A Failed Man


Book title: A Man Who is Not A Man

Author: Thando Mgqolozana

Publisher: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

Year: 2010

A Man Who is Not A Man is a story about how a young Xhosa man came to have an abnormal ‘deformed’ penis not the distinctive lollipop shape with knobbly head that most men boast of.

The book is a journey into how to survive after you fail to enter manhood in a traditional Xhosa sense of the word. It tells a story of how the ‘bakhwetha’ (Xhosa word for circumcision initiate) circumcision ritual went horrible wrong.

AmaXhosa are a South African tribe mainly found in the Eastern Cape province and are famous for the circumcision rituals that often go badly. However, for a Xhosa man, circumcision is culturally significant – a break into manhood not just the cutting of the foreskin. If a bakhwetha (circumcision initiate) had a botched procedure, there is a stigma attached to that – a ‘failed man’. Some die from septicaemia and dehydration. Others live on but resign themselves to a lifetime of shame and ridicule, surrendering to the traditional penalties demanded by other men whenever they are found out. Others live in constant fear of being found out. Our protagonist decided not to disappear mysteriously into society and live in fear, but to confront his demons and lay bare the culturally sacred secrets – what happens in the mountain and aftermaths of a botched circumcision?

Making the details of a sacred cultural ritual public is a taboo among the Xhosa people. So our protagonist is the first to break with tradition – exposing, narrating, and questioning the tradition of what happens in mountains where initiates are placed during the seclusion period. He believes that laying it bare is a way of bringing finality to the story of his failed circumcision. A way to healing and claiming the status of a survivor. It is also a way to close the painful chapter of ‘a failed man’ while simultaneously challenging the stigma associated with botched circumcision. “I believe that the story I am telling is not mine alone. There are many survivors of septic circumcision, who have been wrongly blamed for what happened to them,” he writes. He says they ought not to feel like invalid men and forced to carry that shame for the rest of their lives. He calls on others – ‘failed man’ to come and speak of their ordeal and reclaim their manhood in spite of the tradition that want them consigned to the dustbin of history.

With frankness and courage the author Thando Mgqolozana details the pain and life-long shame that is experienced as a result of not just the physical trauma, but the social ostracism of being labelled ‘a failed man’. Mgqolozana decodes the values and mysteries of this deep seated cultural tradition and calls to account elders for the disintegrating support systems that allow such botched circumcision to happen.

However, A Man Who is Not A Man is a story of courage, and resilience in the face of adversity. It is a journey into manhood wherein you gain a new understanding about yourself, your world and surroundings. A journey where you do not live by the conditioning of society, which determines your acceptance or otherwise. It is a discovery of self. Hope bleeds through the pages of the book.

Source by Bhekisisa Mncube

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