Following an outcry from viewers and massive pressure from traditional leaders and cultural activists, the SABC has made the decision to "suspend" the mini-series Umthunzi Wentaba, after only two episodes had aired.
The mini-series has caused a furore over its depiction of traditional Xhosa "manhood" rituals, which involve boys being taken to the mountains and undergoing a traditional initiation ceremony.
The subject of traditional circumcision ritual has received increasingly bad press in the last couple of years, as every year young abakwetha (male initiates) are hospitalised or die from circumcision wounds undergone during traditional initiation rites.
Ritual circumcision can put young men at risk of contracting STDs, HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne infections as well.
Umthunzi Wentaba is about the story of a reluctant abakwetha, Ndoda, who fears dying in the mountains and rebels against the customs of his forefathers.
This depiction of the ancient tradition has got cultural leaders up in arms, to the extent that the SABC sprung a surprise discussion in place of the mini-series last night (Thursday 29 March).
Hosted by Xolani Gwala
fame), the broadcast began with Gwala announcing the following:
"Ordinarily at this time you'd be watching your favourite drama here on SABC1 and over the last two weeks you'd have been watching Umthunzi Wentaba, a drama mini-series about the story of the rites of passage of a boy on his journey to manhood.
"But following howls of protest from traditional leaders and other cultural activists, the SABC has since decided to reschedule this drama series."
After showing half an hour of highlights from the very show the SABC is suspending because viewers don't want to see it, Gwala introduced three studio guests who discussed the furore: Mvuzo Mbebe (SABC Group Executive: Content Enterprises), Seipati Bulane-Hopa (Executive Producer: Umthunzi Wentaba) and Dr. Mathole Motshekga (Director: Kara Heritage Institute).
Motshekga argued that the deaths caused at initiation ceremonies were caused by people who were not qualified to perform circumcision rituals, and that an incorrect picture of the truth was being painted.
Both Mbebe and Bulane-Hopa said the show had consulted extensively with traditional leaders, including one man who had performed over a thousand circumcisions, and thus felt the show was adequately representing the truth of what many feel is a dangerous tradition.
Mbebe said the SABC had decided to merely suspend the show for two weeks before making a final decision on whether to broadcast the last two episodes or not.
This week was the first - next week there will be another panel discussion, and this time viewers will be invited to phone in or SMS their opinions to be part of the decision-making process.
TVSA readers were also up in arms about the show, including TVSA writer Brown Shuga, who wrote the following reply to a review of the show
by Tashi Tagg:
"There is just something about it not being right for whoever wrote/produced this drama to expose and reveal things that are supposed to be kept 'private' in Xhosa tradition," she wrote.
"Women are not supposed to know what exactly happens during initiation and those who have been there are given strict instructions not to talk about it to us. So for someone to decide that they're gonna make a story about it and show it to kids /world and reflect the whole thing in such a negative manner is a bit disturbing to me.
"I know that a lot of kids die there and it is a problem but is it because Initiation is a bad thing or is it because of the lack of experience on those perfoming this?
"This has been in our culture for years so I don't really think the problem is with the initiation itself but perhaps the way some people are doing it.
"Maybe my opinion is twisted because I didn't see where this show started and I don't know where it's going but I think the message being thrown to everybody through it all is that 'initiation is bad'."
That was certainly the view of Motshekga, who said that the entire debate needed to happen in perhaps a different forum.
The official TVSA position is that Umthunzi Wentaba should be winning awards. The quality of production, writing and acting is first-class and the subject matter is more than compelling - it's spellbinding.
We understand that particularly those of the Xhosa tradition may not want their traditions being made public, or more specifically being painted in a negative light.
But isn't art (which Umthunzi is) supposed to enlighten, inform and ultimately leave us to make up our own minds? It certainly has a duty to stir up controversy and debate, as that is what forces us to confront our own perceptions of various issues.
The uproar surrounding Umthunzi is indicative of the fact that this mini-series has hit a raw nerve after only two episodes, which brings the issue forward for South Africans to discuss, argue and ultimately learn from.
The strange thing is - being non-Xhosa viewers ourselves, we certainly don't agree that the show has shown circumcision in a negative light. We fully understand why Ndoda's family would want him to go, and the pain of his father and his need to hold onto tradition is clearly and emotionally conveyed.
We also understand why Ndoda would be reluctant to go, and why indeed many young Xhosa boys fear going to the mountain.
A tradition may be sacred to the people who practice it, but what of those who don't? Should we be denied the opportunity to learn more about something that is such an indelible part of South African culture?
These are the questions that will no doubt help fuel this debate long after a decision on whether to air the remaining two episodes of Umthunzi has been reached.
We simply feel that a show of such quality deserves to be seen and appreciated, although we understand Shuga's point that "things that are supposed to be kept 'private' in Xhosa tradition".
Where do you stand on the matter? Give us your view by replying to this article, and we'll send your comments to the SABC before the debate next week.