[OPINION] The crack in Eskom. How do we get the light back in?
In July 1977, New York residents found themselves on the brink of what I like to call “the end times”. The economy was failing, people were frustrated, subway crime was at an all-time high, and more than that, everyone was walking around in a cloud of crippling anxiety because the Son of Sam, the serial killer responsible for eight shooting attacks, was still at large.
It’s a cookie cutter version of where South Africa finds itself in the summer of 2019. Except instead of a mass shooter on our hands, we’re dealing with a serial criminal of a different order - one whose corruption has pillaged through our economy and resources, leaving us quite literally, in the dark, much like the Big Apple on that famous night.
DJ Grandmaster Caz and his partner Disco Wiz were spinning records in Rucker Park, Harlem. Rucker Park is a two-hoop basketball court in the middle of Harlem, Manhattan, New York. It’s lined by five rows of bleachers and sits across an old polo ground at the base of Coogan’s Cliff. Rucker Park is not that big and it doesn’t look like much at all. In fact, an aerial view of the two basketball courts at the Zoo Lake in Jo’burg inspires more aesthetic brilliance. But on this famous night, Rucker Park lit up with auditory inspiration instead of the visual kind, that is, until it didn’t.
The Bronx natives had their sound systems plugged into a lamppost. They bootlegged electricity and in dark economic times, they let music light the way and all that. Until, the record started slowing down. In an interview with the New York Times, Caz says: “We thought we had drained too much power and we shorted out the electricity. So we’re frantic, we’re looking around, we’re checking buttons, were checking switches, we’re seeing what’s up.” Before they knew it, the park was plunged in darkness, with the rest of the city. And as the record stopped playing, the gates to bodega stores started slamming, and the city was filled with the soundtrack of looting.
Later that evening, Caz was one, amongst many, who found himself between four walls of an electronic store and lifted himself a mixer. But one mixer does not a hip-hop movement make and Caz believes that the famous blackout of 1977 is the catalyst of the crusade in the city.
You see, while Caz helped himself to a mixer, tons of people who couldn’t afford turntables and amps and all sorts of other necessary equipment to become DJs, saw a whole new world of opportunity open up to them. People who sat under the shade of the hip-hop tree could now, because of a blackout, afford to actually put down roots. And over the next few days, New York birthed a new dawn, a new wealth and a thriving new musical currency. And just like that, as legend has it, out of the chaos of darkness a new way forward for an entire talented demographic.
And to add a little extra spice in the chorus, Son of Sam was arrested a month later. He plead guilty to all eight charges. I guess Leornard Cohen was right, the crack of things is indeed how the light gets in.
But as I recall the story of Rucker Park, hip-hop and Caz, I think about our own national blackout. Our own “end times” that stretches far beyond Eskom - like the water warning issued by the City of Cape Town this morning. Or the dead donkey found on the side of the road in Makhanda because of the drought. Or the sheep being dragged across the middle of the street in Braamfontein. Or the fact that Vodacom and MTN shut down every time the electricity goes out because they do not have enough generators to keep the grid going and I start questioning why the cost of data is actually so high.
Or the alarm bells that went of in my mind when the president announced the discovery of gas on our shores at Sona like it was a good thing and all I could think was “My god. I would keep that to myself”. Or the fact that it’s an election year and we’re being asked to Thuma Mina a president who had no idea we hit stage four load shedding yesterday. This is when I start to really doubt we’re in for any sort of second coming here. No hip-hop revolution. No music to light our way. Our leaders have even out looted our looters and so now there is no new wealth to be found.
We have a lot of cracks. And not a lot of light. I am coming up short. I have never not wanted to live in this country. I have never been confused about where to cast my vote. I have never not had answers about what X is and which spot it should mark. But here we are.
So I went and visited Cohen’s lyrics again, and I stopped focusing on the cracks and found this truth instead:
“We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see
I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
And they're going to hear from me”
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.