Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll; seems like a great university experience. Only until you realise that the sex you want, you ain’t getting and the sex you’re getting, you don’t want. As for the drugs, one can accept a couple of side effects - the hangover, rotting teeth and a goodly amount of ED - but when its entire effect is to implement enforced stage 12 personal load shedding, it may lose its appeal. The rock ‘n roll is standard after such a violation because standing might be as painful as the Catholic sacrament of confession, so you’d keep…
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll; seems like a great university experience. Only until you realise that the sex you want, you ain’t getting and the sex you’re getting, you don’t want. As for the drugs, one can accept a couple of side effects – the hangover, rotting teeth and a goodly amount of ED – but when its entire effect is to implement enforced stage 12 personal load shedding, it may lose its appeal. The rock ‘n roll is standard after such a violation because standing might be as painful as the Catholic sacrament of confession, so you’d keep it all to yourself. Yup, sounds about what we’re all imagining went down in that Stellenbosch University hostel.
Some of us can imagine it because we’ve been through it. Granted, probably to a far lesser extent, like keeping an egg intact for weeks in grade 8 or having a pet brick and serenading the others. Some traditions are harmless and fun; sporting war cries, 40-day celebrations… even birthday cake.
Over time, these can develop to be more intensive and sometimes more fun. Find any corporate that doesn’t have some sort of ritual to welcome new directors, even if it is a dinner or drinks.
If you look hard enough, you may even find a photograph of me running naked in the dust at Oppikoppi as was the traditional famed naked mile.
So, it’s not that difficult to apply some imagination and amp your experience up to 11.
We like doing things that make us feel like we belong to something, even if it’s something as mundane as getting your name on the wall of the local milkshake bar for trying all of the flavours. I believe the most unique university ritual was UCT’s annual 6x7s; carbo-loading on pasta, drinking food colouring, taking seven laps around the middle campus oval and downing a drink between each… then proceeding to make vomit art. Odd, indeed, but it’s part of the freedoms Nelson Mandela fought for.
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And therein lies the issue. As awful as these rituals can be, to some extent, they’re voluntary. Even the most awful Wilgehof stories and interpretations of the evidence don’t lead to the idea of a gun to the head of any of these young adults. So why would there be so much appeal to be forced into such terrible circumstances? Even in the 70s, how is it that nobody stood up and said, ‘stuff this, I’m moving out’? Were they worried that they’d disappoint their daddies? Did they think it was okay at the time? Did they think it was going to open up a world of opportunity? Did they just not want to be branded as “moffies” if, ironically, they wouldn’t let other men touch them?
Whatever the reasoning, there must have been some degree of appeal to keep them there and going through it. That’s not to justify the actions. It is, however, an important starting point in realising why we got here. I’m sure many of us would love to be the UK Prime Minister but if it means we’d have to get jiggy with a piggy, we’d probably settle for being Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sure, being CEO of some Top 40 company would be nice but possibly not as nice if you had to share your spouse with the Top 40 shareholders.
The point is that there should be some moral boundaries that make us realise that the expected outcomes don’t justify the actions, especially in university life. Sure, we were all impressionable and did stupid things but the long-term development of such intrinsic ritual is a totally different story… and the ability to keep it secret for generations is alarming.
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What was the promise to these kids? Why did they voluntarily go through with it? What could possibly have happened if they said, “Nee dankie. Ek’s nie lus vir Hool 88 nie”? Would they be kicked out of the hostel? Probably. Would that be a bad thing? Probably not. Would they be kicked out of the university? C’mon!
It’s difficult to understand how this developed. Maybe the initiates looked forward to imposing their trauma on the next generation, which would be a terrible comment on student humanity. Perhaps the initiates didn’t think what they were going though at the time was that bad, or worse, that it was normal. Perhaps they just stuck with it because the promises of the hostel brotherhood were those of riches and positions.
Whatever it is, that’s where we start dealing with the problem. It’s not good enough to just say it’s a poor culture. We need to know what made that culture so appealing – and it’s not “victim blaming” to ask the victims exactly that.