A society is defined as a group of people living in one community.
Precisely, it is a community, circle and association that lives together to practice same rituals, traditions, norms and values, and bream brotherhood, sisterhood, parenthood, unity, love, peace, affiliation and solidarity.
When certain fundamental values of that society cease to prevail, it is not qualified to be called a society.
Unfortunately, most African societies have had to witness erosion, interference and loss in their societies due to colonialism, foreign elements, modernisation and the test of time.
The Xhosa initiation has been one cultural practice that has found itself under public scrutiny for at least the past few years.
It has found itself under this microscope due to, among other things, the high number of deaths of young individuals and its exclusionary nature to its very own.
Someone would have always wanted to tell their story in their quest for closure, solutions and solidarity; it could have been a mother reminiscing on the last days with her son or a homosexual man who just passed a test in which he was set up for failure.
I have to say that there was no better way of telling the story of that boy than Inxeba – The Wound.
The movie, an isiXhosa gay love story set in the mountains during initiation, came under fire for blowing the lid on a tradition that is a private, secretive, cultural milestone. It fanned social-media flames under the hashtag “Inxeba Must Fall”.
Like the most of Xhosa man, when I heard about the movie I knew we were going to be uncomfortable as the “society”.
My initial reaction was that we have to internally solve any malpractice of the culture that has resulted in its popularity. It was when I started engaging other Xhosa friends and colleagues that I realised that #InxebaMustRise.
The attempt to shutdown Inxeba is nothing other than silencing Xhosa homosexual men voices in that ‘society’.
First, the reasons contain direct or undertone homophobic comments.
Second, it signified how men uphold double standards in executing their homophobic and patriarchal ideas and practices.
The Xhosa “society” has over the years become “okay” with the interference of the department of health in initiation schools, even though the culture is meant to be sacred, delicate, natural and secret.
Third, none of them knew the essence of participating in the culture and can recall any teachings (if there were any) except the township tsotsi language they have adopted as their own.
Fourth, they are being anti-progressive in terms of propelling compliance to human rights – the rights to freedom of choice, expression and sexual preference.
Nonetheless, I take it upon myself to give comments as a Xhosa homosexual man on some of the prevailing themes in the movie.
1. Misrepresentation: the action or offence of giving a false or misleading account of the nature of something. The traditional doctor has a kit which includes a razor. This may not necessarily be the case but that is what people have in their mind. The set up when the boys arrive to be circumcised is revealing of one of the very important steps in their journey. Of course, the revelation can be deemed as trivial and I do not know on what basis. Also, the caregiver in the hut shows a second tool, which may seem offensive to a Xhosa man as that undermines his dignity as a Xhosa man. Again, this unfortunate revelation may be seen trivial by some. Another element to note was the consistent use of vulgar as means to communicate. We are not a group of people that throws insulting words around and this is so much the case in the movie.
2. Omission of the truth: the action to deprive one of what is factual and true. The omission of certain steps means that they are not there. Whether or not we would have wanted to see them; their omission gives an incomplete picture of the culture. While the setting was not to educate about the culture but people are more likely to think what you have shown them is, to a certain extent, the only truth – it is all that they know.
These are the only two aspects I picked up that could be used by the #InxebaMustFall group as basis for their “movement”.
3. Love: Many of us, as Xhosa homosexual men, can directly relate to the three characters: Vija, Xolani and Kwanda. Vija symbolises the lack of hope for a homosexual Xhosa man brought up in the rural areas. The setting has never even allowed him to imagine a life with his lover Xolani. He has lived and will continue to live the lie – for all he has is the community “piece jobs”, a wife and kids. He is trapped for life! You cannot even judge him for not being a “good person” to Xolani – he cannot be. His position in life has deprived him of the opportunity to be himself and he prefers it that way for he has accepted that it cannot be in any other way. He denies reality and does this at all cost.
Xolani is the symbol of hope. He has accepted himself but his love for Vija will always bring him back to the mountain. We learn how much he embraces Vija, protects Vija and still believes that there is hope for them. He loves absolutely, completely and is in that dangerous place that we all might have once found ourselves. How will he ever let go of the only man he knows and loves?
Kwanda is a symbol of privilege. His privilege has allowed him to be above normal. His level of understanding gives him leverage to defy and oppose. For many like him (i.e. feminine homosexual men) in the rural areas, his attitude is not possible to resemble because the environment in which they survive rejects it. He wants love to win. He wants us all to embrace our true selves and find our soft selves in the midst of love. He confronts love. He demonstrates strength to us all and many homosexual boys who are still to embark on the journey. We cannot take away the fact that he grew up in Johannesburg, a city that is way ahead of its time. Joburg is different from the large parts of the Eastern Cape, where same-sex relationships are not even in the imagination.
The movie is a love story. The emphasis in the movie is love and to any of us, how do we fight that?
4. Sexuality and culture: Does the movie tell the story? I believe that this is very important and this is the reason the movie was created; to tell the relationship between culture and sexuality. Sexuality refers to one’s sexual orientation, preference, activity or capacity and culture subliminally refers to a social structure of a certain group of people.
It looks to me like other forms of social structures that are used conveniently to oppress, deprive, exclude and exploit a certain group of people.
So, why do we use “culture” when we decide to judge others for their sexual orientation, because culture is not uniform, unique or time-invariant? We still need to answer why sexuality and culture is even a debate – we know that all human beings are sexual and not all humans may belong to a rigid social structure.
Whether or not the movies address this is not definite but we can be certain that the movie has given us a conversation to have.
5. Homophobia: The fear of or prejudice of homosexual people. We see homophobia through Vija, other initiates, the father of the initiate and old community men. Vija dislikes himself. The other initiates continuously discriminate against Kwanda and reject him in their space. They even say that they will not be naked in front of him because he sleeps with other man, and this suggests that Kwanda will wish to sleep with one of the. This is a general misconception among many straight-identifying men. Most of us can relate to this behaviour. From a young age we’ve been called bafazini, bhokhw’ezigusheni, and all other derogatory terms. They do not end even if you go to the mountain. Perhaps our parents should cease to take us to the mountain with the hope of “toughening” us up because that means their intentions are wrong and the outcome is likely to be disastrous. I am of the view that Xhosa boys are taken to the mountain to become Xhosa men, and not “soft” boys to be “tough” boys or men.
6. Division! The movie ends on a sad theme; that of division within the Xhosa community. As other newly initiated men were heading home to be celebrated, Xolani and Kwanda are finding a route of escape. They have defied the Xhosa social structure. They have rejected the system that makes them small, inferior, less human and maybe a system that has made them question their very own existence all their lives. Where will they go? Many of us grow up with conglomerating feelings of fear of escape or rejection.
Konakelephi mzi ka Phalo? (Where have we gone wrong House of Phalo?)
Sekutheni nje indlela zethu zingafani? (Why have our ways differed?)
Kwakuye kuthiweni madulo xa singavisisani? (How did we resolve our conflicts in the past?)
The eruption of a discourse is always cultivated by differences in opinion and hence Inxeba will be on our screens as a fight for love and against prejudice. There should be no prescription on how the story is told. You do not slap someone and tell them how to feel the pain or react to it.
We are one of many societies that has found themselves at a crossroads. We need to confront issues as they present themselves. We must adapt to the prevailing material conditions.
The attempt to ban the movie is a silencing one and will not succeed. It will not succeed because culture is not time-invariant – it is dynamic.
We must consciously and innovatively find ways to move on. It is not going to succeed because womxn will no longer allow their children to die in the hands of men or be discriminated against because of their sexual preference.
The new generation of Africans are redefining what it means to be black, to be a womxn and to be gay and it is at this moment that we are redefining culture.
With the same breath, we must condemn the expropriation of Africans and their culture by the West. We must reject the interference by white people in Africa with the contempt it deserves. Africans must own, direct and tell their stories at all times.
* Mzwanele Ntshwanti is studying towards a master’s degree in economics at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Inxeba - The Wound won the Mumbai Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize last night. It has also been chosen as South Africa’s Oscar entry into next year’s 90th Academy Awards, in the category of best foreign language film.