At Eyethu Cinema in the Soweto of the 70s and early 80s, film endings would be announced with the projection of the words “The End” on the screen. At that time, the film-end soundtrack would commence in full voice as we filed out of the cinema in our usual disorderly and noisy manner. It always struck me as a bit daft this announcement of the end. Surely the best way to announce the end is to simply end. In any case, we always disregarded such official endings. For us the real film not only continued from where it ended, it often started where it ended, as we re-imagined, re-narrated and re-enacted it to one another and to friends yet to see the film. This was the best part about going to the cinema, not the one to two hours of enforced silence in the dark and smelly cinema.
Recently, there has been much talk about another form of ending; the ultimate form of ending, the end of the world. These are the so-called predictions of TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). Suddenly talk of the end of the year has been superseded by talk of the year of the end.
One day in the next ten years we will all wake up to a red and blurry morning. Up in the sky, will be the words, “The End” written in giant shiny crimson font. The end-of-the-world soundtrack will blast out from giant speakers in the sky. Will it be Johnny Clegg singing “Ubaba u ngi lahlile zulu nga sala obala” (my father has abandoned me and now I am exposed)? Or Bob Marley’s reggae voice singing, “think you are in heaven but you are living in hell”? Slowly the flag on which the end is written will recede until it breaks out of the sphere of gravity to dance effortlessly between the moon and the sun. At that point the world main switch will trip. We will be plunged into darkness. The end will be upon us.
Some say this will happen in 2010. I hope they launch the end of the world one day after the Fifa 2010 World Cup finals. Others predict 2011 to be the year of the end. That would sort out our local elections, levelling the political playing fields once and for all. There are those who say it will all come to a screeching halt in 2012. Indeed the majority of TEOTWAWKI predictions suggest 2012 as the year of the end. But do these prophets of doom know that that is the year in which the world’s oldest liberation movement — the African National Congress — celebrates its centenary? They should not deprive us of one last picture of a smiling Madiba aboard a makeshift stage in one of our revamped 2010 stadiums awash with ANC flags, caps, doeks, T-shirts and other freedom colours. Please don’t you deprive us of what might be Zuma’s last presidential Zulu dance on national television. Others suggest 2014, 2016 and 2017. But hey, I personally have extensive plans up to 2060 when I will be a hundred years old, so I do not want my boat to be rocked, not until then at least.
What are we to make of the myriad of TEOTWAWKI predictions that are already raining on us in this new decade?
Beliefs and conceptions of the end of the world — whether based on science or religion — are as old as humanity. It is important that we distinguish between the basic belief and the attempts to arrest, banalise and codify it into a specific year, date and time. The former is tolerable and in most instances welcome. But the latter is often proof of an unhealthy and unhelpful way of believing in the end of the world. Yes, there are infantile and mature ways of believing in the end. Unhelpful ways include beliefs in the end of the world that suggest the end only and totally as originating from outside of the world and outside of human agency. When human agency is invoked, it is often suggested that the end will be brought about because humans are only bad and mainly evil. The end is then conceptualised as a form of punishment and a form of violent cleansing after which nothing remains.
It is my view that we are in danger of losing the original function of believing in a world that can or will end. Most religions and most sciences which hold onto that belief do so for very good reasons. The idea is not to focus and fixate humanity on some end day, end year or end event. The idea was never to demobilise humanity into powerless, ineffectual objects in the hands of mischievous and cruel gods (whether they be the gods of science or religion) who have already designed and proclaimed an inevitable end. I think that the belief in the possible end of the world was meant to reorientate our attitudes and our regard not just for fellow humans but for all of creation. It was meant to mobilise us to become more responsible towards self, fellow humans, animals, plants and the entire environment. Once we know that the world as we know it, its contents and its resources are finite, then we should conduct our lives in all spheres as if the world could end tomorrow. The question is therefore not whether the world will end in 2010 or in 2012; the question is whether we realise that the end of the world has begun and is ongoing now!
Why did the governments of the world converge in Copenhagen last December? To confront the reality of an ending world. Every day, every hour, every minute and every second, the world is ending. Can you hear the soundtrack? Can you see the signs? Open you ears. Open your eyes and you will see that the end has already begun. What will you do about it? That’s the question.