Keeping tradition alive
Infection was another key cause, and the fact that many refuse antibiotics because they don’t want to seem less manly doesn’t help.
“When we intervene it is not because we want to change the tradition or westernise it. Our ultimate goal is to make sure we save lives,” he said.
“My own boys will undergo the traditional circumcision like I did, despite the fact that I am a doctor. I love this tradition too. I was raised to respect it. It is my culture. But I want to ensure that it is safe, not only for them but for other children too.”
On his visit to the initiation school in KwaSitwayi on Friday, he found 43 initiates in good condition.
The school’s traditional surgeon, Qaqambile Siyongwana (42), has been practising as ingcibi for seven years. No one has died on his watch, he said.
“The secret to success is to value life and to take care of the boys as if they are your own, and allow medical doctors to intervene when the need arises,” Siyongwana said.
At another initiation school in Qokolweni, also in Mthatha, 102 initiates were under the care of 85year-old ingcibi Jonga Mkhefelele and other traditional nurses [amakhankatha].
There, Mntonintshi treated four initiates with minor complications who did not need to be sent to hospital.
Traditional surgeons, Mntonintshi said, know only how to circumcise and are not trained to deal with complications, and as doctors they are trying to close that gap. He wants to protect the dignity of the practice.
“We want the tradition to continue, while we take care of the problems that come along,” he said.
Doctors are essential to some initiates suffering from chronic conditions – such as HIV and epileptic and heart conditions – that need to be monitored.
They are also teaching initiates that taking their medication does not make them worthless men, as many believe.
“We want to bring intervention here at the schools so we do away with the influx to hospitals when these boys already have major complications and are at death’s door. This is the whole point of government intervention – to assist as early as possible,” he said.
Over the years, Mntonintshi has seen some gruesome cases at initiation schools where initiates’ wounds were too tightly dressed, leading them to develop gangrene and require amputations.
“If you dress the part where there is a wound too tightly, it dies and falls off,” he said.
“Some boys can bleed to death if there is no doctor to provide medical intervention. Sadly, this has happened many times in the past.”
ON THE BRINK OF MANHOOD
Initiates gather in Mthatha to undergo circumcision
Doctor Xolani Mntonintshi (right) is dedicated to saving initiates’ lives with the help of a government-led project to deal with complications related to circumcision rites in and around Mthatha