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.

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