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.


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.


Wits Vuvuzela,, 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.


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.


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.



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



SLICE OF LIFE : Be fully present in every space you exist in

WHEN I was 17-years-old I published my first article on Destiny Online. The title for my article was ‘The unapologetic woman’. At the time, the talk and ideas around feminism or being “woke” were not a popular discourse to me and my generation. But after timeless tries at getting published, following a need to be heard and understood beyond the surface of being a teenager with great ambition, Destiny Online gave me the platform.

What inspired my words was the position in the world in which I found myself. As a young black woman living in “rainbow nation” South Africa, it became important that I speak from my experiences. And make public my insecurities about being socialised into these many boxes the world had prepared for me, before I could even spell or be acquainted with my agency.

I was a young girl at an all-girls school in the Eastern Cape who made it her business to be involved in every aspect of schooling life, from sports to music, arts and leadership. I wanted to do it all, but the setup of our world and the spaces we become socialised into didn’t really accommodate that. This kind of person was doomed to produce the reality of being a jack of all trades and  master of none, a misguided soul with no clear plan or ambition. But what became constant with all that I did was my desire to empower young women and girls, not so much with talk, but written work and in practice, through

When I came into university, I tried to tame myself and divorced the young girl who was curious to know and experience it all. This only lasted me in my fresher year and it was in my second year
where I returned to what was more familiar to me. I became actively involved with Wits Sports, joined the Wits Citizenship and Community outreach program (WCCO) as Math and English tutor for learners in the Alexandra Township. It was also in this time that I merged my love for service and journalism, when I joined student leadership and Voice of Wits FM. Here I felt more fulfilled and through many talks with my lecturers I found an understanding to this colourful box I called my life. My experiences gave me a greater voice to how I believe students on campus should be.

As university students we are positioned in a place of privilege more than anything to access information, experiences and opportunity to learn from each other. And we ought to adopt inquiring minds and an openness to be fully present in every moment in our university journey. It would be unfortunate of us to pay the thousands we do, only to get out with a certificate of validation on our learned abilities from the lecture halls. Ours should be the extended mission of being pioneers, leaders and visionaries who are both purposeful and impactful wherever we exist. When I took on the journalism honours programme, I had a slight anxiety as a person who was politically aligned, a journalist and a student leader. I feared the same reception as that of ANN7 reporters. The idea that people would question the credibility of my work because of the anticipated conflict of interest concerned me.

But it was political activists and journalists such as Robert Sobukwe and Ruth First who helped me understand how journalism plays a good and important role in our democracy. I believe we need more public servants and journalists who push the agenda for a transparent and accountable government. As a student journalist and student leader, I believe I have a good and not necessarily perfect story to tell.


Q&A with Kanyisa Qaba

FIRST-YEAR BA Law student and fashion designer Kanyisa Qaba, has been running a clothing line, House of Manik, that caters for youth. She started the clothing line in high school with a friend, but has been running it as a solo operation since 2015 when the partnership ended. Wits Vuvuzela caught up with the 20-year-old ‘stylista’ to find out about how she draws inspiration from international trends and fits them in the South African fashion scene.

Kanyisa Qaba’s House of Manik                                 Photo: Provided

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a very motivated person, a very hard working person. I’m very direct and I also like to have fun. I’m a free spirit.


Why the name ‘House of Manik’?

I chose House of Manik by default. I wanted to name it Manik. When I was registering the company, Manik was taken so I decided on House of Manik.


How did the business get started and what was the inspiration behind it?

The business started out in 2014, first as Manic UK. The ‘Manic’ part of it, we just liked the name and then the UK stood for [the first letters of our first names]. When Unathi decided that she didn’t want to be part of the business anymore, I decided that “fine let me just keep the Manic but then change the C at the end of Manic, put a K which represents obviously my name, which is Kanyisa”.

What inspired the business was the fact that we didn’t want to ask our parents for money anymore. We thought, “Let’s do something for ourselves and let’s emancipate ourselves financially.”


How is your business funded?

I regenerate capital through sales and my parents have been very supportive of the whole thing. My mom put in an initial investment of about R10 000.


Who do you design for and why?

I have international trends in mind and things that will obviously sell. I am a business so I need to be able to keep the assembly line going. But I also have specific people like umama [my mother] for instance. She explored herself fashionwise in the 80s and 90s, so I take inspiration from her old clothes.


How do you handle varsity and running House of Manik?

It is tough because at some points, one has to fall. I have to just know what is right at the time. So obviously if I have a lot of work, I’d rather let the business kind of slide or take a back seat because at the end of the day I came to Wits to get a degree so that needs to be my number one priority. It has its challenges but it’s so rewarding.


What challengeshave come across?

There are so many people doing the same thing. So originality and just trying to express yourself as a fashion designer and as a business person without letting one of the components fall. That’s very challenging for me.


Who are your style icons locally and internationally?

I would say locally, my mother. Half of my stuff that I wear are hers from the 80s. Internationally, I would definitely say the likes of Rihanna, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. I like that very-high-fashion-but-comfortable look.


Do you get designers block?

I never get designers block. Sometimes I feel like there’s too much out there for me to even handle. My ideas are endless. I love designing, putting trends together and the whole creative process of coming up with a garment, trying to find material that will work. All those things for me are just so rewarding. I never get bored and I never run out of ideas.


What collection are you currently working on?

I’m really focused on selling Ebony and Ivory which is our current Spring collection. However, I am designing a capital collection which basically means that it’s a collection that is for the brand and the collection is going to be called Customs by Kanyi. So I’ll be starting off with my own ideas and making myself my own custom range and kind of spreading out from there. What I’m going to be doing with Customs by Kanyi is that I’m going to be making customised items for specific customers. So if a customer approaches me, I’ll try and take whatever idea or concept that they have and make it into a garment.


Finding the light at the end of the tunnel

Last week, I started thinking about the challenges and emotions I experienced at the beginning of the year. Without a doubt, this year goes down as the most stressful and trying in my entire existence. I have learned one lesson in the process: the invisibility of a light at the end of the tunnel does not necessarily mean that things will not get better.

I remember being filled with so much elation at the end of last year when I received the news that I had been admitted to study journalism honours. I was ready to embark on my newest academic adventure. My joy was soon overshadowed by the anxiety of not knowing how I was going to finance my studies. I had no money for registration, never mind my tuition and accommodation fees.

When the day of registration came, and Wits offered debt agreements for students who couldn’t pay registration fees there and then, I was left with no choice but to sign on that dotted line.  As I was signing, I was at peace with the fact that I was not alone in this battle, that there were other students facing the same problem.

When classes began a few weeks later, I found it difficult to enjoy the course that I had always wanted to do. At the back of my mind toiled the fear of being financially excluded from this prestigious institution.

The funding opportunities at my disposal and for which I had applied, returned with a negative response, if any at all. With several attempts at calling to enquire about my applications, some failed to explain why they were unable to fund my studies.

As the months went by, my experience was one of tremendous defeat. The pain felt more like a punishment. I suffered dreadful unhealthy thoughts, fear and worry. I found myself continually questioning the worthiness of proceeding with my studies. Returning to Limpopo seemed to be a much better option than enduring the strife.

I realised that I was lacking coping mechanisms and that it was difficult to perform well academically when I was distressed.

I have seen a number of students across the country taking out their frustrations about their funding struggles on social media. I also came across various articles that revealed student financial burden as the predominant source of depression. All of this made me realise that I was not alone and that there were other students who were swimming in the same pool of frustration.

Thankfully my darling mother, MaMmotla, dispelled my doubts and induced a sense of optimism in me. She would tell me, that it was going to be okay and that I should persevere and that something would come up. With that little encouragement, I was able to gather myself and weather the storms that lay ahead.

The beginning to the end of my financial stresses came two months ago, when I was awarded a full bursary. The burden I had been carrying around for so long lifted off my shoulders. It meant that I would now be able to focus on my academics and finish this year on a high note. I am now able to invest and immerse myself in the course a little more than I did, and focus on enjoying every moment of what is left of my honours year.

As clichéd as it may sound, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Things may not go according to your envisioned plans, but it is important never to cease searching for opportunities and definitely never to throw in the towel.



SLICE OF LIFE : The fear of the unknown

There are two months left of the 2017 academic year and I am honestly apprehensive about what the future holds.

I am anxious about two things: Firstly, doing well enough academically in order to meet the requirements to be accepted into a master’s degree programme.

Secondly, I am fearful of the possibility of becoming an unemployed graduate statistic.

There’s been a surge of qualified youngsters who have opted to stand on street corners with placards advertising their skills and qualifications, with some even using the #HireAGraduate hashtag to meet their potential employer on social media platforms.

This unconventional way of job seeking has led me to realise my ultimate fear: having to stand at the traffic light intersection holding a placard outlining my capabilities.

There is often a myth that university graduates don’t struggle to find employment. This is so far from the reality precisely because there are no jobs waiting for graduates, as they need to hustle harder because there are many graduates and too few jobs.

Growing up and attending public schools in Soweto, which had little or no resources, I was told “education is the key to success”, but experience has forced me to think otherwise.

It surely can’t be “success”, when a substantial number of graduates are unemployed; that when some graduates enter the job market, they are told they are underqualified or overqualified, never mind the hundreds of thousands of rands of debt hanging over them.

Part of the reason why I think this “success” thing is downright gobbledygook, is because I have a few friends who had to pull down their knickers to get jobs and these are jobs they are qualified to do.

I have friends who graduated with distinction but are still unemployed and this shatters me and probably adds to the fear I am venting about.

I do not want to completely dismiss the notion that “education is the key to success”, particularly because I’m of the view that it’s subjective and that education perhaps increases one’s chances of getting employment or attaining wealth.

More than 50% of job vacancies I have come across have as a requirement “work experience”, which I have not attained. One would probably say “but there are internships”, not taking into consideration that they pay little or are unpaid.

Besides that, black tax is waiting for me. Just last week my mother proudly said, “I can’t wait for you to start working so you can renovate the house.” What she said left me defeated, speechless, and helpless.

It’s absolutely normal for a black parent who received little education, who makes a living through informal businesses, to be proud of raising a Wits graduate.

I do, however, think it’s a bit impossible for her to imagine the same Wits graduate struggling to find employment. And perhaps, the thought would kill her. This is Wits we are talking about, a world-class university, as some call it.

Where I come from, very few people make it into higher institutions of learning. When they do, there is a lot of societal expectation that they have to live up to. This includes getting a good job and a fancy car.

The mentality is that material wealth is the measurement of success. If you don’t live up to these expectations, it is often assumed that you wasted money and time by studying and that it’s better to have gone straight to the workplace after high school.

The take out from my experience is that if you are still a student, find a part-time job, make a little bit of money and save because it will come in handy after completing your studies.  Remember that any work experience is a stepping stone for learning how to be a professional.