A film about memory, reality and perception in a small Karoo town.
By Eric Miller and Laurine Platzky
Hutchinson is a railway junction about 10Km from Victoria West in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, lying on on the main route between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The history, growth and decline of the community tracks that of the South African Railways from the early 1900s, through the height of SA Railways growth in the 1950s to 1970s, and into the declining years from the 1980s to now.
In its heyday, Hutchinson was a coal and water refuelling stop for almost 600 passenger and freight trains a month.
This rail traffic and the rail links to the surrounding districts supported a thriving town with several small businesses, schools and a hotel.
Now only the Shosholoza Meyl passenger train stops there, six times a week, and almost always hours late, leaving shivering passengers in the predawn chill. Most freight trains travel through the station without needing to stop.
‘Shunted’ is a video documentary that explores some of the high points and tribulations of the town over the last 40+ years, through the stories of former and current residents.
These stories, told by school teachers and principals, shunters, drivers, policemen, managers, postmasters and others who were central to the town’s life then and now, paint a graphic and heartfelt picture of the impact of a post-apartheid changing world on a small rural community.
Despite growing up in separate communities and experiencing life in Hutchinson differently, residents and former residents recall their varying accounts of common events. The one thing most of them share is a powerful memory, love of, and connection to the town of their youth.
Hutchinson is representative of numerous similar towns and railway communities around South Africa, many of which are similarly abandoned or neglected.
While this film describes the background to their fortunes and predicament, it poses a challenge to both Government and Transnet to take responsibility for the impact of changes to these communities, and indicates that there are slender possibilities of a brighter future.