In »Science fiction and the future«, author Ursula Le Guin reports that »it seems that the Quechua-speaking people of the Andes (...) figure that because the past is what you know, you can see it – it’s in front of you, under your nose. This is a mode of perception rather than action, of awareness rather than progress. (...) The future lies behind – behind your back, over your shoulder. The future is what you can’t see, unless you turn around and kind of snatch a glimpse. And then sometimes you wish you hadn’t, because you’ve glimpsed what’s sneaking up on you from behind.«
The futuristic approach to this project gave us some freedom to think and articulate feelings and thoughts about our present at the time. Four years later, some of »the future« is already behind us. Or rather, it is in front of our noses – as it became our past, if we stick with Le Guin’s image. As we talk together, we realise that time goes at different speeds for us. We laugh about the fact that four years does not seem such a long time for middle-aged me. Whereas for the young members of the cast, it feels extremely long.
Tisetso: Our show talks about the future, but I feel that the future is basically happening now! I don’t know how to explain it... How technology is advancing and slowly but surely taking over. For example, we used to talk to our teachers. Now we take our homework on social media! I did not think technology would take over like it does.We cannot go anywhere now without having our phones with us. You don’t go to the bank any more, you use an app in your phone to transfer money. You don’t go to your friend’s to visit, instead you video call or text if you miss them. And you don’t go anywhere without taking pictures with your phone. Our memories are now stored in our phones instead of in our hearts and our minds.
Tshepang: Four years ago the way I saw the future was less technological, less digital... and then I saw how the metaverse was coming! Everything is going to be more technological and that is going to break connections between people.
Pearl: When I think of the future now I actually get scared!
When the pandemic started, we were home and it was ok. But then my mum got really sick and hospitalised, and then my sister was really sick at home because we couldn’t afford to have a second family member in the hospital, and then I thought: anything can happen!
I hear a lot of people talking about going back to living the way we lived before, but nobody is talking about new ways to live with this. I think they are thinking backwards: we have to accept that things change and find ways to make it work.
I wonder if Pearl’s image of some people »thinking backwards« could be pointing in the same direction as what author Naomi Klein conceptualises as toxic nostalgia – »a violent clinging to a toxic past and a refusal to face a more entangled and interrelational future« – which would be at the root of so many of our democratic, geopolitical and climate crises.
Pearl: Actually, when I think of all the possible scary Covid variants that could come (...) and this survival mode of every man for himself... I think of zombies! Yes, today if I had to do a piece about the future, I think I would have zombies in it!
In South Africa when we had apartheid we had black people on one side, white people on the other side and so on... Now people are treating each other differently according to their position about this whole vaccination thing, and they are just not able to hear each other out. And the vaccinated people are allowed in certain areas, the unvaccinated in others. In this country, these kinds of things are triggering and scary! It’s making us relive that history of exclusion and separation.
Nompilo: The future is darker for me now. I have a harder time envisioning a brighter future today than I did 4 years ago!
Tshepang rebounds on a relative optimism: I think in the future people are going to be much more broad with their thinking. Now everybody is getting educated on certain things, everybody is reading... It gives hope that people will understand each other without stereotypes. During the last years we also experienced Black Lives Matter everywhere around the world. This brought awareness of how black people are being attacked. But it was not only about black people. Some white people that are not racist also feel attacked because nobody believes they are not racist. So it was all hectic, and I wonder, how will this bring unity, eventually.
I realise that the future I want to see in Hillbrow is people living in harmony, in peace... people coming from different places living together, building community. I want to see unity and love in the diversity. Somehow, I think these things are already building up here now, but I feel that it could be more and more.