My father was an unpleasant man. His entire outlook on life, apart from the drudgery of 50 years on a construction site to feed seven hungry children, was shaped by a profoundly austere religiosity. I remember clearly his remark the day we heard over the wireless that Neil Armstrong had stepped on the moon. “God gave us the earth. I don’t know why they’re messing around in the universe,” he said in kitchen-Afrikaans, interspersed with his de rigueur bits of cussing and colour. I remembered my father last week when I walked (if I am allowed some literary freedom) past Voltaire’s butchered wives still clutching their infants to their bleeding breasts, the scattered brains and severed limbs in the wake of public protest, viral videos of hijackings and cash-in-transit banditry, images of spasmodic violence against foreigners (“Nigerian drug dealers”), the revelations of the Zondo commission, the rape of a child, and the end-of-empire-type excesses of SA society. It is really difficult t...

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