This year our Listen, Live and Learn house theme is Poverty and, Um. (The “um” stands for “We thought Homelessness, but then the orientation document said Disease, but then we really wanted to ignore that and keep it Homelessness, but then our guider, Jacob, had already gotten excited about Disease.)
We are 10 young people, and demographic diversity is pretty good: we have three black females (Zulu, Tswana-Xhosa and Tswana; all South African), two WAFs (white Afrikaner females), two WAMs (white Afrikaner males), a WGM (white German male), two WEFs (white English-speaking females).
You may think it’s a bit silly listing our demographics like that, because surely we should rather look at the individual people and not at their demographics. And you’d have a point. I may be over-aware of diversity, especially racial diversity. But in a university that is still quite far from obtaining a critical mass of non-white students, it makes a big impact on a group of students if it is not dominated by a specific demographic (at Stellenbosch, usually white Afrikaner). I’m therefore grateful for this house; it is a bit more “real” for me. The fact that the white Afrikaners are not hugely in the majority (4 out of 10), helps the housemates see each other more as individuals. You overcome stereotypes by meeting several people who fit the same demographic, because then realize how often your previous generalizations just don’t hold. If you’re a white Afrikaner at Stellenbosch, you don’t usually get the chance to do that unless you go out looking for it.
One way the diversity is really exciting in my house is that Nomusa and Makhosazana switch to Xhosa from time to time. At least, I think it is Xhosa because I don’t think Nomusa speaks Zulu. They throw the English and Xhosa all deurmekaar and it’s awesome picking up new words and phrases and sometimes discussing expressions that are unique to their language, or mine.
The other day, me and Makhosazana went shopping for braai supplies for our first social as a house. Somewhere between the veggies and the spices, she turned around and said, “Emma, do we need some milk?”
I ran this through in my head. Makhosazana and I were in res together. She’s well aware that my name is Cara! She didn’t seem to be speaking to some girl behind me either. I was dumbfounded. “Did you just call me Emma?”
She looked confused, and then had a lekker chuckle. “Oh, haha! Ema means ‘wait’, or ‘hang on’. I use it all the time! Now you know for next time.”
So now I do. I think Khosi and I both enjoyed the moment. It was painless. Not everything will be. A couple of nights later we discussed an incident that happened when we were at res together, that had undertones of racial ignorance and had left a bit of a bad taste in both our mouths. It was good to talk through it again, and see the mutual goodwill.
I can’t wait for the rest of the year.