Sat Oct 22 15:34:22 SAST 2016

Cultural identity yes - but not at the loss of moral values

By unknown | Dec 09, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE bull that caused all the controversy has now been sacrificed in Nongoma - with the approval of the courts - as part of the ukweshwama ritual that offers symbolic thanks for the first crops of the season.

Yet, the bigger challenge for all communities remains - to re-examine all their cultural, traditional and religious assumptions and practices. To reduce such a call as an all-or-nothing battle between "modernists" and "traditionalists" - or Western "civilisation" versus African "backwardness" - is simply wrong.

As Africans we have experienced first-hand the barbarism of Western culture that portrayed itself as "enlightened" compared to African cultures, but in practice oppressed vast numbers in the most dehumanising ways imaginable.

The debate over the fate of the sacrificed bull offers us the opportunity to reflect on parts of all cultures in South Africa that may conflict with the values of our Constitution. It is not going to be easy: these issues go to the heart of our sense of self.

The judiciary can pronounce on practices that undermine constitutional values but ultimately, "triggers for (cultural) evolution are the people themselves who practise such cultures" as the spokesperson of ANC President Jacob Zuma put it.

Whatever our cultures, we must treat animals in a humane way in our rituals.

Another example, as African parents (many whites also) it was accepted as part of our "culture" to beat a child who misbehaves. Yet, this practice inculcates a culture of violence.

Our Constitution calls for gender equality. As African males (white South Africans also) we have grown up viewing women as our "possessions".

In the Eastern Cape, the king of the AmaMpondomise, Mpondombini Sigcau, criticised the cultural practice of ukuthwala because it was abused by old men forcing young girls to marry them - this is the kind of leadership we need now.

Many young Xhosa males die every year during circumcision operations at traditional initiation ceremonies.

Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula was a few years ago dragged unwillingly to take part in such a ritual.

The space must be created for individual conscience to decline to take part in circumcision, or any other traditional ritual he or she opposes. But for those who feel they should take part in initiation ceremonies, there should be better conditions to ensure their safety.

The king of the abaThembu, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, has been found guilty of kidnapping, arson and culpable homicide.

The king kidnapped a mother and her six children after he had personally set their home alight, to "discipline" them.

His defence advocate argued that because of the king's status he should be treated with leniency.

Surely, if we claim our cultural practices allow our traditional leaders to do as they please - even kill - then there is something wrong with aspects of such culture.

It is wrong to blindly support morally wrong practices on the basis of cultural solidarity.

African culture has a tradition of democratic practices also, such as consensus seeking and internal debate.

But it also has autocratic practices - it is not wrong to admit so, neither is it wrong to say let's discard such aspects.

lGumede is co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of The Poverty of Ideas


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