The father whose heart broke with the calabash

14 July 2013 - 03:12

In the Ndebele culture, a calabash is broken when a boy dies during initiation.

The broken calabash is then discarded. It represents the fallen member of the "regiment" who did not complete the traditional rite of passage.

The calabash, thrown on the ground to break, is also a gesture of acceptance by the father.

It is meant to bring closure to the family. But in the case of one such father, Abram Mahlangu, he has yet to find peace, although it has helped him to accept the loss.

His son, 17-year-old Thulani, is one of 34 young men in the Ndzundza clan who died during the past initiation season.

Mahlangu is bitter about his son's "unnecessary" death. His pain cuts even deeper because the local headman, who was responsible for his son's regiment, has yet to visit the family, as required by custom, to console them and explain the death.

"He has not come here and he won't come here because of his attitude. I feel bitter about it and I will never forgive him."

The chief, whose name is known to the Sunday Times, was tasked by the king of the clan with looking after the young men in Thulani's group.

Thulani was one of more than 5000 boys from the Ndzundza clan who attended 134 schools authorised by King Mabhoko III.

The king's spokesperson, Msebenzi Masombuka, could not be reached for comment and did not return calls.

Early on Wednesday morning, parents and siblings eagerly lined the streets of the township to catch a first glimpse of their loved ones.

In contrast, Mahlangu's face was a picture of anguish as he stayed away from the gathering.

Despite his loss, Mahlangu, as the father of one of the initiates, was expected to welcome the rest of his son's group - and their families - into his home and slaughter a cow as part of the homecoming ceremony.

Because Thulani was the first boy to be circumcised, Mahlangu's home was the first stop for the rest of the group. They spent the day and night there, as required by custom. "Yes, we carried on, broke the calabash and threw the pieces away. It was a very painful moment for my wife and me, but I had to be strong and see it through," he said.

To welcome the other young men and their families into his home also helped, he said, because they tried to console his family for their loss.