When culture turns deadly

2013-05-26 10:00

Each year, thousands of young men participate in a ritual that stretches back centuries and marks the beginning of adult life for men in a number of African communities.

Most come home as men, but a handful don’t come home at all.

In Mpumalanga, a task team has been set up to investigate the deaths of 30 youngsters during this initiation season.

In Limpopo, another six have died and in that province’s Sekhukhune District Municipality, at least 38 initiates suffering from dehydration and excessive bleeding are in hospital.

Culture is, by its very nature, an ever-evolving concept.

Why is it, then, that traditionalists insist there must be no change to the circumcision ritual – even when young men are dying?

It must be clear to any right-thinking South African that a merging of modern medical practices and fiercely valued tradition is the way to stem the annual flood of infections, horror stories and needless death.

So what is hampering this change?

At a press conference in Mpumalanga’s KwaMhlanga district, where the province has recorded all its initiation deaths this year, health MEC Candith Mashego-Dlamini identified two crucial failings.

First, the men running some initiation schools did not attend medical training offered by the department of health.

Secondly, the department is investigating whether the young men who died went to initiation schools against doctors’ advice, or had simply decided not to have medical checkups before beginning the process.

Our young men must be taught that there is no shame in seeing doctors before they begin the sacred initiation ritual.

The health department must work with other government agencies, particularly the National House of Traditional Leaders, to train and certify those who run initiation schools.

Families must demand a clean, safe process that honours tradition and keeps their young men safe.

Culture should never be deadly.

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