Women can teach profound lessons

2010-07-03 11:11

I come from a family of

women, strong-willed, independent women who have had to fend for themselves from

an early age.

Four of the five sisters – including myself – are single mothers

who have not only brought up their own kids but others’ as well.

I also have two brothers whose role in the family has been rather

hazy at the best of times.

Other than procreating and – for the most part –

leaving us to raise their offspring, they haven’t been involved with us much.


least in their old age they are trying to redeem themselves.

My sisters and I work, provide shelter, food, clothing, education

and try to instil a sense of kindness, generosity and ­respect in our children.

I think we do just fine more often than not, so the idea of the

children needing a “father figure” to instil discipline and a ­certain masculine

ethic has never been an issue for us.

Until the boys reached that awful insolent age of 15.

Suddenly they

were getting into fights, drinking and smoking cigarettes on the sly, staying

out all night without telling us, fraternising with the “bad crowd” and

generally being a menace.

We tried everything – we threatened, pleaded, shouted, cried,

brought in religion, blackmailed, bribed .?.?. until finally, we came to the

shattering conclusion that we needed male intervention.

You see, there’s this belief that a child, especially a boy, comes

to an age when he needs to be introduced to his paternal family and ancestors.

The majority of black families don’t recognise teen rebellion as a normal

transition into young adulthood.

When that stage hits, and your darling ­becomes

a demon, it’s time to slaughter something and call upon the ancestors not to

turn their backs on him.

My family is ambiguous when it comes to active cultural practices.

We only ever slaughter for funerals and weddings.

So the girls and I were stuck.

We started planning for the boys’

ulwaluko (circumcision). We firmly believed that, ideally, going to the bush or

the mountain was going to ­instil discipline and pride in them.

There they would

learn valuable life lessons that we as women could not teach them. They would go

in as boys, and emerge as men-in-the-making. Problem solved!

Today, two years after only one of the three nephews made it to the

bush, my sisters and I are of the firm belief that the ceremony and all its

trappings, was little more than a waste of tens of thousands of rands (yes, it

does cost that much when you have to feed a whole township!).

This ritual that has been part of our ­Xhosa culture for millennia

seems to have lost its purpose.

Instead of bringing us a man who can distinguish

between right and wrong, treat women like queens and provide for his family, we

got a little terror.

As soon as his ikrwala clothing came off, so did the pride and

respect. He started smoking and drinking in front of his mother, he mistreated

his girlfriend and dropped out of school.

His life became a cycle of sleeping

all day, picking up girls on Mxit, demanding R5 airtime and money for loose


Some of the boys he’d been circumcised with were also running amok,

doing drugs and impregnating schoolgirls.

My sister has twice landed in hospital due to stress and has had to

fork out a lot of money getting her son out of trouble.

Last year, when she

reached the end of her tether, she threw him out of the house. Only when

confronted with the terrifying thought of being out on the streets did he

genuinely start trying to be a better person.

Now, he is the best babysitter I could ever ask for and looks after

his younger siblings and makes sure they do their chores after school. He helps

his mother around the house and sometimes he even cleans.

He is a fantastic

brother and a good son.

So tell me, who has taught him how to be a man? A cultural practice

or the women who are excluded from it?

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