Some years ago, I began to notice the reticence of really smart people to answer what would appear to me to be even the most simple questions. I should have thought harder, at the time, about why that was. But, y’know, I didn’t.
“It is true that we don’t know that men are equal. We are saying that they might be. This is our opinion, and we are trying, along with those who think as we do, to verify it. But we know that this might is the very thing that makes a society of humans possible.” -Jacques Rancière
When the xenophobic riots of May 2008 rocked South Africa, Thabo Mbeki was roundly criticised for dragging his feet on deploying the army into the townships to resolve widespread violence that the police seemed unable to contain. Not because the army would have been ineffective in quashing the violence, but because he was unwilling to publicly recreate the apartheid-era symbol of soldiers in the townships, recognising the power that the juxtaposition of soldiers and shacks would have in the public imagination.
I’ve spent the twenty-four hours following the release of the Marikana Report sitting and reading it, making reader’s notes as I go, as a service to those who won’t have the time to spend going through the 600-page document. So having taken a massive nap since, I want to just share a couple of thoughts on it
Up at 09h00 and off. I have my letter, hat, sunscreen, and the weather’s looking beautiful.
When you travel long enough, and you meet enough people, you’ll eventually come across a properly unrecorded myth. A story that people in an area know and which might have existed for a time in the national historical memory, but has nevertheless since retreated into obscurity. There’s a story about the concrete thrones of Idi Amin that structured the antics below. And it’s a myth of that sort.
Monuments exist, perhaps, to enable modern day pilgrims. Their attempts to live – to make real – the dreams of books and films and images. There’s a power to that. To the smiles and emotional work of a thousand people beneath a giant iron colossus made real. Arrived, in a sense, at the end of journeys planned, saved for, and with varying difficulty realised.
From what remained of the dream in the morning, I can recall only that it was a beetle of some kind. Painlessly living in my finger somewhere, and vibrating a lot. Or shuffling unsettlingly and drawing attention away from more important things, like rest, and calm, and life. Opinion, unsurprisingly, differs on what an insect in a dream means.
These too, are words I wrote before. But I can sadly write no better, and am so very far away. So as a promise to the day I can leave a copy with my own hands, here they stand.
But before we worded them, we had ideas. Before the scripture of ancient men or the academia of modern ones grew an elegant forest, there was a feeling. A ghost of the thing that animates the human machine, and stalks between the trees in the deep places. The dark-made-fluid places.
“So that the generation to come might know, the children, yet to be born, that they too may rise and declare to their children.”
– Psalm 78:6