25 September 2016

Interviewing Student Protesters

Towards the end of 2015, mass protest plagued through South Africa. These protests were lead by the country's youth- specifically students studying at university level. These protests began peacefully and with a common goal in mind- lowered university fees, however, after not too long, every university in the country took their anger to the streets, with the result of rubber bullets being fired at protesting students.

This nation-wide debacle began at a university in Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits. In 2010, it was found that 20% of South Africans fell below the poverty line, with the expectation for that statistic to rise. Many students battle to find the money to get to university, never mind the fees involved in staying at that university. Last year, local universities announced a fee increase off 10.5% for the following year (2016), despite a 6% raise in the inflation rate, for that year.

Towards the end of October, about a week or so after universities returned to a somewhat-sense of normality, I ventured out to Wits to speak to the students. I wanted to understand, directly from them, why they were-or weren't- getting involved in the protests and what inspired their decision.

Students helped me to understand that their protests were fueled from initial protests on outsourcing. Cleaners, gardeners and other manual laborers were employed by a parent company, who were then hired by the universities. The staff wanted to be employed directly by the universities- which is accompanied with better benefits. Their dissatisfaction fueled mass-gatherings, which eventually started a chain reaction when the students were dissatisfied. The movement became known as Fees Must Fall.

The first individuals that I spoke to are pictured below, in front of 'The Great Hall'. The lady on the left illustrated to me that she was instrumental in the movement, and actually led many of the protests. When they spoke to me, it really helped me to understand their fight. For the first time, this movement had faces and names with whom I could identify. 

I got into my car that afternoon and turned the radio on- like always. I caught the middle of the 5 o'clock news bulletin which stated that a protest had just erupted at a neighboring university- the University of Johannesburg.  Honestly, without much thought I was steering towards the protest- quite unwittingly to be honest. I was determined to get their stories.

Driving up to the embankment where the protests were, I first took notice of the massive tank-like police vehicles that lined the streets. Immediately, I was filled with a sense of unease. Crowds of police were present. Police were protected by bullet proof vests and shield. Their presence silently raised the tempo by a few notches. If things were to take a turn, I somehow doubted my grey-knitted jersey would protect me I would not be safe. However, by this point any wit inside me was long gone. I was getting what I came for- these people's stories.

Built into the African culture is song. The rhythm and melodies of old tribal beats remain indented into South African's lives. This is evident if one looks back at Apartheid struggle song and at this protest. For the past few weeks, I had heard news reports of violent gatherings. This was not that. People with a common goal of being heard and addressed to, were gathering and had turn to the one thing which has always been there- song.

This events took place almost a year ago. The conclusion was a 0% fee increase for 2016 fees. However, this has proved to be a problem. Nearly one year later, university students have once again broken out in protest- with an increasing theme of violence. The protest, which prevented students from entering their universities, began for the same reason-the announcement of 2017 fee increases.  

During one interview, last year, a student had said that "If this should happen again, let it" and that is exactly what South Africans are seeing now.

I am unsure of where the latest talks between students and government will go, but for how long can there be no fee increases?  Universities are institutions which are dependent on million of rands each year to maintain facilities.These funds have to come from somewhere. But what does a country do when its people have the right to education despite the funds to afford it? South Africa's minister of higher education has called for the closing of all public, tertiary institutions for one year. In my opinion, the aforementioned is a disastrous ideas with long-term, calamitous effect for the current youth and the youth as adults. In my eyes, a solution could be to clamp down on South Africa's corruption at the highest level- the presidency and the government. If even a third of what our 'leaders' have stolen were put into education, Fees Must Fall would not be a problem. 

In situation like these, it is important to note that each perspective has a valid argument. The issue arises in creating a long-term solution, which is in accordance with the needs of each side.

Till next time-


10 September 2016

Visit to a South African Tribal Village

I first visited this cultural village back in 2003, as a third grader. For 9 years, I  have carried a somewhat dimly-lit memory of this excursion, webbed between the network of neurons that are protected by the outer sulci of my brain. Last weekend, a new memory of this tourist-targeted cultural village was ignited. My previous recollection unreliably recalls my peers and I, with much apprehension, selectively picking the least gross-looking worm -mopane worms to be exact (a South African delicacy)- to take as a victim to our unsuspecting westernized palates. Last weekend, I returned with my family . Due to my somewhat 'practical experience' and 'expertise' on this local delicacy, I did not re-live the worm-eating affair.

'Lesedi' means light in Sotho, one of South Africa's 11 official languages. This dialect is widely spoken in Lesotho, a country land-locked completely by South Africa, hence, the Free State province, just above this country speaks Sotho, hence its appearance on South Africa's official language list.

The colourful geometric shapes which journey across the perimeter of the walls, as seen above, are synonymous with the Ndebele people of South Africa. These patterns originated after 1883, when the Ndebele people joined the Boer workers in a Boer war. After their loss in the war, these people faced harsh circumstances, as are the repercussions of many, if not all wars. The African people turned to pattern and colour to vent their grievances. Hence, Ndebele house painting was born. The patterns are said to portray cultural values, belief systems, symbols of marriage, symbols of self-identity and personal prayers. The pattern is created by the woman of the household, hence, a well-painted home shows a good wife and good mother figure.

Similarly, the traditional dress is opulent in colour. The neck and leg accessories called 'isigolwani'  are worn after a woman undergoes initiation. These bulky pieces are said to have been worn so that it would be very difficult for them to run away. The brass around the ladies' wrists and legs are called 'dzilla'. These are worn by married woman. 

The second lady from the left is unmarried, indicated by the lack of 'dzilla' around her limbs and her bere breasts. In several African tribes, it is very common to see bare breasts. This unmarried lady is showing off her feminine assets to attract a man, as is common for the Ndebele people.

Back in 2012, across two days in August, 47 people were killed when police opened fire on protesting miners. The miners were demanding a wage increase The events of this day have since becomes known as the Marikana Massacre. The lady on the far left is wearing a shirt that says 'Marikana Skeem' which means Marikana scheme in Afrikaans, another official language of SA.  The Marikana shootings took place in the same province that this cultural village was located. Hence, it is my thinking that the lady supported what the miners stood for on that day, which resulted in many losing their lives.

The blanket wrapped around me above is called 'nguba'. It usually always consist of monochromatic stripes which run vertically across it. Married woman wrap themselves in the blanket out of respect for their husbands...I guess that makes me married?
It is important to note that this cultural village is a 'mock' depiction of a genuine Ndebele tribal village. This set-up is for tourists. The people sell their beaded works, they have conference centres and wear western clothing under traditional garments. It represents the style of the culture well, but is not a 100% accurate depiction of the tribe. It is a fairly accurate representation that allows visitors an experience of a group of people in South Africa.

African tribes are embedded with narratives which largely include animals. Animals have always played a vital role in rituals or ceremonial occasions, and in communicating with ancestors. Africans hold culture very near and dear to their hearts. A zebra without its stripes is simply not a zebra, hence a person without culture, fails to be a person.

I thought that these were the perfect examples of 'up-cycling'. These chairs are made from old washing buckets. A washing bucket has been cut in half, into a semi-circle, and placed within a frame. I personally loved this new use for something old. To incorporate it into its Ndebele context, it is decorated with pattern.

The people were so lovely and so willing to share their cultural with us. It was truly a heart-warming experience.

Till next time-

2 September 2016

I Don't Really Know My Facebook Friends...

I sat in my design classroom this morning, pondering which direction I wanted to steer my next design project towards. After some time, I settled on the topic of overweightness and obesity. After further pondering on the topic, two cups of tea, and  a lot of research into the causes,treatments and prevention tactics, I started creating a survey. I created a survey for my Facebook friends. This is when I found out, that maybe, I've been using the term 'friends' too strongly.

My survey consisted of 8 question, ranging from the anonymous participant's height, age and weight to more personal questions like "Do you consider yourself overweight?" or "Is there a relationship between your weight and your self-esteem?". Truthfully, I was very surprised by the answers to the latter of the two above questions. I expected most people to simply respond with "yes" along with an impersonal short explanation. Seven out of thirty respondents replied with "no". I had wrongly assumed that all participants would say that there was an indirect relationship (as the one increases, the other decreases) between their self-esteem and their weight.

However, there was a very interesting reply to the question "Is there a relationship between your weight and your self-esteem?". Someone replied that "ever since I was little I was chubby because I have a slow metabolism because of a genetic thyroid condition and I've been bullied for being overweight so I don't know what I am anymore." This reply stuck out for me. I had posted the link to this survey on Facebook, hence, this reply came from a Facebook friend of mine. I know this person in real life, yet I have no idea who they are and the struggles they have had to face.

Besides educating me on overweightness/obesity demographics and psycho-graphics, I've been reminded never to judge people. We truly have no idea what other people are going through. This has been a well-learnt lesson for me to remember to really take time to talk to people and make them feel appreciated, and also to judge less.

That's possibly a lesson we can all take away from this.

If you'd like to see all 8 questions and possibly fill out the survey for yourself, follow this link:

Till next time-
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