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!

Another day in paradise?

VANESSA SMEETS

Locals call it the town of oak trees, acorns and squirrels. Visitors will argue it is a real-life painting of coffee shops and antique stores, bustling with neo-hippie students. The experts will tell you it is the wine capital of South Africa, gathering a score of international wine amateurs and connoisseurs. Stellenbosch: a student town that caters for lovers of art, music, wine, theatre and literature.

Or, so they claim… Walking down Bird Street, one of the busiest streets, you realise how intricate this place really is. The local celebrity, Moksie, is singing in front of the petrol station, waving as she sees my camera.

moksie bergie

LOVE BITE: Moksie has had a long-lasting effect on Stellenbosch students, with them even setting up a controversial Facebook fanpage for her. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“I’m going to be on the cover of Die Son!” she screams, as she sees two girls in mini skirts approaching. Die Son, according to the Naspers website, is one of the fastest growing newspapers in South Africa. Bewildered, the girls run into on-coming traffic, missing a truck by a few centimetres.

Moksie is Stellenbosch’s most popular bergie (beggar). She even has her own Facebook fan page, with 3 470 fans. But, for many, the online page is a disgrace. Human rights activists at the university claim the page degrades her, as some students use it to mock her or make hurtful comments about the way she looks, speaks and acts. Die Matie, Stellenbosch’s campus newspaper, wrote a piece about the page and about her as a person in their last issue for the year to raise awareness amongst students.

She is aware of the page she tells me. “I’m a celeb,” she laughs. “I wish I could see it for myself, but I can’t read very well.”

Abandoned at a young age, many people took advantage of her. “I learnt to be tough,” she says biting on her lip with the teeth she has left. It is custom here for bergies to remove their front teeth.

“Love bite” the locals call it. I ask Moksie for her interpretation. “It started as a trend. First with the gangs, then with us ladies,” she tells me.

“It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” she asks, softly touching her gums.

I nod and smile. I reveal to her the disappointing news that I’m not from Die Son, but a journalism student intrigued by her story. “What does ‘intrigued’ mean?” she asks, confused. I explain, but it’s hard to keep her attention.

Every time a student approaches, she screams. It’s obviously a game to her. “I love to see their reactions!” she says with a grin, “Try it!” I open my mouth and she laughs. “What a silly girl! You were really going to do it!”

Unlike other bergies, Moksie claims she does not use the money she gets for alcohol. “I have three children. I miss them. I must see them again.” They have been sent to foster parents. She talks about her youngest Elton (11) with tears in her eyes. She confesses she drank last night and felt bad. “I must learn to stop. For me. For him. But, I like my Savannah! And when the students offer me their bottles, I can’t say no.”

She pauses, then looks at the traffic stopping around us. People look at us. Some point.

“At least I’m not alone,” she says, as she wipes away the tears. “The students are now my children. I give them advice. I tell the girls their dresses are too short. I tell the boys to wear aftershave. If they help me, I help them.”

Born in 1968, her family constantly moved about because of Apartheid. “I’m used to this life,” she says of her gypsy lifestyle. I ask about her clothes. “Nice students give me something warm. Terrible ones throw stuff like beer on me to make me go away.”

She lives in a shack at the foot of the mountain and saves her money to buy cheap shoes and McDonald’s burgers, her favourite meal. She refuses to tell me how much she makes. “I don’t want the others to get jealous. They know the students love me best.”

As the sun sets, I tell her I have to run home. I thank her and give her R20. She hugs me tightly. “No, no, thank you for listening. God bless you, my child.”

Maties’ “gay kiss” goes viral

gay lovers

UCT students participate in the fun of Stellenbosch’s annual kissing festival. The publication of the image has caused an outcry amongst conservative groups. PHOTO: VANESSA SMEETS (copyrighted)

In memory of a wonderful friend and inspiration, Bjorn Czepan. Bjorn died in a car accident three weeks after the kiss made headlines. He will also be remembered for his work with the poor and trying to make a change in South Africa.

VANESSA SMEETS, photo editor Die Matie

When Die Matie, Stellenbosch’s respected campus newspaper, decided to go ahead and publish my photo of two men kissing at its annual kissing festival “Soen in Die Laan,” we knew it would ruffle a few conservative feathers. We, however, did not anticipate such a national response.

In 2008, Stellenbosch beat a record of 7000 people participating in an hour of passionate kissing. Although Lesbigay, Stellenbosch’s lesbian, gay and bisexual society, is ten years old, it is the first time they participated. Gay societies from other universities were invited as well.

The two men in the picture are actually UCT students, but the picture was chosen as the front page for two reasons. Firstly, it was a sincere kiss captured in the moment . They didn’t seem uncomfortable and didn’t even realise I was there. Also, there are straight couples noticeable in the background, which added great context. Afterwards, I asked them if I could use it and both agreed it was a sincere kiss, not dirty in any way. Secondly, it showed that Lesbigay participated for the first time and even managed to get other gay societies to join.

“The response has been phenomenal,” says Robbie Millan, the chairperson of Lesbigay. His inbox has been left with messages of congratulations, motivation (“I want to be like you”) and even confessions by in-closet students of feeling proud and crying tears of joy. Because homophobia has been rearing its ugly head since the publication of the picture, Lesbigay has trying to get more involved with its members and hopes to open a counselling centre for gay students by the end of the year.

It is my first week as the new photo editor and my first front page. Now, there is a par to maintain, which I’m a little anxious about. We never  intended the picture to be sensational or become tabloid-like, as some people have accused us of. But, what a rippling effect it has caused… Even OFM news in the Free State wrote a piece on it. It made its way to page 3 of Die Rapport last Sunday, then landed on Nuus24.com, Eye Witness News and iAfrica.com.

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing by journalists from newspapers and radio stations intrigued by the hype, the reactions and the future of Die Matie. It’s been really interesting to see how they interpret the whole situation. While some have done a clumsy job in news-writing (getting facts and names wrong, adding juicy details to quotes), others have gone the extra mile of getting even a response from the university. The university has stated in Die Burger (18 August, page 3) that it supports all races and sexual identities and does not condone discriminatory behaviour.

Listen to my MFM (Matie FM) interview:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPb7q5eniIE

I love being a journalist, especially when you know your photos and writing make a difference. I worked three years as an in-depth reporter at Perdeby, University of Pretoria’s campus newspaper, which is where I learnt that even a little controversy in a student newspaper can finally make people read it.

I once wrote a piece on casual sex amongst students, which had a great response from students and lecturers. The same can be said about this picture. While I would’ve preferred them using a picture from two Matie students (who happened to be white and coloured) in a passionate embrace, our editor decided “baby steps.” The reaction on a homosexual couple and, on top of that, inter-racial would have caused even more of an outcry.

Students reactions have been so diverse. While some have been congratulating us for “courage, change and endeavour,” others have been accusing us of boycotting the beauty behind the festival and being “fag hags”. I found many issues of the paper scribbled with hate speech, mutilated or torn to shreds. Some even went as far as changing one of the kissers into a woman. Others have used the paper as dart boards or teasing their friends and house-mates by writing their names above the kissers. Some took dozens of papers to show their friends or to throw them away.  By the end of the afternoon, no issues were left lying around. It is our best response to an issue in four years.

It feels like there’s a revolution taking place on campus… Change is good and keeps society healthy.

Lesbigay claims that next year they will try to get a much bigger group and prove they have as much a right as straight people to show their affections in public. Let’s hope by that time, Stellenbosch’s students would have accepted all human rights. After all, it’s a time of sexual freedom in an age where our freedom of expression has been targeted more frequently. Rise up, South Africa, and realise we fought hard to get this far… What a frightening ideal for some.

Here is a list of all the links:

Die Rapport:
Spoeg spat op Maties
http://www.rapport.co.za/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Spoeg-spat-op-Maties-20100814

News24.com:
Maties gons oor mansvryers in kampuskoerant. http://www.nuus24.com/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Maties-gons-oor-mansvryers-in-kampuskoerant-20100815

Eye Witness News:
University newspaper’s front-page kiss gets tongues wagging. http://www.ewn.co.za/articleprog.aspx?id=46488

OFM News:
Die Matie voorbladfoto veroorsaak opskudding.
http://www.ofm.co.za/news.asp?nid=11125

iAfrica.com: Gay kiss photo furore: http://news.iafrica.com/sa/2593980.htm

Homophobia still present: http://www.2oceansvibe.com/2010/08/17/stellenbosch-guffaws-at-predictably-scandalous-uct-students/

iol.co.za: Tongues wagging after Stellenbosch kiss: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=13&art_id=vn20100817045312587C979279&set_id=

Cape Camp Culture: Gay kiss makes front page of Die Matie – Stellies newspaper: http://cape-camp-culture.blogspot.com/2010/08/gay-kiss-makes-front-page-of-die-matie.html

Mambagirl.com: Furore over Stellenbosch kiss: http://www.mambagirl.com/article.asp?artid=4752

Towleroad.com: Gay blog… http://www.towleroad.com/2010/08/gay-kiss-photo-stirs-outrage-sales-for-south-african-student-paper.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+towleroad%2Ffeed+(Towleroad+Daily++%23gay+news)

College Media Matters: Gay Kiss Photo in South African Student Newspaper Sparks Anger, Praise: http://collegemediamatters.com/2010/08/17/gay-kiss-photo-in-south-african-student-newspaper-sparks-anger-praise/

Media update: Varsity newspaper front page sparks debate: http://www.mediaupdate.co.za/?idstory=29071

Gay kiss photo stirs outrage, sales for  South African student newspaper: http://www.topix.com/za/stellenbosch/2010/08/gay-kiss-photo-stirs-outrage-sales-for-south-african-student-paper

Topix.com: What happens when a South African student newspaper lets gays kiss on the front page: http://www.queerty.com/what-happens-when-a-south-african-student-newspaper-lets-gays-kiss-on-the-front-page-20100816/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+queerty2+%28Queerty%29

Skadi Forum Germanic Online Community: “Gay kiss” photo furore: http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?s=2fabf69f51b752335ce3fb0dba7c7b67&p=1021199#post1021199

My radio interview:  Interview with John Maytham: http://www.capetalk.co.za

JOHN MAYTHAM 17 August 2010 3:15 PM
Gay kiss sparks controversy on campus
The new issue of ‘Die Matie’ shows two men kissing during the annual ‘Soen in die Laan’ (Kiss in the Avenue) event at Stellenbosch University. It seems to have sparked a huge debate on campus, with some conservative students slamming it, while others have praised it. Copies of the newspaper were even defaced and slashed as some students what they perceive as the ‘impropriety’ of the image. Reaction on social media sites, Facebook and Twitter has been large. Vanessa Smeets took the photo and it was a joined editorial decision to have it published in the university newspaper.
Guest: Vanessa Smeets
Organisation: Die Matie newspaper
Position: Photo editor