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05 Jan 2001 00:00
‘Crime doesn’t pay.’ ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’ ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’
The easy-going homilies that spring uninvited out of the average Christmas cracker have come and gone, leaving behind a hollow feeling of unrequited hunger—rather like that burst of over-inflated, cardboard-textured turkey that we forced down our throats to celebrate the passing of yet another year, slapping each others’ backs to insincere cries of ‘Goodwill to
Who says crime doesn’t pay, anyway? And how low do the meek have to stoop before they even get a toehold on this fragile piece of earth that they are destined to inherit? The meek, it seems to me, have to get a little tough if they are going to get their hands on anything at all. That, at least, is the message that came ringing out loud and clear at a bizarre thanksgiving ceremony that took place in a wealthy, new suburb of a city perched on the shores of one of Africa’s Great Lakes, sometime in the last few days of the year 2000.
Mr Abednego M had invited about 200 close friends and business associates to join himself and his family in giving thanks to the Almighty for sparing their lives in the course of an armed hijacking a few weeks before.
Mr M and his wife had been returning from a social function late one night when a group of men overtook them and forced their brand new, luxury S-class Mercedes Benz to a halt at the side of the road, and proceeded to surround the vehicle, waving an assortment of firearms in their direction as they demanded money, valuables and the keys to the car.
Mr and Mrs M refused to comply and stayed put inside their vehicle, keeping the doors locked.
Mr M, you see, had long ago taken the precaution of having all his luxury vehicles fitted with bulletproof glass and armour plating. The hijackers had no option but to run back to their own vehicle and beat a hasty retreat, before the sound of gunfire attracted the unwelcome attentions of a passing police patrol.
Mr M is a God-fearing man. You could tell this by the fact that the thanksgiving service taking place in one of several tastelessly opulent salons in Mr M’s overbearingly expensive lakeside mansion was being presided over by none other than the city’s Anglican archbishop.
Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, the archbishop urged the congregation to ‘be careful that you do not forget the Lord, your God ... otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’
The congregation of the great, the good and the wealthy, led by a thankful Mr and Mrs M, nodded their heads in humble agreement as the archbishop continued: ‘You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength on my hands have produced this wealth for me’. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.’
You could feel the unspoken thoughts bouncing round the room. Mr M had certainly struggled up from meek beginlnings, having started out eking a meagre living from the strength of his labourer’s hands. But the breakthrough that enabled him to steadily build the fortune that was now displayed before us - the fine houses, the flocks of limousines in the garage, the quantities of silver and gold - seemed to have less to do with a covenant with God than with a covenant between men with a shared and nefarious purpose.
As the archbishop regaled the congregation with the worthiness of Mr M, whose life God had spared at the hands of ‘men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day’, everyone-s mind was turning on the biggest open secret in the country: Mr M, the hijacking survivor, had actually got his leg-up in life by being part of a gang that pulled off a successful heist on an armoured cash-in-transit van belonging to a major bank.
Now this, of course, was way back in the 1960s, when everyone was young and sometimes did things that were a little foolish. Besides, Mr M and his pals had got caught, and had served time in jail to pay for their dastardly deed.
And besides, the country had witnessed a military coup, an armed uprising, several short-lived experiments in democracy and a successful revolution since then. Deeds committed in a long-forgotten era deserved to be forgotten themselves.
So Mr M had come out of jail, retrieved his share of the stash where he had carefully hidden it during those wasted years, and proceeded to build himself an empire that was now an example of the robust progress of the country. Who wouldn’t give thanks to God for a fairy-tale ending like that?
There remained the small detail, now that he had forgiven himself for being possessed of so much wealth, of the camel, the needle, the rich man and the kingdom of heaven. But then the archbishop himself was around to personally take care of that.
Archive: Previous columns by John Matshikiza
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