Silver Fur by Mbulelo Mzamani

A few weeks after the minks and the hunters had elected a new leader of all the inhabitants of Gondwana, some minks were having dinner at the home of Praying Mantis. Among the guests were Silver Fur, a few minksters and minkshots, and some trusted office staff.

Suddenly during the post-dinner conversation, when no one is supposed to say anything serious, Silver Fur announced that he was going to visit Mrs Elsie Jagter. At the time Mrs Jagter was in her late eighties. She was the widow of Silver Fur‘s old rival and hunter voorleier or leader who, during the period of agitation and altercation, had Silver Fur and some of his minksters incarcerated on some deserted island and the rest hounded from their homes to some distant lands or relocated to the game reserves.

Always faithful to her late husband’s ideals of hunter supremacy and separatism, Mrs Elsie Jagter had decided, ten years before the transition to shared rule, that she could see disaster looming in the distant horizon. As a result, she was going to withdraw with the faithful and seek some corner of the country that was uninhabited by minks. At the time, many of us thought that anyone who could find such a place in Gondwana, where minks, a species indigenous to the area, hung from every tree and inhabited every hole, must surely be a genius. She did!

Some hunter militants were so resolute in going it alone that Dominee Frensch Jagter II founded the Jagterwerkers on ideals that centred on the creation of an exclusive jagterstaat. In March 19–, Dominee Jagter II issued the following advertisement in the Jagter Gazette:

Work Where Hunters Only Work: Do you want to work where only hunters are employed? From messengers, cleaners, building construction work to factory work, or do you have an industry in which you want to use hunter labour, and are you looking for hunter employees? In both cases contact Jagterwerkers: tel 012 762633.

She withdrew, along with her son, Dominee Jagter II; her son-in-law, Jagterbond stalwart, Dr CB Ventura; and some faithful souls numbering about 600. They trooped across the country in a shorter re-enactment of the Great Hunting Expedition, when 150 years previously they’d left the congested coastal areas, where they’d established their earliest settlements, in search of new lands and abundant game. They reached a piece of land they appropriated for themselves. Invoking the concept of terra nullius, they took this little corner of Gondwana, which they appropriately named Aryania, harking back to the glorious days of the Aryan Republic in the old country.

In the run up to the elections for a new leader of all the inhabitants of Gondwana, hunters from the extreme lunatic fringe had announced that they would rather die than live under a mink president. They belonged to the Militant Tendency and held the view that it was unnatural for minks to be part of the process of regulating the conduct of the hunt. They were haunted by the old question of what would happen if some day the hunter should become the hunted. They looked up to Dr Ventura and some highly decorated army generals from the old HDF, who had refused to become part of the amalgamated GDF, to eliminate what they termed mink gevaar.[1]

And here was Silver Fur, spoiling everyone’s digestion by proposing that he was going to visit Mrs. Elsie Jagter! It was no different from some deranged sheep announcing he was paying a pack of starving wolves a friendly visit!

The hunters from the lunatic fringe who belonged to the Militant Tendency had formed the Jagtermag that was sworn to assassinate Silver Fur on sight. They were not only speaking with utmost earnestness but they were also armed to the teeth. In those days, the threat was real of a hunt-wing revolt, arising from dissatisfaction among some hunter communities with protocols for power sharing and with curtailing gaming rights. Intelligence reports described how the Jagtermag had also set up a Jagterhof[2] to try volksverraaiers[3] and volksmoordenaars[4] or minkinists. They had drawn up two lists, with the previous Head Hunter and the former HDF chief occupying the first two places at the top of the list of traitors; and Silver Fur at the top of the other list of minkinists.

But now here was Silver Fur acting like some doddering old mink, who obviously never even read the intelligence reports we left on his desks every morning, declaring he was going to visit Mrs Elsie Jagter! There were enough intelligence officers to go on a fact-finding mission, if that is what he desired. But this… this was a minkicide mission.

We dismissed such an insane notion for the nightmare it was that we would rather not address, while each one of us was thinking – we did not exchange notes until much later – “Well, we’re witnesses to some premature senility here.”

One thing Silver Fur hated most even in those days was to be ignored. In fact, he had a rather short snout or fuse. So a few seconds later he says, in a raised and unmistakably irritated voice: “I am going to visit Mrs Elsie Jagter.”

We begin to think he must be serious. Some of his office staff in one corner of the room start to contemplate what additional policies they should take out, before the news leaks out and insurance premiums start shooting up steeply and rapidly.

Praying Mantis, on the opposite end of the table, shrugs it off in his customary manner.

“It’s a free country,” he says. “No more Immorality and Mixed Marriages Acts to worry about. You can court whomsoever you please, any huntress or minkstress that catches your fancy. I shall officiate in person over the happy union.”

“Who is talking of minkimony, Praying Mantis?” Silver Fur fumes.

“Well then, it must be worse than I feared, perhaps an acute case of spirit possession!” Praying Mantis says. “You probably need that inyanga[5] who helped us win the bid to host the World Congress for the Elimination of Minkophobia. Or else you have a death wish.” Praying Mantis sighs deeply. “Look, Silver Fur, it’s your prerogative to visit whomsoever you please. It’s your funeral really. Perhaps you’d also like to write your own epitaph? This trip is pure minkicide!”

All of this is not sitting too well with me. As a counsellor, I should have something smart to say but nothing springs to mind. I can only think of my beautiful wife and our three lovely minkitots. Also, nothing numbs the mind like the mean wine Praying Mantis serves in his silver chalice. It’s an act of faith with him. Still, I rack my brain trying to come up with some witticism to defuse the tense situation.

“May I come?” I ask.

Unlike horses, however, words once let out of the stable cannot be recalled.

“Yes, you can come,” Silver Fur says.

“Bless you, my son,” Praying Mantis says, staring straight through me, as if administering the last rites.

“Praying Mantis, if you have any faith at all, you will come along, too,” Silver Fur says. He likes to have the last word. But Praying Mantis makes a sign over himself to ward off evil spirits.

I think before we leave for Aryania I should ask Praying Mantis for one of his lucky charms that he hangs around his neck. I need it to ward off evil Aryan spirits. I also think my impetuosity is going to be the death of me one of these days. Until then, I’d never seriously contemplated using bullet proof vests, even in the heyday of agitation and altercation. Since then I’d been elevated to a counsellor, not a bodyguard!

As we left the home of Praying Mantis that night, freedom songs we used to sing in the days of agitation and altercation rang in my head, songs about the man credited with being the mastermind behind separatism swearing vengeance on his head:

Nans indod emnyama wena Jagter;

Nans indod emnyama wena Jagter.

Pasop-a nans indod emnyama wena Jagter;

Pasop-a nans indod emnyama wena Jagter…[6]

II

We took off from Minksville on some freezing Wednesday morning in June – that was before Silver Fur took up residence in Huntsville. It was an extremely windy day and I wasn’t sure whether my shirt was fluttering on account of the wind or my thumping heart.

I had tried to fortify myself by paying Praying Mantis a secret visit the night before. I nearly drowned myself in his wine cellar. His parting words, laced with chilling foreboding, brought me little comfort: “We must all return home some day, son. Go in peace. If it is His will…” Then he put his hand on my head, uttered some incantations, and planted an imaginary sign on my forehead, the way he likes to do in order to fortify you. Then he took out his looking glass to read my fortune. But I wouldn’t let him. Instead I asked him if he might give me one of his lucky charms that he hangs around his neck. Then I left, not wanting to linger longer or know more about what my fate held in store for me. His utterances, full of other-worldly allusions, had the effect of dampening rather than uplifting my spirits. Praying Mantis has that effect on you sometimes, especially once he lets on about the next world which everyone knows he‘s never once visited. But in all other respects, Praying Mantis is a seer, a great comforter, and a minkitarian.

I woke up the next morning feeling depressed and oppressed by the knowledge that the only certainty in my life, which I couldn’t shake off however hard I tried (in fact, shaking my head made it ache worse), was that in a few hours we would be heading for this place called Aryania that no one could point out on a map – not even my girlfriend, Minki, who teaches geography. But we were told the place was somewhere in the ancient land of Punt, somewhere in the Punt Desert, somewhere behind God’s back. We were going in search of some lost tribe of hunters that until then had fallen off the radar screen of most journalists – this is a sub-species of hunters that feed on pictures.

The world’s media descended on us. They were milling around everywhere you turned, in hot pursuit. They wanted to witness – as one of them with whom I liked to make whoopee, whenever Minki was not around, confided in me rather indelicately – “the spectacle of the final demise of Silver Fur and his equally stupid court”.

“As part of this entourage, what does that make you?” I asked her.

Until then it had been a barren season in Gondwana for journalists, she said. They’d been promised a bumper harvest – pictures of the juicy mother of all civil wars – by those who looked up to Dr Ventura for inspiration. They’d relocated from the world’s other hot spots, bought all the front row tickets and all available hotel accommodation in Gondwana, and hired office space with three-year advance payment. Instead, they’d witnessed a boring transition, with the only remarkable happening being the manner in which hunters now habitually ate from the hands of minks on whom they were accustomed to feed. There weren’t enough words in any of that to feed multitudes.

She told me there weren’t enough loaves and fishes in any of that – no juicy flesh either that only comes from violence, beheadings, rape, kidnaps and other war crimes. She told me that their viewers at home were switching off their television sets and their readers were not buying newspapers anymore. The famine was putting the jobs of most journalists on the line. She also told me that some networks were thinking of cancelling their advanced bookings, counting their losses, and pulling out. I was worried that she might be among those targeted to leave thus putting an unceremonious end to our romantic escapades – until, that is, Silver Fur gave them a reason to stay on. In a widely publicised press statement I‘d drafted and leaked to her in advance, he announced his decision to visit Mrs Elsie Jagter. And then, in his usual unscripted display of mystery that he seems to relish more and more as he gets older, he whetted the appetite of every journalist further, by refusing to take questions, reducing everything to a single utterance: “You are all invited, you can come.”

“Do you imagine I’d risk my neck on such a minkicide mission without pressure from my employers?” she said, shouting above the roar of the helicopters. “If I stay behind my job will be on the line. But my employers have insured me heavily against any collateral damage, however, and I‘ve taken out additional insurance of my own.”

“That makes the two of us,” I said, as we walked towards the waiting helicopters, thinking what small comfort all this insurance talk was which neither of us would be around to claim anyhow.

Our helicopters landed in Aryania, a little green patch surrounded by some desert bowl stretching as far as the eye could see.

The sight that met us on arrival was the unmistakable figure of Dr CB Ventura, running around to make sure that nothing went wrong. He was the man die jagters[7] at the Dorsbult Bar, the famed local drinking hole, who were going to kill the mink president on sight, looked up to. And despite the near-stampede as the helicopters landed, the tanties,[8] resplendent in their flowing ankle length huntress costumes, looked like they had been told how close they might come to Silver Fur while maintaining a dignified indifference to his visit. Their little zonkitots looked as if they had been washed even behind their ears. They looked as charming as Cherubs and as red as fresh tomatoes.

Clearly, there had been a special effort to prepare the volk for the visit. Everybody was well rehearsed; Dr CB Ventura was simply making assurance double sure. The volk were too civilised to rise to the goading of the most provocative minkchief since the Zoola Ming Dingaan, whom they had taught a lesson his Zoola mink clan would never forget and that had put the Zoola minks in their place for the greater part of 160 years. But you could never be too sure with women and zonkitots!

I was not the only one in that crowd dripping with sweat. Despite the winter chill, Dr Ventura was sweating from running up and down, without pausing to ponder that at that very moment he had entered into the service of Silver Fur. At that very point, even if my trepidation lingered longer, my temperature started to drop.

Dominee Frensch Jagter II, spotting an Old Testament prophet’s beard, offered a short prayer, to which nobody listened. The zonkitots didn’t even pretend to shut their eyes.

The procession slowly wound its way towards Mrs Elsie Jagter’s house, the holy of holies and the house on the hill that is anticipated in EM Forster’s novel, A Passage to India, about hunter conduct in distant lands not theirs.

At the appropriate moment, meticulously on cue, out came Mrs Elsie Jagter –- a symbol of hunter sanctity, of hunter purity, of hunter womanhood –- most ancient, very venerable, and supported on either side by her aides.

I was close enough to look into her glazed eyes. They were not connecting at all, spaced out. She was clearly out of this world, not realising where she was or what was happening. Nor was anyone sure what was happening because only one soul held the sole copy of the master narrative!

She saw a tall, slender and silver furred mink in front of her and obviously did not have the vaguest clue whether this was their former gardener come to see them, the milk mink or the newspaper minkitot.

Silver Fur, grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat (there are some who claim he has Cheshire blood on his mother’s side), moved towards her.

Transfixed for a moment I thought: “We should take cover now.”

Taking her hand in his –- the mink and the huntress hands together –- he turned her round to face the crowd. With her frail hand still in his, he helped lift her arm to the sky to salute the throngs.

The television crews made a right royal time of it.

And then, taking over from her aides who had supported her on either side, he turned her round once more and walked her back to her house, courteously opening the door to let her in.

Together they had tea.

Before we flew back, there was a scramble among the journalists to find out from Silver Fur what else happened when he was alone with Mrs Elsie Jagter in the privacy of her house.

“In my culture, we do not discuss such intimate matters with mere tots like you!”

This is a sequel to Minks and Men. It was delivered at the South Project gathering in Johannesburg 2007.


[1] Danger (Afrikaans)

[2] Court (Afrikaans)

[3] Traitors to the nation (Afrikaans)

[4] Murderers of the nation (Afrikaans)

[5] Diviner (Nguni languages)

[6] Here comes the mink man Jagter / Here comes the mink man Jagter / Beware of the mink man Jagter/Beware of the mink man Jagter.

[7] Hunters

[8] Aunties

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