Traditional versus medical circumcision
A look into which procedure is the best and safest option
SOME cultures believe that going to the mountain to get circumcised is a rite of passage into manhood. However, there are some men who choose to get circumcised by a medical practitioner, which is a minor surgical procedure conducted with sterile equipment by qualified practitioners and follow up care is provided, minimising the risk of complications.
HISTORY OF CIRCUMCISION
According to Wikipedia, circumcision for men began as a religious sacrifice, a rite of passage marking a boy's entrance into adulthood and also perceived as a means of reducing sexual pleasure as sex was seen as dirty or impure in some societies. Cutting off pleasure producing parts was a way to purify someone.
Mtwalo Matshidiso, a traditional healer from Sebokeng, who performs circumcisions, says traditional male circumcision is usually performed in a non-clinical setting by a traditional healer with no formal medical training.
When carried out as a rite of passage into manhood, traditional male circumcision is mainly performed on adolescents or young men.
“Traditionally, it is important to get circumcised by a healer with a good track record and experience. Under no circumstances should you ever attempt to circumcise yourself, as one small mistake can be life-threatening,” he advises.
Mtwalo says traditional male circumcision is usually associated with a cultural ceremony to celebrate entrance into manhood.
“I still believe in traditional circumcision because it teaches young men certain things about their
NOT GOING TO AN INITIATION SCHOOL DOESN'T MAKE ONE LESS OF A MAN
cultures, such as respecting elders and speaking to people in a certain way. It is a way of honouring our culture,” says Mtwalo.
He says unfortunately there are deaths in some initiation schools and advises parents to verify if the initiation school is licenced with qualified traditional healers.
“I sometimes blame parents who take their children to an initiation school without doing their research. They should first take their children for a check-up at the clinic before taking them to an initiation school,” he advises.
“Many boys lose their lives because they weren’t supposed to get initiated. I believe that parents should take their children to an initiation school at the age of 18 or older as they are more mature than younger boys,” he says.
Dr Gabaza Ngobeni, a medical practitioner based in Johannesburg, says medical circumcision is a safe surgical procedure, but care must be taken.
“The two major risks are typical of any procedure where the skin is cut, namely bleeding and getting an infection. But with proper care and constant inspection, this should not be an issue. Two major benefits of circumcision are cleanliness and a slightly lower chance of urinary tract infections. Although benefits exist, they are minimal and are not the deciding factor to have a circumcision.”
POSSIBLE RISK FACTORS
She says she is not against traditional circumcision, and like Mtwalo, stresses that going for a medical check-up before going to an initiation school is important.
“Possible risk factors associated with circumcision such as bleeding, infection, excessive skin removal, difficulty urinating and scarring seem to be more common as you grow older. This is why many physicians urge parents to have the procedure done early if they are planning to have it done at all,” she says.
“Traditional circumcision is generally regarded as a quick and easy procedure, which does not mean the child will be free from any pain. Many feel pain, which is unbearable and they end up losing their lives.”
WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU GO FOR?
Dr Gabaza says both methods are appropriate, but there are fewer dangers when you get circumcised medically. “With traditional circumcision, they cut the foreskin and place traditional medicine on top of the cut to stop the bleeding, which can cause an infection. There is also no medication to stop the pain.”
Mtwalo says not going to an initiation school does not make one less of a man.
“We come across a lot of deaths because some healers are not well trained. But I still believe in traditional circumcisions because it is part of our culture,” says Mtwalo.