Illegal and unrepentant
Despite doing jail time for causing harm to countless initiates, ‘MaChicken’ still circumcises boys as young as 10
Mshiyelwa Ndoda is unapologetic about circumcising boys as young as 10. He believes that by the government-prescribed age of 18, boys are already sexually active and may “be infected with diseases”. Otherwise known as MaChicken or Mtshayina, Ndoda (67) is a notorious Eastern Cape traditional surgeon (ingcibi) and prides himself on having circumcised thousands of young boys, mostly in western Pondoland.
Ndoda, an unregistered and illegal ingcibi, operates in an area that includes the towns of Libode, Ngqeleni and Port St John’s, where most illegal initiation schools can be found. The area has been identified as the epicentre of initiate deaths.
Ndoda is one of what is understood to be only four illegal ingcibi to have been convicted and jailed in the past 20 years for illegally circumcising initiates.
The name Mtshayina was on the lips of several leaders at the launch of summer initiation season in Queenstown last week. Cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa was one of them.
“In Pondoland there is a man called Mtshayina. He asks for fowls as payment from initiates. He circumcises underaged boys, that man. There is another one called Lusikisiki in Mbizana. These are the people we must be vigilant against. If they do something wrong, they must be arrested. We will lead campaigns to ensure that these individuals – once arrested – are not released,” he said.
Ndoda has been to jail twice already, but he won’t stop.
“I circumcise them from 10 years old. Not a single one goes to hospital or dies. I disagree strongly with the suggestion that they should be 18 years old because by then they are already sexually active and they may have contracted a disease or have many infections. In fact, by 12 or 13 years old they are already sexually active,” he says at his home in Zele village.
“I am trying to protect the nation from the spread of HIV/Aids because government says when they are circumcised there is a limited chance of them being infected as a man.”
Mtshayina shows off his equipment with grimeencrusted fingers. An assortment of knives plus traditional medicines, boiling water and Dettol to disinfect them. He insists he doesn’t use the same knife twice without cleaning it first. He credits himself with introducing ulwaluko (traditional circumcision) in his village and surrounds because the amaMpondo had abandoned the practice.
He blames the death rate of initiates on abuse and water deprivation by drunk and drug-addled traditional nurses.
Ndoda insists he is a registered ingcibi, but cannot produce a permit, saying police confiscated it. His name is also not on the list of registered traditional surgeons obtained by City Press.
Ndoda says he has been circumcising initiates since 1981, and says he’s misunderstood and that his efforts to reduce HIV/Aids are unappreciated.
“I started as ikhankatha [traditional nurse]. I was observing an ingcibi with whom I had been working for some time and learnt a lot. But it was after I was visited by ancestors in a dream that I became an ingcibi. When initiation season comes closer, dreams tell me I must continue with my work. I always dream of circumcising boys,” he says.
“It’s a skill I am really good at. Since 2002, authorities have been on my back. They arrest me and say a boy has died because I circumcised him, but they release me because of lack of evidence.”
In 2005, after the death of six initiates, Ndoda was given a three-year suspended sentence. In 2007, police arrested him again.
He was sentenced again in 2009 and while serving a five-year jail term in Mthatha’s Wellington Prison, Ndoda boasts of circumcising seven prisoners with a Minora blade and using prison sheets to dress them.
“Hardly three days since my release from prison [in November 2011], boys came from as far as Qaukeni in Lusikisiki, Bizana, Flagstaff, Ntabankulu, Upington and even Johannesburg. When monitoring teams arrived in December, they found me here at home with a number of initiates,” he says. “They did not find any initiates with problems.” The month after his release, he circumcised 200 boys. There were 300 the following winter, he boasts.
Ndoda was arrested again this year and in June was acquitted in the Libode Magistrates’ Court owing to lack of evidence. He had been accused of circumcising 84 underage boys, including an 11-year-old.
Ndoda’s home in the mountainous Libode is difficult to reach by car. Barefoot, Ndoda jokes that police only go there to arrest him or destroy the dagga – “igolide yamaMpondo” – that grows in his neighbours’ yards.
City Press struggled to reach the village because of a slippery road and abandoned the car, making the rest of the steep 2km journey on foot. His neighbours worriedly emerged from their homes to see if the police had arrived.
Ndoda got the nickname MaChicken because he asks for fowls as payment from young boys with no money.
“Those who only have chickens, I cut them mercilessly,” he says.
Otherwise, he charges R150 per boy who is only there for the “cut” and thereafter goes to his own initiation school. Those who stay at his initiation school (ibhoma) in a rondavel at his home pay R700.
Ndoda lives with his wife, Nophelo (36), and four children in a mud-built cottage. When City Press visited last month, he was building another structure to house yet more initiates.
He says when he was circumcised, the fee was only R5 and a chicken. As if on cue, chickens cluck and scurry around his homestead.
“I am going to ask for my permit from the police in Libode who took it away. If they don’t give it back I will do without it,” he said.
His eldest son, Makhovana, was circumcised when he was 10 years old. His other two sons, Siphosethu (7) and Phakamisa (9), will be circumcised next June, with his wife’s blessing.
“I cannot stop what I am doing because people want me to continue,” he insists.
“I am the only one who can do this thing correctly here. With my dirty hands I remain the only one with the capability to circumcise boys.
“If I were to count the number of boys I have circumcised it would go into thousands. You would need more than 20 buses to put them in.”
CUTTING CORNERS Mshiyelwa ‘Mtshayina’ Ndoda, a notorious illegal traditional surgeon based in Libode, at home in Zele village in the Eastern Cape