There are always two kinds of first-year students. You get the ones that were so excited to leave high school that they’ve been coming to Open Day since they were in Grade 8. Then there are the ones morosely dragging their feet around campus wishing for one more day in their high-school blazer with the head-boy badge and the provincial colours for rugby.
Both these camps need to disabuse themselves of the assumption that varsity is all that different. Because it’s not – at least not in the one way that counts: the cliques. At first you might not immediately recognise them because they aren’t the ones you left behind in school. Perdeby would like to introduce to you the strange new cliques you’ll come across on campus.
The Jacaranda Hipsters
Making fun of hipsters is so mainstream. In fact, the new cool and underground thing to do is to like them. Or tolerate them at least. Hipsters are geographical creatures whose identities depend heavily on where exactly they are. Cape Town hipsters are different from Jo’burg hipsters and Durban hipsters are probably at war with Bloemfontein hipsters (or whatever they have there).
If there’s a live performance by some band whose name is a symbol and it’s pronounced as a combination of whistling and sneezing, Pretoria’s hipsters are there. Dieting mostly on red velvet cupcakes and craft beer, Jacaranda Hipsters are also fiercely protective of their trends and their hang-out spots. They’re the ones with post-ironic receding hairlines and traditional Zulu wife-beaters, hogging all the tables at Honey Badger. They’re harmless – mostly.
The Black Diamonds
If you’re ever looking for a sign of how far South Africa has come since it became a democratic country, look no further than this bunch of Tuks students. Black Diamonds are the wealthy, flaunty generation of black kids who are probably keeping most of Hatfield’s nightclubs in business.
You’ll find them in the VIP section of Moloko or Cofi popping bottles of Moët and Belvedere every weekend without ever complaining about how they have to go back to their rooms and eat two-minute noodles (because they don’t). They have a strange way of making you feel both envious and genuinely concerned about them. If you’re lucky, you can make friends with one of them and ride his or her coat-tails for a bit, just to see how the other half lives.
The Bible Zealots
Caution: one of these students may be right behind you. Don’t look now. Slowly reach into your pocket and pretend to make a phone call. Or crank up the volume on your iPod. Or run. There’s nothing wrong with religion. Perdeby thinks that it is every student’s right to use whatever method he or she can (prayer, alcohol or whatever) to cope with the pressures of being a student. But it’s always best to keep your method to yourself and not try to pass it off as the only one worth trying.
Bible Zealots will come up to you in Hatfield Square, while you’re drowning your sorrows, and try to “save you” from your doomed ways. They’re the ones who’ll relentlessly invite you to prayer meetings no matter how many times you turn them down. They mean well, but you should still be running.
The Born-free Politicos
In high school, politics was only found in textbooks (or in the faculty room if you went to one those schools). However, once you become a varsity student, you soon discover that you might have to actually develop a political opinion of some sort. Next year, you’ll be eligible to vote in the national elections for the first time in your lives. But even before that, you will get your very first taste of politics: the student parliament elections.
Enter the Born-free Politicos. They’re very easy to spot. They walk around campus wearing political organisation T-shirts everyday (everyday). They’ll try and convince you to join their camp by using all kinds of chicanery to turn you against their rivals. Born-free Politicos are usually at Tuks longer than the average student because they spend so much time trying to kick-start their political careers that they almost forget about their (as yet unattained) degrees. Join them at your own risk. On the plus side, they have fizzers.
The TuksRes Troupe
This is one of Tuks’s oldest and most fiercely protected clans. Being a res student at Tuks is a unique experience. All those traditions and rules and that hierarchical way of living tends to encourage a certain type of mindset among res kids.
There’s the uniform that all first years have to wear at least once a week. Deliberately designed to make them stick out like sore thumbs, first-year uniforms are the bane of every res student (yet they wear them with equal parts of shame and pride).
Res students abide by different rules than regular day scholars. They have curfews (flashback to your hostel days in high school) and they’re not allowed in Hatfield Square for most of the year.
You’ll hear all about the inter-residence feuds and alliances as they’re chronicled semi-regularly in Pssst….
What’s important to remember about cliques is that we create them ourselves. In order to survive, we cower towards the people who seem to resemble us. Sometimes, however, breaking the mould can serve you better than blending in. What’s that saying about the birds and the feathers? Perdeby doesn’t think they thought that one completely through.
Illustration: Modeste Goutondji