Mental Health Issues in the Student-Sphere

Mental Health Issues in the Student-Sphere

I have been wanting to write about mental health for a long time, but it always seemed like the type of issue which could easily result in workplace discrimination and unnecessary stigma, so I remained silent. As much as I know that someone with a mental illness is just as able and often more able than someone who does not have a mental illness, I chose to keep quiet about mine for fear of being judged and thought of as less than capable, a liability to an employer, or weak.

I remember how difficult it was for me to tell my closest friend about my diagnosis and when I finally did tell him, I felt small and weak and so incredibly alone. This was not because he was not supportive or because he was ignorant; it was because I just felt that way. It is difficult to change how one feels about a mental health diagnosis, regardless of how incredibly supportive one’s support structure is. Whenever I have to tell someone (other than a medical doctor or therapist) about my mental health, I shrink a little bit with fear because what if that person thinks that I am weak, different or just stops talking to me? What if he or she judges me and discounts all of my ideas because of this one aspect of my life? What if I make a mistake and now this person thinks that because of that, every other person with anxiety and clinical depression is inadequate and prone to making mistakes by extension? If this is how I, a liberal twenty-three-year old university graduate feels about my mental health, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for an eighteen-year-old who just started to study at a university, or a sixty-year-old man who grew up thinking that depression was a made up ‘white’ illness for bored housewives.

The worst part after my diagnosis was that I knew when I had a ‘down’ day, but it was difficult to explain to others why I was cancelling plans or feeling down, because mental health issues are not visible and generally aren’t taken seriously until one has an episode and ends up in hospital. It is also an ongoing illness which isn’t automatically cured by medication after a week or two like the flu – it is often incurable.

My initial medication lost its effectiveness during a particularly stressful academic period, our June test period. When I finally realised that my medication wasn’t working anymore and that it wasn’t just me being stressed (because the medication doesn’t take away healthy human emotions and feelings) the tests were upon me and I had to survive. It was an extremely difficult moment in my life because I knew how important those tests were, but there were days when I would get out of bed only to use the bathroom because I was that depressed. There was one particular week that went by and I still do not know where it went because I spent most of it in bed. I don’t even remember eating during that week.

The worst part about depression (for me) is the extreme loneliness. I was surrounded by people, but I was still so incredibly alone. I hit rock bottom when I walked to a train station and stood on the platform, more than ready to jump. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t jump that day, there were many different reasons: I have two younger brothers who need my financial help as they pursue their tertiary studies, I have a mother who would be devastated if I were to jump, but none of that mattered to me in that moment. The thing about depression is that it causes you to hate yourself and therefore by extension you believe that no one else could possibly love you, that no one could possibly miss you if you were gone, that no one would really even notice if you ceased to exist. In that moment on that platform, though, the one thing that kept on going around and around in my head was that I had forgotten to write a note. I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but it did, so went back home and decided to write one.

I had a therapy session later in the morning and I thought “hey, what the hell, let me go to this session one last time”. If anyone ever tells you that therapy is a waste of time or that you are weak for going to therapy, do me a favour and show that person your middle finger and go to your therapy session anyway. After being in therapy for years and feeling no different, on that day, at my lowest, going to that session was the best thing I could have done. The concern on my therapist’s face the moment she saw me (I didn’t even have to say something) said much more to me than anyone ever had.

That day, I made a pact with her and with a friend that if I ever felt particularly suicidal again, I would go straight to an emergency room. That level of accountability seems to help, because although I haven’t felt suicidal in a long time, just knowing that I am accountable to someone, that I made a pact, makes me rethink my situation before I act.

If you are feeling suicidal, please do that. Find a buddy and tell your buddy that you need help; ask that person to be there for you to talk to if you need someone while you try to get your medication sorted or while the medication is not yet effective (anti-depressants often take two weeks to start working properly). There are also suicide prevention helplines – please call one of those if you need help.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has some very useful resources which really helped me when I was beginning to suspect that my low mood wasn’t “just one of those days”. One of the best resources on SADAG’s website is a variety of quizzes, the results of which indicate a possibility of depression, Postnatal Depressionanxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and/or ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). If you are suspecting that you might be suffering from one of the above, take the appropriate quiz and follow your results up with your general practitioner or a psychiatrist, whichever is more accessible to you. SADAG also has a toll-free helpline which you can call if you have any queries or need help locating your closest emergency room, psychologist or psychiatrist. There are also suicide prevention helplines and support groups available.

On the issue of psychologist versus psychiatrist: a psychologist does not have a medical degree and therefore cannot prescribe medication, but is trained to provide therapy. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, is a medical doctor who is able to diagnose mental illnesses and is able to prescribe medication. A general practitioner is also able to prescribe medication, but it is always a good idea to go and see a psychiatrist to evaluate the prescription so as to see whether the dosage should be adjusted or not.

Medication for mental illnesses can be tricky in the sense that there is not one blanket medication that works for every human being. Sometimes it takes a few different trials and/or dosages to get the correct balance, sometimes the side-effects are not ideal and sometimes the medication loses its effectiveness over time, which means that new medications and dosages have to be experimented with. It is an extremely frustrating process, but please do not give up, because once the medication actually starts working it really does make a massive difference to the wellbeing and general level of functionality of someone who suffers from a mental illness.

The Student Wellness Service (SWS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is usually fully booked, but there is a waiting list for therapists. The therapists are brilliant and often refer students to the psychiatrist there, so it is a cheaper consultation (although the waiting list for the psychiatrist is usually also very long because there is only one) than with a private psychiatrist.

Please do not let financial constraints deter you from seeking help from SWS. The general cost of one therapy session is R150, but anything at SWS is free of charge for students who are on financial aid and prices are negotiable for any other student. The charges are added to your fee account, though, so be sure to clear those charges before results are released, otherwise you will not be able to access your results.

I urge you to seek help if needed and even if you do not believe that you need help yourself, go and check out the SADAG website and read up on mental health issues. This is an area of life which is often overlooked and minimized because of ignorance and this can be frustrating and hurtful to loved ones who might need your support. Try to educate yourself and do some research because a good support structure is vital to someone with a mental illness in those first few months after the diagnosis.

Also refrain from using harmful, ableist language such as:

  • I understand how you feel;
  • Just think positive thoughts;
  • Everyone gets sad – you’ll be fine;
  • Suicide is a sign of weakness;
  • Pray about it;
  • Get over it.

There are many more and as you read and learn more about mental health you will learn about these do’s and don’t’s, but please follow the links below for any additional information:

There are obviously more resources out there, so don’t stop here. UCT students can follow the UCT Mad Hatters Society Facebook page (it actually gives me life).

If you are struggling right now: please do not think that this will blow over or that you have to ‘tough it out’. If someone can go to a doctor because they have a common cold, you can seek medical help for a mental illness. Do not let anyone discourage you from taking your medication. No one would tell a diabetic not to take his/her insulin, so no one has the right to tell you not to take your medicine. Seek help, take your medication, get therapy and/or join a support group, it will make such a big difference to your life. You will actually feel like a human being again.

Most importantly: no one can change or minimize your lived experience. This is tough and you are a warrior for seeking help, you are a warrior for surviving.

A love letter to my residence and the people who made it home

A love letter to my residence and the people who made it home

I have lived in the residence system at UCT for the past four years and besides it being home to me, it has been one of the better run facilities which I have managed to encounter at UCT.

Moving into the residence system is a necessity for most of us because it is often cheaper and more convenient than living elsewhere. It is also much more likely to be covered by a bursary and by financial aid, so it makes sense to live in the residence system.

Being in a residence (or res, as we call it colloquially) can be quite annoying as well. I have had to ask my friends to leave my place because I am not allowed to have guests after midnight (they still tease me about my lack of hospitality), when my mother visits she has to arrange for alternative accommodation because I am not allowed to have guests unless they add to my academic wellbeing and I constantly have to ask my (extremely loud) friends to be less loud when we have gatherings because we have to respect the wellbeing and right to a quiet environment of those around us. Then there is the food, which although not bad, is quite repetitive and just not the same as ‘home food’, you know? So in essence, being in res can be a little bit challenging.

It is, however, one of the best things you can do as a university student. If you have a choice, choose to live in the residence system. The residence system provides its residents with many opportunities for growth and development in the form of tutoring and mentorship programs, leadership positions and numerous seminars and talks by guest speakers.

In my first few months in the residence system, I applied for a leadership position and I have not looked back since. Not only have I become a more confident person, my written communication skills have improved markedly and I have learned to chair difficult and robust meetings; I have had the opportunity to deliver speeches to large crowds and I have acquired many of the other soft skills which one requires in the workplace, such as people skills, coping with disappointment, learning how to assert myself respectfully and learning how to handle crisis situations.

I have also had the opportunity to listen to and engage with some truly remarkable people, most notably Advocate Billy Downer, who prosecuted Schabir Shaik and President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial.

Besides the more tangible benefits mentioned above, the biggest benefit to being in res is the people you get to interact with. I met some of my best friends at res: people I can have ice cream with at midnight, people I can have hour-long debates with and people who went to the effort of educating me about my privilege and closed-mindedness.

One of my best friends right now was someone I did not like much when I first moved into the residence system, but upon getting to know me, he taught me more than anyone else did because he took it upon himself to be there for me when I had questions about student movements, cultural differences, privilege, feminism in Africa and many more issues which I never so much as gave a second thought to before I met him (he also owes me a pumpkin). He regularly laughs at me about my lack of street knowledge (I thought Black Twitter was literally a completely different type of Twitter – feel free to laugh at my ignorance here) and loves to tell me that my taste in music is horrendous.

I recently had a heated debate with a friend of a friend about feminism and lobola. If anyone remembers, in January 2016, a municipality in Kwa-Zulu Natal awarded bursaries to virgin girls and these bursaries could be kept by them only if they remained virgins (the bursary was subsequently found to be unconstitutional). To me, this seemed like a no-brainer: these bursaries were sexist and a disgrace to a seemingly progressive society such as South Africa. That was until I met this friend of a friend, who I ended up having a spirited debate with for hours and I ended up learning a great deal (although I still did not find the evidence provided by him sufficient to change my mind and neither did the court, so I win).

I cannot even remember the number of times one of my res friends fed me, ‘lent’ me an onion or walked me to McDonald’s at 2 a.m. because I was hungry at that ungodly time. I also cannot remember how many times I have barged into someone’s room or flat, made a cup of coffee for myself and sat down and complained about some ridiculously stupid issue. I have had these people plan my birthday parties and I have had a whole bunch of them try to teach me how to twerk (I still fail miserably every single time).

If I can give one piece of advice to any incoming student, it is this: if you receive a residence offer, take it. Move into the residence system. As much as you might hate it initially, do your best to be involved in your residence: meet people, apply for leadership positions, make use of the resources offered by the residence system. After four years I can honestly say that those who are in the residence system and engage with it and the people in the system gain much, much more from their university experiences than those who live off-campus, keeping in mind that I lived off campus for a year.

P.S. I am still waiting for my pumpkin.

P.P.S. I am about to call a friend to walk with me to McDonald’s for a McFlurry.

 

Why you have no right to judge students for protesting

Why you have no right to judge students for protesting

Yesterday, while waiting at the till in the Rondebosch Pick and Pay, this middle aged man turns to someone in the queue and says: “You know, for people who supposedly don’t have money, there sure are a lot of students in this shop right now.” Some really nice guy made the effort of explaining to the man that students have meal vouchers with which to purchase food because the dining halls are not operating at the moment, which is why the shop was so full.

This got me thinking about the misconceptions which exist regarding the student uprisings, so I am going to try and explain some of the issues simply because I am tired of being called lazy, stupid and a vandal.

I want you to think about the issues which currently face students. It is easy to sit at home and judge us for being fed up with a system which we do not deserve to be a part of. The people who are most affected by high university fees are the people who are in this situation not because they deserve to be in it, but because their parents were systematically oppressed and prevented from being anything more than a teacher or police officer (if they were lucky). In most cases, however, these are the children of farmers, gardeners and domestic workers. These parents did not choose to wake up at 04:30 every morning to take two taxis and a bus so that they can go and look after someone else’s children, they were forced into those positions because their skin colour differed from those who decided that black people were less than white people simply because. But these parents soldier on and they do their best because they believe that by sending their children to university, they can finally break out of the cycle of poverty.

So the children work hard at an underfunded government school with no textbooks and ill-qualified teachers, all whilst looking after younger siblings and family members because mommy and daddy work fourteen hour days in order to provide food, clothing and to pay the school fees in a country where transport prices increase on an almost monthly basis, not to mention electricity prices, if they are lucky enough to have electricity. Eventually this child manages to get into university, but now the real problem starts because how is she going to afford to study? Mommy and daddy obviously cannot pay because they earn less in a year than what tuition at a university costs (which is R35000 per annum on average), not to mention textbooks, food, transport and accommodation.

So the children apply for loans, scholarships and bursaries. Loans are a no-go because the parents have no assets to put down as security, so they try for scholarships and bursaries. Of course, coming from a school in Khayelitsha or in rural Eastern Cape, it is almost impossible to achieve the same matric marks as those coming from a Bishops, Hilton College or SACS. Besides that, employers want students who are likely to pass and excel at university and based on historical empirical evidence, black students are more likely to fail at least one course at university level for a number of different reasons, one being the change in culture, so employers overlook the black student and rather give the scholarship to a white, coloured or Indian student. So once again, the black student is left to fall through the cracks.

So students protest peacefully, they go through the correct channels, they ask the universities and government to think about the lasting effects of Apartheid on a generation that should not be affected by Apartheid in this manner anymore, but still is. No one listens. Students realise that the only way management listens is when they shut the universities down and burn libraries, so that’s what they do.

Whenever you read about a building being burnt down or drastic measures of protest being taken, I want you to stop and think about how frustrated someone must be to resort to such measures before you judge. No one WANTS to burn down a library, but often it is years and years of frustration which leads to such actions. Of course I am not condoning burning down a library, but I want you to understand that it is not done out of malice or stupidity, but out of pure frustration. I was one of the first people to condemn the faeces being chucked at the Rhodes statue in 2015 until someone explained to me that protestors went through all of the correct channels and hit dead end upon dead end. As soon as faeces was chucked at the statue, though, management listened and the statue was removed within two weeks. Instead of blaming students, blame the government and management who for years have silenced students and not taken their concerns seriously.

One other thing that crops up again and again is this idea that black people and especially black students are lazy and want handouts. (Because let’s face it: the people protesting are mostly black students because they are the ones who need funding the most). Stop telling us about how you had to work two jobs to put yourself through university. That is admirable and many of us do that, but the whole point of these protests is that no one should have to go to such extreme lengths just to get an education. The fact that we don’t want to work two jobs while studying surely doesn’t make us lazy and entitled? It makes us normal human beings who want the same ‘privileges’ as those students who do not have to work two jobs whilst studying. How can you call a black person entitled and lazy when all he/she wants is to be educated without the crippling burden of student debt in his/her own country? How can you judge someone for wanting to be more than a gardener in the country of their forefathers; for wanting to improve the lives of their parents and grandparents who did not have the opportunities which they as students now have because of an unfair system?

We are the most intelligent group of people in our age group. We are not stupid. If you listened to us every once in a while and understood our frustrations before shooting us down or labeling us as lazy and entitled, you would see that we have a lot more to offer than you think. You might even learn something.

Why Women’s Day Matters

Why Women’s Day Matters

I love Women’s Day. Actually, as you might know by now, I love commemorative days in general. Firstly, because introspection and reflection is always a good thing to do and secondly (and most importantly), because it gives me something to write about and writing makes me happy.

I have a soft spot for Women’s Day, though. I like to celebrate it by doing something I enjoy, so in previous years I have gone hiking and running on Women’s Day and this year I am eating an entire pizza in bed in my most comfortable pajamas while I read, stalk my ultimate crush (Barack Obama – *swoon*) and do some minor writing.

Today I want to focus on why Women’s Day exists. I often overhear or participate in conversations about why we have Women’s Day and they usually go something like this: “Why exactly do we have Women’s Day? Why no Men’s Day? Surely now that women are equal to men, Women’s Day should no longer exist?” Well, this is why:

Globally, Womens’s Day is actually celebrated on 8 March every year. What we celebrate in South Africa on 9 August is the commemoration of the march of approximately twenty thousand women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 August 1956. This year is the 60th anniversary of that march. These women marched in protest of the ‘Pass Laws’ which required all black South Africans to carry an internal passport known as a pass with them under the Apartheid regime. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then sang a struggle song which was composed specially for the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched a woman you have struck a rock.) The song title has since become the catch phrase of Women’s Day and the embodiment of the strength of the South African woman.

It is eerily fitting and ironic, then, that four women chose to exercise their right to protest peacefully at the IEC briefing on Saturday 6 August during president Jacob Zuma’s speech, just 3 days before Women’s Day. Unfortunately, 60 years after the peaceful march to the Union Buildings, these women appeared to have been roughly removed from the venue by the president’s security and had their placards (which read “Khanga”, “Remember Khwezi”, “10 yrs later” and “I am 1 in 3”) snatched from them. It is a sad state of affairs that we are able to applaud women for protesting peacefully in 1956, but when four women protest peacefully and silently about a matter which causes disrepute to the president, they are removed roughly by said president’s security cohort.

Which brings me to why we need Women’s Day. Women’s Day is not only a commemoration of the heroic actions of women like the Union Building 20 000 who helped bring about change to how women are perceived today, it is also a reminder that as far as we have come in the last few decades, women are still not equal counterparts to men in society.

Although women are able to pursue careers in any industry and in any field and are able to enlist in every branch of the military, women are still paid less than men in the workforce (and this wage gap disparity is even worse for black women). Inherent biases and ideas about women still run rampant in society today, one of which is the perception of sexually active men as opposed to sexually active women. When a teenage boy has had numerous sexual partners he is often congratulated and praised, but when a teenage girl has had the same number of sexual partners, she is shunned and slut-shamed.

Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.

Then there are the issues relating to sexual violence and the treatment of sexual violence victims and survivors. The justice system, in an attempt to ensure that no one is found guilty of a crime which he/she did not commit (sensibly so), often appears to favour the accused instead of protecting the victim and many times these victims are women. The Jacob Zuma rape case comes to mind here, where his accuser, known to the media as Khwezi, had her clothing choices questioned (she wore a traditional khanga) and had her entire sexual history recounted to the court in order to acquit Jacob Zuma of the charges against him.  Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.

The issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’.

Lastly, the issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’. We know that all lives matter, just as we know that men are valuable contributors to our societies. The point of Women’s Day, like ‘Black lives matter’, is not to say that men do not matter, but to celebrate the fact that women have had to fight an uphill battle to attain the freedoms and privileges which we now enjoy, as well as to point out the fact that there is still work to be done in creating a 100% equal society.

Some of the famous women who inspire me (hover over the picture to see the name):

For two comprehensive lists of women who are worth researching and looking up to, check out African Feminist’s blog posts entitled 15 Women Worth Looking Up To and 8 African Feminists of Note.

On Deciding Who To Vote For

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It is the evening before Election Day and I still don’t know who to vote for. I know that I will definitely vote, though. I have the privilege and responsibility of influencing the governance of my city in some small way and I cannot refrain from exercising that option (Accounting joke!). I don’t think that I would be able to forgive myself if I didn’t play a role in how this election turns out.

Living in Cape Town, it is pretty much a given that the Democratic Alliance (DA) will win, so it doesn’t really matter who I vote for, but it is still important to think through the issues and to think about who is best equipped to solve those issues.

I am an ANC (African National Congress) baby, like so many other people of colour. When I say ANC, I mean the heroic ANC. The ANC that fought for freedom from the Apartheid government, the ANC with the underground movements, the ANC of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela and The Freedom Charter. The ANC that had millions of people of colour lining up to vote for the first time on 27 April 1994 and had those same people proudly accept and adore Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. That ANC.

I am too young to know exactly what things were like in South Africa just before 1994 and during the ten or so years thereafter, but I do know that the ANC I read about from those years is the not the same ANC that I see now. The one I read about fought for the people; the middle class lady from Eldorado Park or Bo-Kaap could be assured that the president would not use her hard earned taxpayer money to build a homestead for himself and if he did, that the rest of the party would stand up for her, the electorate, instead of defending the president. The ANC I read about is one who would not allow its ministers to be offered ministerial appointments by an influential family and definitely would not allow its main broadcaster to be censored.

Don’t get me wrong: the ANC will always have a special place in my heart because I know how much it means to the uncles and aunties who lived through Apartheid, but I simply cannot reconcile the current ANC with the one I fell in love with.

Then there are two other options: The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA. It is ironic that the EFF has the word ‘economic’ in its name, because most of its ideas appear to be economically unfeasible. In principle it sounds lovely: the socialist ideals of sharing equally in the wealth of the nation and of the wealthy minority giving back to the poor majority is an ideal situation, but it is an unfeasible situation to say the least and therefore the EFF is an unfeasible voting choice.

That leaves the DA, then. I personally have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the DA. Fundamentally, I appreciate the fact that the DA is there to call the ANC out on its shortcomings and mistakes. That is what the opposition is for. However, the DA’s stance (or lack thereof) on Affirmative Action is worrisome because it is an indicator that the party either does not understand the economic disparities which still exist because of Apartheid, or that it chooses to ignore the issue and hope that it will go away. To me, the Affirmative Action issue is a major issue because it affects the majority of the population. From the student uprisings of 2015 one can clearly see that this issue will not go away, but that it will continue to fester until something gives and usually that is not a pretty sight.

However, I am also a strong believer in “If it doesn’t work, change it” and right now the ANC is not working for anyone but a select few. The DA has also been relatively successful in Cape Town –  keeping in mind that Cape Town is not entirely a reflection of the rest of South Africa as it is generally richer and more politically stable than other major cities in the country.

Of course, one has to keep in mind that it is a local election and that these are national issues, but I think that how a party intends to govern nationally is a reflection of how it will run a local municipality.

I think I know who I want to vote for tomorrow, but don’t even try to guess because I am not divulging that information. My vote is between myself and the ballot.

 

Mandela Week Reflections

Mandela Week Reflections

Every year on Mandela Day (18 July), I tend to reflect on the state of the nation. It has become a habit of mine to think about where South Africa was before 1994 and where it is now just to remind myself of how far we’ve come and generally I feel optimistic and positive about where we are headed as a country, even with all of the issues that we face.

This year, however, was different. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was going through a difficult time personally or whether it was the fact that the ANC is doing everything in its power to lose its voters to the DA and EFF, but I was feeling particularly pessimistic about the future of South Africa. With Nkandla, the SABC’s censorship debacle, Nene-gate and the Rand’s performance during 2016, things were looking dire. Is it surprising, then, that I was not feeling particularly optimistic about the future?

Until Saturday 23 July, that is:

A friend of mine has started a non-profit organization recently, Ubuhle Development Foundation. The foundation aims to pair high school learners in grade 11 and grade 12 up with young professionals who are already in the workforce, but who are still young enough to be relateable, in order to provide mentoring and guidance to these learners about careers and jobs which may be of interest to them. I think that this is a fantastic initiative because I know how valuable the advice of a young professional was when I was making decisions about my future 5 years ago and therefore when my friend asked me whether I was keen on joining the initiative, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to those who are making those same decisions now.

So, after the chairperson (Mpumie) and his team worked for months to get the program up and running, a bunch of us drove down to Vredenburg on 23 July to attend the official opening function of the foundation.

Initially I joined the initiative because I wanted to help fill a need in our society. I knew that a good mentor when one is in need of guidance is an invaluable tool to have because often a mentor can tell one more than an internet search ever could. I, however, never even considered the effect that this would have on me personally.

This past week was rough for me. I had three different doctor’s appointments and I was just feeling particularly tired and demotivated, so I almost fabricated an excuse to miss the event, but I forced myself to attend and I do not regret it. In fact, I am extremely grateful that I did.

Seeing how much the initiative meant to the mentees just reinvigorated my spirits. It was a much needed reminder that I am still, in some small way, valuable to society and that I have the power to help shape society for the better. Often people complain about millennials and about the technology generation, but initiatives like these prove that we have the power and the capacity to put technology to good use, that we are able to influence those who come after us and that we can believe in ourselves and in others enough to take risks in order to help improve our collective futures. Seeing someone who went to school with me doing such amazing work is inspiring, to say the least. I am feeling positive and optimistic about the future of South Africa again.

It was also wonderful to interact with other people who are in the workforce and to listen to their advice. As the baby mentor (I am the only one who is not yet entirely in the workforce), I used the event as an opportunity to learn as much as I could from those who are more experienced than I am. The advice of the mentors was as valuable to me as it was to the mentees, if not more so, considering my mood going into the event and my anxiety at finally entering the workforce.

It is selfish, but the Ubuhle Development Foundation’s opening function was in many ways more important to me than it was to the mentees and I am so grateful that I got out of bed and attended the event instead of coming up with a reason not to go.

If you are interested in learning more about Ubuhle Development Foundation, you can check out their website and Facebook page.

Website: http://www.ubuhledf.org.za/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Ubuhle-Development-Foundation-225507601140094/

Race from the perspective of a young coloured woman

A friend of mine recently asked a group of our white friends what they thought about race. His question was “Do you feel like we have to tolerate one another? Or is it just harmonious and effortless being around the diverse group?” This question was asked in the aftermath of two more black people (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) being killed by the police in America, which again brought attention to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, even here in South Africa.

I am neither black nor white and therefore have never experienced the oppression and fear which I can only imagine black people experience every day, nor the inherent privilege which comes with being white. I am pretty much somewhere in the middle: formerly disadvantaged, but still allowed to speak my mind because my relatively light skin tone and ‘white’ accent means that people listen to me before they shoot down my ideas and opinions, or dismiss me as being bitter about Apartheid.

I have often heard my dad say that we were too black to be white during Apartheid and that we are now too white to be black. It was funny to me when I was younger, but I realised eventually that it wasn’t a joke, but that instead, the words masked a deep-rooted anger and bitterness towards the system which led to an identity crisis for many coloured people like myself who still do not quite know where we fit in.

Nevertheless, as a coloured person, I can do my best to answer my friend’s question from my perspective:

As an extremely outspoken person (often with little to no regard for the consequences), I never felt any different to any other race until an incident in grade 8. A white boy in my class said that he would never marry a person of colour because of cultural differences. Coming from a Christian household like him, I honestly did not see how my culture was any different to his, but he insisted that he could never engage in any sort of romantic relationship, let alone marry, a person of colour for that reason. It was only then that I realised how different I actually was.

A few years later, when I was at university, I wanted to take my mom out for some cake. As we entered this little coffee shop, one of the ladies who worked there told us that they were closed. It seemed peculiar because the sign said “OPEN” and everything seemed to be in order in the shop, but because there were no customers in the little establishment, I brushed it aside and we left. My mom, however, angrily said that we were turned away because of our skin tone. That was a major moment in my life because it really dawned on me then that even my mother, who is the kindest, most long-suffering and sweetest human being on earth, had been so badly affected by racial discrimination in the past that even the slightest hint thereof now angered her (she never gets visibly angry).

These two experiences stand out because they truly opened my eyes to the more entrenched forms of racism which are considered to be acceptable (in the case of my classmate) and the more long-lasting effects of Apartheid on the people who experienced it (in the case of my mother).

To answer my friend’s question: There have been moments at the University of Cape Town when I felt uncomfortable and ‘less than’ my peers, especially my white peers, not because they treated me differently, but because I always felt that my white peers had this confidence which I just did not have. It is not that I am an unconfident person in general, I just always felt a bit dumber compared to the people around me who knew what a corporate bond was without having to Google it, or who had a favourite Woolies salad when I would not dare to enter a Woolworths for fear of spending my entire bank account in one go (student life was tough). However, I have never felt the need to tolerate anyone. Being around a diverse group of people has never been a problem for me because although I cannot claim to be colourblind (I definitely am not), I have never thought that anyone was any less or more deserving of anything than me simply because of the colour of their skin.

Of course, it is different for me. I am part of a newer generation where those of us who were privileged enough were able to attend schools where we were exposed to a number of different cultures from a very young age. Although I bear the secondhand scars of Apartheid, I have personally not experienced the horrors and pain of Apartheid firsthand like my parents did.

However, even for my generation, race is an issue. Institutional racism and inherent biases shape the world at large, especially the opinions and ideas of the generations before mine that lived through Apartheid, which are then transferred from generation to generation. This can be seen in debates about affirmative action, selection of sports teams and often on social media (the Penny Sparrows of the world).

These forms of racism are extremely hurtful and can easily cause disillusionment and bitterness in young people like myself. As a member of the first born-free generation, I have dreams of an equal and fair society where respect and success is earned on merit, where affirmative action is no longer necessary, where all young men and women are able to trust the police to protect them and where racial stereotypes are no longer perpetuated. Unfortunately, this is not yet my or anyone else’s reality.

To answer my friend’s question: for me, it is effortless to be part of a diverse group, but I am not blind to the fact that it is more difficult for others. As a coloured person, the most difficult issue is identity: where I actually fit in in this rainbow nation of ours, but that is a topic for another day.

Until next time

The Coherent Rambler