Gugs celebrates return of 41 initiates

The abakhwetha are pictured here with Somagwaza Institute founder and chairman Sikelele Zokufa.

Forty-one abakhwetha, initiates in the traditional Xhosa manhood ritual, ulwaluko, were greeted with cheers and ululation by hundreds of people in Gugulethu last Thursday after undergoing the traditional rite of passage.

Many of the over-aged initiates had been unable to afford the circumcision ceremony and several weeks of seclusion, and had been helped by the Somagwaza Institute, a non-profit organisation that works to preserve the ancient tradition.

Somagwaza founder and chairman Sikelele Zokufa said the initiates had come from Gugulethu and other townships across the metro.

“Every year, we have initiatives that we help. We have done this after seeing how some families are struggling to take them to the mountain. We also do this with the help of the community and some civil organisations who contribute whatever they have.”

Gugulethu elder Nkosinathi Mhlaba said the initiates had embarked on the sacred path to adulthood and had returned as mature men.

“Firstly, we are grateful to Somagwaza for its initiative and taking care of this community. No one would ever think that in Gugulethu we can have something of this nature. Here we are, not for the first time, having graduates from the veld health free. This is an amazing achievement. We all know that initiatives die out there, but not here. Phambili to all those who are involved with this project.”

Those welcoming the returnees danced and ululated in the streets, and vehicles had to be directed to other routes at NY41.

Xoliswa Mazaleni said she had made every effort to help her adopted son take part in the ceremony.

“I hope he will work hard for himself and his mom. The street has also donated a lot to him. We will celebrate his manhood and have lunch with him. We are proud of him and the institute for taking care of those who are disadvantaged by circumstances and their surroundings.”

Another parent, Nobuhle Siphika, from Nyanga, said: “I want to congratulate all parents who took their children to this traditional practice and commend them for especially heeding a call of not taking their children to illegal initiation schools. But more importantly, I want to commend the community of Gugulethu for its unity on this issue. We should copy this good work and ubuntu done by this community. If we can unite this way, we can also defeat crimes in our areas.”

Lulama Gqosha, a traditional healer who looked after the initiates, said they followed the traditional customs very closely but had also done away with a lot of the old ways that usually harmed the initiates.

A visibly emotional initiate Vusumzi Mqubane, 30, said he was extremely grateful for what the institute had done for him because for years he had been victimised and called a boy by his peers as he came from a poor family and had been unable to afford to take part in the traditional ceremony

Another initiate, Luthando Qobona, 25, said he felt that his dignity had been restored.

Hundreds celebrated the return of 41 initiates from their period of seclusion.
Mothers in high spirits, ululating, singing and dancing.
Somagwaza Institute founder and chairman Sikelele Zokufa speaks about the organisation’s future programmes.