My name is Mayenzeke Baza. I am a member of the Xhosa tribe,
the second largest tribal group in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki,
Desmond Tutu are Xhosa and like me have gone through our culture's ritual
initiation into manhood. I am 30 years old. I grew up as a rural South African boy. As a Xhosa boy I was
taught that circumcision makes you a man. My culture has shaped my identity and
I underwent circumcision. I am a man is a story I want to tell about becoming
Every year young boys die from initiation, some lose their
penises, but most continue to go through with the ritual. We live in the 21st
Century, why are Xhosa people still holding on to traditions that are hundreds
of years old? Does it take being circumcised to make you a man?
I love my culture, I want to preserve it, it has shaped me
into the man I am today, but I cannot sit back and watch as young men die.
Circumcision is a very secretive ritual, but we have secured
permission to film in tribal areas from Tribal chiefs, granting us
unprecedented access in the areas where the debate is fiercest.
I am a man will follow two central characters:
Themba Lloyd is 28 years old. According to his society he is
a man, but he cannot see himself like that, he sees himself as less than a man.
Eight years ago Themba underwent traditional circumcision and in the process
lost his penis.
An unsuccessful operation left him in pain, with little
hope. He doesn't have a job, he needs his parents support, he depends on his
mom to wash his back everyday, and his brother to provide for his needs. We
will meet Themba's mother who cares for her grown son as if he were still a
boy. She speaks about her own trauma for the first time: she blames herself,
and she blames the men in her life that allowed this to happen. On the other
hand Themba's father says this is fate: what happened could not have been
avoided. Tradition holds that during ritual initiation these boys are not
allowed medical care.
For eight years Themba has lived in physical pain and
confusion, contemplating suicide. But hope is on the horizon: in March 2012
Themba will travel to Cape Town, 800kms from his home, for another attempt at
plastic surgery to give him a new penis. Will it work this time? If it is
successful does that mean Themba will be a man now? Does having a penis make
Our second character is a 20-year old Mbasa Tsetsana. We
meet him 2 years later after his initiation ritual. He is busy preparing a
remembrance day for his friend who died during the initiation season.
Through Mbasa, we get to witness a Xhosa boy going through
the process of initiation as the rite of passage into manhood. Mbasa spent 4
weeks at initiation school. For the first eight days, he wasn't allowed to
drink any water. Those eight days are the toughest for the boys and many
fatalities happen during that time due to dehydration and wounds turning septic.
It was soon after that time that Mbasa had learnt his friend had died.
Litha Msindwana, Mbasa's friend, died of a septic wound and
dehydration. We get to hear from Litha's mother that Litha was her only child.
She is determined that her son's death will not be in vain and asks her brother
and Litha's dad to explain what happened, and how he died, as they were supposed
to be the ones to make sure he came back home safely. The painful truth comes out
as some men admit their ignorance and some simply refuse to talk about the traditional
Now Mbasa tells us why he is planning a memorial: As a man now
he feels it is his duty to do something, and to make young men and women aware
of what it really means to be a man. He sends out invitations, organizes the
venue and makes all the arrangements. It will take place on the 15th December
2011. He also invites Litha's mom to come and address these young people.
The issue of initiation is a complex one and opinions are
divided. Even in the voices of the new generation we hear the conflicting
debate between the old ways and the new. At the memorial we will meet young men
who are against this ritual and young men that are for it; we also meet girls
who have lost boyfriends through initiation and those girls who only want a real man after he has been through initiation in the bush.
Mbasa is preparing a secret and controversial speech he will
deliver at the event.
No one knows whether Mbasa came back with his penis or not.
I am a man will tell the story of Themba's struggle to
become a man after he was robbed of his manhood; and how Mbasa's journey into
manhood gives him vision to make a difference.
We want to raise a debate on what it means to be a MAN. And make young boys aware of their right to choose and decide for themselves what happens to them and what will define them as men in the future.
This film will offer solidarity to young men confused about what it means to become men in society and facing difficult choices and will add weight to their choices if when they want to depart from social norms; it will speak to mothers battling with raising their boys into manhood, what that means and how they measure their success; it will challenge sisters and girls who put pressure on their brothers and boyfriends to become men according to customary ritual; and challenge men and fathers, key decision makers in society, to be role models for their sons in a changing developing world.
This film will recognize the role and value of cultural heritage and encourage mature healthy debate around change. Here is an opportunity to address this issue not as an outsider attacking a strange custom, but as an insider who cares about and values Xhosa culture, trying to find solutions to a real problem in a way that upholds core values around manhood. It will encourage people everywhere to relook their own cultural practices and traditions and find ways to make them relevant for today.
Through the film we can build a support network for victims and their families and create a platform for counseling and pain relief especially for mothers who have lost their young boys through these rituals and men who are still in recovery or will never fully recover. By bringing a secret ritual into the open we can engage in discussion, solutions can be found, and those affected can be freed to share their experiences without shame and find support going forward.
Initiation schools happen twice a year in June and December. Every season people know that boys will die, but the boys still go. It's as if there is no choice and no alternative, people don't question, and nothing is done to change the custom or stop these deaths. Every life counts. Without this film everything will just carry on as it has.
Many young men commit suicide and many more attempt suicide after failed initiation experiences. This film has the power to save lives.
What We Need & What You Get
We need 30 000 us dollars for the next phase of production.
$20 000 will go towards film production from now until end March 2012:
We'll be filming with Themba with his family at home in Humansdorp and his trip to Cape Town for surgery in March. Also filming Mbasa in East London as he prepares for and hosts his friends memorial Day. (We have already filmed Mbasa's journey to the bush).
$10 000 will be used in the early stages of post production, preparing the trailer, capturing transcripts, and packaging rushes that will help us raise completion funds.
We have a number of perks to offer based on your contribution.
$1 + Join our campaign and receive regular updates on the project and relevant news on the topic as it unfolds in South Africa.
$10+ receive exclusive updates on the film as its being made.
$25 + receive the DVD on completion of the film (disc will be sent regular mail/ airmail)
$50+ receive a DVD,t-shirt and a poster.
$100 + receive a ticket to the Premier Screening in South Africa OR have a skype chat with Mbasa or Themba ask them anything you like.
$200+ receive a ticket to the Premier Screening in South Africa,DVD,T-shirt and poster.
$500 + broadcast your 30-second comment what it means to be a man record and send us your thoughts and we'll include it in a bonus section on the DVD under comments from our contributors.
$1000 + and up will receive a contributor credit on the film
$5000 + and up will receive a producer credit