Student’s second novel reflects on amaMpondo custom

APRIL 2, 2016

Final-year BEd student and author Sinoyolo Nokhutywa (26) has stepped into contentious ground in his second book, ‘Lisiko xa kutheni’, an isiXhosa play which delves into the sacred amaMpondo tradition of ‘ ukungena’ .

Ukungena, loosely translated as the law of succession, is a custom practiced by amaMpondo wherein a widow, should she lose her husband, is sometimes obliged to marry the deceased’s brother or close relative who’ll take care of the family so as to continue the bloodline.

The play follows hot on the heels of his suspense-driven fictional debut novel, ‘Yho! Bandenzile!’, which looked at women’s fortitude and courage to overcome their greatest obstacles in the face of grave adversity. The book was published in February 2015 and hit the shelves in July.

 “This play pans across many issues involved in ukungena, and tries to achieve the delicate balance of adequately addressing the complexities and dynamics involved in balancing age-old rituals and traditions with the country’s constitution,” said Nokhutywa.

He expresses concerned over people’s inability to control the rapid evolution of the custom and how the resultant detachment from the original concept has opened up space for greed, lust and rampant abuse of women’s rights.

Nokhutywa says the play interrogates how people have used the custom for their own personal gain, rather than for the good of the family name.

“The original custom was instilled so as to ensure that the woman and her family should her husband die, be taken care of, and who better to do that than those closest to the deceased.”

“However, overtime, people have betrayed this central ethos, and now are driven by monitory and value gains, at the detriment of women and their children. Which then begs the question: How does this oppressive practice stand up to being custom?” he says.

In the face of “declining human values and high poor women’s rights records”, Nokhutywa unashamedly lays bare the on-going injustices against women in a country that touts itself as possessing the best constitutional democracy in the world.

It took Nokhutywa, a languages and lexigraphy major, a mere three months to complete the book, having first put pen to pad in March 2015 before concluding the manuscript in June later that year.

“I decided to write in my own language because I feel it’s my duty so as to protect, preserve and promote Xhosa, especially amongst the youth. We as black people continue to lose ourselves because we can’t articulate and express ourselves in our own languages anymore. How then do we expect to pass on our heritage if we can’t even come to terms with the most important component of that heritage – language?” he says.