Letters to the Editor: February 23 to March 1

Explore a deeper wound

As a coloured queer man, I was disturbed that Inxeba (The Wound) was reclassified with a rating of X18 for strong “pornographic” content, as well as “perceived cultural insensitivity and distortion of the Xhosa circumcision tradition”.

Labelling something pornographic is tantamount to calling it “obscene”. Watching the film, I see no scenes that depict such obscenity. Sex in the movie is suggested, not fully exposed. To suggest that two men having sex is obscene sets a dangerous precedent in a country whose Constitution prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In addition, labelling the movie pornographic is a direct insult to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community of South Africa, whose stories, like everyone else’s, need to be told. It’s ironic that Fifty Shades of Grey — a film bordering on the pornographic, depicting white people having sadomasochistic sex — was passed by the censors but an LGBTQ South African story is “obscene”. The blatant support of a heteronormative society is offensive.

The film attempts to make a clear distinction between the initiation rite and a queer man’s experience of it. It is in this distinction between individual experience and tradition that the film moves towards arguing for a broader conception of African masculinity. The film has enlightened me on Xhosa culture. It calls viewers to participate in a dialogue with it. Notions of masculinity in traditional structures of culture need to be discussed and critiqued in South Africa if cultures are to be reinvigorated to include LGBTQ identities.

Though cultural sensitivity is important, we cannot place all cultures and traditions beyond the pale of criticism. To do this would limit us in fostering a nation that is accepting of diversity. Culture and tradition are important structures that guide society but we must be mindful of oppressive patriarchal ideologies that hide behind tradition.

In South Africa, where women are raped, abused and oppressed excessively (and where men have died or have been seriously hurt during these initiation rites), it must be the task of cultural artefacts such as Inxeba to question traditional notions of masculinity and how these ideologies guide thinking about what it means to be a man and how a man should love.

Inxeba is much more than a film depicting a Xhosa initiation ceremony. It’s about men, warped by the expectations of traditional ideas of masculinity, attempting to heal each other from a deeper, more substantial, wound: the wound of what society dictates a man should be.

The banning of this film sets a dangerous precedent for LGBTQ stories in Africa.

Censorship of art is a perilous road that silences the stories of Africa that most desperately need to be told. — Jarred James Thompson

Not all Botswanans are also Batswana

As well as “Batswana queers push for change”, there are two other pieces featuring Botswana in the Mail & Guardian, in which the terms “Motswana” and “Batswana” are used.

The only instance when I disagreed with Seretse Khama, in the early 1960s, was when he furthered the idea of Tswana hegemony over what was then the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and the very visible way this was done was by the use of a tribal term to describe the people.

In other countries in Africa, like Burundi, where the name of the country reflects the dominant group, the citizens are referred to as Burundians, in an effort to divorce tribal affiliation from citizenship. Not so in Botswana, where Khama insisted, despite the fact that 15 to 20% of the population is non-Tswana, that everyone be referred to as if they were Batswana. The neutral term should be “Botswanans”.

Also, in the piece “Exiled Zambian rapper stirs pot”, reference is made towards the end to the Zambian “embassy” in South Africa. But Zambia is in the Commonwealth and its presence here is as the Zambian high commission. — ADH Leishman, Cape Town

We should have listened to Eddie Koch

As a thoughtful researcher and fearless journalist, Eddie Koch, Campaigning journalist was a mensch, was also remarkably prescient.

The slim book Water, Waste and Wildlife: The Politics of Ecology in South Africa, which he wrote in 1990, was ahead of its time. Aimed at activists more than academics, it sought to alert the incoming ANC government to critical environmental priorities.

The consequences of poorly regulated industrialisation of which he warned — such as acid mine water around Johannesburg and people threatened by the strip mining of seaside sand dunes — shouldn’t have had to become crises over the next 20 years before receiving serious attention. — Mark Orkin, Johannesburg

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