Durban - A feud stemming from traditional Zulu stick fighting has spilled over into a northern KwaZulu-Natal school, shutting it down for two weeks just before the start of the matric examinations.
The warring factions, as well as parents, traditional leaders, education and government authorities were to meet again on Friday to try to make peace so that the school could reopen on Monday.
A spokesman for the KZN Department of Education, Muzi Mahlambi, said on Thursday that they were “disturbed” by the trouble at Maphumulo, between KwaDukuza and Greytown.
A meeting was held on Thursday at Ukukhanyakwezwe High School, which has 579 pupils of whom 57 were in matric.
Speaking at the meeting, principal, Lenard Khuzwayo, said the trouble began just before the end of the third term when, after a traditional Zulu stick fight between groups of boys from different villages, a pupil was slapped at school.
Soon thereafter, his group retaliated and the “payback” continued with two other groups joining in until schools broke up, he said.
“I thought that would be the end of it,” Khuzwayo said.
However when schools re-opened on Monday last week, none of the groups of boys involved in the fighting came to class.
“They arrived the next day and I knew there would be trouble,” he said. “I could tell their blood was hot so I phoned the police.”
Khuzwayo said when the pupils started becoming unruly, teachers ran for the safety of the secure offices. He then sent everyone home, not wanting “innocent children to get hurt”.
Local chief, Inkosi Bhekabantu Khuzwayo, said he was shocked by what was happening at the school. “We have always used stick fighting to settle disputes and at ceremonies, even now young men are getting ready with traditional ceremonies coming up over the weekend,” he said.
“What is happening here is unheard of. These boys need to go back to ubuntu and respect our tradition.”
Cultural expert, Dr VVO Mkhize, founder of the Umsamo African Institute, said in stick fighting young men were pitted against each other in a “friendly” confrontation.
They face each other with two sticks, a longer one to hit with - never on the head - and a shorter one to shield the opponent’s lashes.
This, he said, was done for them to know their strengths and weaknesses and to train for manhood so they could stand up for their families and community. Stick fighting is done under the watchful eye of obhekeni - community leaders who control things, making sure the rules are followed.
Boy Xulu is one such leader. He was at the meeting and said win or lose, the dispute was considered settled after such a bout. “Once a person enters the school gates, they are not regarded as a young man, but a pupil,” he said.
“Whatever happened in the field is left there. I don’t know where these boys adopted bringing this into school.”
Mkhize agreed, condemning the spillover into the school. “Stick fighting is a proud and disciplined practice, done under supervision in specific areas and circumstances,” he said. “Grudges should not be carried over into other places - that means there is no more discipline. It shows that as a nation, we have lost our traditional African ethics and morals and (are) hiding, doing wrong things in the name of culture and tradition.”
During Thursday’s meeting, a group of uniformed boys were ushered into the school’s community hall and church. The teachers milled around the new school building, which was officially opened in August by former Education MEC, Senzo Mchunu.
Mahlambi said the school had a pass rate of above 80 percent and urged pupils not to waste any teaching time and to prepare for exams.