“Stop All the Clocks” (W H Auden)

“Stop All the Clocks” – the opening phrase of W H Auden’s poem ‘Funeral Blues’ was my first conscious thought this morning on opening my eyes to a country changed overnight.  Catching up with the news’ headlines, the tweets and Facebook posts flooding my phone and laptop as an entire population woke to a new reality, it seems a fitting refrain to mark one of the lowest days in our post-apartheid history.

A politician I am not and I cannot even attempt to provide the backdrop against which this latest drama has played out.  I think it would be fair to say though,  that it is now impossible for a single South African citizen to pretend that our President harbours even the slightest hint of concern for the welfare of this country or of its people.

As an ordinary onlooker, it is inconceivable to me that he has become a seemingly unstoppable force, even in the face of such strong condemnation from both members of his own party and all others.  My inbox is full of appeals to sign this or that petition to have him removed from office, or to join this or that peaceful protest march but I’ve lost count of how many petitions I’ve already signed.  This is not a man to be moved by public outrage.

To see the ANC so diminished and  collapsed in on itself, is heartbreaking to anyone who ever loved or even only admired Mandela.  It is also terrifying.  Although we are told this cannot continue past December when a new party leader must be elected, we are not reassured.  Having already ridden roughshod over so many principles and ideals during his devastating term of office, who’s to say what he’ll have trampled underfoot by then?

There is something bizarre about what is happening in this country. I am reminded why I chose to call this blog ‘Africadayz.’  I hoped to convey the stark contrasts intrinsic to this continent; the breathtaking highs and dispiriting lows; the dazzling wealth and desperate poverty. And the unsettling instances when the colonial past impinges so forcefully on the present that we are dazed by the surreal nature of our everyday lives.

It’s an exquisitely beautiful day in Johannesburg today and I have had cause to be out and about, beyond the confines of my usual comfort zone and to one of the poorer neighbourhoods of the city.  Everywhere, across all borders of race and wealth,  the atmosphere is subdued – dulled  by an air of resignation.   Passing one of  our oldest and most beautiful schools, I couldn’t help wondering how many young families are today having that conversation -“To Stay or To Go.”  I suspect there will be another spike in emigration applications in the next few weeks.

I try to pinpoint exactly the prevailing mood today and it crystallises, quite simply into Sadness.  Profound sadness at the loss of hope.  Despite everything that has ever happened here and that continues to happen, there has always been something keeping a flame of  hope alive.  After today, we’re going to have to try exceptionally hard to get that flame burning again.

I struggle to articulate my feelings and go back to W H Auden and  his poem immortalised in the movie ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’  I borrow only the first line “Stop all the Clocks” and my own thoughts spool out from there:

“Stop all the Clocks”

Half-mast the Flag, Mark the Time.

Today we live in Another Country.

Avarice Rules and Hope

– So Much Hope –

Falters and Dies.


4 thoughts on ““Stop All the Clocks” (W H Auden)

  1. Beautifully written piece as always, Jackie. I am a South African living abroad, but you have captured exactly my feeling today – sadness.


    • Thank you. It is always reassuring to hear that my writing resonates with someone. In the ensuing days, I have had a rather depressing sense of inevitability about these latest developments. And the general atmosphere continues to be very subdued.


  2. It is really sad to read all about this latest development
    We are not kept up to date in our local press and only read about these events after the fact
    The whole developing situation really saddens us


  3. I have been trying for days to come up with the right words to respond to this post, but I fall short. Auden captured the feeling much better than I ever could. I know how you feel now having gone through it myself in November. What is going on in the world?


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