‘We will get rid of those op­pos­ing cir­cum­ci­sion’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - VUYO MABANDLA

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”.

PIC­TURE: BRUCE SUTHER­LAND

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.

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