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Friendzone: Wendyl Martin

Wendyl and I met on the first day of the cadet school. February 2010. 

This was a few weeks after I had temporarily abandoned my dream of being an environmentalist where I had been working as an intern, sometimes living in the middle of nowhere (Bredasdorp, Gansbaai, Stellenbosch) while plotting ways to save animals, fynbos and make it easier for people living in those areas to make a sustained living from their natural heritage. 

It all sounds a bit idealist when I write it now, five years later, from an apartment in Johannesburg. But that’s exactly what the organisations I was working for at the time (Flower Valley Conservation Trust and Peace Parks Foundation) were up to and it was quite inspiring being surrounded by scientists working in fields that I did not even know existed. 

So I spent most of my internship years (mid 2008 /09) in a bit of a daze, amazed that there was a world called conservation that I knew so little about while growing up in Mabopane and always surprised that no one thought me a fraud for not having a science-related qualification, at the very least.

Anyway, so that was my background.

 In my interview to get into Independent Newspapers’ Cadet School I think I said something to the effect that I wanted to be an environmental/science journalist (I still do) so that I can combine the journalist and environmental aspects of my career.

But back to Wendyl and I, and how we met in 2010, in a cold room at Independent Newspapers in Cape Town on the first day of the cadet school, which was run by Jonathan Ancer, a man who would spark my love for long-form narrative journalism (more on him later).

Wendyl was really hard to miss in that room of 12 or so budding journalists because he had the most glorious black hair; it was curly and went all the way to his neck. It was so shiny, the kind of shine I’d only seen in tv hair commercials. 

We struck up a friendship immediately, sat next to each other in class, had the same writing style, went on assignments together, lived together when he eventually moved to Cape Town and started our own version of a happy family. 

This involved lots of going out, getting drunk, helping each other come up with dope intros for our stories (which were sometimes hacked by subs who preferred that we get to the point but we would celebrate the few times our intros made it into the paper in exactly the same wording).

There were also things we did not have in common. 

He loved going to church, I didn’t. He loved Karaoke, I didn’t. He enjoyed shopping for groceries, I didn’t. He loved tv, I didn’t. 

But these differences were what made our friendship work because we didn’t end up morphing into each other and doing everything together and liking the same things.

We loved spreading the newspapers on the floor on a Sunday and comparing stories between publications while also byline stalking our favourite journalists.

Our best thing was trying to remember in which newspaper front-page scandal someone we had just met (or followed on Twitter) had been involved in, in the past.

 But there were other things we loved doing and they mostly involved lots of wine or champagne and having friends over while discussing our latest crush or heartbreak. We loved inviting our families over, being relieved that they’ve left, missing them when we’ve had too much wine, having screaming matches with each other, cooking elaborate dinners just for the sake of it and having the most impromptu (midweek) rooftop braais and get-togethers in the whole of Roeland Street.

Basically Wendyl was like a little brother, gay best friend, husband, colleague and therapist rolled into one tiny human package delivered straight from Durban (a city I really had no time for at the time) to me, in Cape Town.

When it was eventually time to leave Cape Town, after nearly a decade in a province I had initially intended to live in for a year, I was really sad because I had made such amazing memories with my friends, especially Wendyl, who had been able to put with me the longest and look after me after Mampala and Melanie moved back to Gauteng.

He was always there, with good advice; or maybe an ear to listen; or a few coins for us to play the jukebox at the Kimberley Hotel on a Sunday; or the enthusiasm (along with Thanda) to go back to the bundus with me for a weekend of camping and planting trees with some environmentalist-types in the Southernmost tip of Africa. 

I’d seen him transform from the Indian boy with glorious hair to a confident arts journalist with a really chic (short) hair cut. Listening to him (on my recent trip to Cape Town) talk about his future plans left me really excited, happy and proud that he’d grown into this open-minded person and I can’t wait to be there to see the puzzles fall into place.


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First published on

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