The lone bruised and bloody eye that stares out from the CD cover of aKing’s most recently released album, ‘Morning After’ reflects the haunting and sincere nature of their music. There is something terribly compassionate in the emotion present in that glittering indigo iris.
The Cape Town based melodic pop-rock band debuted with their album ‘Dutch Courage’ in February 2008 and have witnessed an ongoing climb since then. The CD received third position for Best Album in the March 2009 issue of FHM. They were only superseded by AC/DC and Metallica who claimed first and second places respectively.
Members from the hard rock Afrikaans band Fokofpolisiekar, Hunter Kennedy and Jaco Venter, united with Laudo Liebenberg and Hennie van Halen to deliver a softer and yet more intense music. Although all the members are Afrikaans, every song they have released so far has been in English. After aKing was born, they incurred vast fanbase who regularly worship at the band’s powerful lyrical altar.
Their next two albums ‘Against All Odds’ (2009) and ‘The Red-Blooded Years’ (2011) boosted the band’s popularity to even greater heights. Influenced by singer Bruce Springsteen and the American group the Foo Fighters, aKing have lived up to their role-models by producing music of a similar standard.
The first track on ‘Morning After’, Prey to the Birds flows through your veins, the words solidifying through your blood, the music pouring through your ears like liquid sound. “I really want to take you home, keep your head when your eyes roll”, lead singer, Laudo Liebenberg croons in the chorus.
The Rhodes University Chamber Choir (RUCC), in an attempt to raise funds for their tour to the USA, have co-ordinated and organised for aKing to perform at the 1820s Settler’s Monument on the 31st of July. Tickets for this event are only R100.
“Why spend the best three years of your life here when you can spend six?” Ben Coetzee* runs a hand through his dishevelled blonde hair. His enigmatic blue eyes stare intently into space as he recalls the negative impact marijuana has had on his academic career. His arms flex, the muscles rippling slightly as he stretches on the couch in his brand new flat. There are intricate scars embedded on the inside of his left arm but it is obvious they are self-created. Everything about him screams “messed up” but his courtesy and intellectual speak contrast this stunningly. The rolling paper, nail scissors, tobacco and other bits of his equipment lie scattered on the battered suitcase that serves as his coffee table.
The Grahamstown-dweller has a gentle yet simultaneously rough demeanour. Coetzee has lived here for years. “It can get boring. I have to leave at least once a year otherwise it becomes insidious,” he concedes. His pale hands seem red and bruised at the knuckles but as he calmly begins the rolling process, they are steady and sure. His dress oozes casualness. The faded black jeans and beat-up boots are almost emblematic of his rough past. “I was being bullied all the time at school so when someone offered to sell me weed, I bought it. I was having a weird experience with pain and pleasure at the time and the drug seemed to take away that pain, temporarily,” he said.
Coetzee recalls how hectic the drug abuse got when he came to Rhodes, how he continuously skipped lectures just to sit alone in his residence room getting high, as an act of escapism. “I wouldn’t accept that I was having an identity crisis,” he said. “The weed became my medicine but I began to get bad grades. I lost a lot of friends and hurt many people. I guess I just got very lazy and stopped working.”
The twenty-three year old humanities student has failed at least one subject every year he has been at Rhodes University. Studies have shown that persistent use of the drug cannabis has adverse effects on the brain’s memory, learning and impulse control. Other results include mild euphoria, pain relief and in rare instances, delusions or hallucinations. Coetzee is aware of these consequences but admits he has become reliant on the drug. “If I had worked harder, I’d be out of here by now but then I would have never met the love of my life. I don’t think I was ready to go out into the world,” he said without a trace of regret on his serene face.
The “professional student”, as he jokingly refers to himself, confesses that his other extramural activities include hiking, rock climbing, writing and spending time with his friends. Despite his addiction to weed and the surface association this has with raves and clubbing, Coetzee says he doesn’t really go out much. “The partying is a bit much here. I prefer to talk to people, to listen to good music, drink wine and get stoned,” he explains.
Coetzee is currently making up a few credits and will hopefully complete his undergraduate degree at the end of this year. He used to dream of joining the military or police force but he realised that he would rather become an academic. He has vague plans of travelling to Korea to teach English in the next few years but other than that seems content with the life he leads. “I’m loved and I’m free. Everything has worked out well for me. I feel positive,” he says.
The snipping of weed seeds and stalks in a small shot glass echoes loudly in the quiet room. He deftly measures out some of the tobacco onto the pre-prepared rolling paper. His fingers gracefully smooth it out evenly and he carefully rolls it, the art so familiar to him, it has become a ritual. His tongue sweeps across the edge of the joint and seals it as though it were a kiss to a lover. The flicker of the lighter burns hauntingly in the dimly lit space. Coetzee takes a pull like he’s breathing in a breath from depths the sober cannot comprehend and exhales. The pungent smoke curves in curlicues of relief.
Birds, feathers, infinity and yin yang signs, geometric patterns, hash tags, Roman numerals, maps, arrows, quotes and optimistic words like ‘Hope’ and ‘Believe’ are all popular tattoos around the world. For years the art of tattooing has been both controversial and widespread. Like many things, modern tattooing began as a statement, an act of rebellion but this has gradually morphed into something more symbolic – self-expression. Some choose to mark themselves for aesthetic reasons but for others, tattoos aren’t just ink under the skin, but real experiences and life events that have impacted them.
The tattoos of Lumumba Mthembu, an English master’s student and tutor, grace the brown of his arms in curious swirls and curves alluding to his troubled past. After nearly dying in a fire, Mthembu turned his life around and was awarded a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship in 2014. He claims this was “his biggest achievement” and subsequently got the words carved onto his inner arm in formal font. The top of his right shoulder is also taken up by the huge letter ‘M’. He explains that while all his tattoos bear import to him, if he had to choose, this one would be the one he valued most. “My mother, Mkhulu and Malume all died within the space of 18 months but it’s also a representation of my surname.”
Size doesn’t matter either, something that wholly transformed your life can be represented by the tiniest of tattoos. Taylia Meese is no exception to this. The second year has a small feather leading into the word ‘fearless’ inked onto her ribcage as a reminder of her decision to permanently leave her mother’s house to live with her father, “My dad told me, Tay, if you’re going to do this, then you can’t be afraid. And I responded by saying, right now, I’m fearless.”
Izzie Van Wyk has four tattoos. None of them are exceptionally big but they all wield a great deal of significance to her, “I love all my tattoos”. Van Wyk explained that the cherry blossoms surrounding the word ‘Hope’ on her wrist were important to her, “I had a friend who was in the US army, stationed in Korea and one day she sent me a card with these flowers on it, they were so stunning that I decided that I wanted them inked as a reminder of all the special times we shared. I was going through quite a tough time and the card came at exactly the right time”. Her last tattoo is poignant too, “Traditionally sailors imprinted them on their chests as guardians of sorts but the swallow is also a symbol of leaving home but staying true to your roots” and for Izzie this is especially applicable since she is a new student at Rhodes.
Second year, English major, Cara Ribeiro said, “I wanted to do something scary, to be forced out of my comfort zone. To make a decision and have to deal with the consequences for the rest of my life”. The intricate tree and delicate birds in flight that decorate her right shoulder are emblematic of her growing up surrounded by nature, “I was raised to always appreciate it. I would be with my father and grandfather, bird watching under the trees. My tattoo reminds me of my family and peace”
The term ‘tattoo’ itself is most likely a derivative of the Polynesian ‘ta’and ‘tatau’, a Tahitian word. The history of tattooing is unclear. Some believe that the origin of modern tattooing lies in the primitive practice of scarification. The Prehistoric man was said to have cut his skin and then applied dirt or ash from the fire into the wound. One of the most amazing discoveries of early tattoos can be viewed on Otzi, the Iceman’s five thousand year old body. He was found in 1991 and bears over 50 tattoos. Tattoos were also used as a means for funereal art, branding (which was mostly for aesthetic purposes), clan markings (used to identify different tribes), rites of passage, love charms, good luck, amulets, status symbols, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even as punishment.
Body modification itself has a lot of stigma attached to it. Lumumba Mthembu believes that “the body is a canvas and our soul duty in life is to express ourselves. I love seeing people with piercings and tattoos, it means they’re being true to themselves”. Elizabeth Ross, a Catholic student at Rhodes says, “I have no problem with people having tattoos. It’s a question of personal style. God looks at the heart of a person, not appearance. I do, however, believe that Christians should be thoughtful about tattoos they put on their body. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and your tattoos should reflect positive meaning.”
The heat was a tangible force in the surrounding air. Insects hummed busily and the oppressive sun beat down on my bare arms and legs. The faded grass seemed to be gradually wilting in the sweltering air. I brushed sweaty strands of frizzy hair from my eyes as I trekked into the abandoned ruins of what was once someone’s home.
The stark, white walls contrasted the savage tone of the graffiti that was haphazardly strewn on the inside of the little building. None of the artistry seemed to be related suggesting that it had been done by different people. I found the images of two shadowy people to be the most striking. Everywhere was quiet but even silence has a sound of its own. In the near distance Grahamstown lay sprawled like a lazy, outstretched dog.
I stared up at the sky through the roofless house and watched the expanse of endless blue. A strange feeling encompassed me, I felt peaceful. I knew that just a few roads away, people were carrying on with their daily routines and bustling about (or rather slogging damply through the heat).
It was isolated in this windowless and open room. My eyes squinted in the intense light of a 9am morning and my feet already felt claustrophobic in my sneakers. I had dressed coolly but that didn’t seem to make any difference.
This is what it would feel like to be lost in the desert somewhere without water, your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth and inhaling dry, searing breaths of air. I could envisage it so clearly, stumbling in the sand, delirious with thirst under the unrelenting pulsing of the African sun.
Snapping out of my reverie, I gave the desolate building one last glance and then walked down the hill, reluctant to re-enter reality.
Silence descends heavily in the tiny room. There is no conversation and no laughing. Just screens obscuring the gazes of people who could become your friends. If only they would face one another instead of a mechanical device.
Technological expansion has become a part of our daily lives and unfortunately for some, an addiction. There are numerous ways that we benefit from these developments as they are designed to make our lives simpler and save us time. Whether it is heating up your food quickly in the microwave or typing out a document on your iPad – it is undoubtable that technology is advantageous. Tessa Ware, a second year reasoned that “The ability it affords us to express things connected with global events and see what others think about them – like the debate over the “Bring back our girls” campaign, to mention one issue – is, I believe a positive thing.” However, it is wise to acknowledge the many negative effects that result from its use, especially toward the student population. Now they are confronted with issues they would not necessarily have to face if they did not have cellphones, laptops and various other gadgets.
Social networking has become the latest gig that everyone seems to be attending. As students, most of us have a limited budget which means that it is costly to contact people if we are away from home. Thus phone-calls have been replaced with WhatsApps and visiting with skyping. As fourth-year Felisha Solomon aptly said, “It is similar to that of a catch 22, you socialize less with the people around you because you’re preoccupied with the technology that allows you to socialize with people that are not around you.” Awareness does not seem to be the problem when it comes to the knowing about the adverse effects of technology. Instead people are so used to the convenience it brings that they don’t want to relinquish that effortless lifestyle, regardless of the detriments it may have on their psychological health.
Cyber bullying is a good example of this. This practice is the use of technology (usually over the internet) to harm, intimidate and control others. Bullying itself is a detestable crime, but abusing the platform that the online world provides us with, is even worse. The PEW Internet Research Centre found that 90% of social media-using say they have ignored mean behaviour on social media forums. The result of this is exceedingly bad for the self esteem of young people everywhere, especially because they are the ones who mostly perpetuate this matter. According to Webmd.com victims of cyber bullying had newfound emotional, concentration, and behavioural issues, as well as trouble interacting with their peers.
It has become the norm to see people around campus with earphones in their ears, blocking out everyone else and walking obliviously past people. So many opportunities to meet new people are lost. A recent video by Gary Turk depicting the unfavourable consequences of the constant use of social networking and technology received a lot of attention. He referred to our generation saying that “When you’re too busy looking down, you don’t see the chances you miss.” Saajida Francis, a third-year student from Rhodes University also stated that, “We’re so immersed with online profiles that we have retracted from our true selves and fail to forge meaningful relations”.
Students are forced to spend time with each other every day, whether in lectures, tutorials or even in the dining hall. There is no way to avoid contact – so why do people sometimes choose to ignore those around them unless absolutely necessary? Why do lecture rooms stand silent until the rest of your friends arrive? Why not bridge the gap by starting to talk to someone sitting a few seats away? You never know what you might have in common. But instead people sit, silently chatting with people through the medium of characters typed on a screen – indicating our emotions with tiny little faces instead of showing them in person. Is that an adequate representation of how you really feel? Or did you just put that smiley emoticon because you knew it would incur an appropriate response from your friend?
It is for reasons like these that Samantha Munro, a Masters student in Fine Art recently chose to do her exhibition on the interactions between people. The audience was forced to participate and become “immersed in the entire event, like a game,” she said. Students were voluntarily used as props to portray a queue of people waiting at a bus or train station. They wore stockings over their faces which blurred the details of their faces making them seem almost wax-like and inanimate. None of them were allowed to look at each other or make eye contact with the audience.
Sometimes people around us seem to appear just like that – no smiles grace their faces and no greeting slip from their tongues. You have to wonder – is there actually any air passing through their lungs? Or have we have we become robots ruled by that authoritative power called technology?
So you had sex at the back of the Rat and Parrot, simultaneously cheating on your girlfriend/boyfriend with an audience of twenty or more people watching.
Who on earth could you confide in about your illicit and yet succulent secret? Surely keeping quiet about your forbidden exploitations has been eating you alive on the inside?
Fear not! The Rhodes Confessions Page on Facebook is here to save the day (and thousands of hapless students from boredom). Finally you have licence to post about absolutely anything you desire. This can range from pure drivel (including spelling or grammatical errors) to vulgarity, profanity and feelings of growing inferiority.
You are at liberty to describe in vivid detail your worst hour and expose all your flaws for the entire world to read. An added perk is that you will remain totally anonymous. The act of confession has always been one that was said to provide catharsis, especially in the Catholic doctrine. Penance was used as a means to repent or atone for sins committed against God to receive pardon and simultaneously be reconciled with the church.
However, unlike asking for forgiveness in a cathedral from God, confessors here are given advice that is sometimes very judgemental and critical. ‘The whole point of the confessions page is that it is a platform where students can express themselves without facing condemnation,” stated Cara Ribeiro, a first-year Journalism student.
This has become a popular tool for students to utilise to inform people of the incidents they have participated in without revealing their true selves. With just over 14, 400 likes, it is apparent that the page is something that has sparked a massive response in students across the board.
While the site is mostly concerned with students who are currently studying at Rhodes University, visitors from other tertiary academies do occasionally comment on stories. This is an indication of how epic (and perhaps a tad bizarre) our adventures are here.
But what sort of image does this portray of our university academically? Rhodes is renowned for its excellent results and educational successes. When asked what they thought the impression other institutions got from this page, an anonymous source said that “Of the worst image. People usually confess the bad things because those are the most juicy stories and therefore most likely to get the attention. So outsiders assume that the terrible things are the norm when they aren’t.”
Every university has students who party hard but Rhodes is also especially notorious for its excessive alcoholism. According to Vivian de Klerk (Dean of Students) and Charles Young, who wrote a report on the patterns of alcoholism at Rhodes University in 2007, just under 90% of the 2049 students who participated in the survey, consumed alcohol either occasionally or excessively. It is highly probable that this has increased in the past few years.
The tales uploaded are sometimes quite shocking and depict Rhodes as an institution of insidious indulgences rather than that of where intellectuals are bred.
This isn’t an accurate summation because Rhodes seems to be pretty well-balanced when it comes to work and play. How else would we have acquired such a grand academic reputation? According to 4international Colleges & Universities, Rhodes placed 8th out of the 23 universities in South Africa.
It is fascinating to learn how people have succeeded in getting away with flagrant rule-breaking like managing to attain a DP certificate without attending a single tutorial the entire year.
But the page isn’t merely a stage to relinquish your darkest desires as though you are dramatic protagonists in a Shakespearean play. Some people post about the good things they have experienced here at Rhodes or question why certain things are the way they are.
A survey I performed showed that out of the 45 candidates that answered, 15 said that they liked the page because found it amusing or funny. Only 17.78% said they did not follow the Confession page at all.
However, sometimes you have to wonder why so many feel the need to share every infinitesimal detail of their personal lives like Rhodes Confession 4728, “I promise I’m not rude, just awkward.”
I suppose you could argue that it is your own prerogative to click on that friendly blue icon that says ‘like’ and therefore whether you access the feeds or not is completely up to you.
Is it uncouth to share your sexual or personal encounters notwithstanding the fact that your identity it concealed? Or is it cool to brag about them? The decision is yours to make.