Being queer in South Africa

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AFRICAN QUEERNESS: Wits academics Danai Mupotsa and Julian Brown spoke at an academic symposium that formed part of the Varsity Pride Week to share their LGBTIAQ+ research, which is focused on changing spaces. Photo: Dana Da Silva

 

WITS academics Danai Mupotsa and Julian Brown spoke at an academic symposium as part of the Varsity Pride Week to share their research into lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) people. Their research focused on changing spaces in an African context.

The symposium was structured loosely as a free flowing discussion where the speakers would introduce a set of ideas to be discussed.

Tish White, project administrator of the transformation office and also a partner in Varsity Pride week, said the symposium was put together to honour people who have done work in these spaces.

“I’ve worked historically on women in particular, on questions of sex, sexuality, pleasure, pain, etc,” said Mupotsa who is a lecturer in the department of African literature.

The lecturers attempted to pre-circulate certain readings so those attending could have an idea of the topics up for discussion.

She shared readings by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and another from Eve Sedgwick’s book, the Epistemology of the Closet, which have influenced her research as they are provocations around queering on or in Africa.

“They are preoccupied with the foundations of knowledge of self and how they set the grounds for our inability to speak to or rupture the very relations we’re interested in,” said Mupotsa about the readings.

She tried to base the concept of being queer within the South African context as well as deconstructing the category of women.

Julian Brown, a Political Studies lecturer at the university, focused on the role of gay rights in human rights of South Africa.

“There is a range of questions about the extent to which queer politics, queer theory and queer identity is compatible with institutions and structures of power in society in general,” said Brown.

He started to answer this by basing the discussion on a particular court case between the Methodist Church of South Africa and Ecclesia De Lange, a lesbian minister within the church.

Brown said that De Lange was a minister of the church and had been living with her partner on church grounds for over two years when she announced that she was going to get married.

After hearing this, the church then took away her ministerial title after which De Langa took the church to court. In this context Brown looked at the struggle in the relations between queerness and institutions of power.

 

Warriors, be brave!

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OBSTACLE RACING: Warrior race is a obstacle course race where you get to climb, jump and swim your way to the finish line. Here I’m climbing down from the Net Monster after going in for a dip in an ice cold water obstacle. Photo: Samantha Camara.

“Warriors, Be Brave!” we shout as my teammate and I jog in place at the starting line of this year’s 6th Warrior Race.

The Jeep Warrior Race is the largest obstacle course race in South Africa annually spanning eight events across four provinces with up to 9000 people attending an event.

This is the third Jeep Warrior Race that I have entered with my team, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Kittens. Though there was only two of us, and we are the least fit members of our teams. I actually thought this was better as I didn’t need to try and keep up with my other faster friends.

Even though it was my third race I still got nervous before the course, worrying about how difficult the obstacles would be and if I could actually complete them.

This was made worse by the fact that if you don’t want to complete an obstacle you have to do 20 burpees, a squat-push-up-jump combination that is as tough as it sounds.

I always enjoy arriving at the start line as they have pop music playing and announcers to psych you up.

Minutes before the start we are asked by the announcers to run on the spot, jump up and down and side to side. All the while riling us up by shouting “Warriors!” as with respond with “Be Brave!”

The announcer, with a voice that sounds like an American hype-man from a sports game, said that he would like to congratulate us for coming as “It’s a long way from Facebook to being here.”

The obstacles can at times be fun but at others, not so much.

Tangled, the eight obstacle, was surprisingly the most challenging one for me. This was made up of a number of chest high logs that you climbed over while being draped by a loose net. As I tried to climb over the logs I kept being bumped over by other people and almost slipping off onto the floor, shouting out, “Fuck, I’m falling!”

I tried to run between the obstacles as much as I could, but as the obstacles became more difficult so did my attempts at running.

My favourite obstacle came next, called the Raging Rapid, the highest obstacle and a water slide. Here all I needed to do was sit on the edge, arms folded and let myself slide into a pool of muddy water.

The last three obstacles were also all water based, which is good as I got to wash off the mud. There was the Danger Swamp (where I felt as if I was in the army crawling under barbed wire), Slippery Dip and Tower of Rage.

I always look forward to the Slippery Dip (better known as the ‘mud monster’) a challenging but fun obstacle, a 100 metre stretch of mud with three metre humps and dips.

I struggle to get over the humps at this obstacle, since I don’t have the arm strength to pull myself over them.  But it can be relaxing, floating on my back in the dips and backpaddling in the mud pools.

The Warrior Race always ends with the Tower of Rage, 6.3 metre and 4 metre (either one is optional) platforms that you jump off of into a pool of muddy water. Four meters doesn’t seem very high, but I always get nervous when I stand at the foot of the platform.

After internally shouting at myself to jump I took one final splash into the water. In a last effort to pull myself out of the water I get on my feet and bolt to the finish line.

We were then surprised to discover that we had beat out teams previous time by 40 minutes, which we celebrated with a victory hug.

Laser art show opens for Fak’ugesi

The Fak’ugesi festival opened with a laser art show performed by international act Robert Henke. 

LASER SHOW: Robert Henke was the opening act to this year's Fak'ugesi Digital Innovation festival. Henek, software programmer and visual artist combined the two fields to create a unique laser art show.

LASER SHOW: Robert Henke was at the opening act to this year’s Fak’ugesi Digital Innovation festival. Henke, software programmer and visual artist combined the two fields to create a unique laser art show. Photo: Dana Da Silva

 

Lasers and techno music, performed by a German software designer, was the opening act to this year’s Fak’ugesi festival at the Alex Theatre in Braamfontein.

“The festival is fundamentally about stimulating innovation and creativity through the crossover of technology and creative arts,” said head of the digital arts division and one of the creators of the festival Prof. Christo Doherty.

This is the second year that the festival is being held in Braamfontein. A wide range of different activities will feature in them festival for the next 3 weeks such as game design work shops, video games exhibition, robot arm building workshops, Market Hacks and many others.

The first event kicked off with major international performer Robert Henke, who is “the god of a genre called intelligent techno”  said Prof. Doherty.

Robert Henke creates a new form of art by using computer science and sound engineering to combine lasers and techno music in a way that they flow together creating a unique audio visual experience.

“And Robert, in many ways, exemplifies what the Fak’ugesi festival is about because he’s both [sic] a musician, he’s a software developer, programmer and he’s an artist, a visual artist,” said Prof. Doherty.

Before dabbling with lasers Henke made his own techno music. “At some point I thought, hey actually lasers is an interesting medium, mainly because it has such a bad reputation,” said Henke.

This is the first time Henke has been on the continent and he said that performing in Africa has more meaning to him than performing in other continents. “Apart from this kind of touristic aspect, a lot of musical roots have to do with the African idea of rhythm, have to do with the African idea of structure,” he said.

The show began in complete darkness, then a small purple vertical line appeared and moved across on the screen. It was followed by others as the beats increased.

As the night progressed letters and words were introduced in with the shapes merging into each other as they danced to the beat.

The show worked seamlessly with the music, piano was played when the shapes were not as actively moving about followed by a techno beat to show increased activity.

Robots test their metal

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ROBOT WARS: Leading up to the fights contestants had to put their robots through a number of challenges. Here robots El Diablo (right) and Deathray (left) raced each other with Deathray losing the round by driving off the stage. Photo: Samantha Camara

“It’s robot wars fuck yeah! Oop’s there’s kids around,” shouts Ryan Young as he announces the beginning of this year’s Robot Wars which took place at Geekfest on Saturday.

Robot wars is an annual tournament that has taken place at Geekfest for the past three years where people build up their own robots and battle it out. A geeky event where participants, such as myself, “have some fun, test their metal and that’s it,” says organiser Richard Harman.

On the day, the wars started out with the robots having to do a couple of challenges to earn points such as tug of war, a speed race and knocking over colourful bottles.

El Diablo, a rectangular silver plated robot with barracuda MX8 tracks, and my team’s robot Deathray, a blue metal plated kite with a flail, are the first to take part in the challenges. The Krugernator, a sleek black robot with a claw that has a crushing force of 800kg, arrives late but just in time to take part.

Once all of the challenges have been completed El Diablo comes out on top of the rankings, but others didn’t do so as well.

“So far it hasn’t treated us all that well, we haven’t done that well in the challenges, which have been on things like speed and so on,” says software programmer Mike Krug whose team built the Krugernator.

“But I think the true test is in the final challenge,” he says before the final fight.

To get a robot to a point where it can speed around a platform isn’t easy, there is a lot of time, money and energy that goes into building these mean machines.

“The usual challenges were prototyping, things like parts that don’t work because they’re not intended for what you’re doing or they are too light,” says David Menasce who built El Diablo.

Other difficulties included time restrictions, space constraints and making sure that you follow the rules. “We tried to remain within the regulated rules of the competition as well,” says Romeo Botes, the driver of the robot Monty, when he spoke about trying to fit in a weapon.

Monty, the fourth robot, finally arrives before the last fights. Here the four robots have to fight one on one until a champion is declared and then they face off in the four-robot annihilation round.

Monty, a wedge robot with black metal plates and yellow wheels, puts up a fight but he’s no match against El Diablo. Then it’s my team’s Deathray against the defending champion, The Krugernator. The fight is fierce but in the end Deathray was victorious.

The next fight ends with a tie as Monty is unable to push The Krugernator off of the platform and then its El Diablo and Deathray in the final battle. The two spin around each other for a while but El Diablo is victorious as he finally pushes Deathray out of the arena before driving off himself.

Last but not least is the four on four fight. Deathray is the first to be excluded as he drives himself off the stage. Then it’s the Krugernator and El Diablo, the two face off for a bit, but it’s El Diablo who wins in pushing force. Now it’s just El Diablo and Monty, who was unable to move from his corner and, after a few misses, El Diablo finally takes victory.

“It feels awesome! It’s a huge adrenaline rush. It’s very rewarding after putting all that effort into it,” says Menasce as he happily holds his robot after the fight.

Students keen to learn new tech skills

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HOT SPOT: Deanndra Pillay and Nikita Daya, studying actuarial sciences, use their technological devices to study for a test at the coffee shop in Senate House. Photo: Dana Da Silva

Many students are keen to learn new skills but aren’t being given the chance to do so. This was one of the findings of a recent survey which assessed what kinds of technologies students have access to and what they use it for.

Conducted by the Wits elearning unit and the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD) during this year’s Orientation Week in February, the survey yielded some interesting insights.

“79% of first years have cellphones”

Liana Meadon, an education developer at the elearning unit, says the survey revealed that students want to improve their critical digital literacy by knowing how to communicate through emails, being able to assess if a source is reliable and how to use technology to further their academic studies.

One of the issues raised is that academics don’t equip with certain skills. Students rate themselves low on the skills ladder because they are not required to use skills during the learning process.

The survey results are still being finalised  but the first year data has so far showed that 79% of first years have cell phones, while iPads don’t feature very high. Surpring to some, it also revealed that Witsies aren’t gamers, they don’t own their own gaming devices and don’t spend time playing games offline and online.

“We can’t run away from tech, it is here and as Wits we need to embrace tech with teaching and learning more fully,” says Meadon.

The elearning unit incentivised participation in the survey through a competition where students could win iPods, iPads and coffee vouchers. The winners of the survey were announced yesterday afternoon in front of the Wits Great Hall.