I recently registered Abrasive Media as a company. If I listened to all the negative statistics of how many companies failed within the first year, I most probably wouldn’t have done it. The odds were against me.

If I listened to how many doctoral candidates do not finish their degrees or how long it took them to complete their degrees, I definitely wouldn’t have registered for a PhD.

If I listened and considered that the throughput rate for undergraduate students in South Africa was 16 per cent, I would’ve even thought about registering for a degree. I would’ve accepted that I was destined to be a construction or farm worker.

If I looked at my family and saw that none of them completed high school and that I was destined to be the first one, I would’ve dropped out and did something that was destined for me.

But I didn’t.

Fear was always present, and it still is. But I didn’t place fear in front of me to prevent me from doing anything. I placed it behind me so that it pushed me. I know what it feels like not to have food or not to have decent clothes or a place to stay. I didn’t want that. My fear was that I will be forever trapped in those circumstances.

So my approach is to try and outrun fear; be a step ahead in everything I do. A step ahead of the rest. Maybe this why people find it difficult to work with me and think that I full of myself. This stems from trying to be a step ahead. I already anticipated the moves they have considered, or I am simply not there anymore. I was where they are at a while back.

So I registered Abrasive Media as a company not because I have figured everything out. Or have the security needed to start a successful business venture. I simply did it because I did not fear that it would fail. If it fails, it fails, but at least I tried.

My Escape from Poverty – Part 2

My escape was also driven by a longing for freedom. And for that, I needed hope, but finding hope in the hopelessness was an indignifying process, an all-out psychological attack. To keep a sense of dignity and keeping the tender flame of hope alive became an all-out war—a war against all forces of society.

It was vicious a fight. It started at home and continued in all spheres of society. I think it was the worst in the family. It is in the family that my dreams were first squashed and trampled on. Inside my family, they did everything in their power to shatter dreams. And understandably so because their reaction was driven by their fear of failure, by their reality. They, too, were not allowed to dream, even though deep inside they wanted to.

Later on, I faced different levels of marginalisation in society. At first, it was class. As a poor boy, I soon realised that there were kids better socio-economically than me. And they made it their work to pointing it out. These bullies made sure you know your place in society. The parents and the teachers were no different. There were a few exceptions, but more often than not, they treated you with pity. They never believed that you can aspire to more. They looked at your clothes and where you came from, and that was it! They have made up their minds about what you will be in society.

Then race became a factor. At first, race was not a factor for me. I was too young to understand what it was. It was around 1997 that it started to make sense to me. In 1997 I joined Nuwerus High School. Nuwerus High was a “whites only” school during apartheid. However, after the 1994 elections and the 1996 Constitution, they were forced to take in learners that were classified as “non-white.”

At Nuwerus High, I not only realised how poor we really were but also experienced various forms of racism. The learners that were not white were treated differently. For example, I was able to distinguish which of the teachers treated us with pity and who treated us as underlings – as servants who were not worthy of being in their presence. They emphasised this part. For example, when the school opened in 1998, after the summer holidays, there were only three white learners left. They were the children of the teachers. The rest joined the more expensive school, which only white people at the time could afford. The high school had to close Grades 10 to 12 in 1999 because no learners were in these grades anymore.

This is where I realised that “non-whites” were “institutionalised” to serve white people. It was our destiny. It did not matter how young they were, you were supposed to serve them. I started to see how racism and poverty were connected. I am not saying that “white” people were not poor and that they were not subjected to similar experiences as I growing up. Some of the white kids were as poor as we were, but they were treated better – they were made feel at home.

I realised that I had several gifts. I was intelligent, athletic, and artistic. The harder society pushed me out in one area; I always seemed to find another interest and excelled. For example, I was overlooked in rugby because I was too small, and I didn’t have the finances to buy the gear. But I didn’t let that stop me from pursuing other sports. I started running. I realised that I was not the quickest over short distances but won middle-distance races because of my tiny build. And I applied this approach to all other fields I was in.

To be continued.

Dealing with a depressive low

I have hit several depressive lows throughout my life. There was a period in my life I felt that I was continuously getting dragged deeper and deeper into a pit of depression. Nobody around me was aware of it, but inside I was suffering.

The problem with depression is that it starts feeling comfortable. It is like a black blanket of comfort wrapped around you that numb the pain. You know you have to get out, but it is challenging. It is like trying to get of out a nice warm bed in the winter. You know you have to deal with cold, but you want to stay in bed a little bit longer. However, you know that staying in bed will not make the winter go away. You have to get up and face it. And that is the same with depression.

If you asked me how I got out of these depressive lows, I would tell you the following. Firstly, I surround myself with the people I trust the most. I do not isolate myself. In a depressive low, you want to be isolated; you want to be alone, but that is not a good idea. Identify these people early, and make an effort to be around them.

The second thing I do is keeping busy. I force myself to work and create. I force myself to think about the future, and I work on other projects. This keeps your mind occupied. And it helps a lot if the mind is occupied.

The third thing I do is getting out of my comfortable depressive environment. I force myself to go out. I call it sanity walks. The change in scenery and my environment stimulates and activate my senses. Keeping busy and a change in scenery give me a sense of purpose, and a healthy dose of dopamine. Dopamine is the hormone that increases your focus, motivation and memory. It also increases your sense of pleasure, enjoyment and desire.

Finally, I run. I force myself to run. Running has always cleared my mind. As a teenager, when things got too abusive and depressing at home, I went for a run. And after a run, I always felt better and had a little bit more hope. It was later at university that I learned that during a run, the body releases endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s pain killer and are released during runs. They are the body’s natural stress relievers.

Everyone, sometime in their lives, hit a depressive low or are dealing with depression. And it is never easy dealing with it. If you are in a depressive low or suffer from depression, please seek help, and find healthy ways to deal with it. It will take time, and please be patient with yourself. Eventually, you will emerge from it.  

Please note: I am not a registered counsellor or mental health professional. If you suffer from depression and anxiety, please contact the South African Depression & Anxiety Group – SADAG, (0800) 12 13 14. SADAG is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group.

My Escape from Poverty – Part 1

I think the worst part of growing up poor was called “arm” or poor.  But then poverty always sounded better in Afrikaans. In English, poverty sounded terrible. It sounded like a disease, and it also felt that way. Society made sure they treated you that way.

Growing up, I never thought that I would escape poverty. I was raised by my grandparents, and every time I looked at them, I felt hopeless, and I often wondered if I would escape it. Poverty was a prison that I had to escape. A prison that kills the dreams and souls of kids at a very young age. A prison that feeds on hopelessness.

So how did I escape?

Let me start at the beginning. Success as an idea or an ideal never ignited a burning desire to escape poverty. It was not even the indignifying manner in which the poor were treated that inspired me to escape poverty. Hunger did. I was always hungry and looking for something to eat. It was always a hustle to get to the next meal and have somewhere safe to sleep.

Alcoholism was the main reason we were poor. My grandfather, grandmother, my mom and her siblings grew up on a farm during apartheid. During apartheid, farmworkers were in part paid with alcohol. They never received the full worth of their labour. This system of payment was called the “dopstelsel.” And this system normalised alcohol abuse among farmworkers.

I was the second born, and my mom started to drink after I was born. So I was lucky to be born with a healthy brain. All my other siblings born after me most probably suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).  None of them completed school, and two of my brother ended up in prison. These are the system-wide symptoms of FAS.

My mom was a single mother and found it difficult to raise us. My grandfather and grandmother decided to raise me, my eldest sister and my younger brother. This was before my other two siblings were born. And my grandparents tried their best. But everything was not rosy. My grandfather and uncle had an alcohol problem, which systematically pulled us deeper and deeper into poverty. There was always more money for alcohol than there were for food and clothes.

And as we slipped deeper and deeper into poverty, the abuse started. My grandfather treated as vermin. My grandfather called us “Grietjie se gemors”, which means “the rubbish of Gretel.” My mother’s name was Gretel. Since my mother abandoned us and the responsibility solely rest on my grandparents, I could see how alcoholism affected my grandmother and the pain it caused her. It was then that I wowed to never become a drinker.

To be continued.


Why does healing take so long?

I guess part of healing is dealing with the pain – to make the pain more manageable. And dealing with the pain takes time. You have to be patient with yourself. You need to allow yourself space and time to get over something.

Six years after my friend’s passing, the pain has become manageable. His memory faded to the back of my mind; that is what I mean by manageable. It is not as fresh as the first couple of years. So it took time.

Time was also the most significant healing factor with the passing of my grandparents. Now, there are only some days that I feel and experience the loss.

But, why has it to takes long? Is the longer it takes an indication of the greatness of your loss? I think so.

I say this because I have walked away from some complex situations over the years, and some weren’t as painful as others. My only explanation for this is the extent of one’s attachment to a particular object or subject. When that is taken away from you, your experience of loss is associated with the extent of your attachment.

And this is here, “letting go” comes in. Sometimes your sense of loss is informed by your fear of “letting go”. “Letting go” translate and reinforces your sense of loss—a finality. Thus, I think healing takes as long as you associate yourself with your loss.

“Please accept my apology?”

How do you regain someone’s trust after you did something to them?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about trust. How do you regain someone’s trust after you did something to them? Or, how do you trust someone after they wronged you?

I usually do not trust people easily. It takes me a long time to open up to someone and to reveal parts of myself. Hence, it is no surprise that many people think I am stuck up and unapproachable. And I prefer it that way. Over the years, I have embraced people’s misunderstandings of me.

However, people’s misunderstandings haven’t pressured me to become a version of myself that I am not comfortable with. I do not want to please people. I think it is an undignifying way to live your life. But let me get back to trust.

So there are two ways to look at trust. One is from the “victim’s” point of view, and the other is from the “perpetrator’s” point of view. And for me, the answer to the question has always been consistency.

If one party say they are sorry, do the other party have to believe them? For me, it is less about the act of saying “I apologise” or “I am sorry” and more about the actions that follow. I always check if there is any remorse or whether the person’s behaviour continues in a similar fashion that led to a lack of trust in the first place.

If the consistency is towards repeated painful actions, the one party is definitely not sorry and will repeatedly do it. They will continue to do so because they can. Or, they will continue to do so because you forgive too easily. This is where I cut my ties and move on.

If the consistency is towards remorse and a behaviour change, it might be the one party is genuinely sorry. But, this still does not mean that there is trust between the two parties. There is, however, a possibility for healing.

In the end, it comes down to whether the wounds will heal enough for the one party to forget that something bad had happened. Yet this does not mean the scars will go away. As soon as something similar happens, it might trigger and open old wounds, and that may cause a temporary lapse in trust. But then again, there is more than one side to any story, and this is my side.

Let’s queer society

I firmly believe if we fix the family, we can improve society. Most of society’s issues arise within the family. For example, GBV is normalised within the family. Several studies found that queerness and otherness are more acceptable outside the family than inside the family. People who identify as queer, lesbian, trans or gay are marginalised within their families.

The single driving factor behind this marginalisation is religion. Religious doctrine is used to oppress and subjugate bodies to the will of family matriarchs and patriarchs. And the one thing we know about religion is that it is not all good. It gave us slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

I think families must talk more openly about sex, sexuality and gender. It is because families do not speak about queerness and instead follow a religious doctrine. Families tend to think religion will cure their queer family member. So they tend to pray for a queer member of the family and hope that divine intervention will change the sexual orientation and identity of their loved one.

This is the same principle that is being used in “prosperity gospel.” In “prosperity gospel”, some family members believe that by tithing and offering that their income will magically increase overnight. They fail to see that the pastor or the church is getting richer, and they are getting poorer. In the end, if religion does not work, the queer member of the family is cast out and disowned. I believe all humans are born queer. The problem is that most families do not understand queerness, and they are not equipped to talk about queerness or otherness. In the same way, they are not equipped to talk about financial security. So here is my message to families that follow a religious doctrine to respond to a queer family member: Love thy neighbour as thyself. Loving yourself would mean recognising your flaws before pointing the finger at someone else.


How do you deal with pain when it continuously cuts like a knife?

When it feels like that knife is permanently stuck in your heart, and you fear that pulling it out will kill you.

How do you deal with the pain when that knife slowly cuts into your spirit and drains you of life?

How do you deal with that pain when you have tried everything to make it stop, but nothing seems to help?

What can you do when every psychotherapeutic and spiritual method failed?

Where can you go when the pain follows you wherever you go?

What do you do?

Do you capture it and feed off it until you are restored and healed?

Or do you allow to let it rain and wash over you?

What do you do? [JC – 09 Mar 2021]

What is the point?

Sometimes it feels like I have lived before, that this life is second or third. I sometimes feel like I will awake from a dream, but I cannot grasp what that will be.

Sometimes I feel so alone. Like it is only me and that this is a nightmare. One day this nightmare will end, and I will wake up. But to what I cannot grasp.

Sometimes I ask what the point of this life or dream is if it all will end one day. What is the purpose? And that, too, I cannot grasp. The understanding thereof seems to be out of my reach.

Sometimes I just ask: Why? And why? Why? Why? Why?

When the doubt and the questions want to settle in my mind and spirit, I remind myself: “Life is more of an exploration than and understanding as to why we are here?” It is in the exploration that I find clarity. [JC – 03 Mar 21]

What is success?

Is success the ability to look after and provide for one’s family? Or is it having so much money that you cannot spend it in a lifetime?

Is the “poor” farmworker who look after and provide for her family less successful than Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos?

Is success determined by your level of qualification or by your knowledge and experience of a particular subject?

Is success the never-ending drive to acquire more and more, or is it found in limits and deficit?

This is one of those questions I am refusing to answer. Success is what is to whom it is. And that is where I leave it. [JC – 01 Mar 21]