Anele Siswana

Clinical psychologist, University of Johannesburg PsyCad

Anele Siswana (28), currently a clinical psychologist practicing at the University of Johannesburg in the unit for Psychological Services and Career Development (PsyCad). He is building his expertise in the relatively unexplored field of indigenous knowledge systems and focuses on uLwaluko kwaXhosa (Xhosa Male Initiation) and its role in shaping and helping boys to understand what it means to be a man.

Described by his peers as an authentic thinker, Siswana says he is drawn to phenomena that are beyond the norm, and he sees his profession as a vocation and a social justice agenda. “I’m both a social scientist and a practitioner that is excited by cases that are deeply embedded in psycho-social, political and theological dimensions” he says. He was awarded the Canon Collins Trust Scholars’ Scholar Award to complete his master’s in clinical psychology at Rhodes University in 2013. Having grown up in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, he researched the experiences of young Xhosa men in relation to initiation and manhood in Grahamstown for his dissertation.

Initiation rituals are far more than a circumcision procedure, he notes: “Initiation involves not just the individuals, but also the families of the individuals, the broader community and the brotherhood participating in the practice. During the process, initiates learn fundamental values around citizenship, responsibility, and the protection and preservation of manhood.” These practices can teach boys to mitigate aggression and anger, he believes.

“There is much we can take from so-called ‘outdated’ practices such as initiation. Done properly, it’s a positive experience and a corrective emotional experience for a young boy. We can learn from these practices for moral regeneration,” he says. Siswana intends to continue and extend his research, looking into initiation practices across Africa. He will soon start work on his PhD with a focus on indigenous knowledge systems, and will apply for scholarships to study initiation practices and gender and sexuality issues across Africa.

His work to date has seen him invited to contribute a chapter to the book Children in South African Families: Lives and Times and to participate in a symposium hosted by the Pan African Congress of Psychology in Durban. Seeing himself as an academic, a social scientist and a healer, Siswana will seek to preserve indigenous knowledge systems and highlight their ongoing relevance. As a self-identifying gay man, he’s a firm believer in sound same-sex relationships that are shaped by love and commitment. So, he aspires to get married and establish a family — possibly challenging the heteronormative constructs of what we perceive a family — and seek a balanced life,” he says.

Beyond his academic work, he also has deep personal aspirations. “So often we don’t talk about wellness as personal aspiration, but I believe spirituality and a balanced lifestyle are crucial for a meaningful and well integrated life.”

— Tracy Burrows