Botched or not, balance is key

2010-10-16 15:14

I believe that the Xhosa custom of manhood, our old and enduring rite of passage, was violated by City Press’s June 27 publication with the headline “Dying to be men”.

The story went with a picture of a young initiate hospitalised with his manhood bandaged after a botched circumcision.

The custom of manhood is one that is practised in seclusion away from our townships and homes.

Much is shrouded in secrecy as the school is regarded as a private domain where a different language is spoken, accompanied by a new set of rules.

In fact, what happens there is not to be discussed, particularly with those who do not practise the custom as well as those who have yet to go to the school.

As such, before my time came I did not know much about the custom.

The image focuses on an area that is viewed as private according to the custom, botched or not.

The young man, though unidentified, is an initiate coming from the school of manhood.

While someone else may argue that the publication of such an ­image seeks to raise awareness, it also exposes those who have yet to undergo circumcision and those who do not practise the custom to what is beyond their understanding.

The sanctity of our custom has been violated and those of us who claim it as theirs feel an unpleasant sense of undue exposure.

The very act of publishing such an image is to disparage and denigrate our rite of passage.

According to our custom when a man who has been to the school reveals information about the happenings in the realm of the school of ­manhood, that man is subjected to a fine for such a transgression.

The question here is: Should City Press be allowed to report as it sees fit?

Yes it should. However, it should be sensitive to the demands of the basic tenets of our custom and not cross the line which is precisely what has transpired.

A balance must be struck between the important role of informing the general public and respecting our custom.

While the conduct of City Press may meet journalistic standards, on the other hand it fails to meet our traditional standards.

The insensitive treatment of our custom by newspapers is an issue that may recur next season when hordes of young men go to the school, which makes mine a timely submission.

An important question to ask is: What process of consultation is ­followed when reporting on the customs of other people?

Surely, somewhere along the line the custodians of our customs, such as traditional leaders, could be roped in for input?– not to kill stories but to avoid disparaging ­excesses.

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