DSI hosts consultative workshop on rites of passage for males in South Africa

Traditional leaders remain the custodians of the customary values of communities that are constitutionally and historically entrusted to them, said Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).


Dr Mjwara made the comment during his opening address at the 2022 National Consultation Workshop on Ukubuthwa/Mophato, which is taking place at the eMakhosini Ophathe Heritage Park near Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal from 1 to 3 March.


He said the participation of traditional leaders and indigenous knowledge (IK) practitioners in ukubuthwa/mophato at the workshop would advance IK as a knowledge domain in its own right, and promote the recognition of those who have preserved and continue to practice this important rite of passage.


"We appreciate in particular the support of both the National and the Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders in this quest. I am informed that this workshop stems from a public call on the part of traditional practitioners who lead the rite of passage process for boys in various parts of the country, requesting the government to create a formal platform to acknowledge their role as anchors of indigenous knowledge in sustaining this institution", said Dr Mjwara.


The DSI is hosting the three-day workshop as part of implementing the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act, 2019, which provides among others for the recognition of prior learning for IK practitioners in the country.


"In recognising indigenous knowledge, we appreciate that IK, by its very nature, is fertile ground for innovation. Among other things, IK systems are typically human-centred and highly diverse, applying technologies of local origin with strong cross-linkages between them", noted Dr Mjwara.


Hosted in partnership with North-West University, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and the National and Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders, the workshop's main objective is to affirm IK practitioners leading this sector as champions in sustaining traditional rites of passage and the knowledge embedded in these practices.


Themed "Mophato/Ukubuthwa: Intergenerational competencies", the workshop provides a platform for mophato/ukubuthwa practitioners to share their knowledge and experience and discuss the challenges they face as a discipline of competence.


It is also aligned to the DSI's Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) initiative, which aims to recognise the skills and prior learning of IK practitioners through competency norms and standards developed in line with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).


The DSI's Chief Director: Science Missions, Prof. Yonah Seleti, said the Department was working with the Universities of North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Venda on a model for recognising the competencies of IK practitioners in the health domain. The work focuses on the documentation of cultural values using competency norms and standards in order to validate the informal and non-formal learning of IK practitioners.


Explaining how ukubuthwa/mophato aligns to the DSI's RPL initiative, Prof. Seleti said the workshop provided a platform for rites of passage IK practitioners and traditional leaders to endorse the developed competency norms and standards prior to their rollout for testing in an RPL pilot.


The concept of ukubuthwa/mophato as an indigenous rite of passage for male initiates involves three key pillars, namely, defence and security, initiation and circumcision, and the healing of the nation including skills development and labour practices.


Speaking on behalf of the National House of Traditional and Khoisan Leaders (NHTKL), Inkosi MZ Mthuli said that attending the workshop was a great pleasure as it revived one's culture and traditions, and added that it was important to know one's cultural background and identity.


Inkosi Mthuli welcomed the workshop as long overdue in bringing together mophato/ukubuthwa practitioners from across cultures to share their knowledge and experience. He added that events such as this workshop and the Indoni cultural festival, which showcases the traditions of the provinces and the unique diversity of the country, are a good reminder of what culture is all about.


Sam Khandlhela, Senior Manager at the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, said ukubuthwa/mophato marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, and is practised by many language groups and cultures. "While some rites of passage are similar, others differ, and it is important to learn from each other regarding the different rites of passage," he added.


Khandlhela said the NHTKL had drafted a discussion paper outlining a number of cultural practices for consultation with communities through their traditional leaders. Such practices include ukuthwala, ukungenwa and ukuzila, to name a few.


The aim of the consultation will be to get communities to validate cultural practices that should be preserved, to identify potentially harmful elements in any practices, and where applicable, to eradicate cultural practices that are no longer relevant in a modern society.


Phakamani Mthembu, Director of Heritage Preservation and Promotion at the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC), said rites of passage were important for equipping young people with the skills needed to become responsible adults and parents.


To complement this, the DSAC is proposing the development of a set of core values for all ukubuthwa schools to instill in young people. "The set of values will be consistent with the Bill of Rights within our Constitution," Mthembu added.


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