Growing up, I had three families: my mother’s home, my father’s family home, and my maternal aunt’s home. My mother said, “If you have three homes, you must always visit all of them.” Two of these homes wanted to send me to school. I chose my father’s family, because they had cattle that I could look after, and I was excited about that life. So I stayed there, preferring to look after the cattle rather than going to school. I thought this is what it meant to be a man.
As I was getting older, I went to find work in Johannesburg. I found a job in the mine. I came back to my village in Eastern Cape to go to circumcision school. When I returned to my job, I got injured in both legs, but that was a blessing for me. I never liked being in the city, as it meant I was far away from home. So I stayed at my village, later becoming a ward councillor.
One day, some people came here to teach us about the rights of children. Village men said that raising children was a job to be done by women; the trainers said both women and men can take care of people. I realised that I was not treating my own children properly. I even thought that’s what being a man meant.
Now, I have totally different ideas of what it means to be a man. I help run programmes at schools, advising boys about sex and how to use condoms. These boys even tell me, “We do want to test our blood,” but the problem is that clinics are far away, and people don’t have money for transport to get there. I see this as my challenge, to ensure there are clinics here.
Because of my role in the village, all the people here are my responsibility, especially on issues concerning health. Now I no longer have just three homes – I need to look after the entire village. They are all looking up at me. Leaders must not be afraid to speak out about what is helpful and what is right.
- Tembelani works for the municipal government in Qumbu, South Africa