“Row you lazy whores, row! Greeks are dying!” shouts Ajax, in the 2004 Wolfgang Petersen movie - Troy, starring Brad Pitt. The character of Ajax was screaming at his men to row faster so they can help attack the Trojan beach.
The recent mass deaths, in Mpumalanga, of young men in search of manhood has left me wanting to borrow from that character of Ajax and implore our leaders to act in curbing deaths at circumcision camps. Every time the media swoops to the story of young initiates dying at initiation camps I normally ask myself: “How can young men continue to die like this when it's their fathers running the country and coming up with laws to govern?”
Since the media is now off the story and nothing will be done until the next death and next media hype, in a state of anger I might as well borrow from Ajax and shout at our authorities: wake up you lazy arseholes, young men are dying!
I know a lot of men, friends and family alike, who are uncircumcised and they cannot be seen as less of a man. In fact they are men - the grown and responsible type. I am not taking away anything from those who want to practice this coming off age tradition, by all means go ahead if you want to but it is high time authorities intervene to the curb abuse and malpractice of this tradition and more especially the unnecessary deaths.
Let us be honest, off-late the tradition has been open to abuse where principals in these initiation schools are in it for financial gain. As usual where people see ‘money’, all sorts of vultures start to circle and processes are abused and human lives are seen only in monetary value. In some communities it is said that it costs up to a thousand rands to undergo the surgery, that is excluding all the food and other necessities. So an initiation school that has fifty to a hundred initiates is guaranteed between fifty and one hundred thousand rands. So circumcising young men has become a money-spinner to some, experience or not.
I think it is high time the government (house of traditional leaders included) to regulate this tradition. Let’s not allow everyone to see himself as a surgeon of note. Initiation schools should have a municipal as well as police permit to set up. This would mean that all those intending welcoming young men into their schools during peak periods must notify authorities and adhere to requirements. Hell, if we can regulate events and have event organizers adhere to JOC requirements before being granted permission to host their events why can’t we do the same here.
So, let’s have:
· * Age restriction set to 21 for entry into initiation school
· * Every school submitting an application every season
· * Every initiate to undergo a medical check before undergoing traditional circumcision and records be provided at the school for emergency cases
· * Every application detailing if the surgeon has had training in basic health and first aid.
· * Each school must be required to have a qualified first aider present all the time
· * The nearest ambulance service being notified of the presence of young men in the school and have emergency medical services on standby.
· * Unscheduled visits by police and other officials must be made to every school that has put in an application.
On top of regulating the initiation schools we need a change of mindset to the thinking around circumcision and manhood. Judging by the behavior of some of the young men coming back from initiation schools it would seem that the removal of the foreskin meant one had carte blanche to be a menace to society. In the township of Orange Farm, South of Johannesburg young initiates once became the law unto themselves declaring that that they are men. We need to start teaching our boys and other young men that manhood is not defined by the removal of a foreskin. What's the point of circumcising millions and have only a handful responsible men?
Nowadays we often see even fifteen year olds being circumcised and then told they are men, what?! They are still kids for crying out loud. They are not even matured to debate with girls their age I say, so why give them this false notion when clearly they are far from being ready for it. Let’s support programmes that seek to teach our boys that one does not wake up into manhood and that being a man is a whole lot more than removing the foreskin.
During the apartheid era we had young men dying at the hands of the oppressors. The authorities did not care, they were not their fathers and the young men were not their sons. We therefore cannot allow, during the reign of our fathers, a situation where young men continue to die and worse in the name of our tradition.