Years ago I discussed a desire with friends to graffiti-bomb all the walls in Johannesburg with these words “we need to talk”. I imagined the words printed in large bold fonts everywhere on bumper stickers on cars, on posters held by the homeless, jobless, hopeless, entrepreneurs standing on street corners and traffic light intersections. Under bridges, and in huge neon signs in Hillbrow. I saw the words all over on billboards in Sandton, on the M2 Highway and all the way to OR international airport. On shop windows and kitchen doors. I wanted the message to be as loud and clear as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s World peace campaign of 1969 – in which they printed huge posters and billboards saying the “war is over – if you want it”.
I expressed this desire because I was a little frustrated with the huge elephant in the room that I kept bumping into which no one seemed to want to talk about or even name. I was restless perhaps a little frustrated. I didn’t want a confrontation, just a simple conversation, even though the words “we need to talk” have an ominous ring to them and are bound to send one into a fit of panic and anxiety. How else should one say we need to talk?
When I was sharing this desire with friends I imagined “we need to talk” as a three month long advertising campaign for my upcoming radio show in which I, as the host will talk to anyone and everyone who needs to talk about something important to them. A show similar to an appointment with a therapist, a psychologist or seeing a councillor. The guest would choose the subject to be discussed, the role of the host would be to guide the interview and give it some kind of structure from which to navigate.
A conversation with no preconceived ideas, or prejudgements. The topic under discussion will of course be of relevance to the public or be of public interest. There will be no open lines. No comments read on Twitter threads or Facebook timelines. Just one guest and their story. A radio conversation with a mystery guest and a known host. Jedi Ramalapa.
We do talk a lot as a nation, turn on any radio station or television set and you’ll hear lots of chatter and people talking about a lot of things. Yet we still ‘need to talk’ as a nation. We need more than just talking actually, we need more than just one voice talking at us, or shouting, or instructing or ‘advising’. More than just talking we need to listen as a nation. We need to hear the heart of the nation, of our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends, neighbours, colleagues, street kids, the homeless, the home owners, tax payers, non-tax payers, the wealthy, the poor, the politicians, workers, servants, drivers, butchers, bakers, nannies, teachers and their students. No pointing fingers. No blaming. No forgone conclusions. Just a conversation.
I came to think more about this concept now that we’re going through load shedding also known as electricity or power cuts in South Africa. An how this down time, for most our electrical appliances, is an opportunity for us to do some load-shedding of a different kind. The kind one does at a confessional booth or on a sofa with a therapist.
At first I suppose as with most South African without alternative sources of energy such as a generator or gas, I was simply at a loss as to what to do in that time. If your phone or laptop is not fully charged, there’s not much else one can do but read, write or talk to someone without power. The darkness revealed so much to me about how much I had become attached to the internet, to my laptop or computer, to music playing in the background, to tea and coffee every five minutes, to filling my time with things to do, with movies on youtube and searches on google. I watched with the same fascination how lost my family members became. At first we tried to endure the darkness on our own and in our own terms. Some went straight to bed, some held on to the last green bars on their phones and tablets, others paced around looking helplessly for a miracle for the lights to come because when there is electricity, when we have power we don’t need each other so much, everyone can be absorbed in their own individual world, and individual experience on laptops, tablets or phones, television cooking and music. There’s always something to do when you have power and electricity.
After a few naps and time alone in the dark I started to use the two hours to have conversations with my sister. In the dark. We started talking and listening to each other, without the spot light, as if in a dream. We started having conversation about life and these were what I missed the most when the lights came back on. We started having candle lit dinners at home. And having conversations around the dinner table. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do in the dark, we were obliged to be with each other in ways that were not possible when the light is on. A lack of power or electricity, has brought us closer, made us more patient, and more ready to listen to another, because let’s face it it’s not fun to be alone in the dark. Amid the bad news of the economy going down, decreasing levels of productivity in the country and all the other negative side effects of power cuts, being able to have down time and talk to those near and dear, with no distractions has been a blessing.
As if Eskom once upon a time read my mind, and decided to launch my campaign pre-maturely setting a talking schedule renamed load shedding. We now have at the most 6 hours each week for quality talking time for the near future. Even though not having electricity or power is more than just annoying we can use the time to do other things that we would not do if we had the power, such as listening to the radio in our cars, listening to our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sharing our deepest dreams, and deepest desires out of the spotlight. The benefits of talking and listening without judgments can be incredibly beneficial, life changing and freeing. It is as if the cloak of darkness somehow as in a radio show, makes it easy for one to open up outside of the constant spotlight. I for one look forward to loadsedding.
We need to hear. We need to feel. We need to understand. We need to accept. We need to move on. We need to listen. We need to talk.