the electorate whose side they are on. Then, by assembling these statues, at taxpayers’ expense, and allowing the public to symbolically express their feelings of outrage at the crimes perpetrated against black people, they will further improve their chances of retaining support at the next election.”

“Sounds good,” said Frikkie. “Anything to con the masses and buy time and get gloriously rich. And then we will go into detail about how a Payback Park allows black people to take revenge on us whites without actually cutting our throats and throwing us into the sea.”

“I’m sure the President and his pals would be quite happy to see us thrown into the sea with our throats cut and minus our balls,” said Plug. “But then who would run the economy, the private hospitals and the private schools? These guys are now so used to living the privileged white lifestyle there’s no way they will get rid of us any time soon.”

“Then I suppose we will go into detail about the Payback Park itself?” said Frikkie.

“Yes,” said Plug. “But not too much detail. The President has a busy schedule and is only interested in concepts and kickbacks, and will be happy to leave the logistics to us, I’m sure.”

“Alright, so we’ll keep it brief,” said Frikkie. “We will just tell them it’s a theme park where people can come and view the old colonial and apartheid statues and pay to throw bags of shit at them.”

“Well, maybe not quite so brief,” said Plug. “We can explain that human waste has become the ammunition of choice when attacking symbols of oppression, as well as for expressing anger at the dehumanising conditions under which the majority is forced to live. By buying a bag of excrement and hurling it at a statue they will vent their frustration and be less inclined to go on the rampage throwing rocks and burning tyres.”

“So we will sell them the shit pre-packaged? Cool.”

“Yes,” said Plug. “In sealed plastic bags designed to burst open on impact. And I was thinking it might be a more satisfying experience to throw the bag from a height. We could have something like the movable boarding stairs we will be mounting shortly. You know what I mean?”

“Yes,” said Frikkie. “But hey, I’ve got a better idea! Or an additional idea. Remember how I used to crap from the highest trees in your garden when we were kids? How about getting something like one of the trucks those useless bastards at Eskom have for working on the power lines? You could be positioned directly over the statue and you could squat down and shat through a hole in the floor of the cage onto the statue’s head. That would be hell of a satisfying.”

“Genius!” shouted Plug, causing a lot of passengers to look in their direction. “The floor could be made of glass or clear Perspex, so you could see the result. With that extensible boom you would have any number of choices.”

“Like right on top, or from a dizzy height, or anywhere in between? Said Frikkie. “And from this platform you could also piss on a statue. You know what a gas that would be? I almost wish I was black myself.”

A woman was addressing them on the flight announcement system. She was telling them that if they wanted to fly to Joburg any time soon, now would be their perfect opportunity to board their plane ahead of the economy class rabble.

On the flight north they had a gin and tonic and then shared a bottle of Chardonnay over lunch, all the while developing their presentation.

“Of course,” said Plug, “all our staff will be white. It will be an especially gratifying experience for the visitors to see white people hosing, mopping and sweeping, and then disposing of all that muck.”

“And apart from the statues,” said Frikkie, “what else can we offer our customers? How about foot washing?”

“Good one,” said Plug. “Yes, to have a white man kneeling on the ground washing your feet in a basin of warm soapy water, and then drying them with a nice soft towel, would do wonders for the ego of someone from a township who has always been treated by whites as not quite human. And we could also have a couple of clowns dressed up like De la Rey and Terre Blanche riding horses and falling off every now and then. Good slapstick stuff.”

“What about music and sex, like in the Apartheid Parks?” suggested

 

Frikkie. “We could play freedom songs, like ‘Kill The Boer’ and ‘Umshini Wam’, and shit like that.”

“Yes,” said Plug. “And recordings of speeches by Struggle stalwarts and Black Consciousness icons. As for sex, it’s a lucrative sideline. I’m sure we could provide employment for a team of whiter than white girls.”

“How about this for a great experience?” said Frikkie. “Our visitor strolls around checking out all the monuments, watches other visitors flinging shit at the statues, sings along with a favourite song, listens to the ‘I am an African’ speech, gets lifted up to piss on King George V, buys a takeaway and washes it down with a couple of beers, and then, finally, steps into a cubicle, drops his trousers, and gets a topless blond to do him a 5-minute favour. I tell you, that dude would be walking tall as he leaves the Payback Park.”

 

 

The next day, when they left the Union Buildings after their meeting with the President and his Minister, Plug and Frikkie looked mighty pleased with themselves. They had delivered their presentation so persuasively the Minister had clapped his hands in glee, and the President had grinned broadly and said, “Heh, heh, heh!” With hardly any haggling, terms were agreed on and they were ceded control of all the old statues in the country.

They assembled the hapless relics on an expanse of open ground in Soweto, ringed about by razor wire and electric fencing. The site was landscaped and beautified, paved roads provided access for the mobile stairs and Eskom trucks, and there were several strategically placed vending machines supplying bags of genuine Portaloo poo.

At the Grand Opening the guest of honour was the President himself. He made a speech about how the Struggle stalwarts had fought for the dream of one day being able to visit a Payback Park to express their contempt for the colonialists and the apartheid racists. Then he ascended the red-carpeted stairs, took out his length of hose, and sprayed the head of Cecil John Rhodes, who was pointing to the hinterland and telling white people that Africa was theirs for the taking.

Half an hour after the President’s limo had departed, Julius arrived to a hero’s welcome. In a booming voice he told the crowd they should be throwing more than shit, and promised more than statues to throw at after the next election. He stepped onto the man lift; the boom was extended and elevated until the platform hovered a metre above a sculpture. It was President Paul Kruger, and he looked apprehensive, even though he was wearing a top hat and a raincoat.

Julius waved to the throng and then disappeared from view. A few moments later a stream of loose stools hit the hat with pinpoint accuracy. As the excrement slid from the hat’s brim, the crowd cheered and jeered, and Oom Paul was seen to close his eyes tight shut, not wishing to be witness to his own worst nightmare.

Frikkie and Plug’s next move was to have latex moulds made of all the statues, and replicas were cast for the Payback Parks being set up throughout the country. And an app was developed to enable visitors to point their phones and listen to some historical context and become informed as to why the bronze figure in front of them deserved to be walloped with a bag of shit. For this innovation a generous subsidy was granted by the Department of Education.

The Parks became wildly popular, and Plug and Frikkie began to commission new works of more contemporary personalities, which proved an even bigger draw card. Then the Trojan horse arrived.

A truck pulled up at the Soweto site, a shrouded monument was hoisted off, and the truck departed. Staff members cut the straps, removed the wraps, and reeled back in horrified amazement. Standing before them, three times larger than life, was the unmistakable figure of the State President!

The Supervisor hurried to the office and an urgent call was made. Frikkie was in Church performing a fake miracle, but Plug was available. He told them to immediately cover His Excellency’s likeness and arrange to get him off site, pronto.

Too late. The first missile had been fired, the news spread like a rogue virus, and the people came running from all directions. In no time the President was drenched in stinking ordure. Two Eskom trucks positioned themselves, and while a woman shat on the shiny pate, a man was hosing the President’s spectacles for him to see clearly how highly the people thought of him.

“What a fucking waste!” said Frikkie.

“What a missed opportunity!” said Plug.

They were watching the slow, hearse-like departure of the truck bearing the President on the long journey to the only place he would be safe. His country residence.