The Quest for Identity

by Likhona Daza

jms1 'hair that grows up and not down' Esihle Faltein, photo of Mthawelanga poni,instagram handle @m.welanga

Identity may sound like an easy term to define. In fact, everyone has their own definition of the word. We are someone different to different people- annoying to some, quite to some and unknown to a lot, but who are we to ourselves?

Everyone has their different identities and their effect on your life depends on why you have those identities. People who would agree more with this are Kensani Msindwana and Tshegofatso Makube- first year Rhodes University students. They both agree on the fact that when you get to Rhodes the hardest battle you will ever have to fight is staying true to who you are or rather what you were perceived to be by your parents and community.

Kensani shared how changing her identity with hopes of fitting in almost, and still can, cause her to lose her DP’s for most of her courses because it is too late to now recover. She said that all her life, until now, she has always been under the careful eye of her mother and her small village in Mount Frare. “Sometimes the world tells you who to be before you even figure it out yourself”. She became overwhelmed with the freedom she received when she arrived at Rhodes because it meant she would be her own person. When asked if she has multiple identities she answered, “I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words and reactions from me”. She said that almost all the things she does now are things she started experimenting with here, such as drinking three to four days a week, not studying before tests and skipping classes.

She used to believe in the phrase “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”, which made her forget who she really is. She said she now knows that “parties and books are like two bulls in one kraal- only one will get out alive and kicking”, and in her case it is not books. She now faces the dilemma of there being a probability of not writing half of her courses. She thought she could “fake” who she was in order to fit in. Instead she became all she pretended to be. When she got to Rhodes she was focused and her residence mates called her a “boring bookworm”, but because she wanted to channel her other sides that all soon changed.

She was already aware of the interview topic so when finally asked what identity is, she defined it as the qualities and beliefs of a person. Her response to her name-callers is more of a guide to ignore them-“let them laugh at you, say you are boring, and call you a nerd but keep in mind that when the exam results come you will be doing the laughing. The last laugh will be yours. Stay true to who you are”. Pressure to change identities in order to fit in can affect one’s academics, and this was the case with Kensani. It is only now that she sees the truth in the words, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not”. Tshegofatso agrees with her on this.

The first time I saw Tshegofatso we were in the common room as first years for introductions. She looked like a simple ‘T-shirt and jeans’ kind of a girl. In our residence we were the only ones who had our natural hair. She had Afro-textured wooly hair. I remember how everyone was curious on how she manages such huge natural hair, but a week later she had colourful braids on, walking with a squad and wearing shorts. She was either acting natural and simple and peer pressure got to her or that is just how she is- colourful.

I stopped guessing and  asked for her permission to interview her. When asked what identity is she squinted her eyes, bit her colourful index finger nail and said, “the term entails a lot”. She mentioned a sense of being, a person’s surroundings, their friends, how they dress and what they eat. She also shared whether she has one or multiple identities. Even though she heard the question the first time she asked, “Pardon?” It felt like she wanted me to change the question because she felt as if her authenticity was being questioned..

“Back home I am an ordinary Tswana girl”, she states as she touches her hair, “You would never see this on my head when I am home”. She brought up her virginity and her plans on leaving Rhodes with it intact. I guess we will finally see the statue drop the sword. She might be away from home but she is still staying true to her culture and the values her mother instilled in her. Well, some of them. She views different identities having an effect on academics by the reason one has in adopting that identity. “If it is to fit in, you will waste your time. Trust me, people are never satisfied”.

Rhodes University is a diverse environment and even though it is for academic purposes, some people actually forget why they are here. At the end one has to look out for themselves because they came alone and will leave alone. You find people losing focus because of the company they keep. Whether we like it or not we can never run away from the influence people around us have on our lives. Our true identity is found when we stop being who we are and start becoming who we were created to be, and no one was created to be a failure.

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