Khaya Dlanga

Ban Xhosa circumcision schools?

2010-06-29 13:12

I was a Xhosa boy. Now I am Xhosa man. I lost my foreskin along with my boyhood to gain manhood years ago. It happened a day after my final matric exams. I was 18 years old, a viable age to become a man. My life and my baby making machine were not in danger in the month I was in the bush, isolated from civilisation. The loss of my foreskin did not make me a man. It’s the lessons that I was taught that made me one. This is the missing lesson from the boys who go to circumcision schools. They believe that by merely losing foreskins they automatically become men. They do not.

Manhood Season comes twice a year. In June and December. It’s June and the pursuit of the snip is upon us once again. Again young boys have died, some are still to die, along with them whatever dreams they had for themselves and those that their parents had for them. December will soon come, and once again we will be lamenting the deaths of more manhood chasers.

They die not men. They are in a halfway house, between manhood and boyhood. Not boys. Not men. Just initiates. In a state limbo. Purgatory. Most of them are barely 16, and, even though they have been declared men, these initiates are not fit to be men. Too young to have the title. Too young to learn the lessons. Too eager to be men to earn the right to be men.

In Manhood Season mothers grieve, girlfriends replace the dead boyfriends with new ones, sisters cry, neighbours shake their heads, small graves are dug and everyone talks about how unnecessary the death of this young man was. Not that death is ever thought of as necessary. It has become a fact of life. Like the birds and the bees. The following year the cycle repeats itself, like seasons of the year.

This must stop.

Almost 40 young makhwethas (initiates) have died this year and another 100 is in danger of dying from botched circumcisions. How long must this continue? Year after year we complain about the same thing. I am inclined to say that the men who are responsible for these boys’ lives while they are in the bush are not men. How they earned the right to perform this ritual, to literally place the lives of young and defenceless children in their hands is beyond me.

It’s not like the government is not doing anything to stop the unnecessary deaths. But whatever it is doing is clearly not enough. Something needs to be done. Urgently. It is time we screamed ENOUGH!

In fact I would go as far as to say communities have a greater responsibility to put a stop to this than government. If communities are unable to put a stop to this then government must step in order to regulate this before we lament more deaths yet again.

A friend of mine on Twitter basically called the Xhosa ritual barbaric without using those words. He is black. There is nothing backwards about the practice as long as it is done properly. It should not be banned. It must just be done right. That is all we ask.

I have a number of suggestions, some of which are already in place.
1: Each traditional surgeon must have a government approved certificate which qualifies the holder to perform these circumcisions and to look after the boys once they have been snipped.

2: Communities must nominate men who are responsible enough and have years of experience when it comes to circumcision.

3: These men must train apprentices for years before they are allowed to be independent surgeons.

4: Any boy wanting to be circumcised has to have written permission from a parent. Once it can be proved that permission has been granted, a government body must then approve that the boy is healthy enough to undergo the ceremony. In other words, a health official must approve the health status of every boy that is to undergo circumcision.

5: The boys must never be too far for their families to visit – this is to make sure that the families can maintain a close eye to ensure that their children are not being ill-treated in anyway.

6: No boys under the age of 18 should be permitted to go to traditional circumcision schools.

If communities can’t make this stop then the government must do something about it because I know we as Xhosas are not prepared to let this rich part of our culture go. Since we are not prepared to let it go, it is our responsibility to come up with solutions. Newspaper headlines of boys dying are not going to save lives. This travesty must stop. There are lives at stake, lives that have been barely lived.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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