There is one band that best epitomizes my university years – Watershed.
The highlight of every first-year university student is Rag Week. Rag doubles as an initiation programme and a fundraising campaign, the funds of which are then given to various charities.
Rag involves building large floats (in the Brazilian carnival style). Each house (residences similar to American student fraternities and sororities) builds a float that matches their theme for the year.
On the Saturday following of the first week of classes, there is a procession between the university and a mall some 10 kilometres away. Each float leads the house procession, followed by the house students. The carnivalesque troupe is accompanied by loud music and is a highlight of the year for those who live in the student town. The first-year students carry money collection tins and ask for donations from bystanders.
I attended an Afrikaans university – the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU). Our name for Rag was Jool. The building of the Jool floats is supervised by the older koshuis (residence) students, but it is the first-year students who build them. The boys were mostly tasked with building the structure of the floats. The girls are responsible for the blommetjies om te vou (folding flowers). The float decorations are made up of pieces of coloured plastic that are folded into the wire mesh to shape the house’s float.
The process of folding these bits of plastic consumes all the time between classes during Joolweek. The folding of plastic flowers continues late into the night. On Friday night, everyone would head out to the Joolplaas – a large open field where the floats are assembled. This is also an opportunity for each koshuis to see how the competition is shaping up and to add last minute touches to ensure that each house has the best possible float!
The first-year students would stay awake the entire Friday night to make sure that the floats were completed on time. The rest of the university campus would also be at the Joolplaas, encouraging their houses to complete the floats. For all those not in first year, the Joolplaas was the best entertainment of the year. Famous South African bands would perform throughout the night, and vending tents would sell as much alcohol as the students could drink.
During my time at RAU, the famous South African band Watershed performed every year. They would open with their signature song, “Indigo Girl.” To this day, I immediately think of those Rag weeks when I hear the opening lyrics:
You’re my little indigo girl
Indigo eyes, indigo mindAnd you’re my little indigo girlIndigo smile, indigo frown
For four years, I attended the Rag concert. Each year the line-up was similar – a fete of the hottest bands in South Africa: Watershed, Springbok Nude Girls, and Just Jinger.
Their music reminded me of simpler times, a simpler world. A world when things seemed easier, when all seemed possible. South Africa appears to have come through its transition relatively unscathed. We were exploring friendships across the colour line and revelling in sharing a world without rules for every aspect of social interaction.
It was a time when, as a white person, I could live both within my culture and explore the newness of South Africa’s other cultures. And something liked Rag and Initiation Week was normal and fun.
A few years later, my university became caught up in the first of many Initiation Week controversies when things that had once been silly student pranks became racial battlefields.
One of the male koshuise had an unspoken law: no one was to walk on the grass in front of their residence. They had a “Keep off the Grass” sign on their lawn. Anyone (male or female) caught walking on the grass, would be “detained” and “punished.” The punishment was to be hosed down with cold water. Everyone knew the rule but every year, someone tested it, and the victim would be duly punished and become the butt of university jokes for a while.
But in 2002, a black day female student who was not associated with any of the houses and, therefore, did not know the rules, walked on the grass. She was immediately spotted by one of the residents, and in a few short minutes, she’d been detained and hosed down.
The story made national headlines. The student could not be persuaded that this was part of a decades-old university tradition. She simply saw it as an act of toxic, racist white male aggression against a black woman. The black students on campus organized a protest, calling for the students involved to be suspended.
The residence was shocked. They had not even thought that their practical joke – that everyone was supposed to know about anyway – could be perceived as an act of racism. The house issued a public apology and cancelled their Keep off the Grass rule.
Almost every year since, there has been a Rag Week incident at a South African university. Almost every time, the incident has taken on racist undertones. Sometimes the offense is a case of cultural misunderstanding. Other times, it is deliberate, such as a white student at Stellenbosch University who urinated on a black student’s books in 2022. The culprit alleged drunkenness as the reason for his actions. His act reminded the nation that the wound of racism still runs very deep. Student protests throughout the country called for him to be criminally charged. He was expelled from the university.
Yet, when I look back on those heady university days, I recognize that we were simply unaware of the deep pain that 40 years of apartheid had caused. We lived as if everything could simply be swept under the rug, and we could make a new start without consequence.
Now, we know better. We know we have a lot of work to do.
But whenever I hear “Indigo Girl” on my old-school playlist, I also long for the innocent girl I once was, much like the lead singer croons after his lost indigo-eyed girl:
All alone, I long for you my little indigo girl,
It’s a beautiful worldYou’re the queen only I’m the king,My little indigo girl, it’s a beautiful worldWhen you’re around (…)Come on, come on back again some time.
Transadaptation Volume 4 – Material Dissent
January: A Blinding Light and Then, All Darkness – Jonay Quintero Hernández (Spain)
February: The Opportunist – Lauren Voaden (United Kingdom)
March: A Stranger in my City – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
April: A South African Soundtrack – Sarah-Leah Pimentel (South Africa)
May: Full Circle – Ina Maria Vogel (Germany)
June: La Lluvia en Bogotá – Adriana Uribe (Columbia)
July: Freedom – Krisztina Janosi (Hungary)
August: A Bus Ride – Svetlana Molchanova (Russia)
September: Transcendence – Armine Asryan (Nane Sevunts) (Armenia)
October: Motherhood – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
November: To be announced – (hopefully) Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
December: Open – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
Background – Context
Transadaptation Volume 3: Evanescent – Young Adulthood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2022)
Transadaptation Volume 2: Conceived – Childhood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2021)
Transadaptation Volume 1: In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Credits (clockwise from upper left-hand corner): Arniston, South Africa – Fast food – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Avontuur, South Africa – The shopping centre – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Strofkraal, South Africe – Nama village – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Struisbaai, South Africa – The harbor – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock), Thaba Nchu, South Africa – At a funeral parlour – Grobler du Preez (Shutterstock)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed