Unathi* (15) was so eager to “be a man” ... that he sneaked off to get circumcised without his parents knowing.
But after an unauthorised traditional surgeon using only a single okapi knife performed the ritual on him and six 16-year-old boys, they all landed up in hospital. He now deeply regrets his actions – as do the other initiates.
“We are lucky to be alive,” said Grade 7 pupil Pumlani (16). “I think we did not know what we were doing, but now, in hindsight, we see we made a stupid mistake as friends.
“We feel better now because we are here in hospital. At the initiation school, we were dying in pain, and the guy who had circumcised us seemed to have been overwhelmed and helpless at times.”
Unathi, the youngest of the group, told of how he had sneaked out of his home without his parents’ knowledge on June 4.
“I did not tell anybody at home because they would not have allowed me,” said the Grade 6 pupil.
“I decided to get circumcised after one of my friends begged me to do so, as he was also doing it.”
The teenager – who wants to be a policeman so he can be “respected” in the community – admitted he regretted listening to his friend and getting circumcised. He now wants to use his experience to warn other prospective illegal initiates.
The boys were rescued from an illegal initiation school in Mbombo Village in Qumbu, Eastern Cape.
They were admitted to the Sipetu Hospital in Ntabankulu last week and kept in a separate ward.
The law stipulates that boys have to be 18 years and older to be circumcised and must have the permission of their parents. A doctor also needs to certify those who want to be circumcised.
Aspiring teacher Pumlani said they had gone for their circumcision on June 4. On the sixth day, officials from the department of health arrived at the initiation school and took them away in an ambulance.
Pumlani said the illegal surgeon, who had offered to circumcise them for free, ran away when the officials arrived. They have not seen him since.
He and the six initiates said they did not know the illegal “surgeon”, who they estimated to be about 24 years old.
Sazi (16), a Grade 6 pupil who wants to be a doctor so he can help people, said peer pressure and a desire not to be left out had been behind his decision to get circumcised.
“The man who circumcised us used an okapi. It was very painful, but he told us to be strong because we are men now.
“I think we made a terrible mistake by doing this. I don’t know what got into our minds,” he said.
Sazi said he had left school without writing two examinations. His friends also did not complete their exams.
He warned other initiates to wait before undergoing circumcision.
But for the moment, all the boys were looking forward to was going home and putting their bad decision behind them.
“I miss home,” said Unathi. “I miss home-cooked food and playing with my friends at school and at home. I can’t wait to get out of this place and start my life again.”
*All names have been changed to protect identities.