Humxns of UCT – Sarah Boomgaard

What makes Her Campus UCT so special and unique from the other chapters is that our members, writers, and students are incredibly diverse. Each person has something beautiful and interesting about them - a story to share, a talent, or an outlook on life. We’d like to celebrate our diversity by zooming in on individuals’ stories, speaking to them about what they’re most passionate about and letting them shine on our platform. Whether it be just for a chuckle or to actually share some wise words, we’d like to introduce a new series to Her Campus UCT: Humxns of UCT.

This Humxn of UCT is Sarah Boomgaard. Sarah is a Honours Media student, soon to be grabbing yet another degree (number three, by the way!). Sarah and I happened to find our paths crossing in Media & Writing lectures. Both being eager beavers, Sarah and I always sat in the very front of lecture halls. Considering that the first to third rows are normally quite a lonely place, it was inevitable that a beautiful friendship would begin over the ups and downs of academia. In her spare time, Sarah is listening to Taylor Swift, posting hilarious ad relatable status updates on Facebook, and being a dedicated and loving cat-mom to Levi, who in her words, is a “fur cloud of sass”. I chatted with Sarah about what her mind has been dedicated to for the past nine academic months.


Image by Jemima Hart


What did you decide was going to be your thesis topic for your honours years? How did you settle on this one? 

My thesis topic is a comparative analysis of anti-Semitic caricatures in Der Strümer and comparing them against caricatures which appeared in the Charlie Hebdo magazine depicting Muslims. 

Some of the French people and Charlie Hebdo contest that they’re not anti-Islam and Islamophobic. So the idea was to look at historical caricatures that were definitely regarded as being prejudice, and the ones that really stood out were the ones from the Holocaust. Der Strümer was also a weekly magazine/journal in Germany and they published a lot of anti-Semitic propaganda – and it’s accepted that these caricatures were anti-Semitic! By comparing them to the caricatures in Charlie Hebdo, I’m looking for things that overlap, like the use of zoomorphism which is when you make a human look like an animal. What the Der Strümer did was draw Jewish people like insects, rats, and in one instance, a frog. In Charlie Hebdo they drew Maryam Pougetoux, the French president of the student union at The Sorbonne Institute, as a monkey – and a monkey definitely has racial connotations. That caricature was actually the one that sparked my interest for my thesis because I was so shocked that people were still doing this! It’s the same tools used: fear-mongering and stereotypes. No, it’s not just satire. No it’s not just political opinion. This is definite Islamophobia. It’s the same rhetoric the Nazis used – that you can’t be a good Muslim and a good European because you’ll never put your country first and that’s just not true.


Image from Arun with a View


What is your experience with Islamophobia?

I have lived in Durbanville for almost my entire life. Durbanville is very white, very Afrikaans, and very Christian – there are 40 odd churches and no mosques – so we’re pretty isolated to say the least. It’s odd because my name doesn’t sound particularly Muslim and I don’t ‘look’ particularly ‘Muslim’. I don’t look particularly Arab or like a Cape Malay Muslim woman and I don’t wear a scarf. It’s frustrating because when people find out there’s a bit of shock on their faces. 

In high school two boys started saying that I was from the Taliban which was very hurtful and incredibly painful. I was a child. My teacher made him apologise to me but it’s not something you really forget – that people can make these assumptions about you. 

Generally, I just try to stay away from people who I know are close minded. That goes for people from other religions or people within my own religion. 


How do you feel about the rise of white nationalism within South Africa? Especially considering the high number of votes for the VF+ (Vryheidsfront Plus – a political party that protects the political, social, and economic interests of Afrikaaners) during this year’s national elections.

The rise of in white nationalism is extremely upsetting and frustrating. Obviously because of the bigotry, but also because we literally had an entire World War about these kind of ideologies and how harmful they can be. Six million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust and we’ve learnt nothing. 

Studies have shown it’s more white, cis men than anyone else that endorse white nationalism and white supremacy. The fact that people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have gotten into power using this rhetoric is absolutely disgusting. I’m so ashamed of mankind in general that we’ve slipped back into these nauseating habits. The only reason this is happening is because they’re scared and they know they are, in fact, losing their hegemonic power. They know they can’t just shut people up because we will get up and shout again. 


At the end of this year, you’ll be receiving your third degree. What was your first?

My first degree from 2012 to 2014 was a Bachelor of Commerce in Law at Stellenbosch University. I considered studying journalism but I kind of steered away from it. It’s a strange thing when you grow up in a coloured household because if you are bright and intelligent and get good marks, you are either steered to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or an accountant. If you’re more ‘smart’, something more creative is seen as a ‘wasted opportunity’. I understand the logic behind that – my parents couldn’t attend any university they wanted to, they had to food on the table, so they had to make sure they had a career that provided and not necessarily a career that allowed them to express a creative outlet. That’s still something a lot of families are struggling to unpack. My family still doesn’t really understand what I do or what my degree is about. 

While I was studying Law at Stellenbosch, I was still writing. I just wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing and what I was learning. With law, you have to distance yourself from the cases that you’re studying and I couldn’t do that. Society just felt broken to me. That drew me to study Media. 


Image from the University of Cape Town


Why has academia become your new home? 

I love learning. There’s this saying in Islam that you’re supposed to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave. I wanted to learn as much as possible from as many sources as possible. I feel like academia, and especially UCT where the background of your lecturers are so varied and impressive, you can learn so much in the classroom and from the people around like your lecturers and your peers. I just really enjoy learning about the world because that’s how I process things. When I’m facing a problem, I tend to write about it and sort through it using the tools that have been given to me.

When the Ashwin Willemse saga happened on SuperSport last year where he walked off the set on live TV and accused Naas Botha and Nick Mallet of being racist, he got both flack and support on social media. So I put in all the tools I had learnt from university and from my media classes about representation and hegemony to work and I wrote an op-ed that got published in the Cape Times which was a very proud moment for me. Academia doesn’t teach me about useless things or hypothetical situations; it teaches me about real life and a very challenging and complex society. 


Image by Roanne de Haast


Where to next? 

After Honours this year, I hope to be accepted for a Masters programme at whichever university is willing to have me, and then hopefully PhD thereafter.

Academia and Media Studies for coloured families isn’t something that they generally understand. It’s still a foreign and new concept for them because they’re so used to the lawyer, the doctor, the engineer, the accountant, and the teacher. So when you step outside that as a coloured person, you kind of shake your family up a bit. I think it’s important that we don’t just stick in our safe-space. If we see something we love and we enjoy learning about it (like film, series, social media, and music), then it’s worth studying and taking further.


The interviewer and interviewee: Sarah and I in covered in what makes us happiest – glitter!

Image by Richard Winter