Sarah, the soft breeze

VANESSA SMEETS

She was only part of my life for a short five years, but Sarah Widman knew my pain of the past (losing both my grannies in the span of two years) and my visions for the future. It was a sunny autumn afternoon much like today when I heard someone calling from our school gate:
“May I come in?” she asked.
“Ummm… It’s a school, there are some rules.”
“I know it’s a school, silly. I have been hearing the children laughing and singing from my retirement home next door.”

I let her in, with the principal’s consent, and Sarah would keep coming for the next two years every Friday afternoon. She would read to the children or put on little puppet shows.
They called her “Gogo,” meaning granny in Zulu. This brought tears to her eyes.
“I always wanted to be a granny one day…” she said.
Sarah carried a dark secret. The loss of her husband decades ago left her scarred and afraid.
“We were robbed on our plot. He died protecting me.”

Her dreams of having children were replaced by hours of entertaining others. She found theatre as a way to deal with her grief and anxiety.
Sarah means “princess” in Hebrew. She was a princess in all my students’ hearts. She taught them to sing, dance, be confident and never be afraid to love, even when you lost it all.

Sarah, my only regret is that I had waited so long to see you again.
Your last words to me over the phone: “Have you forgotten me?”

After moving to another school with much more demands, I could not go see her every week.

“No, Sarah, I will come soon…”

The elderly often feel forgotten, cast away. After losing her sister, Sarah was not the same. She was quiet. After losing her best friend at the home, Dr Ebedes, she drifted into her own world. She also fell, breaking both her arms. She asked me to leave when I visited her then. She was too proud to allow me to see her so vulnerable.

Sarah had become my adopted grandmother. I envision her today greeting my biological grandmothers, my paternal one born in the same year as her… All three had an incredible zest for life and an incredible impact on who I am today.

I dreaded this day. I tried my best not to attach myself too much. But I couldn’t help it… Sarah was like a soft morning breeze that comes through the window, unnoticed at first, but so refreshing. She left this earth in much the same way, in her own peaceful way.
I will cherish you always, my dear friend. Shalom.

My previous post about her:
https://vsmeets.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/friend-sarah/

 

The Stranger Within

VANESSA SMEETS

When you look at Mark Smith’s class photo, you see an ordinary guy trying to crack a smile. Look a little closer…
He stands quite isolated from everyone else. There are cuts on his arm he’s trying to hide. There’s a pain in his eyes. His mom raised him alone. She had various boyfriends who taught him how to use a gun. A gun was the only thing he could handle. It felt good. It felt powerful. It represented a sense of belonging. An anchor.

During break/ recess, Mark often sits alone reading a random comic, trying to laugh. He will sometimes creep up into the computer room and watch YouTube in secret. He loves rap. He loves these guys who know exactly how to act. He learns that not giving a damn is the only way.

Once home, he opens his school journal. Another negative note from his teacher: “Mark was not ready today. Mark could not do his presentation. I am disappointed. This is the third time.”
He tears it up. He writes a fake note to show his mom, “Mark’s presentation went very well. Thank you.”
His mother glances at the paper, beer drooling from the sides of her mouth.
“That’s nice, my boy. You can play in your room a little longer today.”

cartoon gun control

GUN WORSHIP: Gun control treats the symptoms, not the cause.

He rushes upstairs, locks the door. He places his headphones on and glares into the screen. He watches these school shootings over and over again.
He fantasizes about his teacher pinned against the wall, saying sorry for each time she picked on him:

“You were alone. No one could help you. I understand now.”
“Too little, too late, Mrs Sanders. And now, no one is going to help you.”
He shoots her at point-blank range.

Mark now fantasizes about the guys who laugh at him at break.
“Loser… You’re so weird.”
He sees how truly vulnerable they are against his gun. He smiles.
The adrenaline rush takes over. He starts sweating, even panting.

His mom yells out from the staircase, “I’m hungry. Get cracking…”
“I’m starving too, mom…” he whispers under his breath, “Starving for you to just take the lead sometime. To tell me when it’s not okay. To talk to me, instead of stuffing an iPad or phone into my face to keep me busy. To tell me I’m normal. Am I even normal?”

It hits him.
Mark is a stranger to his own mother.
His own teacher.
His own peers.
His own self.
Mark is currently 10 years old.

Mark could become any of these other school shooters.
Gun control may remove the symptoms, but not the cause.
Discipline begins at home, yes. But, self-discipline gets crushed by various factors:
– lack of love
– lack of empathy
– emotional and physical bullying
– cyber-bullying
– lack of respect

Even though guns have been around for over 200 years, being unheard is huge in the last 30 years. We live in an era of mass communication, with no one truly communicating.

To parents out there, be part of your child’s life. Go support their school play, their dress rehearsals, their sports match and know their friends.
Show interest in the shows they watch and the music they listen to. It illustrates your child’s psyche.
Raise your child to enjoy childhood (not be stressed out by it), to respect others, to do chores, to give him/ her a purpose. Or else, his/ her only purpose will be to engrave his/ her name within history books as another delinquent, another statistic.

To children/ teens reading this: It does get better. Clichéd, I know. Bullying seems to be a rite of passage in school. Hold on. Befriend them, or stay away from them. And, most importantly, stay away from that shadow within you that feeds upon revenge, as tempting as it may be.

As a teacher, I have this to say to those in the same profession:
Forget about written homework. Give them self-reflection. Ask a philosophical question to debate upon in class.
“What makes you happy?”
Link this to the areas of their lives: family, friendship, school, games they play.
Also, speak to your students. Know who the others are afraid of, who they never invite. Know who sits alone. Know who gets called names. And, know who you unknowingly pick on the whole time…

 

 

Travelling through memory…

VANESSA SMEETS

ThysteTraveller3 (8 of 19)

SANTÉ: Founder of Blank Canvas Studio, Martine de Kock, welcomes guests to The Thyste Traveller’s third event.                                                                                  PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Memory flows for some in the form of a distinct song, an exceptional smell or a specific taste. For Martine de Kock (31), founder of Blank Canvas Studio, capturing the essence of her late great grandfather came in the form of what he loved most: great food, wine and company.

These ideals had to be captured in a truly sensory journey and, so, The Thyste Traveller series was born, asking exclusive wineries across South Africa to be part of an unforgettable experience.
The Thyste Traveller journey has grown from a small intimate group of friends to a monthly event of celebration and joy, in the comfort of a cozy atmosphere, in Pretoria.

ThysteTraveller3 (12 of 19)

CHEERS: Bernard Dewey, sales and marketing director for Chamonix, and Martine de Kock, organiser of these delightful events.                                            PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Blank Canvas Studio has hosted numerous events in its young existence, but this is a very personal one for its founder:
“My great grandfather, Oupa Thys, travelled the globe to experience its culinary offerings. These events are held in his home, in memory of him, where we share a love of what he stood for.”

The third event in the series was showcased by Chamonix, a beautiful wine farm nestled in the Franschhoek valley, with a 50-hectare game farm, and found only one hour away from Cape Town.

chamonix

PARADISE: Chamonix wine farm in Franschhoek, paired perfectly for the third event.         PIC: Chamonix website

Guests were treated to a delicious 6-course pairing menu, prepared by ESSEN eatery which included:
TOP: dried porcini mushroom tortellini, parmesan ice-cream, peking duck.
BOTTOM: pork dish, melanzanata aubergine and gold Belgian chocolate dome for dessert.

Regulars to these events, Joha and Piet Bredell, said: “We keep coming for the great food, wine and company. What better way to spend a Wednesday evening?”

Keep an eye out for the fourth installment on this appetizing journey…

 

Cry the beloved country

VANESSA SMEETS

“Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all,” Aristotle.

It has taken months to find the energy or a story worth writing, but watching these students burn, destroy and steal has ravished my soul…

Don’t get me wrong, the “born-frees” of South Africa have the right to be angry. They are experiencing high-cost of living like no one before. A loaf of bread is R15, a two-litre bottle of milk is R30, rent on average is R5 000 for a one-bedroom flat near campus, a BA degree is about R20 000 with registration fees soaring at R5 000 – R15 000, depending on you being a citizen or not.

However, is burning the varsities a solution? No.
There will be no education there tomorrow.

Is looting shops nearby a solution? No.
No one will take your cause seriously anymore.

Is using violence, beating policemen with bricks, the answer? No.
They will not protect you at your most vulnerable.

There’s a dark cloud above the youth of today. It disguises itself as honour and pride. They believe it is better to fight, than just survive.

While last year’s “Fees Must Fall” seemed noble, with students gathering around campus in unity, this year’s cause is dampened with innocent blood and soiled ideals. As predicted, the fight last year was quickly “shut up,” only to rise again this year as an angrier, more vicious corpse. The people of South Africa were given, as usual, temporary solutions to a major issue – to satisfy that moment, to kill that immediate need. Meanwhile, the solution infected other areas – varsities are going bankrupt, lecturers are not being paid on time.

“They can afford it!” the students scream, their shields made of mattresses and ironing boards high in the air. Their anger is sadly aimed in the wrong direction – the government’s expenditure that needs to be reprimanded, not the educators…

Varsities have not been able to continue with exam season.
Students are failing, as they are too afraid to come to class or be threatened on campus.

South Africa’s “rainbow nation” has continued to fade, suffocated by smoke, empty promises and an uncertain dawn.

Can we raise our children in a country where the only answer seems to be destruction?You want his car? Shoot him.
You want her to feel your power? Rape her.
You want that baby? Kidnap it.
You want free education? Burn it all.

Cry for our beloved country.
Cry on this thirsty land that craves for manna in all her forms – rain, money or change.

Powerful photographs by Lee-Roy Jason Photography.

My Rainbow Nation

Inspired by some more crime to write this…

Her hands covered in blood,
The young without a voice,
The old without a weapon…
Her voice cries out:
“Where are you?
Police of our nation…
Government of our people…”
Abandoned.
Lost.
Afraid.
Raped.
Our nation is raped by those meant to protect her.
Cast aside.
Beaten.
Shaking from the blood that runs down her legs into the soil.
The soiled promises of a new democratic South Africa.
Listening.
Waiting.
They lure her in the dark.
To rob,
To kill.
She screams.
She fights.
She lives another day, begging on the streets:
“Do you see me?
No job,
No food,
Mother to a fatherless nation.”
Good night, sweet mother of all.

Digital Grave

VANESSA SMEETS

Digital grave1

GRIM REAPER = Grim realization the dead friend isn’t reading these posts.

I have a terrible addiction that started four years ago after a friend’s suicide. The night he died, I looked through all of his social media for clues… There it was: subtle yet incriminating evidence of someone who felt completely alone. Images of a broken telephone, of a threaded wire (ordinary things we would never look for as deeper symbolic meanings) on his Facebook, as well as updates like: “Seeing ALL my friends tonight. Cheers!” His Twitter was flooded with monologues – “No one sees me.” “Hello, are you listening?”

We were close at varsity; but, with most friendships, ours had its moments of distance. Sadly, I am one of those that live by the rule: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Facebook has made me a lazy friend. I used to phone and message people regularly, but now that most people advertise their lives, I don’t see the point. The ones I see the most are the ones that are the least active on Facebook.

Digital grave 2

RIP: What happens to your social media post-death?

I thought I was doing an okay job: every time my friend checked in somewhere, I liked it. Every time he posted a photo of himself with a new award, I liked it. I had no idea he was lonely. He was the soul at every party. As most of us know, social media gives us a false sense of belonging and of knowing everyone’s business.

An old school pal messaged me the other day: “Wow… You really are a terrible friend…” “Huh?” was my automatic reply. “You never message me. Guess where I am? A mental institution.” I had no idea, through all her beautiful photos of her children, the thought never even crossed my mind. Like most, she had been posting blissful photos to hide her extreme pain.

Digital grave 3

REMEMBERING: Facebook is made up of memories and friendships, which can be stirred up through lack of activity…

My addiction continued two years ago with the suicide of a Tuks lecturer. I looked through all his publicised photos. The ones made public (with that world icon) were actually the most painful to read, even though they were very few. Then this year, I realised my addiction had to stop. I read through the social media of the young girl (14) who killed herself at Northgate Mall. All she had were beautiful photos with very little hints of her darkness… And then I read through her mother’s updates and started crying. I was crying over a stranger, but a stranger who reflected my friend, who reflected my weakness, who reflected my pain through her mother. “If only I had known…” her mom posted over and over again. If only I had too…

After we die, our social media carries on quite the same, except suddenly people who never spoke to you for the last five years, start reaching out. TOO LATE. Everyone messages more: on your birthday, special days you shared and the anniversary of your death. SCARY.

Digital grave 4

WHO AM I? Does Facebook give a false sense of popularity?

It’s time to realise that in a time of so much communication in the form of Whatsapp, Skype, etc, people have actually never felt more alone. Touch is what we need, not a “like”. A cup of coffee is what we crave, not “a selfie.” A genuine “How are you?” beats a “What you up to tonight?” In fact, social media is anything but social. It causes us to shut down when trying to have real conversations, it allows us to become cyberbullies on difficult topics like religion, race or politics, it causes us to be quite narcissistic with an array of selfies and holiday snaps.

“How are you feeling today?” asks my Facebook daily, not even my virtual friends.
Has Facebook replaced my life book, become my journal, a place where I actually write for and to myself mostly? Are my virtual friends still my real friends and vice versa?

Is anyone reading this…?

READ MORE on Facebook’s “death etiquette:”
http://mashable.com/2013/02/13/facebook-after-death/#hxZkTpt9ziqy

My heritage has no colour

VANESSA SMEETS

Just in time for Heritage Week in South Africa, a time when we come together to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness, I found myself in an unexpected racist spat on Facebook.

The Stellenbosch debate

The person involved had made a comment about Stellenbosch University being racist for not becoming anglicized. There are two sides to this debate: Yes, Stellenbosch University is trying to preserve its Afrikaans heritage and culture by remaining as Afrikaans as possible but it does try to accommodate English speaking students with the T-option (bilingualism) in certain broad under-grad modules and most of post-grad is English, as well as all the textbooks.

I admit that I made the fatal mistake of defending my old university first, instead of the angry person’s argument. I completed my Honours there and Afrikaans was probably my most dreaded subject at school. Being white does not mean I speak Afrikaans, just as much as being black does not mean you speak isiZulu. However, Stellenbosch was the only university that offered such a brilliant practical course in such a short time frame.
Yes, I struggled when the lecturers would accidentally slip into Afrikaans, but, one has to admit, it’s not such a difficult language… There are only three tenses, unlike English or French who have variants of past, present and future, depending on the context or even type of writing. French, for example, uses a fascinating tense of “simple past” reserved only for certain written texts.

White supremacist? No, idealist.
peopleAnyway, bringing this up only added fuel to the fire. This old school pal, then proceeded to tell me I should go back to Europe with my “white supremacy tendencies.” My blood, like most, is filled with exceptional love stories: the Jew who fell in love with a German, the Belgian with the Congolese, the Walloon with the Flemish (tribal ‘rivalries’ of Belgium)… Maybe only 20% of me actually belongs in Europe. Do not be fooled by my shell, because I am actually a product of the forbidden and I embrace it, because a lot of people went through hell to love the one they knew was meant for them.

Education as key

The thing is, a good teacher is one that does not see colour, gender or religion. Eight years of teaching have taught me this: every child is unique and parents are the biggest factors in determining how the child behaves or performs academically at school. It doesn’t matter whether the child is orange, pink or blue, if the mom and dad treat the child with equal amounts of attention, the child is at peace at school. If one of the parent is not part of the child’s life, the child does start to seek certain amounts of attention from the gender that is missing. Every child cries they same when he/ she is not invited to a certain party, to the jungle gym or when he/she falls off the swing. Every child smiles the same after seeing mommy or daddy after a long day of work. Every child is exceptionally proud when you say: “Keep up the great work!”

Children quote

Do they see colour or religion on the playground? Definitely not before the age of seven, unless parents have made a fuss of it at home. The only thing they do see at this age is gender:
“Boys? Oh gross, they are so dirty and rough!”
“Girls? I don’t want to be made the dad in that ‘house-house’ game all the time.”

At age seven, they enter primary school and are exposed to an even more diverse group of people. Teachers say things they shouldn’t necessarily say. They also converse or play with older children that have been exposed to more.

At age nine and ten, children don’t worry so much about the social aspects of school, but start a deep journey of self-analysis:
What do I like?
What are my needs?
Why am I feeling this way?

This, I believe is the time they are the most sensitive to topics like racism. Now that I’m teaching this age, I made it my duty to teach them “the rights of the child” first. At the end of their short presentations, I asked them the same question:
“Which to you is the most important?”

Every answer, from 27 different mouths: “To be loved.”
“Why?”
“Because if I do not feel loved, I cannot love others. I cannot accept them.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will always feel jealous of others.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will refuse to see anyone’s own point of view.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never experience peace.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never feel secure with myself or others.”

This to me is the cure to racism: a simple yet over empowering act: to love selflessly, to see others’  point of view.
So, to that old school friend that has been tarnished by a certain person’s group or actions, I apologize – my heritage has no colour. It is a spectrum of experiences, of life lessons, of the desire to learn from our youngest yet purest minds.

“Oh great, you teach black children?! Get over your white saviour complex.”

Humans

To that school pal, I am not just a teacher… I am actually the one being taught every single day. You insulted my race and I felt nothing. You proceeded to call me “an embarrassment to my late grandmother” who is of mixed race, and I felt my blood boil, because it became personal. You then proceeded by insulting my life force, which is teaching.

If it were not for the children I teach every day, I would have probably become as bitter as you. But I have hope not only for South Africa, but for every adult. As adults, we need to keep quiet and let our children explain life… Because we have obviously forgotten what it feels like to be curious about others, to listen to their stories, to be proud of all diversity and most importantly to think before acting… And to love and accept others with our all.

heritage

heritage

TBR: Fast & Furious

VANESSA SMEETS

Kyalami1

RULE 1: Have a reliable pit-crew. Punctuality and communication are key.

“I couldn’t find the sports car of my dreams, so I built it myself,” Ferdinand Porsche.

Racing cars is not just sport, it’s become integrated into South African culture ever since I can remember. My first experience of racing? Sitting around and waiting for my parents to get off medical duty at race circuits around South Africa. I was only 7 years old and had no idea that one day I would be one of those women screaming, sighing and laughing nervously in the pits. My parents often shared their worst-case-scenarios of quadriplegics, stabbed jugulars and cindered off body hair… It was normal at our family dinners.

Kyalami2

RULE 2: Have a reliable car. Drive it with passion!

“Everyone in life is looking for a certain rush. Racing is where I get mine,” John Troutmann.

Ironically, my boyfriend’s favourite hobby is building and racing cars. His team? Team Beer Racing (TBR). Don’t get the wrong idea… It’s so much more than just a bunch of guys drinking and talking cars, it’s a brotherhood.

You risk your life at the hands of others. While one is great at giving advice, another is great with his hands and another with the wiring. It’s intricate. It’s time-consuming. But, best of all, it’s self-made.

After weeks of late nights and hassling our neighbours with loud grinding noises as well as early morning revving, my boyfriend’s car was ready for the African Endurance Series at Kyalami, 9 May 2015. 22 years later, all those family dinners flashed back with my nerves.

Kyalami3

RULE 3: Have an amazing support system.

I will never forget that date, as it was etched into our daily lives: “The engine has to be rebuilt… 30 days left,” “Sh*t! The left back tyre is loose… 10 days to go.”

Ladies, I warn you – you must have the patience to share your man with his machine. He will devote most of his free time to it and then come to bed smelling like petrol. Well, it’s okay! Support him with your kindness and smiles. I tried learning some car jargon, but quickly got lost…

Gentlemen, be patient with us women who support you. We are as tired as you, waiting patiently in cold beds… But it’s okay, we love you for your ambition and dedication. True men stick to the their rims!

“A smooth race never made a skillful driver,” Anon.

Kyalami, I thank you for the most stressful, yet adrenaline-packed, two hours of my life
, watching the love of my life at high speed amongst 40 cars. I will never forget the look on his face as the engine was finally finished: surprise. As the car ran: relief and as he finished the race with his partner: ecstasy.

Endurance racing is not really about winning, it’s about finishing. It’s about showing the other guys you did a great job building your car, that the endurance of building such a sweet piece of machinery was worth it.

I thank you, my racer, for allowing me to be your pit-girl but, most importantly, for teaching me the importance of self-discipline and fraternity. I’m so proud of you.

Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

Craig_friendly

IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

Craig_smile

BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

Goodbye, Hatfield Square!

VANESSA SMEETS

This week marks the first demolishing of Hatfield Square, a place which has become synonymous with the student lifestyle of partying, drinking and socialising in Pretoria over the last three decades.

Students, new and old, flocked this past weekend to say goodbye to Dropzone, Cherry Jam, Slug and Lettuce, News Café and Flair, or to relive their nostalgic student days.

Hatfield 1

HATS OFF TO HATFIELD: This past weekend marked the last weekend for Hatfield Square, which will be demolished to make room for more student housing. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Redefine Properties, the current owners of Hatfield Square, are planning to “break” the Square, in order to replace it with more student housing and offices. It is rumoured that at least three new student residences will be set up in its place.

Bittereinder

BITTER END: Bittereinder, a popular bilingual band, performed at Aandklas Friday night. Aandklas is one of the few places on the Square that will stay. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Where will students go party now? Arcade Empire and Presley’s on Lynnwood Road, Capital Craft at Greenlyn, Eastwoods in Arcadia, Menlyn Square, as well as the Pretoria CBD, which is restructuring itself with new shebeens and clubs. The CBD has been stigmatised since the late 1990s for being “dangerous, full of satanists and prostitutes.”

Of course many students are sad with the closing down of Hatfield Square, but those loyal to Aandklas, the only place on the Square that is rumoured to stay along with Springboks, are happy Aandklas survived. “Our best memories are here! This is where I met my fiancée, my best friend and even my current business partner, “ laughed one PhD student. “It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s also time to grow up… And Hatfield has lost its charm. No one really comes here anymore. It was at its peak during the World Cup.”

Cheers, Hatfield Square! Thank you for the memories!