SLICE OF LIFE: Whose body is it anyway?

I recently discovered a Facebook group called “I regret having children”. It’s a group where parents anonymously post about how they regret their (often unplanned) pregnancies and how much children have ruined their life. I had left the group absolutely certain that, at least for the next 10 years, I do not want to have children and began considering long term birth control like the Intrauterine Device (IUD). Yet, when I explained this, I was met with, “but how can you know? What if you meet someone in the next few years and they want kids?”

At the time I dismissed it, along with all the laughs I received from older people when I explained my stance. They gave me knowing winks, as if saying, “sure honey, wait a few years and then get back to me”, before asking what my hypothetical future husband would think. I then slowly began to realise how universal the attitude is.

The first realisation came when a family member described to me how she had gone to a government clinic for an IUD. She arrived only to be asked by a nurse what her future husband would think and got pressured into getting a Depo Provera injection because, according to the nurse, giving her an IUD would be a waste of government money as she would just come back to take it out in two to three years after she’d met a suitable husband.

The second came when in America, reproductive rights, which had seemed like a settled debate after Roe v Wade (1973), were thrust back into public discourse due to policy and legislative changes which threatens to roll back funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood. This has created a ripple effect felt by women in developing countries, where Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule has led to non-profit organisations which provide women with reproductive services being defunded. As a result, millions of women have nowhere else to turn for reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services.

And to drive the matter home, just two weeks ago, medical doctor and reproductive rights activist, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, was left visibly frustrated as an interviewer on Afrovoices derailed a discussion about abortion access into a debate about whether or not it was the duty of black African women to birth African populations comparable to India and China.

Earlier this year, I attended a talk held at Wits Junction about access to abortion titled Whose body is it anyway? In many ways, this question has become only more relevant in 2018. To whom do women’s bodies belong? To lawmakers in faraway countries who can cut off access to reproductive services with the stroke of a pen? To future armies and workforces who need someone to provide them with young, healthy bodies? To governments who can pressure women into taking potentially harmful hormonal birth control for the sake of being economical? Or to hypothetical husbands whose feelings must be accounted for in our present day medical decisions?

What these questions point to is the invasive policing of our bodies. The societal pressure we face to have children, combined with the increasing restrictions women the world over face on reproductive healthcare, has created a suffocating scenario in which we are beginning to lose control over our own bodies. As some women resort to desperate methods like backstreet abortions to cling to that control, others deal with the devastating consequences of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which, ironically, are often derided by the same people who oppose reproductive justice in the first place.

I believe it is impossible to envision women’s liberation without reproductive justice, because of the many ways that a lack of access to reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services directly harm the wellbeing of women. As we move into Women’s Month the central question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to reproductive issues, such access to abortions and contraceptives, should be “whose body is it anyway?”

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Slice of Life: How round are your rotis?

Why is it so hard to shake off the stares of disapproving aunts and men in fancy suits? I am almost always on the receiving end of them at every family function. The sourness of the patriarchy that laces these comments never fails to sting and especially while the women slave over pots while the men lounge back.

I have witnessed in my own life and household what I have come to understand as patriarchy. My impressions as a South African of Indian heritage have resulted in a definition of patriarchy where a where a woman’s worth often hinges on whether or not she can make the perfectly round roti.

Being born a girl into a South African Indian family means that you’re hit with a predefined list of expectations shaped by the judgement of an imagined mother-in-law. These prerequisites for the marriage to one of their sons are silently agreed upon by our own mothers, the women we look to for affirmation.. Often, when a couple shows an intention to take the next step, his mother will ask:

Who is her family? Can she cook? How round are her rotis? Can she make all your favourite meals like I can? Has she dated anyone before? If she is studying does she has to know that she can’t work after she gets married?

These questions reflect the unrealistic expectations that many communities, mine included, have of young women about to enter into marriage. As for me, I am probably looking at a life of loneliness as I not only fail to meet these expectations, I am actively resisting them.

My stubborn refusal to to learn how to cook still ignites a fire in my mother. It is often the same argument day after day, which always ends at the same question; “What will your mother-in-law say? … Do you think your husband will help you with chores, you’ve got to be kidding! No one wants someone who can’t cook and clean…” These reprimands though, rather than encouraging me to change, just embolden my resolve to resist my future enslavementAs a woman, despite having a university degree, I get asked when I will get married rather than when I will find a job. There is a timestamp on marriage and once you pass that age South African Indian people, especially the aunties, think that no one will want you and you’ve passed your sell by date. Women are treated as objects to barter with rather than human beings with their own feelings and desires. I have never, and will never, come to terms with this way of thinking.

I look at the way my brother is treated by my parents, a way that gives him the space to live his life, his transgressions excused away with the saying, “boys will be boys”. The only time parents like mine burden their sons with expectations is when they lay down the law on the kind of daughter-of-law they expect to have. I am treated differently just because I am a female, this is not inequality, it is discrimination. “Boys will be boys” is nothing more than a free pass to the male of the to do whatever they like.

I, for one, believe in the concept of equality. Perhaps it is time to grow out of old concepts and develop a culture of sharing and taking responsibility as adults. I think that gender limitations and standards should be scrapped because I never want my future daughter to think she can’t achieve something just because she isn’t a man. And to my future mother-in-law, you need not fear your son will starve if you stop feeding his expectations and his belly and instead teach him how to roll the perfectly round roti.

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Slice of life: The blessing of independence from the women who raised me

My mother and grandmother are two strong women in my life who have contributed to my strong and independent character.

They have been the sole providers in my brother’s and my life, making sure that ends met so we could have everything we needed.

But they have done more than that, having taught me how to survive without depending on anyone else.

They taught me courage, self-sufficiency and independence as I witnessed how they both struggled but always provided for our family.

For as long as I can remember, I have always feared having to depend on someone else because I could not help but feel like I was imposing. In higher primary school, I refused to ask for help with my homework as I would think to myself: “If my grandmother can fix broken pipes, floors and ceilings around the house by herself, what is stopping me from figuring out primary school homework alone?”

My grandmother is somewhat of a stubborn woman, a trait that has rubbed off on me. She refuses to rely on a man to fix anything around the house. I used to get frustrated when she would ask me to help her cement the bathroom floor or to take the garbage away in a wheelbarrow to the dumping site, instead of telling my older brother to do it.

Eventually I came to appreciate her showing me how to perform these duties. I’ve learnt that I can do anything for myself without adopting the stereotypical attitude of, “this is a man’s job”. Limitations based on gender do not exist in my head because of my grandmother’s teaching.

My mother too, taught me valuable life lessons. “You need to work hard for yourself. You do not want to be at the mercy of anyone, especially a man,” she has always told me.

Determined not to rely on anyone, I decided to use my talents to make my own money. I began a hair braiding business at 15, inspired by my mother’s advice and my paternal grandmother and aunts who are very good at braiding hair. This is a skill that I am fortunate enough to have inherited.

By braiding people’s hair I am able to make pocket money for myself and help my family by contributing towards household expenses. I started off by braiding my family’s hair for free to perfect my skills, and went on to start charging my neighbours R150 to braid their hair.

My hair business was at its peak in third year at Wits when I stayed in a student residence in Braamfontein. There, a lot of young women came to my room every weekend so I could do their hair. This helped a lot because I could buy groceries and necessities for myself without burdening my family with requests for money.

Staying in Braamfontein was particularly good for my business because there is a huge market for braids and I was easily accessible, living in student housing with most of my customers. I also charged affordable prices, taking into consideration the financial constraints faced by most students. I did so, however, without compromising the end result that my customers were looking for.

In early 2013, my little sister was born and I became the middle child. The very fact that I am someone’s older sister motivates me to work even harder at being financially independent. I love spoiling those who are closest to me. I constantly want to make sure that my sister gets anything she wants. More importantly, I want to lead by example and show her that a girl can do anything without relying on anyone but herself.

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Slice of life: Team work makes the dream work

For the past seven years I have played touch rugby, it was a spur of the moment decision that looked like fun and gave me something to do after school. I didn’t know the sport would lead me on a long but rewarding journey.

Three years ago, I was selected to play for the Gauteng Ladies side, an experience that has taught me more in that short space of time than my 12 years inside a classroom.

Our coach, Steven Knoesen, demands perfection in every aspect of the game, for defense to be as tough as the attack, and for us to memorise every move but to improvise when needed. The past three years under his watch have broken and subsequently moulded me as a player. Three years ago, I was an average player that sailed through most games on natural ability, a bit of pace and a lot of heart. However, when you’re coming up against the best touch rugby players in the country you’ll need a lot more than heart and pace to beat them.

Finally, after years of practice, fitness training week in and week out, running the same moves a hundred times and then a hundred more, learning from defeat and building a strong team bond; we made it to the Ladies final in March this year. Obviously, our opponents would be none other than KZN, leaving us feeling like we were thrown to the sharks. Thankfully, we succeeded! We won 4-1 and came home with our first ever gold medal.
The feeling of finally succeeding after years of tireless work is indescribable. Success is built on a foundation of hard-work, heart and the pure drive to achieve regardless of the circumstances. In anything that you attempt in life, you will always be more successful if you work hard and give it your all.

There is no ‘I’ in touch rugby. I have learned that it takes six people to score a try and it takes the same to defend against one. There are moments when individuality is important but nine times out of ten, a team will be better. You need a team, whether on a sports field or in a newsroom. A team that will go again and again until they succeed. Team work is an interesting concept in the fact that everyone must work just as hard the person next to them, you will only truly succeed if there is no weak link.

I have a Ladies team that is dynamic in ability as well as people from all walks of life that put everything aside once they step onto that field. The sense of camaraderie in sport is unrivalled, friendship is an integral part to personal growth. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is crucial, they will push you to be the best version of yourself.

My three year slog to gold was a process that taught me that in everything you attempt in life, you need to put in equal part hard work to equal part heart and it is always better with a team next to you.

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SLICE OF LIFE: The message in a bottle

My name is Tshego Mokgabudi and I am a substance abuser.

Like a large number of people my age, I indulge in drinking and smoking, often.

I have not always seen this as a problem. As long as it did not affect my schoolwork and relationships then I felt it was all fine. But after speaking to a very brave and inspiring man, Kolopo Kganyago, a Bachelor of Education graduate who beat his addictions, I came to realise that maybe all wasn’t so well with myself.

He told me the story of his fight with substance abuse and, in his story, I found many of the same difficulties in my own life.

My substances are cigarettes and booze. I drink alcohol almost every second day and buy a box of cigarettes at the same rate. Honestly speaking, this has been the case since I was in first year. I am in my honours now. Scary.

I began drinking when I was 14 and began drinking on a daily basis when I left home for varsity at 18. I think the fact that I no longer had my mom’s hawk eyes watching over me every day really did create a sense of liberation in me. In this liberation, I revelled socially as my drinking got worse and worse. At first, drinking seemed like fun but more and more it became a compulsion.

On a daily basis I battle with depression, anxiety, loneliness and everything else that comes with being in your early 20s. Maybe I see these substances as some kind of solution.

When you’re six or seven beers down on a Tuesday night, not having started an assignment due the next morning, everything really does get overwhelming. That’s when I had to admit to myself that I do have a problem.

Our image of a person struggling with substance abuse often is someone with needle pricks all up their arm. Or someone stealing money from friends and family just to feed their habits. I find that that makes it harder for us to see ourselves in that light. It is almost as if we don’t fit the profile then we’re alright.

I like to believe that I’m a good person. I have a good relationship with my mom with whom I speak daily. I have a good relationship with my brother and friends, many of whom are from my primary school days. I’m in a romantic relationship and I like to think I give it my all. That’s why I didn’t see myself as fitting the profile of a substance abuser.

I realise now that the problem was exactly that. I was too afraid to be honest with myself.

Looking back, I think that is one of the reasons why substance abuse is so dangerous. It is not reflected upon. It is unacknowledged. It is the unspoken. When you talk about it, people don’t appreciate the bravery it takes to admit these things.

It begins with admitting to yourself that you are a substance abuser and working out why it is you are one.

Look at the triggers that make you want a drink or a smoke and remove them from your life.

Figure out which environments and friends are enablers for your problem and cut them out.

These are the little ways that I have been trying to work on my habit since admitting to myself that I have a problem.

Every day is a struggle but taking it one step at a time really does make all the difference.

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Marooned in my own island of depression

I WAS ONLY 16 years old when I was admitted to hospital because I was not coping with life. Two days later the doctor told me, “You have clinical depression.” I didn’t know what that meant but now, years later, I have learned a lot about my mental illness.

The diagnosis came after I lost my father, uncle and best friend within a year of each other.
I have been on prescription medication for more than a decade. I often feel like I’m losing my mind but I can’t always tell what the source of the feeling is. It’s hard to narrow it down and I never really know whether I’m just overreacting.

The thing is as a man, I have been raised and socialised to be strong and to never show emotions. For years I stopped telling people because they would either laugh at me or tell me to “stop stressing” and “just take things easy”. I would take things easy if only I knew how to. I’m getting better at asking for help and expressing my feelings. It is not always easy because sometimes I don’t know what it is that I need.

I often feel as though there are walls closing in on me from all sides. Those who know me will tell you that I laugh as if everything is fine. I engage in conversations. In other words, I seem perfectly ‘normal’. At any given time, even around people, I feel as far from company as any human being can be. It is on the shores of this lonely island of my own thoughts when I am most vulnerable, which, for me, is most of the time.

An hour before I originally wrote this piece, I was feeling great. I was in good spirits, having just gotten home from having breakfast with my partner. All of the sudden I felt wiped out. I gravitated towards my bed and began to tweet through the feelings because sometimes, that’s all I can master the energy or will to do.

Even after reading this, I know what I will hear: “May God help you”, “you are not alone” and other well-meaning words. I don’t know about God, but I know about strangers who have been kind to me. I know about my mother who prays for me. I know about my sister who would do anything for me. I know about my few friends who indulge my peculiarities. The thing is, I will still feel this way.

My studies have been my coping mechanism for the past couple of months. I also have a very beautiful dog that keeps me busy and makes me appreciate the little things in life.

We need to talk more openly, honestly, and more frequently about mental health. I know it’s not just me because whenever I write or tweet about it people share their stories and support me.

If you are going through what I am going through, seek help. We have organisations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) who will walk this journey with you and help you cope. I am following my own advice as I have just made an appointment with Sadag to get counselling and, hopefully, after a decade, I will get to rely less on medication.

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Wits Vuvuzela, http://witsvuvuzela.com/2018/04/06/slice-of-life-social-media-has-taken-over-my-life/, April, 2018

SLICE OF LIFE: Social media has taken over my life

Social media continues its pursuit to take over my daily life. I am probably a better photojournalist on Instagram than most professionals and I have developed better investigative skills than the FBI.

I have come to a realisation that my activity on social media is far greater than the average joe. Or is it?

I constantly ask myself what life would be like without the various social media accounts that I have, and if the time and effort I put into each of them is actually worth it.

Posting pictures on Instagram used to be a daily activity until it became more like a full-time job. It takes me a good couple of hours to decide which photo I should put up on Instagram. I question every single thing about the photo.  Should it be in black and white? Would it look better if it had a filter that makes me look tanned? Does this photo match the scheme of my profile feed? I also struggle to find the perfect caption. Should it be funny, philosophical or even relate to my picture at all? I have spent countless hours scrolling through Pinterest trying to find a decent caption that fits my picture and then I just end up using an emoticon anyway. The amount of effort I put into posting one picture makes me wonder about the precious time I have just wasted.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 really. A world without social media would not allow me to do the small things in life that I enjoy. Facebook lets me check up on friends who I haven’t seen since high school. I can watch my cousins grow up in America without missing out on their milestones.

But social media sucks me in. One minute I’m watching a video of a man who ran the Two Oceans Marathon on crutches and two hours later, I’m watching a video of a dog barking to its favourite song.

My mornings usually begin with checking my cellphone and spending endless time checking my social media accounts. The process starts with WhatsApp, then I switch over to Facebook to check whose birthday it is (I would never remember otherwise). Then I have to catch up on what’s happening on Snapchat stories and liking pictures on Instagram. I watch people skydive in Dubai and think of all the activities I could be doing if I left my bed.

I finish off this ritual with a good scroll through Twitter, trying to find out the latest news in hopes that I will pass the week’s current news pop quiz. When I’ve completed all these chores, I finally feel ready to get out of bed.

As a student journalist, social media has become essential in my life. Twitter helps me stay tapped into up-to-the-minute news. I also share stories I have produced on there. Not everyone reads newspapers anymore and without social media, I’m not too sure how people find my stories.

Social media has truly become so rooted in my life that even my decisions are dictated by the things I see on Apps on my phone. Zomato decides where I want to go out for dinner. If I need to contact someone for a story, I tweet them.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to terms with my social media dependency. My relationship with my phone is not an abnormality, I actually think it’s become the norm in my generation.

If I had one rand for every time I looked at my social media accounts, I would be a millionaire.

Hold that thought while I go decide what photo I’m going to post on Instagram next.

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SLICE OF LIFE: Overcoming my ‘quarter-life’ crisis

As 2016 came close to an end and people started popping champagne bottles to usher in 2017 with happy smiles, I came to a very stark realisation. I was terrified of what lay ahead. I had reached a point where I could no longer hide behind the title of student to explain why I wasn’t employed in a job that was taking me places.

I couldn’t excuse the fact that I was still not financially independent after four-and-a-half years of university study (preceded by three gap years). Worst of all, I could no longer continue in the miserable pattern of waking up, going to work, going home, trying to do something valuable before going to bed in the hopes of achieving some change, falling asleep and struggling to wake up the next morning to repeat the pattern again.

Truth be told, I didn’t regret any of the choices I had made until that point. I valued all my experiences and I was grateful for every opportunity life had presented. I had been an ambitious, daring go-getter but my then situation was not sitting well with me. I had fallen into what I came to regard as a “quarter-life” crisis. I didn’t know where my life was going career wise.

The more I spoke to friends and acquaintances in more or less the same post-university stage in life, the more I realised this crisis was a real and common thing. Talking about these struggles and comparing mine to other people’s stories helped me to feel normal. Once you realise you’re not alone, that there are other people feeling exactly the same way, you gather some courage to carry on fighting.

So, on New Year’s Eve, 2016, having mulled this over and gathering the courage to climb out from behind the bottle of champagne, I made a decision to make two changes. I wanted to apply for bursaries to further my studies overseas and I wanted to find a new job.

It took the whole of 2017 to make any sort of progress on these resolutions. It was a difficult, pick-yourself-up-again, time-after-time, kind of year – applying, being rejected and feeling nothing I had to give was good enough. By the end of the year I could hardly find the strength to get up and go to work in the mornings. I loved life but I just didn’t feel as if it loved me back.

It was at this point that I decided I needed to make a drastic change. I stopped looking overseas and set my sights on studying closer to home.

In the process, I had discovered that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism.

As 2017 drew to a close, I had applied, been for an interview, and had been accepted for study towards an honours degree in journalism at Wits. It was a step I nearly didn’t take – not because I didn’t want to, but because it was logistically very hard for me to go back to full-time studying. Despite the hurdles, I decided to be that ambitious, daring go-getter again and, in my experience, life has a way of rewarding that. Things fall into place like they should precisely when they should when you refuse to give up.

I’m not there yet and I can’t say I’ve made it but, if I survive this year, I can face the end of 2018 full of hope in my heart, happy to be popping a champagne bottle or two in the face of 2019 and the start of a new chapter in my life.

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SLICE OF LIFE: Arriving timid, leaving bold

I HAVE a mental calendar in my head – it’s almost 20 days until I leave the Wits Journalism newsroom. With each day that passes, I’m waving goodbye to my student journalist days and as I transition into the big professional world, I feel my anxieties grow. I worry that my fears about practising journalism will have an even greater potential of materialising.

Oftentimes, and as is common in journalism, threats present them­selves, from sources you interact with while working on a story or people who attempt to control and angle a story in their favour. As a “little journalist”, I have experienced my fair share of threats where I’ve questioned my chosen career path.

Towards the end of 2017, to fulfil the requirements of my journalism honours degree, we were sent out on an in-depth reporting project in Kliptown and greater Soweto and had to source stories for a long-form feature. Determined to bring back a decent story, with the little knowledge I had, I immersed myself in the task at hand. During one of my interactions with a male source who had come too close to me for comfort, my first moment of threat as a journalist materialised. My consolation was that we had been in a very busy shebeen during its peak hour.

First, I did not know how to communicate that I felt uncomfortable. In the torment and out of nowhere, the source’s girlfriend came running, and with an open hand slapped him several times across his face. There I stood, shocked and embarrassed. The first thing I thought of doing was to run for cover and hide. The sting of the slap coupled with the anger of the source’s girlfriend, led me to think that I would be next to receive a hot klap. In that moment I felt very vulnerable, and my instinct told me to pack, leave and abandon the work I had to do. Moments later, after I had recovered from the ordeal, I realised that as a budding storyteller I would probably experience many similar incidents and likely even worse. Giving up on a story because of such experiences would mean returning to the newsroom without copy to a disappointed editor and with one less story told.

However, as challenging as this industry may be, I’ve decided to rather use my fears, worries and anxieties to propel me forward and become the best journalist I could possibly be.
I have not always known that I wanted to be a journalist nor was I aware that this journey was the one to truly unravel who I was meant to be.
I may not have broken all of my shell, but I have certainly learnt to use my voice and make it heard.

I recently reported on #Fees­Must­Fall activist Mcebo Dlamini’s case, from when he was arrested during the protests in 2016. On publishing the story, I got a private WhatsApp message asking why I had included certain elements about Dlamini in the article.
I was shook by the message. In my head, anyone wishing to make an enquiry should go through the editor. As a result, I spent half the week looking over my shoulder, worried I would be attacked.

These experiences have added to the respect I have for longtime journalists who have experienced far worse than I have.
As I walk out, I am nothing like the reluctant and timid girl I was walking into my first ever newsroom.
I’m grateful for the gruelling process it has been and the fearless and bold journalist I have become. These lessons that I’ve been equipped with for the professional aspects of my life, I’m also seaming into my personal life.

 

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Wits Vuvuzela, The art of getting back on your feet, March 4, 2018