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Thando Mgqolozana’s Speech at the Launch of A Man Who is Not a Man

A Man Who is Not a ManThando MgqolozanaThe following is the text of Thando Mgqolozana‘s speech at the launch of his book, A Man Who is Not a Man, at Wordfest in Grahamstown earlier this month.

There are, we think, some profound notions in what he says, like “breaking the silence” around circumcision – as this ritual has been a total secret for generations, especially from the mothers of the initiates.

In fact, the author received a text message from a young lady who had attended the launch at Wordfest, who said that her brother had undergone the circumcision ceremony as a youngster, and had committed suicide shortly thereafter. After hearing what Mgqolozana had to say, she bought the book for her mother so that she could read and understand what actually happens, and hoped that this would bring closure to a very sad event.

An important speech for our times:

* * * * * * * *

Imagine that you live in a world where innocent young boys are dying, eaten by a cultural practise gone wrong. They die, sometimes get amputated and loose their manhood, but certainly all the time they take with them a baggage of physical and psychological trauma, for life.

You are their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

So do imagine it.

Imagine that this demise of your children troubles you and many others in society, as it should, but none of you is allowed to comment about this, due to cultural prescription. So the loss of your children is met with silence, your silence.

Imagine that your current and past governments have not and still do not save those lives. They are silent, too.

Your collective silence is so loud it has become an ‘anthem for doomed youth’ as Wilfred Owen puts it.

Imagine it.

Perhaps, in your imagined world, not all these youths die. Some of the survivors get ostracised from their community because they did not complete the rite of passage in the expected way. They too, because of their supposed failure, hide in silence, as though silence was a sanctuary.

Well, you need not brood on this too much, its here, its happening in your real world. You are part of a world with a culture that’s been killing, and continues to kill innocent young boys, who only wanted to be men. You are part of a world where those responsible for the death of young people go unpunished. You are, indeed, part of a world whose silence has given licence to a culture to kill and kill some more; and so part of a world that watches whilst the innocent are dying, needlessly.

It is this disquieting reality that has prompted me to break the silence, and talk about the cultural practice that I experienced first hand. And for this reason alone, I feel like I have more than earned the right to break that silence, and start a debate of reconstruction, or perhaps, if need be, total deconstruction of that which kills.

Writing this book was not a daunting task, but deciding to publish it was; because like many, I had been too comfortable in my silence. It was not the silence of contentment, but that of fear. In my imagination it was better to be silent than being labelled, disowned, and criticised. But since the phenomenon has consumed me beyond all endurance, the fear is no longer, and so is my silence.

Today I present to you this my debut novel – A Man Who is Not A Man. It is a story of hurt and suffering, but is also a story of triumph and overcoming. True it is a work of fiction… but it is much more, as you will find.

Before I read you an extract from this book, I want to thank a few people who have helped me overcome the fear. To you Siphiwo Mahala, I could list all the whys but that could well be another speech, so for everything, bhuti. I also want to thank my editor, Elana Bregin, who is not present here, for holding my hand. Percy Zvomuya, you’re a good friend, boet. To the convener of this event, Prof. Chris Mann and your team, ndiyabulela tata. And lastly to all of you who are gathered here, ready to engage with me, thank you for your presence – I look forward to a fruitful engagement with you.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    July 14th, 2009 @21:25 #

    Hey everybody, read this! Honest, humane, passionate -- this kind of thinking and writing is always exciting, and when it's on a hot topic like this, it's brave and necessary too.


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