Shine, Graduand, shine.

We see you. I see you. I see you as you reflect on years of hard work. I see you as you remember crying in matric because you did not have money to go to university. I see you as you cry tears of joy when that loan finally comes through. I see you as you leave home all by yourself and head off to the big bad university with all of its glory. I see you as become disillusioned with university as soon as someone harasses a black tutor. I see you as you cry when you get that first test result back. I see you as you cry when you finally pass Stats.

I see you as the years go on and the nights get longer. I see you as the panic attacks become more frequent and the waiting list at Student Wellness becomes impossible.

I see you as things fall apart financially and at home. I see you as the pressure mounts to be “the first in our family”. I see you as you try to hide your failures from your family because they wouldn’t understand. I see you as the other kids sign up for tuts on their iPads and you have to settle for the 16:00 tut, even though you have to take three taxis to get home.

I see you as you sleep in the library and skip dinner so that you can get on par with the rest of the class.

I see you as you see those words: “Qualifies for award of degree” and you run to the nearest person to laugh and cry and dance and sing.

I see you as your family looks at you with admiration, I see you as you know that you have finally earned something so sweet that you don’t want that moment to pass in a million years.

I see you as you prepare for graduation. I see you as you have to choose which two guests you will invite into Marikana Memorial Hall with you. I see you as you look for the cheapest outfit that still looks decent, I see you as you worry about where your family is going to stay, how they’re going to travel, what they’re going to eat, and how to pay for it all. I see you as you work extra hours, as you save every cent, as you decline the invitation to celebrate with your friends because you want to make sure that your family has a good time at your graduation. After all, it is their graduation as well: it is their tears, their hard work, their double shifts, their prayers and their support that got you to that hall. Or not. Maybe it is all you. Maybe no one supported you or contributed to your degree, but you still have expectations resting on your shoulders.

I see you as you sit in that hall and take it all in. I see you as you cry tears of joy for yourself and tears of loss and grief for your comrades who didn’t make it to that hall because of exclusion, illness or circumstances.

I see you. This is your moment. Shine.


Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

I ended up reading the following 26 books in 2016 (not counting textbooks, legislation and other academic reading):

[From Goodreads – Danielle’s Year in Books]

Twenty Sixteen has been my year of reading, so to speak. I wanted to read one book a month, but I ended up finding some beautiful feminist and cultural novels and biographies which I could not put down. Most of these books have changed my way of thinking in some or other way, but in the interest of time and space, I have chosen 5 books which have truly, TRULY spoken to me.

  1. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to Chimamanda. A friend recommended this novel, her first one, to me and I could not put it down. I think in hindsight I prefer Half of a Yellow Sun to this one, but Purple Hibiscus definitely is a very very close second.

Having grown up in a severely restrictive and sexist religion myself for a number of years, this story really resonated with me. The overly religious father and his ideologies, the church’s treatment of women and children (especially girls), the abuse of women by their husbands, these are all things which made this novel very difficult to deal with.

My favourite books have always been the ones that made me so angry that I could hardly breathe and this was definitely one of those. It is perfect for any teenager – male or female – because ‘we should all be feminists’ (10 points to the person who knows why that quote is significant!)

2. 1984 – George Orwell:

I know that many people struggle to read the classics, but if I were to recommend one (and I have read quite a few), it would be this one.

Orwell was years ahead of his time when he wrote this dystopian novel about a world in which Big Brother is always watching. Where one’s every move, every facial expression, every action is watched and analysed, where free thought is not permitted and any dissenting views are immediately squashed. This novel reminded me of religion, the CIA and The Taliban all in one.

Again, I was both infuriated and fascinated by this novel. If I were to choose a favourite classic, it would definitely be this one, with To Kill a Mockingbird in second place.

3. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe:

I have been trying to read more writers whose stories show different perspectives, with a specific focus on African writers. Chinua Achebe, being the master of African writing, thus had to be read.

This was a significant read because it shows the many different facets of colonisation. Most stories either depict colonists as savages or as saints, with no in between. Regardless of what one’s views on colonisation are, this novel shows more than one side to it. Where colonists brought war and racism, they also brought with them the knowledge to know that twins are not cursed and therefore should not be murdered upon birth and that girls and boys should both be allowed to go to school.

This was indeed a thought-provoking read, with my allegiances shifting often between the protagonist (or antagonist, I still cannot decide) and the other people in the village. Every African should read this. If you can read Shakespeare, you can make the effort to read Achebe.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini:

I genuinely believed that Khaled Hosseini would never be able to top The Kite Runner, but he did. (By the way, The Kite Runner is another must-read, or at least watch the movie).

Set in Afghanistan across two different generations, two women face their own battles until they are eventually thrust into a situation together by a cruel twist of fate. Facing sexism, abuse, grief and the loss of dreams and hope, these women show the strength of women who have had to endure such pain for years and sometimes even lifetimes.

At times I was angry enough to put the book down and take a walk to chill out. It upset me that many women are still oppressed in this way because of extreme religious ideologies. It also gave me hope. It gave me hope that there are open-minded people in the world, it gave me hope that I have freedoms which my mother and her mother before her did not have (just being able to write a blog post is one of those freedoms), it gave me hope for the future of women around the world.

5. Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama:

I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiography. It chronicles the life of Barack Obama up until his entry into Law School. The writing is beautiful! I found the imagery and the symbolism fascinating and what made it even more amazing is the fact that it was written by a lawyer, not a poet.

Obama chronicles his early childhood, teenage years, young adult years and finally his visit to Nigeria like a novelist would write a novel. I tend to struggle to read biographies (although I still love them) because they aren’t as riveting as novels, but this one was different. It reads like a novel and the beauty of its prose had me hooked from the word ‘go’. Of the books I managed to read this year, this was the best written one in terms of language, punctuation and prose.

I found Obama’s identity struggles as a black man somewhat disconcerting – I think I had always just known that he is a remarkable black man without really realising that as a child and a young adult he too struggled with his identity, with belonging. I found this odd, but also very comforting. For anyone who has struggled with their identity, this is definitely worth reading.

I am looking forward to more reading during 2017. I am especially excited to read the following five books:

  • And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini (in progress)
  • The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer (it is supposed to be very funny)
  • The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
  • Hard Choices – Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service – Laura Kaplan

Here’s to another year of books and expanded horizons in 2017!

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.