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.

To the moon and back

The South African music industry is bustling with talent, but what makes one musical artist stand out above the rest? VANESSA SMEETS examines Marcia Moon’s determination to stand ground in a world increasingly plagued by mental disorders.

Marcia Moon pain

SURVIVOR: Marcia Moon suffered a lot to reach a point of stability through her music. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

“Obsession and fear seem to draw near to the place I call home, to the people I owe laughter to. Obsession and fear seem to interfere with my lifeline, my love, with the place I used to rest so. I forgive, I forgive, I forgive… Oh the anger side, visions in my mind…”

– Obsession and Fear, A Gradual Awakening

As a little girl, Marcia Scholtz would sing along to musicals, memorise jingles from television advertisements and fell in love with her parents’ collection of music. It was not a phase or childhood fantasy. Instead, it created a burning desire within her to perform.

Born in 1976 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, she was born at the height of the Apartheid struggle and the birth of Black Consciousness. At the age of ten, her own musical consciousness emerged, when a family friend taught her how to play guitar. “He was blind and inspired me to see beyond; into the spiritual, ever moving world of music. It was magical,” she says, her blue-grey eyes glistening.

The musical artist “Marcia Moon” may have been born during the years she would serenade her friends at their windowsills, perform at shopping malls and in streets. People were attracted to her haunting velvet voice, not realising how a horrible breakdown had unleashed this creative energy.

“One day, like the moon has its phases, I died. It was dark then. But, I was re-born with an incredible sense of self,” she explains.“Moon” came from the symbol of the celestial body’s madness, yet mysticism and its ability to influence tides and moods.

Moon in phases

WAXING AND WANING: Just as the moon goes through phases, Marcia found a burning desire within her to perform.

Judged by her sexual orientation, Marcia suppressed a storm of emotions: “There was pressure to be heterosexual, feminine and ordinary. It eventually led to a nervous breakdown.”

Raised by Afrikaans parents, she describes her childhood as a constant struggle:

“I never felt male or female. I was someone in between: androgynous. My creativity came from a deep, psychological place. It was a very difficult and dark time.”

Although her first passion was music and she spent more time studying it than anything else, she did three years at the University of Pretoria doing her LLB (Bachelor of Law) in the late 1990s. Law has constantly followed her and she still wishes to pursue criminal law.

Law has also brought her a sense of stability: “It has taught me a lot about people, culture and politics. What makes us, us. Law continues to inspire ideas for songs.”

After living in Sunnyside, Pretoria, for a year, she decided to work in London for two years. There, she would keep busy doing odd jobs as a cook, factory worker, photographer, waitress and butter packer.

“There’s humility in working long hours for little pay,” she says, grinning, “You find yourself.”

She reluctantly returned to South Africa, singing in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Her years as a modern-life gypsy allowed her music to be an interesting mix of soul, passion and desire. Her songs vary from ordinary, mundane topics like washing dishes to more complex philosophical subjects like same-sex relationships.

“I’m more interested in friendships, love stories and daily tales that I go through,” she explains, “I’m a gypsy through the boundaries I’ve created. You can be mentally unhealthy or suffer through unhealthy relationships, but you only grow once you stay grounded. Like a tree, you need those deep roots. I’ve learnt to have both: incredible experiences within boundaries.”

gradual awakening

AWAKEN: Her debut album is a symphony of symbolic elements.

Like her first album describes, it was a gradual awakening.

The CD cover is a network of symbols close to her. The butterfly symbolises the metamorphosis of rediscovering herself.
The spider symbolises the darkness she had to go through alone.
The subtle African print is proof of her love for Africa, its diverse cultures and people.
The dice on the corner symbolise luck by not always following the rules.
The pair of birds come from the nostalgia of watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as a teen.

She says, while fidgeting with the tablecloth: “Those birds in the opening of the first season were about mystery, obscurity. It was dream-like yet frightening. Part of who I am.”

Today, she describes herself as someone whose “intense, obsessed, searching, yet balanced.” Her eyes glisten now with tears: “It has been a long journey; one where I have deepened by finding more tools a long the way. These tools have allowed me to bask in spirituality.”

From the depths of despair, as she puts it, she has grown into four successful spheres: singer, performer, guitarist and songwriter.

Her voice is suddenly deeper and confident:

“I want to be one of South Africa’s best songwriters and performers.”

Marcia Moon

PENSIVE: Marcia Moon finds inspiration within the ordinary. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

It shows. Marcia puts a lot of effort into every gig, capturing her audience not only with her voice, but her potent facial expressions. While watching her fans, it is clear the music speaks to them. Some even cry while singing along.

“I’m not just singing. It’s a performance. It’s theatre.It’s interacting with your audience. I want to take them into the mood. My music may not be political, but it is a form of activism.”

Marcia explains her views on the South African music scene: “In the last twenty years, we have been creating culture: cultivating and moulding it. I want to be part of that.”

Experience has taught her to be intrigued with daily experiences. Playing chords on her guitar inspire future ideas and words for songs: “Sometimes, it will take ages. But it often happens quickly. Like soft rain after a dry thunderstorm, everything just falls into place.”

Marcia believes there’s still a gap in the Afrikaans music scene, especially when it comes to song writing: “Most of them sing without much passion about what they say or feel. They are just words or nice tunes. I don’t want my words to make people dance, but help their souls take flight.”

Her debut Album A Gradual Awakening is available at PLUM CD in Rosebank Mall and Revolution Records in Observatory, Cape Town. She is currently recording a bilingual album and working on songs for a third one:

“People take the writing part for granted. If it sounds good, that’s often enough. I write for fans that want to experience and explore. It’s a psychological process. I see music as the other mind: a different, profound dimension.”

FACT BOX

  • Full name: Marcia Scholtz
  • Date of birth: 20 October 1976
  • Favourite colour: Blue
  • Favourite food: Mexican, Indian, exotic salads and comfort food
  • Favourite place to relax: forests, bushveld and mountains
  • Favourite countries: South Africa, Romania and America
  • Inspirations: mystery, awareness, darkness, dreams, spirituality, signs, love and difficulties
  • Hobbies: photography, hiking, travelling, law, psychology and writing
  • Movies: In God’s Hands, The Others, Mulholland Drive, Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Books: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernst Hemingway
  • Passions: my dog, family and friends
  • Favourite quote:

Buddha: “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

  • Likes: animals, nature, politics, sports, culture, stories, history and being African
  • Dislikes: sloth, consumerism, over-indulgence, prejudice, conformity, greed, power and when people wear their sunglasses on their heads.

Stalked by HIV: The Human Indifference Virus

domestic violence

ABUSE: At the Gay Pride Parade in March, the gay community recognised the strong link between domestic violence at home because of oppressive parents. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

VANESSA SMEETS

Maybe it’s his red shoes or blond curls that make Andy stand out. When he sits down, I realize it’s rather the subtle scar slashed across his ice-blue eyes.

“Anything but gay?” he says with a smile.

His voice is soothing and pleasant to the ear. It can’t be described as feminine or masculine, but rather as something in between. He peers across my notes.

“I haven’t said anything yet and you’re writing away!” he says with an attractive grin that has one hooked immediately.

Family tides

The awkward silence between us is short-lived. He takes out his phone and proudly shows his photos. He continues to chat as though we’ve been life-long friends.

“That’s my mom, Dawn. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? She’s so proud of me. I’ve never pretended to be someone else. That’s my dad – he disowned me for a while. Called me a faggot, moffie, man-whore – you name it. He doesn’t treat me in the same way as my two brothers. Probably blames himself; he wasn’t around when I grew up.”

He’s silent while looking for a few moments at the blurred photo of a man in kaki attire, rifle in hand. He’s a hunter, perhaps. He quickly moves on to the next one.

“That’s my ouma, she’s the only one who doesn’t know I prefer guys. It’ll kill her.”

I ask him about the scar but he’d rather speak of something else – like joining Tuks’ (the University of Pretoria) first gay society. Surprisingly, they don’t get hate mail or threatening smses. Instead, they get messages like “Jesus loves you. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t change. Give Jesus a chance.”

 

pink revolution

PINK REVOLUTION: The University of Pretoria went through some extreme changes in 2006, when its first gay society was born. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Varsity blues

The only people who hassled them were a couple of guys in the SRC (Student Representative Council), which caused some controversy in 2006. They declared the society ‘non-existent’ even after more than 100 members joined. They painted twice over the freedom of speech wall, trying to stop what Andy calls the ‘Pink Revolution’ from going anywhere. But they didn’t succeed – the society keeps on growing, embracing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people with their funky ideas and late-night parties.

After three hours of coffee, muffins and laughing, Andy decides to tell about his scar.

“My brothers did it to me when I was thirteen. They caught me cutting up pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and pinning them against my wall. They forced me to tear them down. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It felt right.”

He pauses for a few moments then continues, his hands shaking, “The night of my Standard 5 Valediction, they spotted the pictures under my bed and threw me against the wall. My parents were waiting in the car. After that, I blacked out. I woke up in hospital bruised, in pain and alone.

The nurse said my family would come by later. They didn’t. My mom came by two days later. I pretended to be asleep. She kissed my cheek and sobbed her eyes out. When I looked up at her, I saw her sunglasses hiding a horrible blue eye. Dad had beaten her up for protecting me. We moved away together; the rest of them couldn’t accept my sexuality. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, so I brought girlfriends home. She knew I was faking. Now, we laugh together – ‘he’s cute and him.’ It’s liberating.”

What makes people “gay”?

Andy found out he was different when he enjoyed playing excessively with his cousin’s Barbie dolls and fell in love with his tennis coach in Standard 3. Today, the mystery into what makes people gay is still being researched. Swidey (2006: 40) explains that some scientists believe it to be half the amount of neurons found in the anterior hypothalamus of homosexuals compared to heterosexuals. After Dean Hamer’s discovery in 1993, some believe it could be a ‘gay gene’: the X chromosome, Xq28, is more frequent in gay men. Some still believe it to be biological causes, such as the increase of hormones in certain foods.  In 2005, Swedish researchers claimed the cause could be the different pheromones that gay men are attracted to. Like straight women, they are found to be attracted to male sweat rather than female urine. Whatever the case, Andy explains he never chose his sexual orientation.

Apart from the red shoes and strange voice, he looks like an ordinary guy. With a cigarette dangling from his manicured hands, he explains how he’s been labelled with stereotypes all his life.

“Yeah, so pink isn’t my favourite colour and I don’t wear two litres of after-shave. I’ve had my share of heart-breaks, just like any other guy. I’ve been sent for therapy. I’ve experimented with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been tested for AIDS, I’m negative. Basically, I’m just like any other student. People have stopped looking at me as that not-so-gay-guy.”

Andy removes his jersey. More scars are visible now – tiny red marks swim around on the inside of his wrist. I cannot help but stare.

great divide

GREAT DIVIDE: In South Africa, there is still a strong divide between the gay community and Christians, as the Pride Parade demonstrated. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

“People are too busy to notice,” he says, “It’s not for attention though, it’s for myself. To remind me what I’ve been through. Each scar marks a closure of some sort. That’s the day my dad told me to go to hell. That’s the day my so-called friends from school locked me in a closet and yelled ‘stay there, you freak!’ This one’s the deepest – it was the last one – the night I decided to die. I woke up, luckily. I realized then I was born for something incredible. This gay society (UP and Out) has given me a purpose. It’s not HIV but the Human Indifference Virus that almost killed me.”

After shaking my hand firmly, he smiles and begins to walk away. A ray of light laps up his blond curls while he finishes speaking.

He reaches for a gold chain in his pocket and says:

“God has taught me to love myself beyond what this world thinks. They may say I’ll burn in hell for being gay, but I’ll burn forever in this hell by trying to be someone else.”

*based on a true person, some facts have been edited to suit the article’s purpose

Sources:

Swidey, N. 2006. What makes people gay? In Fairlady, March 2006, Issue 830. Cape Town: Media 24.