Magazine article The Spectator

Political Parrot

Magazine article The Spectator

Political Parrot

Article excerpt

While staying recently on a lonely farm in the Highveld east of Johannesburg, I met a grey parrot that could sing 'Die Stem', South Africa's apartheid-era national anthem. That bird was certainly out of step with the times.

We all know that after Mandela's 1994 election the rainbow nation switched to 'Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika'. I was on the farm researching a story on the grisly culture of crime in a country about to host the World Cup. Incredibly, 18,000 murders are committed every year in South Africa.

Before bedtime, my hosts put the huge dogs out and locked up the house against gang attacks. Sometimes the 'hit squads', as the farmers call them, fire through the house windows so even locked doors provide little comfort. 'Vaderland!' crooned the parrot.

'Waar en trou as Afrikaners!'

It reminded me that my long-deceased great-aunt Marguerite once had a grey parrot. She lived with Uncle Jim in a nice house with a large garden in Cooden Beach. They had no children and did not keep dogs, but they had a parrot. He lived in a cage next to the telephone in the hallway, where he whistled and talked a lot. When anybody knocked at the front door, he would say in Aunt Marguerite's exact voice, 'Oh, do come in. It's so good to see you.' When guests left he cried, 'Goodbye now, do come again!'

My aunt and uncle were keen on tennis.

Often they put on whites and played mixed doubles. One hot summer's day they drove off in their car piled with racquets and left the bedroom window open upstairs. As soon as they were out, a thief, who had been casing the joint, crept through the back garden and climbed up a ladder and into the bedroom. Inside he went to the dressingtable drawers and found Aunt Marguerite's jewellery, which he began laying out ready to steal.

At that moment the telephone rang in the hall downstairs. …

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