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Khaya Sibeko

Football.Bookworm.Cinematic Music. "The greatest contribution from Africans will be to give the world a more human face" Bantu S. Biko,

Conflicts Of Culture And Modernity

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<p>For as long as humans have inhabited the planet earth, the main pursuit has always been one of development and improving our way of life in essence &ndash; modernity. The contentious issue regarding modernizing of our behaviours is that it requires us to divorce and dislodge ourselves from some of the norms which do not necessarily compliment an envisaged destiny. The clash of traditional norms and modernity has found bedrock on conducive environment in Africa. This can be attributed to the fact that the lion&rsquo;s share of the African populous resides in places that are rural and under developed and by implication still cling to ways of living (or dying) of yesteryear. And it is these very surroundings that the, sometimes loathed, tentacles of modernity have yet to reach and change the scenery for the better or worse, depending on which side of this contentious debate you chose to align yourself. In one of its April editions, Sunday newspaper, the City Press ran a story that explored the prejudicial and certainly primitive &lsquo;cultural&rsquo; practice of ukuthwala. It is a practice that allows men, most grey haired ones, to abduct and force young females into marriage against their will and under guise of &lsquo;culture&rsquo;. It is said that the families of the maidens usually shun their daughters in the event that they escape because they fear the &lsquo;disgrace&rsquo; that accompanies reputation of daughters who do not adhere to &lsquo;cultural&rsquo; practices. </p>
<p>Other reasons that justify families turn their backs on their children is that at the event of escape, the &lsquo;master/husband&rsquo; would demand the dowry, more like auction price, back from the maiden&rsquo;s family. As grim as the economic situations of people might be, it is not justifiable using your own flesh and blood as a means to an end that results in their perpetual servitude. When culture is used as a tool for exploitation of others, then it means that the time has long come that we begin to critique culture and the implications of certain practices similar to ukuthwala. We should measure these acts of subtle oppression against our laws deem to be practicable cultural norms and the respect of others rights of self determination. Our Constitution states that every person has the right to human dignity and certainly there seems to exist a contradiction between ukuthwala and what the law prescribes. Constitutions are not the be all and end all of our lives but their presences are much better than being devoid of them. In as much as the Constitution affords people the rights to express their cultural and religious subscriptions and perspectives, they must, however, not impede on other people&rsquo;s ability to enjoy and improve the quality of their lives. And without a shadow of a doubt that is what ukuthwala does to females. Primitive practices of a similar nature have been reported in countries as far as Niger in west Africa. In those countries the enslavement of people, particularly women, is camouflaged by marriage and at times children inherit &lsquo;slave debt&rsquo; that their parents could not fulfil during their lifetimes as &lsquo;tools&rsquo; of the &lsquo;master&rsquo;. </p>
<p>What is even more shocking is that Niger only outlawed slavery as recent as 2003. The underlying theme and pattern in most these hideous acts of &lsquo;culture&rsquo; gone off the rails is the issues of historical baggage of patriarchal dominance. The fact that women are treated with such disdain is, to a certain extent, up held because females are always viewed as a lesser version of males. And there seems to be approval of such barbaric acts from both surrounding societies and sadly from government. The fact that people who report these cases are not assisted as promptly as they would have hoped is sowing the seeds for further damage. Any dissent from government inspires rancour from traditionalist who yield benefit from these conducts and who have considerable influence over their communities in as far as deciding which political ambitions should be supported. The advent of Jacob Zuma&rsquo;s presidential aspiration has brought back to the national consciousness the issue of culture vis a vie modernity. Jacob Zuma is a proud Zulu traditionalist, who also subscribes to polygamy. And the idea of having a president with multiple wives has made some gender organisations uncomfortable and see his conduct as regressive and certainly undermining of equality of women in society, but that is not necessarily true because not all women are coerced into polygamous relationship and we should respect it as long as the women involved consent to being the other women, so to speak. </p>
<p>The comments Zuma made during his rape trial in 2006 left jaws on the floors as he blundered about it being part of the Zulu culture not to leave a woman hanging once the fires of passion have been stirred. Perhaps his presidency will inspire and open space for constructive and insightful debate around the issue of culture and its relevance in the ever changing world of the 21st century. Practices such as the virginity testing and circumcision for males and females respectively, should only be maintained when they are administered by people who are &lsquo;qualified&rsquo; to do so and are recognized by official burecracy. Because it s through such organized interventions that the parents and indeed the society will know who to consult in the event that their children wish to participate in these rites of passage. The health factor should be placed second to non in these circumstances. The beauty of development is that it gives us the opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in whatever we intended to achieve. Since change is an integral part of the &lsquo;machinery&rsquo; development and indeed betterment, it requires of us to shed practices and norms which are not consistent with our human rights steep society and a society that believes that everyone should be given the space and discretion to determine the shape his/her life will take but bearing in mind the legal boundaries. </p>
<p>Where government fails to protect its citizens from the barbarity and cruelty of Stone Age old cultural acts, then the government must be taken to task. Similar to happened to the Niger government, which was ordered to pay $40 00 by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa) to a 24 year old woman, Hadjiatou Mani, for failing to protect her from slavery guised as marriage. Culture, likes laws of a country, must be the sum embodiment of people&rsquo;s ideas, beliefs and religious expressions amongst others and must always adapt to suit the people it seeks to represent. Failure of cultural norms to shape up to the cycle of change will render those norms ineffective and inevitability irrelevant just like ukuthwala has long become.</p>
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