Series: Voices of Youth
- They are -cet, sometimes even -ten. They live in different parts of the world, and if they ever run into each other, it will probably be in the virtual environment of the social networks with which they have lived and continue to live a large part of their lives.
- How do they live in today’s world? And how is the fact where they were born reflected in their individual lives? Is this young generation, living in a time of global political, social and technological change, any different from the previous ones?
Hello, could you introduce yourself please?
Hi. My name is Matthew and I come from the Republic of South Africa (JAR). I’ve been living and studying fashion at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp for the second year already. However, I survived the pandemic at home in South Africa.
Among the graduates of this prestigious school are world designers Demna Gvasalia from Vetements, Martin Margiela from Maison Margiela and Dries van Noten. How are you studying on it?
It is a very good and creative school. Maybe more like a platform for discussions and ideas. But it depends mainly on you what you take from it. For me, this is something I have long dreamed of as a student from Africa and I am grateful for it. Although studying is very expensive, especially when the currency is constantly fluctuating.
Anyway, it’s great here and we have talented professors. But sometimes it is also difficult and I feel under pressure. But not in the sense that we compete with each other as students. On the contrary, we help each other.
How is your life in Europe?
My stay in Antwerp is not my first in Europe. I also lived in Paris or Amsterdam. In terms of creative thinking and fashion, it was a challenge for me.
Otherwise, I would generally say that things are easier and less stressful in JAR, although of course not everywhere. People are happier there, friendlier, they laugh and we have a lot of space and nature around us. We also have the ocean close by, and I can only really appreciate that now that I’m away.
In the beginning, however, my stay in Europe was quite lonely and difficult, because I was here alone and handled everything by myself.
How did you grow up in South Africa?
I grew up in the suburbs of Cape Town. We (South Africans) are far from the outside world, including Europe. Everything we absorb is far away from us – the movies we watch, the media and the music.
So my memories are mainly of us going to the beach and riding bikes. It was so childish and innocent.
Some areas of South Africa are quite conservative, traditional and religious, which has always bothered me. So, being gay, I didn’t dare say who I was attracted to until I was in my early 20s. The company was not very open to me. People don’t talk about it much here.
But otherwise there is room to be independent. It’s very varied here. We are not called the Rainbow Nation for nothing.
Is there someone who inspires you in the public space in the Republic of South Africa and we should know him in the Czech Republic as well?
No one in particular that I have in mind, apart from the typical names like Nelson Mandela.
A famous South African? The bishop and the moral conscience of the nation
South African archbishop emeritus, fighter against the racist apartheid regime and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu died in December 2021.
But I think a lot of people don’t know that, for example, the actress Charlize Theron is from us or (presenter and comedian, note ed.) Trevor Noah. And Die Antwoord (South African music group, note ed.).
They were once very popular in the Czech Republic.
Yeah I know. I was shocked to see how famous they were in Paris. Because they were such a satire for us. I find it interesting how people interpret them.
How would you describe a typical representative of your young generation in South Africa?
We are such a large and diverse nation that it would not be fair to say that we are one. Seriously, it’s different. You have “Africans” from smaller towns who are more traditional, Brits who live in cities, and various subcultures. We have 11 official languages here, but we are all united by being proud of where we come from.
A question about current events. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about violence against women in relation to South Africa. What do you think?
Yes, it is present in our society and always has been. But in the last two or three years, it’s even worse, just like the media says. The rape cases seem like an epidemic to me.
Most of my friends are girls and it’s different when you listen to the horror stories from them or go out with them on the street or somewhere. The situation is so bad that maybe you shouldn’t go out alone at night.
The society in South Africa was shaken by the recent case of mass rape
A group of seven self-employed miners in South African mines have been accused of raping eight women in July.
But a lot of people here don’t want to admit how serious the situation is and unfortunately I don’t know how it can be improved. I think men should be educated or President Cyril Ramaphosa should do something.
Every girl here at least carries pepper spray, which I find unbelievable that it is banned in Belgium.
And you know what I also find interesting? It is always said that X or Y women were raped and it is not said the other way around that X or Y men raped someone.
You are a country where several ethnic groups live together, you have a long history of segregation. How do you perceive it?
As I said, we are not called the rainbow nation for nothing, but it is difficult for me to answer. Yes, I have noticed the diversity since I was a child and that our situation is very specific.
At the same time, there is a lot of hatred and anger, and I understand that when a section of society has been mistreated here for so long and in an African country. South Africa is an African country and it has been against Africans for a long time.
I am aware of the privilege I have as a white person. I try to educate and similarly the people around me. I try to understand, observe, and not always express myself.
Anyway, humor unites us all and I am proud to be from JAR.
But you know what I noticed? Whenever people ask me where I’m from, and I say South Africa, they ask me why I or my parents moved there. They don’t understand at all that this is my home. Yes, I am a product of the European colonial era. My ancestors are probably from Britain or Germany, but I’m South African and we’ve lived here for generations.
What is your favorite social network?
Definitely Instagram. Since I study fashion, it’s like a visual diary for everyone in our sphere. It is a tool to research and follow what is happening, a good platform to show work, collaborate and make contacts.
A mystery at a party in East London, South Africa
According to investigators, 21 young South Africans suffocated during a night out at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London this June. They state that there were too many people in the club as a possible cause.
What do social networks mean to you? Can you imagine living without them?
I can’t. I have them very much under my skin, but luckily I have experienced life without them, riding my bike and spending time with my friends.
But sometimes I wish they weren’t because they can be so overwhelming. It’s weird to visualize the situation that maybe 400 likes would represent sitting in a room with the same people and listening to them rate you or comment on you.
Sometimes I wish to delete them, but then I realize that they have done a lot for me. I am very much for social networks. They opened my eyes to how I look at the world – art, fashion and brands, what I like.
What are you most afraid of in today’s world?
The wrong direction mental health awareness is going. Sure, people have suffered from depression and anxiety before, but now it seems to me that it’s getting worse. I would say maybe because of social media and the fact that young people are exposed to it too early.
Sometimes I wonder what the future looks like. Help is available, but for people in the creative industry who suffer a lot from psychological problems, it is not so much, and it is often expensive.
On the contrary, what should the world look like in your opinion, where you would like to live?
You know sometimes, and maybe this sounds negative, I wonder why I should bring children into this world. Sure, there are nice things in the world, but at the same time there are so many scary ones.
So to this question I will answer you that the world should not look like this. But I don’t think we’ll succeed in changing, although I’m not saying we shouldn’t try.
What does success mean to you?
Doing what makes me happy and creatively fulfilling. Success for me will be if I manage to connect fashion and commerce in such a way that I can make a living from it. That would be my dream. To be successful and have a job that is also a passion.
What do young people think?
We have already published these interviews:
- Lucas: Cuba with three hashtags? freehealthcaresystem , communism , #embargo
- Sreynich: Cambodia with three hashtags? Khmer AngkorWat #WatPhnom
- Ramiro: Argentina with three hashtags? passion multiculturalism resistance
- Katarína: Slovakia with three hashtags? Slovakia modesty range
- Shivantha : Sri Lanka with three hashtags? crisis crisis crisis
- Ruta: Lithuania with three hashtags? progressive diversity #authenticity
What has inspired you the most lately?
I was in Sardinia in the summer and it was liberating. No luxury, but I was inspired to be able to enjoy every minute while savoring the little things.
I was also inspired by being by the ocean, because I’m used to it at home. I then returned to Belgium full of energy.
If you had to describe JAR in three hashtags, what would they be?
openness – we are open as people and at the same time there is a lot of open space in South Africa. forthepeople – we live together and everything is for us. And ubuntu , which means something like “I am because we are”. We like to see each other, we are very connected to each other. More than you in Europe.
What do you think is the biggest stereotype about JAR?
People think we are backward, for example in terms of infrastructure. Sure, we are a big country and, moreover, very diverse and full of contradictions. But when I talk to people, they don’t realize how modern and advanced South Africa is, especially in terms of infrastructure or cities.
Have you ever heard of the Czech Republic?
Yeah, of course he heard. But I don’t really know much. I think I have more of a stereotypical idea. But I’ve never been to your place.
What would you like Czechs to know or rather not know about South Africa?
I want them to know that South Africa is the most beautiful country they will ever visit. Above all, our nature. Sure, you have the south of Europe where you can see nice nature, but ours is so beautiful. So much space, it takes people’s breath away. You will know that you are on the opposite side of the world.
Do you know what I think most Czechs think of when they think of JAR?
Yeah, I agree with that. And I would like people not to think that there are lions running around here. That JAR is one big safari. We South Africans often make fun of this and reply that we are petting lions.
But it’s the same as in Egypt, you can’t say that there’s only sand there either. People should see that South Africa is diverse. We have mountains, the ocean and yes, even safaris and it is true that seeing animals is nice.