Thursday, April 12, 2007


Ok this is not something I normally do - and for readers outside South Africa - this post may hold little interest (and readers within South Africa are few in number anyway!).

Right now there is a quite a hot debate in moviezone about a 4 part TV drama series which the main local broadcaster developed and commissioned, aired the first 2 episodes of and then abruptly pulled from the airwaves. Apparently this was done in response to the concerns of several powerful organisations including Contralesa who objected to the subject matter.

So what is this controversial topic that is too 'hot' to be dramatised in the new South Africa?

Xhosa 'initiation' (or male coming-of-age ceremony.)

Update: "SABC1 took the decision to halt the broadcast of the local mini series 'Umthunzi Wentaba' due to objections raised by various interest groups and the general audience." Clara Nzima Programme Manager of SABC 1 explained that in line with the corporation's organisational value of "Conversations and Partnerships" (which encourages ongoing dialogue with stakeholders), it became necessary to raise the issues in the public domain through open discussion on 'Asikhulume'. After the consultative process the SABC re-briefed the producers of Umthunzi Wentaba, taking into account the valid views raised from all stake-holders."Starting on 3 May 2007, 'Umthunzi Wentaba' will enjoy an uninterrupted 4-week broadcast, in line with the original channel schedule strategy", says Nzima.

I have also written a script on the same topic - (albeit a completely different narrative take) My story was in fact about Sotho initiation. At the time I wrote a statement of intent which I am re-posting here - as a contribution to the debate:

A close friend of my family went off to his Sotho initiation and after 10 days, was brought back dead. Shocked by this untimely death, I wanted to delve deeper and over the last two years - talked to men who have been through initiation. I found out more - although the subject is pretty much taboo.

'Death during initiation' is both important and problematic to write about. As a woman I'm automatically an outsider. Here, a Xhosa storyteller could be accused of tribalism or attacking Sotho tradition. A Sotho storyteller could be criticised for 'selling out' or even betraying their own culture. I wrote to try to understand and as an outsider, I had to try to 'get it right'.

'The script tells a story which neither condemns nor condones tradition but which unearths some of the darker aspects of ritual. Just as in gangster initiation or even the army where young men, holed up together are forced to prove themselves under duress. Though it is not what happens on the 'inside' that interested me particularly but how men 'outside' (friends and family - in particular the father) try to cope with such a sudden and terrible death. Thus it is a story that explores men's relationships via the emotional landscape of loss.

For those interested in finding out more about the controversy there's a local news story here and another news story about initiation deaths here (may be slow to load)


Lianne said...

Thanks for posting the link F.A - it wasn't something I was aware of. I'm not sure from the article that I fully understand the culture of this practice so I probably am not qualified to add to any debate. But as for your script - is this something you were comissioned to write about or a spec? Have you struggled to develop it because it is taboo? It's such a shame though to hear that broadcasters would pull a programme on the subject matter from the airways - seems like it is something that very much needs to be discussed.

Far away said...
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potdoll said...

sounds gripping - do love a bit of taboo

far away said...

me too Pot

Lianne said...

Thanks for your response Far Away. I think it would have appeal internationally - when I read that it was an initiation ceremony, the thing that I thought of was of those American frat houses and their elaborate and often dangerous initiations. I read an article about it years ago and there have been several deaths caused by initiations gone wrong. It's on a very different scale of course but it is certainly something that I would be interested in even though I don't know much about it. Good luck with whatever it is you are re-working it for.