We have a big pile of bricks. We had torn down a partly built house in the bushes, on the far side of our plot. Criminals had been using it as a place to overnight while looking for opportunities to raid the properties of other plot dwellers. The incomplete house was in a good position from which to spy on quite a large stretch of plot lands. It was so well positioned that if those spending a night in it were cold, they could build a fire without it being seen. Our neighbours congratulated us on tearing it down.

We had a use for the bricks. We aimed to build a few more pillars and a low wall as part of extending our front stoep, but we had more bricks than we needed. A neighbour suggested we sell the excess. “No, let’s not do that,” Miriam said. She explained that Kosie, a good friend, was a brick supplier. “And his business is struggling. I’d hate us to be competing against him. This is the way he and Myrtle make a living. It’s just a side issue for us.” So the bricks have stayed for possible future use.

Our intentions, regarding our future building project, were good, but actually getting the work done was another matter. It would take someone with the requisite skills and some determination to get the job done. I was not that person.

“You built a wall once before,” Miriam remined me.

“It leant like the tower of Pisa,” I said. “It’s a miracle it didn’t fall over.”

We chose not to sell the bricks. “I’m glad we didn’t,” Miriam said. “Kosie’s business is not going well.”

That was sad to hear, but I wondered how bad it could be. They had five houses on their property, some cattle, an excellent fruit orchard and a lush tropical garden. The houses were occupied by two sets of aged parents and two adult children with their families. In his business, he had a fleet of nine big trucks that delivered building materials throughout the northern part of the country, and an admin and stores staff to support them. From outside everything looked fine.

The problem with Kosie’s business was the entire industry in which he was operating. Some major construction companies – and many smaller ones – that used his materials had closed. So had a considerable list of his suppliers. The economic downturn and unbelievably high levels of criminality had reduced the industry to a shell.

But no part of what we had heard, prepared me for the day when I went to pick up Miriam at Kosie’s office where she was buying a few personal items from Myrtle.

The office was at Kosie’s building yard. Whenever I had been there in the past, trucks had been coming and going, either being loaded or returning without their loads. This time, nothing moved. His fleet had been reduced to just two trucks and they stood silent in a shed.

The office was a greater shock. I came in the front door and was aware that only three people were occupying the main office. Two women were at desks and a man was coming towards me. As is my way, I did not immediately look directly at any of them. The man was at arm’s length before I realised that this was Kosie himself. I looked at the two women. One of them was Miriam and the other Myrtle. Of a staff of twenty or thereabouts, not a single employee remained. “It’s closing day,” Kosie explained. “We’re bankrupt.”

We feel keenly what has happened to Kosie and Myrtle because we know them well and we know what fine people they are. We do not know all the others in similar situations in every industry throughout the country. Most are also fine people and are having to close the doors of their enterprises or are being sent home by their employers. Do not think of them as digits in a statistical analysis. They are good people, facing a very difficult future.

A Shocking Moment