SABC1 Suspends Controversial Umthunzi Wentaba

Written by TVSA Team from the blog News on 30 Mar 2007
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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 (of Asikhulume 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.


21 Sep 2007 03:34

Umthunzi Wentaba is back...I had never watched it until yersterday because my friend told me that it started last week. That episode was scary, more especially after the initiation has been done and everyone's face is full of fear. I can now see why the drama was banned last time. I felt like its not something I should watch. Abakhwetha looked scary, even the place makes me nervous. Not only does it affect the Xhosa culture but also it affects us emotionally. But then, hey! It's about time that truth is revealed because we all have knowledge of what happens there...though we shouldn't. Maybe Umthunzi Wentaba will give us a picture of what's reaaly happening entaben. I feel for the Xhosas who feel exposed.

21 Sep 2007 03:56

What really happened if you don't go kulentaba ?

 cause I hear people saying you remain a boy until until you no more. 
You don't have to sit together with those who had been there, eating esithebeni with them.

Please any1 share

21 Sep 2007 04:03

Yah I also saw it last night but just a pice...kanti whats the l;atest...?

21 Sep 2007 04:16

initiation schoolis f**ed up. though i dont know much about the xhosa one.
I went to the bapedi/matebele/Batsonga one in Mokopane and believe me when i say that thing is complete torture.
Those thing must be cancelled finish and klaar never mind the culture.
- for instance we went for 6weeks without drinking water, seriously. 

21 Sep 2007 04:27

Hha Madenza, what were u drinking? umchamo we donkey, hi hi hi

21 Sep 2007 04:32

seriously we drank nothing at all.
- we were also eating porridge e se na seshebo, but we all(152) survived that was magic, even if they pay me to go back there i will never. 

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 04:33

Eeer, Madenza, in your culture, are you allowed to disclose that info?

21 Sep 2007 04:38

Mina when i went there( 1995)we were never told the truth, i guess that is why i went there.
-  this days most of the kids knows what is happening there, when i got back i told everything that was happening there even to my mother( i was traumatised), and gladly my younger brother never went
-There is nothing to hide and nothing taught abo

21 Sep 2007 04:45

<<for instance we went for 6weeks without drinking water, seriously>>>

I don't agree with you Madenza you exagarating, a man can only survive 19 days without water.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 04:45

I guess for us Xhosas its different.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 04:47

Hayi uyandixaka uMadenza. Im too shocked for words. Am off to another blog...

21 Sep 2007 04:51

<<<I don't agree with you Madenza you exagarating, a man can only survive 19 days without water.>>> i am dead serious here, not lying or exaggerating at all.

21 Sep 2007 04:52

But Madenza they say if you tell people about what's happening there uyahlanya.

So that's why we got all the different stories cause we assume.

21 Sep 2007 04:56

That is what they tell. They know gore if everything happening there is told nobody in his rightfull mind will go there.
- as for go hlanya it is not true they were trying to scare us.

21 Sep 2007 05:00

Entabeni its just torture qha, to think ukuthi nami was booked to go there but i beat my parents to it by booking my self an appointment with a medical doctor and got this thing over and done with in painlessly in minutes. and i must say when my parents found out bakwata strong, and i told them ukuthi i had no choice but to go to the doctor and do it cause they did not ask, whether i was fine with the idea of me going to the bush

21 Sep 2007 05:02

Floh mayb they got their water from the pap (since water is an ingredient)  & therefore managed 2 live 4 6 weeks without water.
So Madenza if u didn't get taught anything there what did u do?

21 Sep 2007 05:05

This is an interesting blog, thank u TVSA & Shugs for the update, now I don't wanna say too much coz nna ngumZulu and everything I know about lendaba yasentabeni is what I've heard but never seeing happening, so let me leave it to the Xhosa's to comment & enlighten us, whom are rather silent though.

21 Sep 2007 05:07

Clever move Monchy!

21 Sep 2007 05:11

U r circumsized(painfully)
-then for the rest of the period you are healing and at the same time taught some "stupid meaningless" songs and poems, which you are going to use when coming back so they can be sure you have been there.
- even the most stupid indvidual who failed subA , will be knowing all those poems when you get out of there and believe me you never forget them( even my father still knows them). the muti they use the is dangerous.
- so there is nothing you learn really

21 Sep 2007 05:15

i must agee with you Madenza. i have friends who have went to the mountains two are Pedi's and two are Xhosa's, and when we talked about the Montain issue we found out that The initiates are told to keep everything that happens there a secret is because they know vele that no body in their rightful mind would want to go through such thing, and the water thing madenza said is true guys

21 Sep 2007 05:28

Maybe the lesson that u learn is subliminal, maybe the lesson is that being able to endure pain (physical) is part  of being a man, hence u cum out of there a "man" coz u endured & survived the pain. 
U know mos how darkies are, everything that they teach their children is not straightforward, they don't call a spade a spade, they would rather beat about the bush e.g storytelling, they tell they kids intsumatsumane, then the kids have to "crack the code"and figure out the moral of the story. 

21 Sep 2007 05:29

Dont get me wrong, its very entertaining. but i do feel that some traditions should be honoured.

21 Sep 2007 05:41

Interesting opinion ngwana, y do u feel this way? if u din't mind xplaining. Coz I'd luv 2 disagree wit u, but wanna 1st hear yor reasons.

21 Sep 2007 05:48

Dont get me wrong, its very entertaining. but i do feel that some traditions should be honoured>>> i respect your opinion but i would like know honoured in which way.

21 Sep 2007 06:10

What are about Ladies@ XhosaChick maybe you can teach us something and sorry to drag you in this topic since you decided to page other blogs, but sfunukwazi

21 Sep 2007 06:22

All i wanna know is WHY THE SECRECY.i seriously dont see what the fuss is all about

21 Sep 2007 06:44

@ madenza with all respect sir I honest dont disagree with you, i feel that the circumsicion tradition is sacred and should be kept that way. This tradition is our pride and what makes us unique from other cultures, for you as a "man" to expose it like that its uncalled for, even though u have done it u are supposed to respect it coz thats who you are now. Telling ur mother about it was way out of line, what u did was disrespecting ur elders, ur culture and urself. I wont attack u personally but what u did give me the right to call it "childish act", if i were closer u would have to answer for that and maybe by me some brandy.

21 Sep 2007 06:46

I meant dont aggre, even if it means nothing 2 u I think u should respect it for the people that it means a lot to (like me). Just bcoz u dont bliv in something that doesnt mean its bulls***.

21 Sep 2007 06:56

Cause i was brought up to believe that what happens there is sacred and that is why it shouldnt be spoken about. 
And as a girl i could never ask someone who comes from entabeni what went on there.
They could have explored other ways of educating them about the dangers of HIV without exposing everything that happens.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 07:01


21 Sep 2007 07:03

Thank u Madenza for sharing and I also agree with u. What I don't seem to realize is if the tradition is so sacred and the Xhosa's are so proud of it, why does it have to be kept a secret about about what REALLY happens to boys/men when undergoing initiation????

21 Sep 2007 07:18

I C yor reasons ngwana, but  those r not realy yor reasons, they r cultural reasons. Which have been imposed on u.
 Anyway people must honour that which is honourable, not that I'm saying Xhosa Culture is not honourable. But TRICKING young men 2 go 2 the mountain, making them believe that they will ONLY become men if they have been there, is just manipulative 2 me, and therefore not honourable, & I think that ppl deserve 2 know the truth (what they r putting themselves up 4) when they do decide 2 go become men, & not just go 2 the mountain & then get the shock of their lives when they actually c what happens there. 
No offence intended.

21 Sep 2007 07:30

Circumsicion is a journey that has to be explored by boys to become men. Many people return with  different views and experiences. It is an indivuduals pain, suffering and accomplishment. The way it goes about shouldnt be discussed especially by the people who never experienced it. And the people who have should respect it. The exciting and amazing thing about this culture was the mistery it held. And for that 2 be exposed by the same people that own it I say its disgusting. I say "the Xhosa Men" that particparted on that Drama have sold our identity. Once again the world has tempted us with money to take our way our dignity. Lest we not forget that this tradition means absolutely nothing to other people, but to us its our gold & diamond. They make it sound as if its "cut and die", but its not. It is the sacrice that our parents make with their children, (like abraham did with Isaac), and yet it is the pride that we as childre give our parents that we have grown. that they can rest assured coz we are grown up now we can face any challenges that the world mya throw at us. It is also the time that family and relatives unite to celebrate together. It is also the way that we show our ancestors that the direction they have shown us, we still respect and follow and we trust in them to protect us.

21 Sep 2007 07:32

trully speaking akunanto efihlwayo ngokuya entabeni and its not just madenza who speaks about what happens there, most guys talk about it its just that you who dont know have not been told, and one other thing you guys must remember that not every body that goes there, goes on his own free will some people are forced to go there, and do you really think such people will repect a culture that forces them to do things they dont believe in???

21 Sep 2007 07:35

I am not sure why SABC is showing that drama again on TV.The thing that we do there as Xhosa brothers is supposed to be a secret ,Xhosa chicks who are here may agree that mothers are not allowed close to the place.Everything that we do them we don't share with the public.You would think that as someone who has gone to entabeni,I would have interest in the drama but I hate it.I partly blame us Xhosa's about what is happenning there as most of fathers who are actors on the drama know that what they are doing is not on.

But I tell you something what they show on that TV is just a quarter of what is happening when you really go there.Some of it as it was created by a woman who obviously cannot possibly what is going on there is not true.

I would love to know though what was the thought process to bring that back on our screens.

Was is based on demand?as they claim i doubt it.The SABC guys instead of prtecting our cultures they are destroying them.I wonder were we going as Darkies of this Country.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 07:38

standing ovation for you, Andi01 :)

21 Sep 2007 07:41

It is the sacrice that our parents make with their children, -disturbing
(like abraham did with Isaac), means nothing 2 me as I'm not christian.
But  anyway, y is umthunzi back on tv again? if Xhosa ppl feel that their "identity has been sold", or have they edited out all the parts that are suppsed 2 be "secrets" - The "mystery" & "excitement" Andi01 speaks of.

21 Sep 2007 07:45

guys stop saying that its just men that know what goes on there cause that is not true, there is men out there who can not hide a thing from thier women, so bayabatshela ukuthi what really goes on there, and mina i cannot/will not support, people who lie. i have been hearing that if you disclose what happens there uzohlanya and so forth and that is just a load of bull. a lot of people have spoken and and they are still living their normal lives....and for a person to be indoda ukuthi ukhule ngenqondo hayi ngomphambili

21 Sep 2007 07:48

And001:I could not have said it more clearly.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 07:52

Ok, lets just take a breath now, and just sing, holding hands : "We are the wooooorld, we are the childreeeeen..."

21 Sep 2007 07:57

xhosa chick:into zakho wena,uthini ngoku?

21 Sep 2007 08:02

@monchoza's response, guys stop saying that its just men that know what goes on there cause that is not true, (hearing is decieving but seeing is believing) so for those who heard it from some1 else they dont know anything. Again some people are not forced, they are a bit reluctant coz they r scarced not that they dont wanna. U know guys even the title they used its an idiom in itself coz there is no simple way to put it for that process is not simple. The fact that the title is an idiom goes to show that intsingiselo yolwaluko its a mistery, these guys understand that but still they carry on. Ndiyendavathiqaqa kanobom xa kude kuculwe "usomagwaza". its like using the national anthem why shooting a porn movie, i really was insulted as umXhosa ozidlayo ngamasiko nezithethe zakwantu. What I am curious to know though is whether all the men that were abakhwetha have been circumcised for if not, linyala elo.

21 Sep 2007 08:15

and001:ungathethi ude ugqithise,kwanele ngoku.ungathethi nezinto ekinganelekanga ukuba uyazithetha.zonke ezinto uzithethayo ziyinyani..

21 Sep 2007 08:16

i am a taurus and that comes with being stubborn, does not matter whether i am right or wrong, as long as i have voice out my opnion. i stick to my beliefs unlike some people who stick with other peoples beliefs

21 Sep 2007 08:24

XC, usile wena, when it comes to issues relating to ur culture u just start with the jokes & sarcasm & u end up not revealing the side of the coin that u are at.

21 Sep 2007 08:26

monchooza:uyahlanya wena uzobafundisa ntoni abantwana bakho ngeculture yakho.ngabantu abafana nawe abamosha iculture zethu.

21 Sep 2007 08:28

@ Sbu001, ngxe mntanasekhaya ibingezonjongo zam ezokuba ndendithethe de ndophele ntonje ndiqhutywa yintlungu egubungele intliziyo yam okwelifu lemvula. Ndiyathemba andisikanga apho kungamele ndisike khona. Ewe liyinene elithi phantse ndagqithisa yaye bendiyakuba ndonile ukuba bendenzenjalo. ngoba ngoku ndinqanda amanzengenendlini ngokuvala icango ndaweni yokuba ndivule umsele. ndithethu kuthi ke mkhaya ndingumntu ongenankani yaye ndikuvile. Ndikhe ndaphos'amehlo kwimpendulo zakho, kwowu uliciko yaye ndiyendichulumance yindlela othi uzibeke ngaye izimvo zakho, noko nam namhlanje ndifunde nto kuwe, nto nje ndingazubhentsa ngayo ngokwangoku. Ndivuyiswa kukuva kanti basekhona abantu abaneqhayiya ngamasiko nezithethe zethu. Ngxatsho ke ndoda yasekhaya.

Xhosa Chick
21 Sep 2007 08:32

Im with  Andi01.
Sho, bloggers. Joburgers: I will see you this wknd

21 Sep 2007 08:37

in my culture...(NOTt ZULU) we go to the mountains where there's a secret chamber we call it the "torture box", and there's a bunch of men I'm not sure if they are guerrillaz or what...I was too zonked -out to remember- anyways they have  all sorts of weapons including some electric objects, so what happenes is they tie us up and first give up fifty strong lashes just like Jesus in passion of christ..until we bleed, and secondly they tie our dicks to various electric objcts whcih they turn on  and we experience these electric charges (which initially feel exciting until it turns into pure torture, and themore you scream the more they keep you on those plugs)

The Finaly part is when they actually CHOP YOU DICK OFF and ASK YOU TO REATTACH IT   caaaan yooou beeeeeluv some guys end up with either bumpy dicks or banan shaped , some actually couldnt re-atache them  so they are DICKLESS 

I tell you I've been through a lot to say "I a Man"  so this drama is just so..nje!!!

21 Sep 2007 08:41

hay hay hay Sponono, thats sooo not cool, moderator please I beg you delete the above.

21 Sep 2007 08:55

andi01...In my culture We were specificaly told by the guerillas to share our expericences, I dont kow why...and I'm too scared to keep it to me-self....please forgive me..  BUt I understand why other cultures arent supposed to talk about theirs

my tribe is the Ndzivongwetshi. the descendants of probably havent heared about my people...but we have very particular ways of doin things...

21 Sep 2007 09:05

scuse the language though..its just some words are so purrrrrfect in describin sungthin.....(and since I'll be takin over TDC...I can get away with it hi hi hi hi hi

have a great weekend evrione

21 Sep 2007 09:12

andi01 khawume sis wam. its bout time people get da information. i was watching last night's episode n am feeling bad dat all de boys are gonna die, dats wt it looks like mos. mara y amaxhosa engathathi abantwana abase endaweni egrand? they are clinging ekuthini its they custom. 

according to me knowledge theres a difference between isiko nesithethe. if ulwaluko was isiko every1 would du it de way every1 does. the fact dat there are people who take their kids to hospitals spells it out dat its nt a custom or isiko but isithethe. isithethe ke siyaphelelwa lixesha.


21 Sep 2007 09:54

@andi101- i can say that i understand your concern over all this thing, what i can tell you is that i respect my culture very much and still follow it.
- i hope you were in my shoes and saw what i saw. If the ancestors are going to crusify me for telling they better do that, because they showed no love to me at all at the mountain. And the was no way i was giong to let my other brothers go through that.
-maybe the Xhosa initiation is far much better than what i went through.

21 Sep 2007 10:00

And if i may ask is it culture for them to lie to us for us to go to the mountainn? because we were told all this nice things about the place for us to be tempted.

21 Sep 2007 10:27

scary discussion !!!

30 Jul 2012 01:17

I hate this film mthunzi wentaba it makes me sad

07 Mar 2015 14:28

madenza mfowam ukuba uyindoda uzazi wena ndinako ukusola apha kuwe..andi01 bawo ndiyabulela gokukwazi ukuzibamba xa ubona ukuba usingisele enyhunyhwini ungeka phalazi nto itheni...umntunzi wentaba yigqubo eyenziwa sisityhifili nje sendoda yomxhosa ndingazi nokuba yayizama ukuphuhlisa ntoni kusini na ngesiko lethu

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