Times columnist Fred Khumalo describes Ukweshwama as a ritual:
Khumalo, a Zulu, goes on to argue that the practice is cruel and should not be supported simply because it is said to be a cultural right.
"... observed by people of Nguni stock, including Zulus, Swazis, and Ndebeles - which involves about 40 young men killing a bull with their bare hands.
There is a belief that the warriors inherit the bull's strength and power when the beast is killed. When the warriors salute the king upon completion of their mission, the power is transferred to the king and his kingdom.
Another explanation for the ritual is that, by killing the beast, the young warriors form a bond of trust and commitment to each other, a sentiment they then transfer to their other peers, creating a strong manhood in the kingdom in question."
Ukweshwama rituals have largely been absent in South Africa in the last five or so decades.
Khumalo points out that the ritual has been revived and that its interpretation is at odds with the progress we have made as a nation.
PETA says on its website that:
"... during the festival of Ukweshwama, a group of youths torment and slaughter a terrified bull with their bare hands. They rip out the bull's tongue, shove handfuls of dirt into his mouth, tear out his eyes, and mutilate his genitals."The man being interviewed was indignant that non-Africans, including Indian politician Maneka Gandhi who is associated with PETA, was calling on President Zuma to condemn the practice.
Just yesterday The Star (print edition) ran an opinion piece by University of Cape Town philosophy professor, David Benatar, entitled "Culture does not justify cruelty".
Like Khumalo, Benatar presses the point that just because a practice is deemed a cultural ritual does not mean it is not cruel.
Benatar is careful to explain that he views the slaughter of animals for purposes of eating as "wrong" too but he argued further that "the dismembering of a live bull is still worse and thus deserves special criticism."
I agree with Khumalo and Benatar.
Culture cannot be treated as static. Times and circumstances change and culture is not immune.
I do not expect that President Zuma, who is a Zulu, will respond to Mrs Gandhi's call. This is tricky political terrain that is best left alone or rather, ignored.
There are many insistent voices who purport to represent Africans who say that outsiders interfering with their cultural practices amounts to racism.
Nonsense is my thinking.
There is no racism in calling the act barbaric. The act is simply an outdated and cruel practice any way you slice it.
The same is true for bull fighting.
Killing a bull with your bare hands or as a sworded matador does not make you a man or brave, it just makes you a cruel f*ck and cruelty knows no skin color in these terms.
The practice should be banned and the elders of the communities concerned should sit together to figure out a more humane rites of passage ceremony.
UPDATE(November 24): Animal Rights Africa appeals to high court to stop Ukweshwama ritual.
Animal Rights Africa (ARA) will be going to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on the 24th November 2009 to try and end the extremely cruel Ukweshwama ritual, which is due to take place on the 5th December in at Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, during the First Fruits Festival. Said ARA spokesperson Michele Pickover, "It physically pains us and is an affront to our dignity that an animal is made to suffer in such an overtly cruel and protracted way. "Read the rest of the press release here.
Also, see the Mail & Guardian article(November 24) entitled "Bull-killing ritual to be debated in Durban".