The Moment Before the Gun Went Off

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Marais Van der Vyver shot one of his farm labourers, dead.An accident. There are accidents with guns every day of the week: children playing a fatal game with a father's revolver in the cities where guns are domestic objects, and hunting mishaps like this one, in the country. But these won't be reported all over the world. Van der Vyver knows his will be. He knows that the story of the Afrikaner farmer - a regional Party leader and Commandant of the local security commando - he, shooting a black man who worked for him will fit exactly their version of South Africa. It's made for them. They'll be able to use it in their boycott and divestment campaigns. It'll be another piece of evidence in their truth about the country. The papers at home will quote the story as it has appeared in the overseas press, and in the back-and-forth he and the black man will become those crudely-drawn figures on anti-apartheid banners, units in statistics of white brutality against the blacks quoted at United Nations - he, whom they will gleefully call 'a leading member' of the ruling Party.People in the farming community understand how he must feel. Bad enough to have killed a man, without helping the Party's, the government's, the country's enemies, as well.They see the truth of that. They know, reading the Sunday papers, that when Van der Vyver is quoted saying he is 'terribly shocked', he will 'look after the wife and children', none of those Americans and English, and none of those people at home who want to destroy the white man's power will believe him. And how they will sneer when he even says of the farm boy (according to one paper, if you can trust any of those reporters), 'He was my friend. I always took him hunting with me: Those city and overseas people don't know it's true: farmers usually have one particular black boy they like to take along with them in the lands: you could call it a kind of friend, yes, friends are not only your own white people, like yourself, you take into your house, pray with in church and work with on the Party committee. But how can those others know that? They don't want to know it. They think all blacks are like the big-mouth agitators in town. And Van der Vyver's face, in the photographs, strangely opened by distress - everyone in the district remembers Marais Van der Vyver as a little boy who would go away and hide himself if he caught you smiling at him. And everyone knows him now as a man who hides any change of expression round his mouth behind a thick, soft moustache, and in his eyes, by always looking at some object in hand, while concentrating on what he is saying, or while listening to you. It just goes to show what shock can do. When you look at the newspaper photographs you feel like apologising; as if you had started in on some room where you should not be.There will be an inquiry. There had better be - to stop the assumption of yet another case of brutality against farm workers, although there's nothing in doubt - an accident, and all the facts fully admitted by Van der Vyver. He made a statement when he arrived at the police station with the dead man in his bakkie.Captain Beetge knows him well, of course; he gave him brandy. He was shaking, this big, calm, clever son of Willem Van der Vyver, who inherited the old man's best farm. The black was stone dead. Nothing to be done for him. Beetge will not tell anyone that after the brandy, Van der Vyver wept. He sobbed, snot running onto his hands, like a dirty kid. The Captain was ashamed for him, and walked out to give him a chance to recover himself.Marais Van der Vyver had left his house at three in the afternoon to cull a buck from the family of Kudu he protects in the bush areas of his farm. He is interested in wild life and sees it as the fanner's sacred duty to raise game as well as cattle. As usual, he called at his shed workshop to pick up Lucas, a wenty-year-old farmhand who had shown mechanical aptitude and whom Van der Vyver himself...
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