Joe Kitchen | The soundtrack of a failed revolution

Joe Kitchen reflects on the creak of trolley wheels on the tarmac streets, which he writes has become the symbolic soundtrack to all that has gone wrong with South Africa.


They are getting closer. I can hear them in my dreams at night.

It’s the first thing I hear every morning when I open my eyes.

That horrible rattling noise. The all-too-familiar soundtrack that symbolizes all that has gone wrong in South Africa in recent years.

The screeching of shopping cart wheels on the paved streets.

I listen to them travel from one dumpster to another, from heap of garbage to heap of garbage.

Homeless rush hour.

We are surrounded by the tools, the means of transport designed by capitalism. But these are no longer the tools used to shop for groceries in a supermarket. Who’s got money for that, anyway? Shopping carts – and sometimes airport trolleys – have taken on a new function in this country.

Illustration by Koos Kombuis.

On the verge of destruction

This country, which has been pushed to the brink of destruction because of the policies of the ANC (if they can be called ‘policies’).

Isn’t that the biggest irony? Capitalism is destroyed, but not because the government has managed to implement socialist ideals. Capitalism is simply eroded by incompetence.

The ANC doesn’t even need to make new laws to prevent free trade. The ruling party hampers free trade by its sheer presence and sheer clumsiness.

The stores empty, while the carts remain.

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Mornings and evenings, the incessant sound of those rolling wheels as they’re pushed through dark streets where the lights don’t work, carrying their meager possessions and boxes and leftovers from other people’s meals, navigating their lonely way past locked anti-burglary houses and fences. This is where their dreams of freedom came to die.

And that’s probably why the ANC sends its last pennies to Cuba; he doesn’t have the know-how to spend it on local improvements.

This is shortly after sunset in the middle of a week. It’s winter. It’s prime time to watch TV. During that hour, our favorite gaming shows are usually on channel 120. Unless, of course, the TV chatter is silenced by load shedding, as is often the case.

Ag, we’re probably not missing that much, are we?

It’s just us, and our candles, locked and barricaded in our dark two-story house, imprisoned by Eskom.

I wonder: is this how people felt in the 19th century, before electricity, when they only had the moon and stars to look at after dark?

pass the time in the dark

How did they pass the time? I wonder.

They were probably telling each other ghost stories. Maybe they sang folk songs. Bible study comes to mind. I am not sure.

It all seems so long ago, another era.

Today we are ignorant. We don’t know how to deal with darkness.

We watch turned-off TV screens and listen to shopping carts passing by.

Am I imagining it, or does it sound like they’re all running downhill?

Spiraling down, slowly but surely, towards their loss, towards a failing state?

It’s like listening to the ominous first bar of Beethoven’s Fifth, the descending notes, the crescendo of revenge, the resounding and menacing chaos of a symphony describing a country falling into inevitable disrepair.

And, in the distance: police sirens. Somewhere, a generator that engages. The ringing at our door at least twenty times a day, and when we open the front door through a tiny crack, it’s to face another pair of pleading hands, and hear yet another sad story of life, horrible stories of disappointment and sadness, one after another, all the same.

The black dog of depression

And, let’s face it, we’re scared.

We are no longer afraid of tokkelossia. We are afraid of the black dog of depression. We are afraid of the wandering wolves of poverty. We are afraid of threats sent by e-mail from the tax collector. We are afraid when we hear children crying next door, where the husband has just been fired.

Sometimes we feel better for a while, though.

There is always hope.

Load shedding does not happen all the time.

But we know he will return.

The television may be screaming nonsense right now, but very soon it will fall back into silence again.

And, even at those hours when the lights are on, we are surrounded by abnormal noises. The oven makes little noises, the washing machine and the alarm system too. Everything is out of sync. The pool pump doesn’t know what time it is, and the spooky crawl always gets stuck in the same corner of the pool. We watch the news at night, only to see the rand lose value, commodity prices go haywire, all the arrows are pointing down.

Because that’s where we’re going. This is where it all goes. Down.

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You try to encourage yourself. You have read a good book. You are watching a lekker movie on Netflix. You save money by lighting the fire with paraffin-soaked dried tea bags instead of Blitz. You cancel your gym membership and buy a cheap pair of tekkis because you’ve decided to start jogging. When you’re in a good mood, you hand bread to beggars at traffic lights.

But they always come back to haunt you. These sounds.

Late at night, head on the pillow, we still hear them.

The creak of metal wheels on the tarmac.

And you realize: sooner or later, the carts will come looking for you.

– Joe Kitchen is a South African musician, singer, songwriter and writer who sometimes calls himself Koos Kombuis, André Letoit and/or André le Roux du Toit.


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