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From the book: Blood Mines by Lynelle Clark... Excerpt 4

Wiping the sweat away from her brow, Tanya peered straight into the scorching heat. Her face was covered by the wide-brimmed hat, her eyes protected by dark sunglasses ─ the heavy duty kind that hardly allows any light to pass through.

It was early November with no sign of rain in the sky. The previous day they had a few drops which splattered onto the dust-covered earth, but it had made no significant difference to the parched earth. They needed a downpour soaking the earth, and soon.

Death was around her in various forms, and it didn’t discriminate between the strong and the weak. It was as if the Grim Reaper had a license to kill and touched everything with robustness. Fires were a constant enemy due to the scorching heat, and with the dry winds, it ran rampant over the veld[1] destroying all in its path. At times she could swear she heard death laughing at their expense ─ he was a living being who had carte blanche on everything that had breath and he revelled in every minute of their anguish.

With a last glance over the dry veld, she turned her back on the vegetable garden and made for indoor cover. She tried to maintain the feeble veggies, but between the sun and the lack of water, it was impossible. Every drop of water that she could save was put in the ground, nursing the seedlings to yield a harvest: even if it was just enough for her and her son. She didn’t ask for much, but now and then help would be appreciated, she thought with some aggression.

Ma[2], what will we eat tonight?” Steve asked and drew her back from her morbid thoughts. Her boy has grown the last year. Again, she looked at him, fascinated, at her kid’s lanky body. Soon he would tower over her, she thought with a sad smile. Crouched in front of the fridge, he scanned the meagre contents of the icebox. She knew there was not much to look at.  Their options became slimmer by the day and it pained her. She had no idea what would they do once it was done.

In town the people were already fighting about the scarce food supply and she would rather stay far away from that commotion as possible. Violence was at the order of the day and no one was safe. Law enforcement was useless and would rather take part in the looting than protect the innocent. She tried to visit the town a week ago, but only got so far as the outskirts when gunshots were fired and a bullet slammed into her car. The bullet’s trajectory ended up close to Steve’s head, leaving a burnt hole in the headrest of his seat. She knew she would not make that mistake again.

She brushed away the wisps of hair from her wet forehead, “I will have to open a few cans. Get some in the cellar.” she requested with a tired sigh.

She hung her hat on the doorknob, placing her spectacles on the shelf next to the now-empty spaghetti bottle. She could still remember a time when all the canisters on the shelves were filled with a variety of noodles, pasta and rice. It was her pride and joy, decorating the cheerful kitchen with all kinds of bric-a-brac. Now they were empty reminders of a past she could only vaguely recall.

 “Okay, Ma.” He ran outside, his thick blond hair rustling as he moved. He jumped over Brutus, who lay lazing in the scant shade.

The once-beautiful oak tree gave plenty of shade when it was younger. She could remember the countless times she played under it: Her, Etienne and Susan. Now there was barely enough shade left to cover the dog’s body. How things have changed over the years!

The once-abundant country had become a shadow of its former self. With each passing year of the last thirty years, things deteriorated. The more people complained, the worse it got, with a government that was only looking out for themselves. The masses that helped to get them there long forgotten. She could remember her father arguing with the Water Board about the poor maintenance and the pollution—it was like talking with ignorant children that had no idea of the importance of the issue. Later on, it became worse when the sewerage systems failed and the river was polluted. Even though they tried to filter the water, E-Coli became a constant threat.

They held meetings with the councillors and ministers even went as far as to rally in front of the Union Buildings - all in an attempt to convince the regime that they had a potential problem on their hands.

Even the threat of enormous lawsuits didn’t scare them into action. They would find loopholes to cover themselves, unwilling to admit that there was a problem at all. Empty promises resulted in more decline until thirty years later the once-blooming province became nothing more than a wasteland. This soon went on to affect the rest of the country, since Gauteng was a major source of supplies to the rest of the country. Horror stories inundated social media networks and it spread like the infection it was.

Once a fertile piece of land that delivered vegetables to a retail group within the city, which in turn supplied the whole of South Africa, they had to scale down until there was only this little piece of land left standing with their house on it.

Her grandfather was murdered during a farm attack the same year she turned twelve. He was brutally massacred. Her father’s blood curling screams still filled her ears at night when he found what was left of his father. His killers were never found. The house was burnt down, losing everything of value they had within that fire.

Her father had to try and rebuild with money he didn’t have. Then she saw the changes in him: The bursts of anger followed by long silences as depression overwhelmed him. Then the alcohol started. It was a slow process where he just didn’t give a damn about anything or anyone. He refused to take care of the simplest things on the farm and neglect was evident everywhere, even in himself.

Her mother left them when she was sixteen. She refused to take care of him any longer. She had met a black man, a wealthy businessman from the city and ran off with him the moment they had sensed a spark.

The last time she saw her, she was living in a shack near Nelspruit, alone and hopeless. Tanya had heard they had a child together. The man left her with nothing to support herself or the child. Her once-vibrant and pretty mother had become a completely different person. Lack, neglect and poverty had taken its toll over her. The bastard child, her half-brother, was playing with the kids in the filth and dirt as if it was the most natural thing to do. All the wealth the man had promised her was a scam and he had left her mom broken. She had tried to help, but after a while, she couldn’t do it any longer. She barely had enough for them as it were.

She offered them a place to stay on the farm, but pride or foolishness – Tanya wasn’t sure which – caused her mother to turn a deaf ear to her assistance and she declined her offer.

Tanya tried to reason with her, gave her the full picture of her situation and that of the decaying country. Told her why they should come and stay with them, but her mother was adamant that she would make it on her own.

Tanya knew that in her mom’s mind she still hoped that the man would come back, even after all those years. Looking at her half-brother she could recognize the fear of want in him – maybe he had been the reason she took the time to talk some sense into her mother. He seemed like a bright youngster but schooling wasn’t in his future now and she doubted it ever would be if things continued the way they were going. When she rode away from the informal settlement that day she knew she would never see her mother again. That was four years ago.

At the age of sixteen, Tanya took over the position of mother to the youngest children and had taken the responsibility of running the farm. Her father would disappear for days, just to be found somewhere he had fallen asleep again after another drunken binge. Sometime later, he too left the farm and became a bum. Her father died a broken man who couldn’t accept the changes or face the neglect. The sheer powerlessness of the problems that he had to face continued to mount and it eventually drained his will to fight.

Now, on days like this, she could understand his despair that she felt most days. Powerless.

Unlike her father, she had the will to confront things, but nowadays even her will was starting to slip. She knew it. She didn’t see what he had seen in his time, so she was in no position to judge him.

The death of his own father broke him. The death of his land and dwindling account left him bankrupt in both body and soul. She could only tap into the strength of the love for her son and the country she still had after all this time. She owed it to her son to give him something better.

What? She had no idea.

How? She had no plan.

However, the fact remained that she had to keep going, even if it took all her willpower to get ahead.

The acid water seeping through the pores of the earth poisoned everything it touched. Because they had nowhere to go, they stayed.

They referred to it as ‘blood water’ due to its coppery colour. The water had already reached the western borders of the property. The neighbours on that side of the fence had abandoned ship ages ago, leaving the once blooming farm to become another wasteland. The stench would reach them on days that the wind was blowing from that direction, reminding them of what their future held.  At times it would be so bad they were forced to wear medical masks. At times fresh air was a luxury that many could not afford and people would simply collapse due to the lack of it.

Where could you go in any case if the rest of the territory looked like this?

Out of pure frustration and in the hopes that things would turn for the better, she married Derek, another farmer when she was only nineteen years old. Her son was the only good that had come from it.

Now, it was only the two of them left and she had no idea how to move forward. The work that she did in town didn’t bring in enough for them to survive. After their ordeal a week ago she abruptly called her former boss and told him that she quit with immediate effect.

He tried to convince her but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Far and wide it was the same struggle, the same desperation, with people losing the battle day after day. Still, the government told the rest of the world that we were a thriving country that had no problems.

While they sipped their expensive whiskey out of crystal, they continued to steal from the land; emptying the state coffers with a greedy speed. Nothing was safe in their hands – government pensions like Parastatal Organizations disappeared overnight leaving thousands of pensioners stranded, forever dependable on other people to survive. The government of the day had no problem taking what didn’t belong to them while living lavishly in their mansions.

Misappropriations of government resources were never resolved, even after long court battles. Fingers pointed to the former president but he had rejected the allegations brought against him. He was assassinated two days before the next election in 2019. He thought he would have another term, but an unknown shooter cut his dreams of a further term as president short. He was gunned down in broad daylight at the very place that he had built with corrupted funds, no tears were shed and the sniper was never apprehended. Oh, there were many speculations, of course, but nothing was ever confirmed. It was just another unresolved murder that was swept under the carpet.

She heard that the stronghold was kaput[3]. Nothing was left of the once-pristine place. The previously immaculate pool that made headlines was now a rubbish heap. The squatters simply had taken over and the still-remaining presidential family lives in fear for their lives.

They say Karma is a bitch as no one seemed to care enough to help them. They had worn out every favour, depleted their bank accounts and lived like beggars. Immediately after the election in 2019 the military was declared bankrupt and was swiftly removed from the stately family house.

The police would only protect them for money, but they had nothing to pay them with. Tanya had heard that some of the women were used by the men for services rendered to them. Allegations of abuse and rape were filtering through but no one cared enough to help. They were all alone in a sea of squatters that controlled that area now.

They thought that things would change with the newly elected president, but he soon showed that he was another greedy vulture out only for himself and six months later he was overpowered and killed in his house. Still a mystery today, his death remained unexplained and people refused to talk. His arrogance cost him his life and the masses refused to accept him. But by then the damage was already done. From there everything went downhill fast.

Investors left the region, businesses shut down, towns disappeared and the already neglected services declined further and became non-existent in the end. The Electricity Utility Supplier was shut down and could not operate any longer. Constant power cuts and maintenance problems overwhelmed them; they basically couldn’t deliver any service to the public.

Corruption multiplied and its effects could be seen everywhere. The money disappeared without a trace and swept under the carpet with an elusive answer to quiet the masses. However, everyone knew.

There was no money to rectify the previous government’s mistakes. All the resources were stolen and moved out of the country. Many of the former leaders lived exotic somewhere else in the world with money that was never theirs in the first place. The last Tanya had heard was that two prominent groups worked together sending a petition to the International Criminal Tribunal: They felt that these former leaders should be prosecuted for their crimes against the citizens of South Africa. If they would stand trial or not was still a hotly-discussed subject debated around many kitchen tables. That would not help the country or its people. The damage was worse than anybody could imagine.

Nevertheless, anarchy ruled in the country that had once been peaceful and undisturbed by human intervention. Now it wasn’t strange to see young children walking around with AK47’s, handguns or machetes in their hands which they hardly knew how to use.

Arrogant, cocky and self-assured these small bandits roamed the country, intimidating the people and small towns as far as they went. Nobody was safe where they walked. On ground level skin colour wasn’t a problem, people simply worked together to survive. In the previous regime Black Economic Empowerment or BEE ─ the abbreviation more commonly used, broke the people’s spirit and was diligently enforced so that they had no income.

Due to that, a once proud nation was now starving and lived in informal settlements – some even worse than the commonly-known ones. Even now, thirty years after all the damage they were still being targeted by the country’s wealthy and work was extremely erratic where it existed at all.

Cholera had spread amongst the people like wildfire due to filthy water and unhealthy living habits. The government refused to help or even acknowledge that they exist. They turned a blind eye to the white race, in particular.

It didn’t take long before new drugs flowed in their veins and prostitution became a viable profession. Many of the young people already had AIDS or syphilis with no treatment available.

The children born from these acts died within three months after birth. There were no small children to be seen around. The laughing of children was a far-off memory. They died systematically, making the gap between the ages bigger. You would only see children from the age of nine and up – if you were lucky.

Then there were the games. Games where people were hunted like animals for money with the hopes of a new life—played with vigour by the rich and power-lusting people.

She had heard of this sport before from other countries and was horrified, now it had spilt over. It was a new sport among the bored black rich and younger elite. These young white men and women offered themselves in the hopes that it would be better for their families.

They would never return to witness the result. Of course, the families weren’t better off. In fact, they were worse, but parents still offered their children up one by one, clinging to the hope.

The games were simple: Caged like animals, these children would be left for days without food, and then released under the guise of hunting for their own food.

Once outside, they would grasp the true horror of their demise: There was nothing to hunt and the scorching sun, lack of oxygen and hunger drove them deeper into the swamp. Between the scorching sun and the contaminated water, the veld was desolate. All that was left was barren swamps with no life in it.

Stories of monsters now roaming these swamps were told to keep people from prying, and if the children were not caught by the groupies these grotesque, mythical monsters would catch them.

Tanya heard that they would be released in these areas and like a pack of wild dog, these “hunters” chased them until there was nothing left of their bodies. These children had no chance of survival from the first second, and once a body was found bonfires would light the sky. Parties were held in their “honour”. The destruction of basic human rights was evident in the grandeur of these gatherings.

Clean, fresh water had become a commodity, so expensive that only a handful of people could afford it. Reservoirs were protected by militant groups—in many areas they were only myths. If caught trespassing, they would shoot first and ask questions later.

The people had grown listless, but there still existed factions that believed they could fight in the hopes to free the people from this tyranny.

Tanya made sure that Steve knew how to handle a gun from an early age. He became skilled and could hold his own in a fight, she made sure of that. She would do all she could to allow him the freedom of life no matter how desperate it may seem. She wanted him to live.

“Maaa…!” Drawn away from her thoughts she heard his bellowing, a shout that caused the hair at the back of her neck to stand upright. She moved anxiously towards the back door to see why he was shouting at her.

At the door, she swiftly scanned the yard and turned ice-cold. Taking in everything with one glance, she screamed: A bloodcurdling scream that would make the strongest stomach churn. Why? It was the only way to release her immediate anger, frustration and fear.

“God, Almighty! No!”

Tanya raced out the door without thinking and was immediately stopped by a savage knock to the back. Pain shot through her body as she fell into the dust. She heard Steve’s frantic screams but was too paralysed to help. Then everything went black.


Available in paperback and Kindle. 

[1] The veld is a large expanse of grassy or cultivated land

[2] Ma is an Afrikaans word commonly used for mother.

[3] Kaput is a German word meaning “no longer working” it is commonly used in South Africa.

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