THE BLOG

We Should Question Our Cultures And Avoid Feeding Stagnation

Culture, by design, is a constant state of flux where the arts and many other expressions of human intellectual attainments are regarded collectively.

06/01/2017 04:59 SAST
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Without looking back, Xhosa initiates leave the initiation camp, where they have spent about a month in seclusion. December 2006 in Ciskei, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The camp is set on fire after their departure as a symbolic farewell to childhood. The traditional Xhosa male initiation rite, which transforms the teenager into an adult man, starts with circumcision. The initiates then spend about a month in a special initiation camp, away from settled areas.

These terms "In my culture", "because it is my culture", "my culture says", "in our culture"... Have done nothing but further stagnate black people in many respects. In many regards, the culture defense has come to serve as the full stop that is inserted when one runs out of good supporting arguments for a point they may be trying to make. One could argue that it makes sense that we are as defensive of culture, because the west has taken so much from "us" Africans, and continues to dilute what is left of the broken bits of culture that we protect.

The real contradiction in it all in the defense of culture is that we tend to protect a fractured understanding of "the way things have always been" – and quite frankly, it isn't doing us any justice. Recently, an article was published questioning the relevance of Lobola (the payment end of it) in 2016. The backlash on twitter was harsh, and part of it perpetrated by women protecting the right for them to be Lobola-ed... "Because it is our culture", which I found interesting; women protecting patriarchy in a sense.

... there needs to be a sustained two way relationship to the idea that is culture.

Do you remember when Zuma was in court for his rape trial? One of the answers that stuck with me that he advanced to the lawyers who questioned him was along the lines of "in Zulu culture, you don't just leave a woman... She will have you arrested and say you are a rapist". The perpetrators that have butchered so many young men in illegal initiation schools have done so under the "this is our culture" banner. A young boy fresh out of initiation school drinking copious amounts of alcohol and testing the laws because the communities they come from have misunderstood the process of initiation and have now bestowed unto these younglings that they are these great things that they are not.

Young women in the practice of 'ukutwala' being married off to old men... Why is it that at traditional functions, certain types of meat are reserved for men and others only for women with no real science behind it? The very idea and expectations of what a "man" is... I can go on and on stating many questionable things that are protected by our cultures, protected without question at that.

The idea is not to get rid of them, it is to see what their fit is, and if relevant, how to further entrench them in a manner that keeps them relevant.

Culture, by design, is a constant state of flux where the arts and many other expressions of human intellectual attainments are regarded collectively. This means that there needs to be a sustained two way relationship to the idea that is culture. Meaning that if something has run its race and is of no value to us anymore; then we need to be brave enough to say it for ourselves, that whatever it is must be questioned, updated or phased out.

On the back of that understanding, we as black South Africans should be open to freely discussing Lobola, initiation, polygamy, gender expectations, and a myriad of a number of cultural procedures that are still widely accepted. The idea is not to get rid of them, it is to see what their fit is, and if relevant, how to further entrench them in a manner that keeps them relevant. If not, the cultures we protect are bound to die a sad death anyway.