Thousands of South African men are attending men-only 'initiation' retreats in a bid to better themselves
- Thousands of South African men have been taking part in an "initiation programme".
- The programme is ten weeks long and entails men going through six stages to be empowered to help society.
- It has previously been criticised for its rituals, including dancing around candles in the nude, and limiting participants’ sleep and diet.
- Visit the Business Insider SA homepage for more stories.
Approximately 3,000 South African men – including leading scientists, ex-convicts, and doctors – have participated in the ManKind Project since it was launched in the country in 2001.
The self-described initiation programme consists of a male retreat, named the New Warriors Training, where men go through six stages to be empowered to help society.
Thereafter a ten-week facilitation programme exists where men meet in groups to enforce the concepts they’ve learnt. The programme costs R5,600 to complete.
Stephen Read, Mankind Project South Africa National director, said the “modern male initiation and self-examination” programme helps men develop into healthy and mature males.
“It is the ‘hero’s journey’ of classical literature and myth that has nearly disappeared in modern culture,” he told Business Insider South Africa.
“We ask men to stop living vicariously through movies, television, addictions and distractions and step up into their own adventure – in real time and surrounded by other men.”
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The ManKind Project was developed in the United States in 1985 by Rich Tosi, an General Motors engineer, Bill Kauth, a psychology master’s graduate and self-styled feminist therapist, and Ron Hering, a doctor in education and university professor.
Since then it has spread to over 22 countries, seen over 65,000 participants and has had over 1,000 peer-groups develop. It has been featured in the New York Times, the Independent, and on the Today show.
The programme, which uses Native American greetings, has been criticised for using coercive mind-control tactics, such as limiting participants' sleep and diet, and cutting them off from the outside world.
In a Houston Press article, an advocate claimed that during the programme men participated in walking tours while blindfolded and naked, and dancing around candles in the nude.
Read said the New Warriors Training - which takes place in South Africa four times a year - uses renowned professor Joseph Campbell’s stages of initiation, separation, descent, ordeal and welcoming back, as its framework.
It was first only presented in Cape Town, but it soon expanded to Johannesburg.
The stages at the retreat are:
- Separation: moving away from the familiar where the modern male psyche, accountability and competition, amongst others, are discussed through group exercises.
- Descent: an exploration of authentic male emotion, conflict, purpose and healthy power through revisiting life history.
- Ordeal: A challenge to embody fully authentic masculinity, to step into power, to break through barriers and to experience the full potential of mature manhood.
- Initiation: Accepting responsibility as a man among men. Exploration of group dynamics, diversity and similarity. A welcome into the circle of men.
- Integration: An exploration of legacy, connection, purpose, relationships and intention.
- Celebration: A feast of victory, affirmation, laughter, and community.
“The premise was that a man could not fight the demons of the world until he had fought and conquered his own,” Read said.
The ManKind Project is a non-profit organisation, with no religious or political affiliation, and Read said it strives to be “increasingly inclusive” to different races, classes, sexual orientations, and nationalities.
Before he joined the programme nine years ago, he never realised how disconnected he was from the world, Read said.
“I always felt alone and different. I learnt on the weekend that I was not alone, rather that I didn’t trust men.
“Through seeing men being authentic and open, I have learnt to trust men and it has significantly changed my life.”
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