The male initiation ceremony of the Xhosa people of South Africa, Ulwaluko, is an age-old tradition. It’s a mystical, secretive ritual that occurs far away from the eyes of the public. While Ulwaluko is fundamental to Xhosa life and alcohol is central to the festivities, George social worker Mzoli Mavimbela (32) says the use of commercial alcohol at an initiation ceremony is an accepted practice, but it does not alter the fact that a boy has become a man.
Mavimbela is a social worker for the South African National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA). He is also an ethnographer, and script poet.
He just earned his master’s in social work Nelson Mandela University, and the subject of his dissertation, which was on the perspectives of amakrwala (initiates) on the significance of umqombothi and the usage of commercial alcohol in initiation rituals.
He illustrates an example with a Christian boy whose coming home ceremony was devoid of alcoholic substances.
“Even though some people criticised the way they did things, doesn’t affect the fact that he is a man,” he says.
“Another discovery I’ve made about the usage of alcohol during these rituals is that alcohol is not required; people may do their rituals without alcohol, like their forefathers did.”
Growing desire to bring about change
Mavimbela grew up in the village of Ngxongweni, in Port St. Johns in the Eastern Cape. His parents divorced in 1999, and that changed their lives at home. He says he and his siblings were placed with different relatives, while his mother, Nodumo Bangani, went to work as a domestic worker in Port Shepstone, KwaZulu-Natal to support her family.
He was the eldest of three and would often observe how people in his village would endure abuse. This motivated him to pursue social work at university so that he might make a difference in the lives of others.
Before he became a social worker, he wanted to become a geologist. In 2010 he completed his degree in environmental studies at Walter Sisulu University.
He then pursued his qualification in social work a year later and graduated from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2014, and later earned his master’s in 2021. He is currently a PhD student in anthropology at Nelson Mandela University.
Alcohol is not tradition
Mavimbela says people are used to using alcohol as a means of “generating vibes”, and when commercial alcohol is unavailable at some gatherings, attendees are likely to abandon the event in search of more alcohol.
According to Mavimbela, the use of alcohol in ceremonies or events causes chaos. “People carry weapons with the intention of causing harm to others,” he says.
Having to work with substance abusers, Mavimbela explains that they do not criticise someone based on what they use or why they use it; rather, the emphasis is on how.
“Therefore, we concentrate on how you might better yourself, and we support those who are willing to pick up the pieces; we do not compel anybody to do so.”
He explains that there is a communal option for those who are being abused by addicts, and some social workers deal with it. When the addict’s family is in danger, the court will order him or her to go to rehab.
Outpatient vs inpatient
Mavimbela explains that there are two types of therapy that exist in addiction treatment. The first option is inpatient rehabilitation, where a patient stays in a facility for 12 weeks under the supervision of doctors, psychologists, and social workers.
“Patients must have faith in the rehabilitation process regardless of their willingness to modify their lives. When patients are forced or compelled to enter treatment when they are not ready, they often revert to their prior behaviours as soon as they leave the facility.”
Mavimbela says that addiction does not discriminate against gender, race or age. He adds that there are so many people who are addicted to something, and whatever substance habits people pick up for six consecutive weeks is likely to culminate into an addiction.
Hardship is a norm
Mavimbela stresses the shortage of employment in the social work field. Most of the time, social workers are forced to take odd jobs to put food on the table.
“It is unfortunate that young school children believe they will be able to find employment after graduation if they get a scholarship to study social work.”
Since 2021, Mavimbela has managed a Nacosa-funded project for drug injectors in George. He is now a treatment and aftercare social worker in Mossel Bay, Great Brak, Haternbos, and Alberton.
Al-Anon Family Groups is for the families and friends of problem drinkers, with a special section – Alateen – for children of alcoholics, and a group for adult children of alcoholics. You can reach out to the organisation on: 0861 ALANON (25 26 66)
- Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa
Worldwide fellowship for alcoholics supporting those choosing to be sober. Only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. You can reach out to the organisation on: 0861 HELPAA (435 722)
- Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline
For alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation and helpline. You can reach out to the organisation on: 080 012 1314
- Narcotics Anonymous SA
NA is a non-profit organization for recovering drug addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. You can reach out the organisation on: 088 130 03 27
- Pharmadynamics Police and Trauma Line
For abuse trafficking reports and drug related crimes. You can reach out the organisation on: 080 020 5026
- SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
SANCA provides specialized and affordable prevention and treatment services for alcohol and other drug dependence. A national body established in 1956, it has independently operated societies and counselling centres in all nine provinces. You can reach out the organisation on: 08611 REHAB (73422)
Unhooked offers an Outpatient Program that help families in finding the best suitable treatment option for their loved ones. You can reach out the organisations: (081) 456 3945