I saw something wrapped in a piece of nylon around Lelo’s waist. Just to poke fun at the muti (traditional medicine), I pulled it out in front of his mother. They consider it jinxed if someone else, especially a foreigner such as me, touches it. The mother quickly hid it under Lelo’s shirt and said it with a smile, “It is our culture.”
Culture in South Africa is not just culture. It’s more broad, in terms of common sense and social norms covering a variety of areas from raising children to settling a dispute, and, of course, the religious aspects. The harmony among people governed by the ‘culture’ takes precedent to anything else, even to laws or morality. Often, the norms expressed as the culture are illogical or even illegal, but the conformity self-governs anyone who is troubled by it. That is why it is hard for them to go against the flow and stand up for their beliefs. So the dualism sets in. The two hats they wear, one for us, outsiders, and one for their own people. When they do, they have to sacrifice one hat in order to keep the other one clean, and that causes irrefutable damage to the relationship with one group, usually the outsiders.
We have been working on the rape issues in South Africa through the I’m Precious to Jesus campaign. We have gathered hundreds of male supporters through it. However, the majority of the members of the RMA (Righteous Men Assembly: a program to mobilize good men) still have a hard time speaking out about it openly unless the consensus has been made in the particular group of people they are with. It is almost like coming out of the closet for them to say, “I’m precious to Jesus and we need to change.” If we had a dollar every time a man told us that “I know we need to change, but black men are evil and they will never change”, we wouldn’t need to fundraise. -A good example of the distrust among men – To The South African Black Man: You Are Evil. Admit it.- Therefore, one of the most positive benefits of the RMA has been proving to them that they are not the only good men out there and that many people do not subscribe to some of their social norms. However, it’s sad to see that they are silenced by the conformity of the culture.
The time has come for us to go further. We frequently encountered roadblocks on the road to mobilizing good men regarding the issues of the cultural practices and mentality in Transkei (a South African rural area). Many people don’t migrate, the metropolitan area is where they make money and Transkei is home. Transkei’s cultural relevance is significant and also unshakable in the minds of the men. The reason is not what you might think. It is because not many people understand why things are the way they are. The cultural heritage, sad to say, has been diminished or lost. We started the Imbizo Project last year to test the water about bringing the Children’s March and RMA to Transkei. We witnessed the huge diversity in cultural practices and social norms from village to village and saw that there was no one properly communicating the cultural values with younger generations. The gap between the generations was causing many problems and distrust among each other. There is a lack of unified understanding of the cultural practices. For example, the origin of circumcision (initiation of men) has many versions, some are embarrassing, yet none have been declared as the actual origin. It probably caused many other undesirable things to be regarded as ‘culture’ just because people do it despite lacking cultural values.
Therefore, we are initiating a three month survey trip to Transkei. Zukisani, OLIA’s treasurer, has been with the campaign since early 2014 and he left his job to join the campaign full-time early this year. He will be leaving in a few days to Queenstown and will travel through the towns visiting smaller villages along the way. The survey questions were designed to understand the struggles of people and the relevance of the culture. We want to grasp the diversity and hear their thoughts that have been silenced by the conformity of the culture in order for us to formulate better ways to empower them for a better future. Please contact us for the questionnaire. It will be a strenuous journey that he has to take on alone. We ask you to pray for God’s protection and guidance throughout the journey. So they may have hope in Christ.