Ulwaluko in crisis

2010-07-03 12:29

Last weekend, this newspaper carried a harrowing story about the

continuing tragedy of adolescents who are ­victims of botched circumcisions.


wish it had given us insights into why most of these predominantly Xhosa ­areas

are able to put their ­children through the ritual (ulwaluko) without incident,

while others suffer casualties every year.

We need to properly investigate the

reasons behind the geographical spread of this tragedy.

Something has gone seriously wrong with a custom that is supposed

to groom young men into responsible pillars of society.

Some have called for the custom to be banned.

This is not a

solution because this will drive the practice underground and make it more

difficult for the authorities to monitor.

It is time to accept that this custom is in crisis and that an

honest conversation about what continues to go wrong is necessary.

First, the custom has to deal with the ­reality of sexually

transmitted diseases, making the young men vulnerable to HIV and other


Along with providing ­appropriate modern equipment, the government

must make it illegal to use unsterilised instruments.

Second, the honour of being an ingcibi (traditional surgeon) is a

sacred responsibility believed to come with divine blessing.

It appears that

many bogus surgeons have sprung up en masse, resulting in the ­continued

mutilation and death of young men.

Third, families appear to no longer take the same care in ensuring

the safe passage of ­initiates through the ritual. We have seen 20-year-olds

being appointed as amakhankatha (traditional nurses).

This is clearly

inappropriate. This responsibility must rest with middle-aged and older men in

the family, as tradition dictates.

Fourth, the proliferation of female-led, ­single-parent families

has meant that these parents are not able to play an active part in the planning

and execution of the ritual.

These families are particularly barred from knowing

ritual details.

The sons of single mothers are often left in the care of

relatives and “family friends” who sometimes do not share the same level of

concern for these ­vulnerable young men.

There are also those who see the physical abuse of initiates as an

opportunity to “toughen” them up. They often carry out tasks on initiates after

a sustained drinking binge, further endangering their health.

Those who engage

in this practice need to be criminally liable for the devastating ­results of

their actions.

Considering the regularity of the deaths, the government must amend

current legislation so that we have harsher sentences for those who endanger the

wellbeing of these youngsters by neglecting their responsibilities.

This must

include parents, iingcibi and amakhankatha.

Special courts must be established to swiftly deal with these cases

so that justice is seen to be done.

Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape have failed these young

men, preoccupying themselves with political correctness and maintaining the

secrecy of the ritual while not offering the required leadership to ­prevent

recurring deaths.

Our hope is for our legitimately elected government to take

decisive action to protect lives and to ensure that those who want to practice

this tradition do so under safe conditions.

Eastern Cape health MEC ­Phumulo

Masualle must be commended for suspending circumcisions in the affected ­areas

until lasting solutions can be found.

He needs to go further and ban the so-called circumcision schools

because this is an alien concept to this custom.

All related matters are the inherent ­responsibility of the family

concerned and were never intended to be farmed out to ­any one person.

For one

ikhankatha to look after 50 initiates, as reported in some cases, is ­dangerous

because he is unable to devote the required attention to each initiate.

Ulwaluko is in crisis. The Xhosa community must stop being in denial about the seriousness

of this issue and start devoting its energies to finding ­sustainable solutions.

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