EXTRACT | Jonathan Jansen's Making Love in a War Zone: Interracial loving and learning after apartheid
"He does not do PDA [public displays of affection] but we are working on that. I am working on it"
Can racism and intimacy co-exist? Can love and friendship form and flourish across South Africa’s imposed colour lines?
Who better to engage on the subject of hazardous liaisons than the students Jonathan Jansen served over seven years as Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State.
The context is the University campus in Bloemfontein, the City of Roses, the Mississippi of South Africa.
Rural, agricultural, insular, religious and conservative, this is not a place for breaking out.
But over the years, Jansen observed shifts in campus life and noticed more and more openly interracial friendships and couples, and he began having conversations with these students with burning questions in mind.
Ten interracial couples tell their stories of love and friendship in their own words, with no social theories imposed on their meanings, but instead a focus on how these students experience the world of interracial relationships, and how flawed, outdated laws and customs set limits on human relationships, and the long shadow they cast on learning, living and loving on university campuses to this day.
Jonathan Jansen is Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Stellenbosch, after serving for many years as the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State. Jansen has a formidable reputation for transformation and a deep commitment to reconciliation in communities living with the heritage of apartheid. He holds an impressive collection of degrees and awards including the Education Africa Lifetime Achievement Award.
“HE DOESN’T DO PDA”
The case of Ingrid and Paul:
Ingrid does not come into your office. She storms in, often with a loud greeting, as if the Vice-Chancellor were an old friend – ‘So, howzit?’
I could see my secretary freeze in the background and shake her head. This kind of breezy openness was unusual in the conservative Free State, even for staff.
An English girl from Howick with a free spirit, Ingrid adjusted quickly to the mix of predominantly Afrikaans and black women in the residence, and would gain the respect of her fellow students.
She rose to leadership in her residence and in the SRC during the difficult period of the 2015/16 student protests.
Ingrid would introduce me to Paul, her boyfriend, a quiet and reserved young man who by his own admission took some persuading to show up for the interview.
Ingrid Wentzel (BA Human Movement Studies 2013–2016)
I was born in Addington Hospital. I stayed and grew up in Durban, and went to Danville Park Girls’ High School in Durban North.
I feel like my parents are very liberal. My dad is a bit of a hard-ass but I feel like they are chilled. They never pushed one belief down my throat or say, ‘Do not do this or do not do that.’ There is nothing that has really stopped me from doing what I feel, if I can explain it in that sense.
My school was very mixed. There were a lot more Indians, because it is Durban, as well as at my primary school, Atholton.
I personally never noticed any form of racism at either school. Never.
I go to Kovsie Kerk [the Dutch Reformed campus church] now and again. Mom is mainly from a Norwegian background, as if we are actually Lutheran, but mainly so. She will go to a Norwegian church, but I just go to Kovsie Kerk.
Paul and I met in my second year.
I heard about him through Tyson Free – he was here via Kovsie FM radio station. Paul is a DJ, and he often played.
Tyson asked me, ‘Do you know Paul Makuta? He has played at Origin, that club in Durban.’ I said, ‘No, I haven’t heard of him,’ but we had a lot of mutual friends.
He knows one of my friends, Siya, who I literally knew since birth. And then we met at Intervarsity [sporting competition with other universities] because he was playing there. He was with someone else then.
We were friends; we always got on. Our sense of humour is kind of the same, and we always spoke on and off. We were always friends, like always. I would see him and just be like, ‘Oh, hey.’
It became serious last year.
As a friend, he is so chilled and laid back. He is my type of person. He is definitely my type of friend. I just felt like he got along with everybody and was really funny, even if we just talk over WhatsApp.
This is the most laid-back relationship I have ever been in
We would talk about stupid stuff, random things, and he would send me funny pictures and I would do the same thing for him. I think he is just so laid back and easy, completely easy to get along with. It just kind of happened.
I think it was just continuous talking and then it just sort of developed from there.
Well, I was more forward than anything else. He was just chilling and I made the first move.
He does not do PDA [public displays of affection] but we are working on that. I am working on it.
I feel our relationship is very chilled. This is relaxed and I am so happy with it. I mean, this is the most laid-back relationship I have ever been in, and there is no pressure. I don’t feel like I need to get all dressed up to impress him.
And we just do our thing, and it is a take-it-day-by-day, basically. It is slightly difficult being Prime, because there are so many commitments, and it does get a bit irritating because I just want to go and chill with him, just like bond, because I really do enjoy his company.
I would consider him as a best friend because we joke or whatever, that sort of thing. Being Prime does, however, put a bit of a spanner in the works, but we work around it. I try my best to make time for him and he does the same thing for me.
Last week there was so much kak [nonsense] going on in residence and whatever. It is not nice when I always have to be at res the whole time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Prime and it is a great position, but sometimes I just want time for me and time to spend with him.
I want to know that I can put in that effort and feel like I can give all that much, as much as he deserves for me to give.
It’s just little things that keep me busy.
It’s worrying about academics and graduating, then it’s Prime, and then it’s GLS [Global Leadership Summit], and then I want to stand for SRC.
So even though I want to achieve all that, like, I also feel as if sometimes I need to put my relationship first, because that is also important.
Varsity and the goals that I have set up are important, but I don’t want to get blindsided and have my mind be clouded by just focusing on varsity.
This relationship is also important to me.
I think one [notable] moment for me was telling my friend Sannie*.
Sannie was in my first-year leadership team. She was responsible for social events and was very much a boeremeisie [farm girl], but she is from Betty’s Bay,* so it is kind of weird.
I feel like she had strong views and I got the impression that she was a bit of a racist, I really did. Her husband, Jannie,* as well, but that was me making an assumption.
She was Instagram-stalking me or something, and I put pictures up and posted comments, and she said, ‘I just want to tell you that I am happy for you and it does not matter, it doesn’t bother me. I could understand maybe why you didn’t want to tell me because maybe I gave you that impression, but it’s important to me that you are happy and if he makes you happy then that is completely fine by me.’
I felt a bit guilty for making that assumption about her, and that her reaction was completely not what I expected; she was so supportive.
It never actually crossed my mind that I must hold back just because Paul is a different race
It never actually crossed my mind that I must hold back now just because Paul is a different race.
Why should I put down what I want to feel and what I want to do based purely on the fact that he may not be what people expect me to go for?
At this point it does not bother me. My residence knows. I really – I do not have a problem with it. If you have your opinion, then that is fine, but I mean it’s very rarely that if we walk at the Waterfront someone is going to be, ‘Hey, that is dodgy.’
My friends have a big part to play in that I have never experienced any judgement with any of them, any of the girls in my res, nothing. They are fairly open to it.
I have never experienced anything like: ‘Oh wow, that is wrong.’ I haven’t experienced any negative feelings within my own friendship circle.
Maybe such negative feelings are found among the girls out of my friendship circle. I have honestly never felt that sense that people are looking at us. However, he doesn’t do PDA.
I think initially my mother’s response was how my dad was going to react.
Good old Kevin – but it actually doesn’t bother me what he thinks. It really does not.
I will respect him as a person; he is my dad and I am very grateful for everything. He pays for my education, so I am very grateful for that, but at the end of the day, my mom told me as well, she said, ‘If you are happy, that is fine; that is your thing; that is you.’
It’s the same with my dad. I haven’t told him because I haven’t seen him yet. We don’t have the kind of relationship where I would tell him that sort of thing. I talk to him and he wants to know how varsity is, but I don’t have that kind of relationship where I divulge everything.
Obviously, I am very close to my mom. They do not live together. My dad lives in Cape Town and my mom lives in Durban. They have been divorced for a long time, I think since I was ten. I mean it has been a while. And they have very different views.
Similar in how I was raised, but I just think very different.
In some aspects my dad is somewhat chilled, but I have found as I got older that my mom’s attitude is very much like, ‘It is your life, your decisions, and if you’re happy, that is the most important thing.’
I don’t see any reason our relationship should not go on. I mean, it’s not like we have planned it all out to be together for this long. It’s not like it is all planned out.
Paul Makuta (BCom 2010–2015)
I was born in Lesotho, moved to Pretoria, and then came to high school here in Bloem. At home I am Roman Catholic but I go to CRC [Christian Revival Church] in Bloemfontein.
I have a single mother who stays in Pretoria. I have been here on my own from high school. Most of my childhood was in Pretoria. I went to Arcadia Primary School for grades 1 and 2, and then moved to Cornwall Hill College.
I think in my grade there were only three black kids. I was friends with the two other black children, but the majority of our friends were white kids in primary school.
It was a private school, so I grew up around a lot of white children. You kind of pick up what they do, how they speak, and stuff like that.
High school was totally different.
I didn't even know what racism was until I got to Grey
I got a big culture shock when I came to Grey. I didn’t even know what racism was until I got to Grey.
Grade 8 was a big culture shock, having to learn Afrikaans and actually seeing how different people are.
As time went from Grade 8 to Matric, you would see even the Afrikaans people who were not necessarily racist but very conservative.
In Grade 8, people wanted to feel your hair; they didn’t know what it felt like. Some guys will even ask you if your blood is red, and stuff like that. They just really do not know.
And as time went by we all kind of became friends, because we stayed in the hostel.
I think it was in Grade 8; there was a fight with a guy called Matthew. I think he is in this varsity now. I was in Dorm 19 and he stayed in Dorm 18. I went next door to ask for a plug to charge my phone, but I had to lean over his bed to pull out the plug. As I was leaving the room, I heard him say, ‘Nee, die kaffir sit op my bed’ [‘No, the kaffir is sitting on my bed’].
But I couldn’t understand because I didn’t know any Afrikaans, so I just went next door to ask my friends, ‘What does this mean?’ and then I asked him, ‘Are people actually allowed to say that?’
I got so angry. I actually got into a physical fight after that. But now, if you put us in the same room, we are like probably best friends.
I think it was at Intervarsity 2013 where Ingrid and I first met. It was just very briefly. I think I was about to go on stage to play. She was with other friends and then we kind of met through mutual friends there.
It got serious a year later. I think we spent more time together last year. She made the first move. It was not really forward; it was more like subtle hints.
I wasn’t really looking for anything, but we kind of got on and I thought maybe there could be something. And then we started spending more time together and it just evolved from there. I cannot really give a step-by-step. It was not a love at first sight.
We get along. It’s not an effort to be around her. It just works. Even if we were just chilling, it felt like I had a good time. Even when we were friends. It doesn’t feel like this relationship is any effort; it just works.
I think if it was at an earlier stage, I would have been more worried, but I’m not really concerned with other people’s opinions.
If they have a problem with us, nobody is going to come to me and say, ‘What are you doing?’ If they are not directly getting in my space, I don’t really mind what people are going to say or think.
I don't really mind what people are going to say or think
Nobody will come to your face and say, ‘This is wrong,’ even though you get a sense that people are looking at you, yes, always. I am a very private person, so maybe that’s why.
If we are walking together, you can feel when people are looking. Unless somebody is coming to interrogate me or tell me something personally, I will not have a problem with it at all. They are entitled to their opinion.
My mother is very liberal. She is very strict and stuff, but she is not prejudiced against anyone. My mom has never known about anyone that I dated. She will ask me, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ and I will be like, ‘Mom, relax,’ but I don’t really speak to her about girls.
I think the only time I have ever told her I had a girlfriend was probably one-and-a-half years ago and I thought I might as well. (I don’t like speaking to people. Even this interview, Ingrid had to convince me.)
I told my mom I am seeing this girl and the first thing she asked was, ‘Oh, is she white?’ I think she already knew before she asked that she was white. She didn’t seem too upset about it. And she asked, ‘Is she Christian?’ and stuff like that, and she was fine about it.
I cannot see any reason why our relationship would not continue.
As far as I can see, unless I have to move away or something and be in a long-distance relationship, it might be a problem. Otherwise, I think the relationship would continue. We spoke about that the other day.
Other relationships that I have been in feel like you have to put in so much effort to impress a person. Then you don’t really feel comfortable with things that they do. Let me say ninety per cent of what I am looking for I find in her. There are arguments, like small ones.
I am happy and I think it can go on for quite a while.
Extract supplied by Bookstorm.