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shoes hanging from powerlines

Most of us have seen it – a pair of shoes, laces tied together, tossed over telephone or power lines.

It’s not a South African phenomenon – you’ll find the same practice across most cities around the world.

The question often asked is why? Why do people do this and what does it mean?

The most common urban legend associated with ‘shoe tossing’ is that the shoes / sneakers / trainers are an indication of drug activity, or of a drug dealer hotspot, or of drug dealers ‘marking’ their territory.

However the practice has being going on for decades and despite exhaustive research, there remains no universal or definitive meaning.

Of course there is meaning to the prankster who threw them up there in the first place, but there is no official or common meaning. It’s often a case of kids trying out stuff, showing off and harmless ‘monkey see monkey do’.

Other associations with ‘shoe tossing’ include ‘celebratory rites of passage’ such as losing your virginity, or graduations. Or even as a symbol to recognise the passing of someone beloved in the area.

In the 1997 filmWag the Dog, shoe tossing features as a spontaneous cultural tribute to Sgt. William Schumann, played by Woody Harrelson, who had been “shot down behind enemy lines”.

If you’d like to learn a little more about the practice, there is a wonderful short documentary called The Mystery of Flying Kicks, where the filmmakers compiled answers from people all over the world, describing local legends and customs associated with shoe tossing. Here is a link to the film

Whatever the meaning, shoes on power lines are striking and entertaining. They make us notice our surroundings, wonder how the hell the shoes got up there in the first place … and what they mean. It gets us talking to each other.

It’s also a little reminder that not all human activities can be rationalised  😉

Article by Madge Gibson, Harfield Village Resident


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