Cruel cultural practices

2009-11-26 00:00

I COULDN’T be more thankful that the Animal Rights Africa (ARA) organisation is to approach the Pietermaritzburg High Court in a bid to prevent the Zulu ritual of ukweshwama in which a bull is killed barehanded with protracted agony and cruelty by a group of Zulu men supposedly entering manhood by virtue of this ritual. The assorted accounts of this in the papers in recent days have, I’m sure, horrified the majority of people in this province, even thoughtful, educated Zulus.

Thankfully this has led award-winning South African journalist Fred Khumalo to protest in the strongest terms and say: “It is time we took stock of some of our customs and practices.” He affirms that he speaks for many Ngunis/Zulus who, while respecting their own customs and traditions, “are outraged at some of the regressive practices”.

One is very thankful for the Fred Khumalos of this world and for the statement from ARA about the cruelty of “the ukweshwama ritual, which also does nothing to strengthen nation building, or peace”. Ten countries who attended a recent conference in Kenya are also protesting this ritual by taking the issue up with the South African Parliament.

I believe also that not only Christians in general, but all responsible Zulu church leaders should join in this sort of protest, or even lead it. The fact is that while the Bible speaks of man having “dominion” (Genesis 1:26) over the creatures of planet Earth, it is not an amoral dominion, but dominion with moral responsibility under God. Indeed, there is no way that the spirit of the Bible can condone the infliction of unadulterated cruelty and unnecessary pain on any of God’s creatures.

The other day in The Witness column Pewa to the People, Duma Pewa declared that this practice should be sanctioned in the name of Zulu culture. But from a Christian point of view, no cultures, whether Western, Eastern or African, should give automatic sanction to any practice simply on the ground of its being embedded in a given culture. Thus from a Christian point of view, and KwaZulu-Natal professes to be quite strongly Christian, the Bible affirms those aspects of culture in line with biblical principle and then critiques, judges or condemns others which are out of line with biblical principle. And certainly the unnecessary infliction of extended pain and cruelty, whether to animals or humans, would come under biblical judgement and, indeed, under the judgement of all major world religions. Pewa says: “I thought we were all animals” operating on “the survival of the fittest”. No, you are a responsible human being made in the image of God. That should govern everything.

Surely young men in any culture can come to manhood and show strength in various ways without demonstrating a capacity for deep cruelty as one of them. The Zulu culture has so many beautiful dimensions that we all admire and celebrate, but ukweshwama is not one of them. One therefore appeals to Zulu leadership with its many gracious, godly and sensitive individuals to think again about this practice and terminate it.

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