“What is it to be a man?” Rites, hashtags, outrage

  • Lungelo Manona Department of Media & Communication, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Andrea Hurst SARCHI Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Keywords: Inxeba (Trengove 2017), masculine identity, heteronormativity, ulwaluko, diverse masculinities


This article aims to understand the outrage caused by Inxeba (2017) set within the context of ulwaluko, the Xhosa traditional rite of passage. The scale of the outrage showed deep rejection by many South Africans of the very ideas that the film puts across. This outrage must be understood in relation to the sensitivity of the film’s content: masculine identity; the question of what it is to be a man; the multiple interlinked issues of who has power to determine what a Xhosa man is; the justification of heteronormative masculinity; and the construction of multiple masculinities. Assuming that such questions and issues raised by the film cannot be discussed in depth without sufficient contextual knowledge of what the ulwaluko practice involves, the article begins with an account of this practice. Turning to an attempt to understand the outrage caused by the film, it is argued that the most cited reason for this outrage – namely that it challenges the power base of traditional cultural leaders by opening private rites to general public scrutiny – covers over a more pressing concern: that the film depicts an entrenched cultural tradition in a way that subjects its heteronormative ideal of manliness to controversial critique from the perspective of more diverse masculinities.