By Babalwa Nomtshongwana
This article is exclusive to the online Edition 2 (Wrap Edition) of VARSITY Newspaper.
Inxeba – The Wound. The very first time I heard about the movie was in September 2017, in a tutorial. I remember being told that the movie was being released overseas first and would only premier in South Africa at a later stage. The movie tells the story of three young isiXhosa men during the semi-annual process of the initiation of boys into manhood. Xolani is a caregiver to an initiate from the city, whose name is Kwanda. Kwanda is a young man, who is sent from the city to be toughened up by the process of initiation. Both characters identify as homosexual. The other character, Vija, is also a caregiver. Throughout the movie, although he engages in homosexual acts with Xolani, reference is made to him having a “girl” back home who has supposedly just given birth to his child.
When I got to hear what the story was about, however, I was interested but very hesitant to see it. You see, the fact that the story is set during the period in a boy’s life where he traditionally moves into manhood, made it difficult for me to speak about. I, a Xhosa womxn, who was always taught to never speak out on matters relating to initiation, could now have access to something that is considered private and sacred. I was never allowed to discuss anything pertaining to the process of initiation, nor was I really allowed to ask any questions as it was not “womxn’s talk”. This meant that my knowledge of the process was largely based on whispers from friends and family who had either undergone the process or knew someone who had. It is for these reasons that I found it so hard to believe that I was, culturally, in any position to be watching the movie.
I could not see the movie before it was banned, but after being unbanned, I had the opportunity to go. In the time before I watched it, there was plenty of talk and arguments surrounding the movie, supporting a boycott of the movie, as well as support for the very same movie. Within my own circle of Xhosa friends and family, the general consensus was that the movie was disrespecting our culture and exposing something that should have remained sacred. Having watched the movie however, I can honestly say that it was a wake-up call.
The real problem was not what they portrayed regarding my culture. After all, this is not the first time that “matters of the mountain” have been made public. In 2007, a series called Umtunzi Wentaba was released and it did not even cause so much controversy or division. The real problem actually lies with what the story is showcasing; a love story between two men in a traditionally masculine space. For many South Africans and especially isiXhosa people, homosexuality and The Mountain never mix. The two seemingly cannot co-exist in a shared space.
The idea of queerness is one that is traditionally seen as un-African. Speaking from the perspective of a Xhosa womxn, I personally do not know of any terms in any African language that can be translated to mean lesbian, queer, or even bisexual. It seems that the only terms that do exist are often slang or catch-all terms that refers to anyone who participates or appears to participate in any type of sexual act with a member of the same sex. A movie, with a subject matter like Inxeba, holds a mirror up to the ultra-masculine practices and identities that our culture insists are vital for any “man” who identifies as isiXhosa. The movie has allowed for public discourse around the bigotry that exists within our culture to be addressed. Although, it does seem that there is one aspect of the movie that has not really been addressed in these discourses. If anything, the queer love story has been shrouded under the arguments about the movie being disrespectful and insensitive to our culture. Many responses to the movie have blindly ignored the story of many young, queer men and womxn in our culture and society. They have been silenced and forced to hide that part of themselves, simply in order to meet the ultra-masculine, patriarchal standards that are dictated by our culture.
Go, take the time to watch the movie, and formulate an informed opinion on the matter. However, also, take a good look and appreciate the fine art, talent, and creativity that came together to tell an oft untold story, and one that needed to be heard.