A snip in the bush vs a scalpel in bed

Edwin Makitla believes he would not be the man he is today if it were not for his experience at initiation school. Makitla first went to the mountain when he was 12 years old. He has been returning every year since then to be reminded of his teachings and to help usher other young boys into their new-found manhood.

Makitla says the initiation school he went to is professional and safe. He says the initiation schools in the rest of the country that he reads about in the papers every year are run by drunks, men who have no respect for true culture and tradition.

Black Joburgers forget who they are

He says black South Africans who move to big cities like Johannesburg forget who they are. They come to the city, follow “the things of white people” and then abandon what they have been doing for years. They forget their ancestors and turn to Western practitioners, whose medicine they believe in without question.[pullquote] “When you are an African man and you don’t go to initiation school, things will go wrong in your life. You will not succeed. This is cultural.”[/pullquote]

Every year, between May and August, the media zooms in on traditional circumcision and its failures that lead to the deaths of young men. Initiation schools and their associated cultures across the country come under the microscope of the media and South Africa.

Makitla says African men cannot “survive” without going through traditional circumcision. “When you are an African man and you don’t go to initiation school, things will go wrong in your life. You will not succeed. This is cultural.”

Other side of the coin
Rendani Ramovha, a Wits rugby player, says he went the medical circumcision route but was too young to remember it.
[pullquote align=”right”]”If you consider all of that, then I think if the ancestors really were angry at me, I would be dead.”[/pullquote]On the ancestors “getting angry” when black men don’t go to initiation school, Ramovha says: “I cannot comment on something that does not exist in my reality.”

Ramovha’s father denounced his chieftaincy when he was a young boy. He left the community and turned his back on his traditional background.
“If you consider all of that, then I think if the ancestors really were angry at me, I would be dead.”

Untrained traditional healers are the problem

Traditional healer Thifulufheli Nemavhulani says that in more than 30 years of working with traditional circumcisions he[pullquote]”You can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going to work with these things [traditional circumcision].”[/pullquote] has never had a complication. He attributes the problems at some initiation schools to people who do not respect their culture.

“People do not understand tradition. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going to work with these things [traditional circumcision].“It’s a delicate thing. You have to be called and trained to do this.”

Makitla says he believes that the initiation school he went to is good because there have been no deaths there for as long as he can remember.

He says traditional healers run the initiation school and, if any small complication occurs, there are medical doctors who have been circumcised traditionally on standby to assist.

Traditional circumcision makes “better” men
Makitla says he believes that the medical way can never be a substitute for the traditional route. He says he cannot imagine a woman nurse, in the hospital, circumcising him. To him, it makes no sense.

“It’s not just about being circumcised. We learn things there that we can never learn anywhere else. We leave having been part of a brotherhood of men united by the praise poetry we learn there and men who are strong and respectful.”

He says men who went to initiation schools are better than those who go the medical route.

Ramovha says he does not believe there is a difference between men who went to initiation schools and those who went to medical facilities for circumcision.[pullquote align=”right”]”At initiation schools men are different. They learn endurance. Even women prefer men who have been to initiation schools.”[/pullquote]

“What could they possibly learn there that I cannot learn throughout my life? It’s all about perspective. It’s about the way you programme your mind.

“If you tell yourself you are better than someone, even if it is not true, because you believe it is so then it will be. If you believe you are better men just because you went to the mountains then you will behave as such.”

Women like initiated men
Nemavhulani says men who go to initiation schools and those who go through medical circumcision are different.

“At initiation schools men are different. They learn endurance. Even women prefer men who have been to initiation schools.”

Vumani bo! Siyavuma!

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EMBRACING THE CALLING: Albert Khoza speaks candidly about his gift.
Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

WITSIE Puleng Khwezikazi Khuthala Mthethwa had a take-home exam in November last year.

 

She did her work as required but when the time came to print her assignment something strange kept happening.

 

She clicked on the “print” icon and her assignment printed but it had someone else’s name at the top instead of hers.

 

She knew this was strange but assumed it was just a technical fault. She tried again.

 

Yet again the assignment was printed. This time a different name appeared at the top of the page but it still wasn’t her own.

 

Mthethwa tried over and over again and the same thing happened, each time a different name.

Mthethwa broke down, right at the computer labs. She didn’t understand what was happening.

She went home and showed the papers to her aunt who told her that each name was an ancestor’s name.

 

Albert’s story
Albert Silindokuhle Ibokwe Khoza was in his drama class as usual. During rehearsals, he started seeing people.

He saw people who were not there, people who were not part of his class. He also started hearing things that other people couldn’t hear.

“I could snap into a trance and be stuck in that position for a very long time,” explained Khoza.

[pullquote align=”right”]”I could snap into a trance and be stuck in that position for a very long time.”[/pullquote] He knew all of this meant that he had been called.

Called?
Mthethwa and Khoza are two students who are facing a transition in their lives that they feel no one at Wits understands or supports.

They have the calling.

The “traditional calling” is a process of answering one’s ancestors and learning how to use the gift the “called” have been given.

Khoza’s twin sister had the calling first which made it easier for him to come to terms with it.
Both Mthethwa and Khoza explained that people have different callings and that they were guided by their amadlozi (ancestors) to understand what their unique gift was.

“There are different types of callings. You get people that see. You get people that when they speak, their word becomes flesh. You get people that smell and are able to interpret what that smell will lead to,” Mthethwa said.

Khoza, who was dressed in his traditional cloth, and often wears beads and a braided mohawk, said people often judged him for who he is.

“I have a thick skin so what people do or say doesn’t affect me anymore. I am not an outcast but I am a misfit.”

Mthethwa said she had been called many names.

“People will call me ‘dirty’, say ‘I don’t deserve to be loved’. People don’t understand why people who are friends with me are even friends with me because of what I have and who I am.”

Mthethwa describes herself as a hybrid human being, stuck between two worlds – the material and spiritual.
“It’s difficult to explain what you are going through to people when you yourself have not come to grips with what it is,” said a visibly frustrated Mthethwa.

No help at Wits
Khoza and Mthethwa said they were concerned that there are no formal structures at Wits to help with what they are going through.

“What support do they offer for people like me who have the calling? That’s the struggle I face the most,” a disheartened Mthethwa said.

Khoza said the main issue was that they are going through an African phenomenon in an institution governed by western principles.

“They are white and then there are those who are black who have Christian beliefs and therefore this is not in line with their beliefs so they don’t take it seriously,” he said.

Mthethwa said she had been to Dean of Humanities Ruksana Osman who told her that many students had come to her with the issue of the calling and been excluded because of it.

[pullquote]“Traditional healers are registered practitioners. Why can’t we just present notes from them?”[/pullquote]

Khoza said there had been incidents at the drama department where people had psychological breakdowns and no one knew what they were going through.

He said when it was discovered that they had the calling, they simply left their studies.

These students expressed their concern that they had to present doctor notes from western doctors when they had fallen ill or had to consult with a sangoma.

Mthethwa said: “Traditional healers are registered practitioners. Why can’t we just present notes from them?”

 

CCDU?
They complained that while people who had depression or difficulties studying could go to the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU), students who had the calling had nowhere to go.

Charmy Naidoo of the CCDU told Wits Vuvuzela she was not sure if there were specific people at CCDU students with the calling could come to for support.

“There is no specific counselling. If they come through we can try and help them but if they have a specific calling and are sure of that then they would need to go see a sangoma.”

shandu@witsvuvuzela.com