‘We will get rid of those opposing circumcision’
THE NATIONAL House of Traditional Leaders has vowed to continue with the customary circumcision of young Xhosa and Sotho men, and has warned “intrusive NGOs” opposed to the practice to stay away.
The House of Traditional Leaders said circumcision had been done for “hundreds of years” and would continue for “hundreds more”.
It threatened to “get rid of intrusive NGOs that have been vying to do away with our custom”.
But experts said if the practice continues it might have “unpleasant effects on the lives of young men” and religious groups claim it is just “pure nonsense”.
John Smyth, of the Justice Alliance of SA, warned that, as currently practised, the custom should not be done.
“If (circumcision) continues to be performed, specifi- cally in a manner which violates human rights, there might be a backlash and it would be better if it reaches extinction,” he said.
But traditionalists are adamant the practice is “here to stay”.
“It will not come to an end, never. We acknowledge the problems attached to our beloved custom, but we will not give it up.
“The intrusive NGOs and groups are in for a real fight because they do not know anything about the importance of (male) circumcision,” said Chief Gcinikhaya Gwadiso, head of the house’s national campaign for safe initiation schools.
Gwadiso was referring to anti-circumcision groups such as the National Organisation of Circumcision Resource Centres and the National Organisation to Restore Men, which have openly spoken out against circumcision.
The custom, called ulwaluko (initiation) and symbolising the passage of a boy into manhood, was pitted against religion and science when young initiates began to die while in the bush in the Eastern Cape.
Pastor Leon de Villiers, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, said the traditional rite had no purpose. He said: “It’s not valid anymore. Today everything should be done spiritually and no mutilation of the body is necessary.”
The death toll among initiates has increased over the years and inexperienced traditional surgeons and nurses, and negligence have been cited as causes.
Interventions by the government and interest groups seeking safer alternatives were met with furious reactions by individuals who felt it was an “intrusion” and not a “customary correct” way of doing things.
But as more initiates started dying in other provinces some young men finally gave in to the safer, modern form of circumcision.
However, those who were circumcised in hospitals were then subjected to humiliation and harassment, and shamed by not being considered “men”, as opposed to those who had gone to the bush. Gwadiso said although the traditional body supported safe and healthy circumcision, doing it in hospital was “taking it too far”.
“Things have to be done the correct way, or not done at all. Circumcision is part of a long list of traditional rites and has been done the same way for a very long time; alterations tend to clash very badly with our ways. We can’t support circumcision in hospitals,” he said.
However, the situation has seen many young boys defying their parents’ wishes and converting to other religions, consequently avoiding being circumcised.
Thamsanqa Totana is a 21-year-old Xhosa man from Worcester who converted to Rastafarianism. Totana said: “I have been a rasta since 2004 and am truly against being circumcised. I do not agree with the tradition because it’s at odds with my beliefs. My family has tried to convince me to change but I won’t, I don’t want to anger God.”
Totana said he was never forced to go to the bush, which was not the case for 21-year-old Bonani Yamani who launched a civil case against his father this year for allegedly forcing him to be circumcised in 2007 and then eat his severed foreskin.
Health experts said Yamani’s case, the first of its kind in South Africa,was a “clear indication of the strain felt by elders and the youngsters” and that the need to change was vital.
Dumisani Gabula, of NGO Partners in Sexual Health, said: “We need to move on with the times. The younger generation has plainly shown that ‘our elders need to catch up’.
“Those boys face dire health and sexual danger out there. Parents need to adapt to new and improved strategies to ensure that the (circumcision) process goes smoothly and implement a few changes,” Gabula said.
Gwadiso said the traditional house was aware some people were commercialising the custom.
Before, a traditional surgeon and nurse would only be paid R100 and a bottle of brandy by the initiate’s family as a token of gratitude.
“Nowadays surgeons have set up their own initiation schools and charge anything between
“R800 and R1 000 per initiate. But let it be known, that shall be dealt with effectively,” he said.
He added that the house was pro-health but would not tolerate “unnecessary change and intrusion into the Xhosa and Sotho circumcision”.
INTO THE FUTURE: A digitally stitched panoramic photograph of the new Hospital Bend upper bridge, which is being built as part of several major city road constructions and upgrades. In this image a computer programme was used to place different segment shots into one panorama. The Hospital Bend work is proceeding with minimal disruption to the heavy traffic using the route.
MUTILATION? The death toll among initiates has increased over the years but traditionalists insist circumcision is here to stay.