Kgomotso Matsunyane

Losing my religion

2007-10-18 09:13

Kgomotso Matsunyane

I've been thinking a lot about religion and ritual lately. I was baptised Lutheran, confirmed myself as a Catholic at 16, coasted through varsity as an agnostic, and now I am a practicing African traditionalist. Flaky? Perhaps, but I don't think enough people ask themselves why we need religion - is it to guarantee our passage through the pearly gates, or is it about giving us a framework and a set of values through which to live our lives?

Looking back, religion has been the root of some of the most horrible and divisive wars since the beginning of time. One could argue that it is not religion that causes war but people, but that makes as much sense as saying it's not guns that kill people, but people who kill people. Either way, both are too often used as convenient tools for intolerance and slaughter.

I was not raised in a house that honoured African traditional religion in any way, and church was not a big part of our lives. The only time we ever slaughtered a chicken was for lunch, and quite frankly it was much cleaner and more time efficient to go to the supermarket for that. However, as I grow older and struggling to find a sense of my place in the world, I'm inherently drawn to the religion practiced by my ancestors.

Centuries of our forebears thrived with this system, and the more one digs into the family archives, more is being revealed about renegade members of the family who were labelled "baheitene" (heathens) and were thus ostracised from their communities for rejecting Christianity.

Now we know that these were actually insightful people who saw right through the facade, rejecting the notion of religion being used by the government to further white nationalist political agendas. I'll admit too that the feminista in me loves that African traditional religion acknowledges and respects the authoritative role of women as custodians and practitioners, where most religions still relegate women only to supporting roles.


It is incredible how charismatic Christian churches are presently some of the most popular, wealthiest and fastest growing religions in South Africa today. You can see impressive buildings in major downtown areas owned or operated by one such church or another, the fanciest being the new humongous cathedral in Diepkloof that opened recently. In size alone, it rivals the new swanky Maponya Mall. Sure, even "holy" people have to eat, but I am uncomfortable with how much money one can make in the name of God.

I truly respect and appreciate people who wear their religion on their heart sleeves, so to speak - from yarmulkes and fezzes, to goat skin worn around the wrist and African Zionists in their white and green or blue.

However, even with my supposed open-mind, I confess that I do struggle with women in their full neqab (bourka) regalia, with only a slit open for their eyes. It seems so extreme. But I've never worn one, so I readily admit I am completely ignorant of what it actually feels like to wear it, and neither do I know the religious significance or need for such a costume.

Bottom line, it's a good thing when religion becomes much more than what we are indoctrinated to believe, but rather what we choose to believe for ourselves.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a partner at T.O.M. Pictures, whose comedy Sorted has been nominated for the International Emmy Awards, taking place on 19th of November in New York City.

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