Sainthood: Combating Stigma and Abuse Among Boy Scholars


There is an age where boy children are no longer told that they are special, brilliant, or beautiful. At this age boy children are no longer made to feel important and worthy of life; particularly black boys. In a system rigged against them and designed for their demise, encourage the people using their voices to celebrate them.  Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni is the Director and Playwright of A Tragic Conversation on the Persistence of Sainthood, or Sainthood. She is using her talent in theater to narrate the stories of boys who have been victims of societal abuse.

Affirming boys cannot be reduced to pictures of boys with flowers in their hair or celebrating young men who embrace their softness. In 2018, it is about encouraging them to believe that life is worth living, that they have a positive place in the world. It is about producing works that show different sides of manhood, and the process thereof.

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I am more than honoured (and a little petrified) to share that I will be part of a lovely group of young speakers for @tedxyouthcapetown giving a talk titled ‘Another Conversation for the Dinner Table?’ centered around observations and discoveries made from @saintstheplay and how they can act as a catalyst in reimagining a brighter South African future. (I’ve been working really hard on it 😂🙈) Date: 10 November 2018 Location: Workshop 17, V&A Waterfront Time: 10:00 – 13:00 Ticket Price: R50.00 Ticket link is in my bio ❤️ Yay, now I finally have a wonderful reason to use this portrait taken by @jessenavarrevos from the @anybodyzine DanceLab I did earlier this year ❤️❤️

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Maybe it hasn’t been clear or definitive, which I doubt; however, affirming black boys in 2018 relates to believing their accounts of physical and psychological violence  perpetrated against them too. For this reason, Sainthood is a thought provoking ode to boy children.

Consent, a poorly taught lesson

Society teaches boys to be men, often instilling values that don’t make for a healthy mental outlook on life. Consent is not taught to boys very well; especially the fact that they too have the right to withhold consent. We don’t tell boys (enough) that they can be victims of sexual assault. We don’t teach them that they don’t have to welcome every sexual advance; that more sex does not make them more of a man.

Before their December 6, 2017 show, I caught up with the cast of Sainthood about how they related to their characters. Cullum McCormack plays the character of ‘William ‘Will’ Chambers’, First Team Rugby Captain of St. Gabriel’s School for Boys’. The real life St. John’s College alumni, says “It’s quite real for me.” Throughout the play his character struggles with the weight of having withheld consent from a girl, only for her to take advantage; the definition of rape.

Where is affirmation of support for men who are victims of assault when we teach boys that they should enjoy any sexual encounters.

Sainthood on the right to live peacefully

In addition to learning consent in the sexual context, consent applies everywhere in life. For instance, hazing is illegal, although many schools have found ways around this. Team building is meant to tighten the bonds between teammates. However, rugby initiation is a far cry from this, as years of abuse have sullied the “team building” necessary in sports. For Adam Lennox, an Edgemead High School alumni playing the role of ‘George Harris’, community life was, “very curated, middle class, Christian, [and] conservative.” His account of high school being the last, and likely the most uncomfortable, I recorded. The talented actor describes what was called “The Incident” at Edgemead High, wherein a student was assaulted. In fact, three events were titled “The Incident”; and in one instance, a rugby team initiation resulted in a student being sodomized.

Simphiwe Shabalala, a National School of Arts alumni, explains that heterosexuality was more ‘the odd one out’ at his school. He notes, however, that school educators pedaled ‘patriarchy’ regardless. He plays the role of ‘Tebogo Ndaba, Head Boy of St. Gabriel’s School for Boys’. In a world that actively hates anything that doesn’t meet hetero-normative (meaning: heterosexual behavior/ideology is standard) ideology, telling boys that it’s okay to be gay, and representing them in public spaces, is an act of affirming their existence. Gay boys have the right to exist without fear of victimization on account of their sexuality, period.

Sainthood, Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni’s  2018 Standard Bank Ovation Award award winning production, exists to critically engage the culture in boys schools. With its storylines derived from anonymous interviews conducted by the director and research, it is a chilling account of the state of manhood in boys-only schools.

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