AFDA | Here Be Dragons | February 2024

Last year, I applied to study for the Bachelor of Creative Writing at AFDA in Gqueberha (Port Elizabeth). I was accepted, but then I was told that the degree had been postponed to 2025 due to various reasons. I was greatly disappointed, for this is something I’ve wanted to study since I finished high school years ago.

Fast forward to this year – Tuesday 16th of January, to be more specific. received an email from Mark Wilby, the Dean of AFDA GQ:

Your inquiry regarding academic credits in recognition of your writing career caused me to consider another possibility that might interest you. That is, for us to evaluate whether your professional competence can be assessed as equivalent to BA undergraduate knowledge in order to qualify you to directly enter our Honours programme.’

Turns out, my 20 years as a published writer qualified me for an RPL (Recognized Prior Learning). I was able to skip the undergraduate process and enroll immediately in the Honours degree. 

As Mr. Wilby put it, the ‘BA Honours is a one-year full-time course. This too does not offer creative writing as the major, but instead, you would enroll as a screenwriter and be required to author two half-hour scripts as your practical output.’

Of course, I said yes. What an incredible opportunity, and one that I would not let pass me by.

I enrolled on campus three weeks later, and classes officially started on Monday, 12th February. 

I plan on writing a monthly newsletter this year, from February to November, when we graduate. These newsletters will give an overview of my experiences and challenges at AFDA. 

Without further ado, a newsletter of my first month at AFDA. It's long - 4,681 words, to be exact. I write these things down so that I can process what happens. My days are long and full, and so many things happen all at once that it's difficult to process it properly. I have highlighted the important parts in BOLD, in case you want just the overview and not the details.





It’s the first day of class. I leave Jeffrey’s Bay at 07h10 but only arrive in Port Elizabeth at 08h55 due to roadblocks and traffic. I make it just in time. As soon as I sit down in Lecture Hall #1, Orientation Week officially kicks off. 

Mark Wilby, the Dean, challenges us with the question ‘Welcome to this exciting new chapter in your lives. Every time you enter the campus, ask yourself this question, ‘Why am I here at AFDA?’’ 

Simon Pienaar, the school’s program coordinator, is next to speak. ‘The staff are not here to give you the easy answers, but the hard questions.’ He also explains where the term ‘Here be dragons’ comes: ‘It was a phrase that was frequently used in the 1700s and earlier by cartographers (map makers) on faraway, uncharted corners of the map. It was meant to warn people away from dangerous areas where sea monsters were believed to exist.’ 

Simon likened it to AFDA, which is now an uncharted territory for all of us. ‘You will discover what you’re capable of. This is just the beginning of a long and exciting journey.’

After this welcoming session, we are split into our respective groups – First Year, Second Year, Third Year, and Honours. I join the Honours students in the building opposite the Lecture Hall, and Mr. Wilby goes through the Course Course & Timetable with us.

I quickly picked up that in this group of 7 students, all of them are incredibly positive and excited about their futures in the South African film industry. I am the only white student, and I realize just how much my Afrikaans culture has been struggling lately with remaining positive about their futures in post-apartheid South Africa. The girl from Namibia, Seraya, says that I’m ‘so pretty’, and another girl, Xabi, an actress, says that I’ve got beautiful hair. I’m surprised & blown away by how this group embraces me. 

During the lunch break, the girls form a group, and we discuss the topics that we want to research this year. Each one of us has to write a 30-page Thesis on a subject that is connected to film. The girl from Namibia is interested in mental health in the film industry, the actress is interested in researching how people of colour are portrayed in films. I want to focus on disabilities, and how they can best be represented on the screen. 

On my way back home to Jeffrey’s Bay, I have tears of gratitude in my eyes. I can’t believe I finally get to do this, after so many years of trying, giving up, and now trying again. It’s been a long day, and I’m only home by 18h30. 


It’s 03h00 a.m., and I’m wide awake. I struggle to go back to sleep; my mind is awake and excited for the day. Traffic is heavy in Port Elizabeth, and I say to myself, ‘At least this is preparing me for Cape Town next year, in case I want to do my Masters.’

When I arrive on campus at 09h00, I get a notification that classes will only start at 10h00. ‘This is what AFDA is like,’ Daniel, also an Honours student, tells me. ‘You have to be flexible all the time.’ 

I received a nice group message from Ute, who is a lecturer on campus: ‘Have fun today and remember, you’re only starting the journey today, you don’t have to be on top of the mountain just yet. Make sure you have your map and necessary gear first before you set your sights on the summit.’

Because I’m technically a first-year, having never done AFDA before, I join the First Year students on a tour of the campus. I hadn’t realized it was so big, and that there are so many different facets to filmmaking. There’s Production Design, Sound Design, Editing, Live Performance, etc. 

Back in my Honours class, I ask Andrina to write down all the students’ names for me. Because of my hearing loss, I struggle with picking up names. It’s easier for me when it’s written down and I can memorize how to pronounce them. 

During lunch, I walk around on campus and just drink in everything. I can’t believe that I get to do this. It feels like all the students take it for granted, this incredible opportunity that they have. I’m emotional as I look around and take it all in.

We also have our first Group/Crew Meeting, where we discuss concept ideas for the Short Film that we have to make this year. I suggest we do a film on disabilities, specifically people with cochlear implants. Another student, Speech, suggests we do an organized crime film on the taxi world. Three more concept ideas are put on the table. We discuss it and discuss it some more. We agree to make a finalized decision before the end of Week 5.


I take the old road to Port Elizabeth because it takes too long to drive on the N2 and wait at the roadblocks. I arrive at 08h20, which is wonderful because I can take a deep breath and take in my unfamiliar surroundings. I completely forgot that it’s Valentine’s Day. One of the students asks me if I’ve got a special someone, and I say no. ‘Jeffrey’s Bay is blind! How can they not see you?!’

We are given our first assignment of the term: we have to each make Pecha Kusha, which is a 6-minute and 44-second PowerPoint. We will have the opportunity to show 20 slides of photos and pictures from our lives and tell our story that way.

As I drive home, the song ‘Turn Turn Turn’ by Pam Thum plays in my car, and I’m reminded of how for everything there is a time and a season. If my concept idea doesn’t get used for this year’s short film, it’s okay. I don’t have to fight for my place in the sun. My time will come; God will fight for me.

By 15h30, I’m home. It’s wonderful to be home this early. It’s been a rough start to the week. I work on my Pecha Kusha, and get it ready for Friday. 


Before I went to sleep last night, I thought about my Pecha Kusha presentation and decided to change the storyline. The writer in me wasn’t satisfied with the ebb and flow of it. The new theme would be ‘Mountains’ and how a storyline (intro, rising action, climax, falling action resolution) looks like a mountain and how our lives are filled with mountains that we have to climb. I decided to focus on the different mountains in my life that I’ve had to overcome, and in that way tell the story of my life to the lecturers and students.

But first things first. We have a Group/Crew meeting, and there’s frustration within the group on what concept is going to work for the short film that we have to make this year. I try to communicate my concept idea as effectively as possible, and I even compromise my storyline by adding/adjusting other students’ story ideas. Still, the group is not entirely convinced it will work. It’s as if we have an invisible client and we don’t know what this client wants or needs.

A lie wants to slip in. Within the group, two of us didn’t do the undergraduate program at AFDA, which means we don’t have a strong motion picture training background. Yes, I’m a writer, but I wrote for magazines, newspapers, and books. The other student did his undergraduate degree at Nelson Mandela University, which was solely academic with no practical assignments. We have a chat about our ‘qualifications’. I encourage him and say that we are both more than qualified to do our Honours at AFDA. There is a reason we were chosen, and there’s a reason why we are both here. He agrees and says he’s not too bothered with the lie that wants to slip in. It doesn’t have a hold on him.

We attend an extremely fun actors workshop with the First Year students, where we do warm-ups and ice breakers. I meet a First Year girl who’s white and Afrikaans like me and also drives through from Jeffrey’s Bay every day. Maybe we can carpool in the future?

To my relief, our Pecha Kusha presentations are postponed to next week, which gives us more time to prepare, and I can also redo my new presentation.


I’m so glad it’s Friday. It’s been a long and tiring week. I put on bright red lipstick as a way to say to myself, ‘You can do it! Only one more day and it’s the weekend.’ My nephew tells me I look like Marilyn Monroe, and when I’m on campus, I get many compliments for the red lipstick. Valerie, the incredibly nice lady who handles students’ complaints and needs, remarks that she has always been scared to wear red lipstick, but that it works on me. 

My mom is my chauffeur for the day, and I’m so grateful. Before she drops me off at campus, we stop at Jack’s Bagels for an iced coffee and chocolate bagel. I’ve been having challenges with my hearing since I experienced whiplash and right-sided trauma in the body last year after I visited friends (will tell a bit more about this later on). This means that my body is now experiencing detox symptoms as the toxins and inflammation build-ups are being released. It makes me extremely tired during the day. 

We watch short films from previous years by AFDA Honours students, and then we discuss them. Mglungisi, Isikhalo and Wire & Cable. We share our thoughts on the good points and the bad. We take each film apart and analyze it. I then say, ‘Remember, guys… next year’s Honours students will sit here and discuss OUR short film that we made…’ This prompts a laugh from the whole group, as they realize the truth of this.

We finish early, and before my mom & I drive home, we check out student accommodation just down the road from AFDA. Unfortunately, we realize it’s not a safe area during the evenings, and I won’t have safe parking for my car. It’s not going to work… I’m a bit disappointed, for this means I will have to drive every day from Jeffrey’s Bay. At least my Honours is just a one-year program. I think I have it within me to stick it out for ten months. 

When we arrive in Jeffrey’s Bay, I sigh with relief as I see my town. I love Jeffrey’s Bay, and it’s such a peaceful, tranquil place to live. I chuckle when I see the bumper sticker off someone’s car: ‘Welcome to Jbay… Now slow the F down.’ This is Jeffrey’s Bay. Everyone drives slower, the pace is much slower. This is quality living, and I wouldn’t easily trade it for Port Elizabeth.

That night, when I close my eyes, all I can see is the road with the white stripes on it. I’ve been driving back and forth every single day, and my body is bone tired and I know I’m going to sleep all weekend.


During the night, I have a significant dream. I dream that I have defected to Russia and that this strange and new culture embraces me as one of their own. No questions asked. It is symbolic of my transition from BSSM/church culture into AFDA/film culture. 

I spend most of the day sleeping, and when I’m awake, I discover an amazing television series on Netflix. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and I am hooked from the first episode. I marvel at the way each episode is written; there are so many hooks and turns, and I have no idea where the storyline is going to go next. This is an incredible feat, for I almost always know what’s going to happen next on the screen. But not with this series. 


I watch ‘Searching for Sugarman’ on Netflix, as per our requirement from Mr. Wilby, our dean and postgraduate overseer. One of our assignments for this term – which will also be our ‘boot camp’ training for this year – is that we have to make a documentary based on the Serpent Players, and ‘Searching for Sugarman’ is similar to what we have to do. 

A few beautiful quotes from this heartfelt documentary:

The artist is the pioneer.’ 

Home is acceptance’ 

Well, is it this all our great fate? Your dreams of yourself, your higher forms of yourself, are that one day you will be recognized and that your talents will suddenly become visible to the world. Most of us die without coming any close to that sort of magic. He (Sugarman) preserved his mystery.’




I arrive too early – 08h15, to be precise. I don’t know how this happened, for I left at the same time I always do, except this time there was almost no traffic. All the doors to the Postgraduate Building are still closed, so I wait outside. 

When we start, we have another Group/Crew meeting to discuss the Concept Idea for our Short Film. I started to notice that we’re having a lot of meetings about this… I find it a bit odd, but realize that it’s probably to make sure that everyone stays on the same page, and that there are no misunderstandings. Each one of us has to share what we hope to learn from this project, as well as what we’re hoping to achieve. I say, ‘I’d love for this film to be heartfelt and lightweight.’ Everyone agrees, but we also want a good storyline, something that’s got a crime/thriller feel to it. 

We each have to do our Pecha Kusha presentations today. I can’t believe how nervous I am. After so many years of doing motivational talks, this one feels different. I only have 6 minutes and 44 minutes, and the PowerPoint slides are just going to roll and keep going. This means I’ll have to keep it short (very short) and stay with the bulletin points that I wrote down. It goes surprisingly well.

I also met three new students who have joined our class – Asher, an actor, Stella, a cinematographer, and Zaza. Zaza is also from Jeffrey’s Bay but now lives in Port Elizabeth because the driving back and forth got to be a bit too much for her. ‘It’s the first time that all the students are now together in one room,’ Seraya comments. We are now 10 students in total. 

We watch the first part of ‘Searching for Sugarman’ as a group, and then we discuss it afterward. How would we like to shoot the Serpent Players documentary this term? What are some of the practical concerns? What is Mr. Wilby looking for in this project? Discuss, discuss, discuss. We finish at 16h00, which is great because this means I can miss the 5 pm traffic on Cape Road.


I came in at 11h00 because I had to first get a Voltaren injection at Dischem, per the Ear, Nose & Throat specialist’s request. I’m still struggling with my hearing and the spasms in my body. 

The students have been doing team-building exercises the whole morning, and I come in just as they are finishing up. 

Another girl has joined our Honours program this year – Onika. Our afternoon session is hosted by Dr. Moodley, a lecturer on loan from Nelson Mandela University. The session is fascinating, as she talks about Cultural Identity and how it’s portrayed in film. 

During the break, I have a fascinating conversation with Andrina, the only coloured girl in our group. She shares with me her frustrations at how her culture has been portrayed on the screen, and how the South African government doesn’t want to recognize the Khoi San as a culture group. 

In return, I share with her the frustrations the Afrikaans culture has been experiencing as well, with the Afrikaans language being branded as the ‘apartheid language’. This now means that the repercussion is that the government wants to take away Afrikaans at universities and schools. While in Australia, it is now being recognized as an important language because of the 200,000+ South Africans that have already emigrated there. ‘Even the universities in Australia are now giving Afrikaans as a subject,’ I told Andrina. In the back of my mind, I make a mental note that this could be a very interesting topic to explore sometime in the future… This is the reality of the white South Africans and their future that’s at stake here.

As a group, we have insightful discussions about our social identity, and how we view it. What are the challenges we have faced so far, and what needs to be overcome? I share with the group the challenges my mother has had, in not finding a job as a pastor, simply because she’s now a single woman. There’s still discrimination and misconceptions in the church about women in leadership. I can see that this is a new revelation to Dr. Moodley, who finds this a fascinating topic.


I write a summary of my concept idea for the short film that we need to make, and then I pitch it to the group. ‘Thisability’ will be about hearing loss, and how it can be portrayed on the screen. It also fits in with my Research Theme for this year: ‘Cochlear Implantees and How They Can Best Be Represented on the Screen’

I wrote a quote on the whiteboard for everyone to read: ‘Create the things you wish existed.’

In the afternoon, we have to help out the Second Years with their 3-minute screen acting that they will have to shoot later in the term. ‘The Waiting Room’ is about four friends who wait in the hospital to find out if their friend has died of a drug overdose. As the Honours students, we get to coach and advise them in this. I sit there and can’t believe how I got to be here. What an honour it is to be able to do this! 


We have a Writing Class with Caleb, who was an Honours student last year. It’s a fun and informative session, and he uses examples from ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Oppenheimer’. We are taught the basics of scriptwriting: How to write it in the correct format. ‘Screenwriting is a visual exercise, whereas novel writing is a mental exercise,’ he teaches us.

We have another lecturer come in from NMU (I forget her name), and she shares with us that whenever she comes to AFDA, she feels so energized and excited about the future. It makes me wonder: what does she feel when she gives classes at NMU…?

I had the opportunity to share my Research Topic with her, and she commented the following, ‘Correct representation is a big issue these days, especially where film and television are concerned.’ Her feedback shows me that I’m on the right track.


I asked Ute if AFDA has ever made any films focused on disabilities and/or hearing loss in the past. She says no, she doesn’t think so, but that she’ll ask the other AFDA campuses just to be sure. 

I also asked her if it would be possible to do drama classes as well, especially onscreen acting. She says that I am more than welcome and that I should speak to Mr. Haxton, who is the head of the Live Performances at AFDA GQ. I have my meeting with Mr. Haxton at noon, and it’s a positive one and I am excited. ‘Remind me by the end of this term, so that I can adjust the timetable accordingly for Term 2 for you,’ Mr. Haxton says. 

We watched four short films again – Gravity and Life, Kayne Kayne, Dismantled and Altered. We have a Group/Crew meeting again about our Short Film concept for this year. We have five different concepts, and we will need to decide on two finalists, and then choose a final concept idea. 


I’m still not having any breakthroughs on my hearing problems, and my mom takes me to the chiropractor. The chiropractor is a tall man, and he is from the United States. Having lived in South Africa for the past 16 years, he jokes, ‘I’m African American.’ (He’s a white man) It’s a scary session, as I’ve never been to a chiropractor before. I feel an immediate relief in my body afterward, and both my ears are restored to their original hearing within a few hours.

A friend asked me an important question about my ‘Thisability’ project: ‘If it was your choice, what type of film would you want to write and produce?’ This gives me food for thought, and it helps me regain focus on what I would like to write.


I have immense headaches on the right side of my head. I’m so tired and it feels like I have the flu. But really, it’s just my body detoxing. I sleep almost the whole day. I had a list of things that I wanted to do today… but I decided to postpone it to next weekend. My hearing is crystal clear, the clearest it’s been since that accident last year.

I received an encouraging message from Marjorie, and it’s exactly what I needed to hear: ‘You focus, girlfriend! That’s all you have to do… and it’s just for one year… Which will change your life forever.. Just as significant as that year in Redding was!! Wow… eeeee!’




I’m back in class in Port Elizabeth, but I feel incredibly nauseous and tired… I can’t work at all, and my concentration is out the window. At least today’s workload is not intense: We visit the Savage Library/Museum that is just down the road from AFDA. This is where a majority of the Serpent Players’ documentary will be shot in a few weeks. We are in awe of how beautiful this building is – inside and outside. Unfortunately, the archives’ side of the building has a part of the roof that is falling apart. It’s sad to see such a beautiful place going to waste. The library/museum has also been closed for some time now ‘because there are no qualified staff’ working there anymore. 

When I get home, my mom Googles the side effects of the Voltaren injection: nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and extreme tiredness. I tick all of those boxes. The bad news? It’s going to take three weeks for my body to work out the side effects. 


I decided to stay at home today. I have another session with the chiropractor today, and afterward, I’m so tired and teary. ‘Buy your daughter an ice cream,’ the chiropractor says, and my mom does just that. I can’t believe I have to struggle like this, just at the start of my studies at AFDA. Everything feels too hard, too overwhelming, but I know it’s because my body is detoxing. My mom and I decided that I needed to take off the rest of the week to rest and recover. I’m too tired to even drive to Port Elizabeth. 


I sleep the whole day, and watch ‘The Little Mermaid.’ The father tells his daughter, ‘You shouldn’t have had to give up your voice just to be heard.’ 

I also received feedback from a bursary that I applied for. I wasn’t chosen, but the letter is beautifully written and encouraging: ‘We know that you will be disappointed that you were not selected to receive funding for your studies this year. But, as Henry Ford said it so eloquently: ‘When everything seems to be going against you remember that an airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.’

I remember how my mom told me that this year I would be like a plane, and once I take off, I’m going to be steady and constant and stay up in the air. I take this bursary letter as a sign that I am still on the right track, and that I will get there – eventually.


I received a message from Seraya, who will be the producer for the short film that we have to make this year: ‘Just a friendly reminder to please write your synopsis paragraph and 1-page script for the three actors tomorrow.’ Another student has joined us this week – Chulu, who is also an actor. This makes our group a neat sum of twelve now. 

I decide that I’m feeling a bit better, and quickly write something for the three actors. It takes me 40 minutes, and I enjoy it immensely. It’s been a while since I’ve written something – I don’t even have the strength to update my journal. All I’ve done these past few weeks is make Notes on my iPhone, which I can now use to write this newsletter.


I am nervous to be back in class. It feels like it’s been years since I’ve been here. I realize just how sick I had been at the beginning of this week. I felt like I had made a huge mistake by doing AFDA this year… but it’s simply because of my hearing problems and body health. Daniel, one of my fellow students, is so happy that I’m back. ‘I didn’t think you were going to come back.’ I am surprised by this comment. Everyone was so happy to see me, and they all missed me this week.

I feel a little overwhelmed by everything, and I also feel that I missed out on a lot this week. I sit down with Andrina and ask her to update me on everything. She helps me to put everything in focus again, and I get to prioritize what I need to do at home this weekend. 

We watched a film – The Wound – for our Core Course assignment that we will need to do. We can choose from three films – The Wound, Locke, or Le Grand Bassin – and then we have to do a Textual Analysis on it (2,500 words in total). I chose the film Locke and decided I’m going to watch it this weekend.

We have a Group/Crew meeting again, and we all decide on two concepts – my concept and Speech’s concept. Next week we’ll decide on the final one.


I wake up feeling much better and refreshed. I visited the chiropractor again, and he is satisfied with my progress. After the session, I was tired again and slept for four hours. I spend some time on Facebook, too tired to read anything. I saw a post on the Cochlear Implant Users – South Africa group and a mom posted the wonderful news that her daughter – who has bilateral cochlear implants – has been chosen as Head Girl of her hearing school, Cape Recife High School. Even more amazing: the Head Boy also has cochlear implants. This confirms to me that South Africa has many success stories of people with hearing loss who are succeeding and overcoming their challenges. I love this story so much, that I reply to the post by saying, ‘This is incredible!! I was also the Head Girl of my (hearing school) back when I was still in high school. I didn’t wear implants; I wore hearing aids. Only got the implants 5 years later. Proud of these two! Contact the local newspaper to do an article on these two. Would love to hear more about them!’


I watched Justin Paul Abraham’s brilliant YouTube session on ‘Cardiognosis – Heart Knowledge’, and it gave me great insight into how group dynamics works, and how I can rise above the challenges. I have renewed hope and I know I can take on this mountain this year. ‘We have to be moved by beauty,’ Justin says. 

I finish my Literature Review, per Dr. Semege’s request. It takes me four hours to do two pages’ worth of work. I hadn’t realized it takes up so much time… I know I’m going to have to manage my time wisely this year.

I finish off the week by watching Cruella with my mom. Great film, love the character developments and backstories. The production design is top-notch. I go to bed extremely tired but with renewed hope for the new month that lies ahead.


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