We amaXhosa must step up

2010-07-03 12:36

We as amaXhosa men are giving our ritual of circumcision a bad


The number of ­unwarranted deaths recorded during each ­circumcision

season is nauseating and makes it difficult to justify the ritual’s place in our


The main reason the hundreds of boys perish or lose their manhood

is that ­older men are not adequately playing their role.

It is not uncommon for us to only visit these schools on days when

­certain ­milestones are reached or not at all if our family members are not


My family has been fortunate in that with each initiate there has

been at least three generations of men who have taken an interest in the

initiate’s ­wellbeing.

This means that we ­benefit from ­institutional memory as

to how we should navigate the ­different challenges that each ­initiation


We have always been able to ultimately refer to a grandfather in

cases where we were faced with challenges.

But society has changed and many initiates who go to schools do not

have that luxury.

The health department in the ­Eastern Cape has tried to plug the

gap by introducing legislation that seeks to minimise deaths.

Many of these changes are excellent because they ­introduce higher

health standards and even penalties for ­non-compliance – but for many the

changes ­remain on paper.

To embed them in popular discourse, the department needs to engage

in a ­sustained community outreach programme throughout the year in which it

speaks to traditional leaders, elders, surgeons and traditional nurses about the

benefits of the ­legislated changes.

Key to their message should be the need for ­experienced men to

monitor what is going on at those schools.

Many complications can then be ­dealt with ­as those who are

experienced are more likely to ­notice when things go awry long before they

become ­disastrous.

We have a situation where junior ­traditional nurses are in charge

of ­circumcision schools.

This may have been necessary but older men can’t ­absolve

themselves of their responsibility to the ritual and to society.

To limit the friction that normally ­happens when there is more

than one bull in a kraal, older men should be present to monitor the situation

and should not do so ­maliciously.

Younger men should not be intimidated by the presence of their


The department should also engage the broader society about the

psychology of the ritual.

Very little appears to be done to change the attitudes of young

boys who would like to surprise their parents by going to the bush ­without

­informing them.

Boys going to circumcision schools without their parents’ consent

is an­ ­established and accepted practice. This runs parallel to what the health

­department is trying to achieve.

Instead of budgeting to care for ­initiates who end up in

hospitals, the ­department should use some of that money for this outreach


They, of all people, ought to know that prevention is better than


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