Dying to be men

Dozens of initiates lucky to ­have survived botched operations stay

in hospitals for lengthy ­periods, costing the taxpayer R1 200 a day for each


More than 20 of the 33 ­initiates who have died in this

circumcision season are from Pondoland.

City Press visited many of these boys at the St Barnabas Hospital

in Libode, where 18 ­initiates have been admitted.

At least a dozen more cannot ­access the hospital because of

limited space.

The initiates, aged between 15 and 20, have had all the skin on

their penises removed due to botched circumcisions.

Many, including health professionals and traditional leaders, blame

traditional nurses who are hired by families of the initiates to care for them

during this four-week process.

A 20-year-old initiate’s penis was so badly damaged that a doctor

at the St Barnabas Hospital had to pull flaky, hardened and smelly skin off the

­initiate’s ­penis.

The initiate looked calm but grimaced as Dr Mzekelo ­Godongwana

gently pulled the skin off by hand, undoubtedly a painful procedure.

Patients with other ailments take up a few beds in each of the

hospital’s surgical wards as ­initiates crowd the facilities.

Wounds are not limited to ­penises – many have fresh scars on their

tiny bodies.

They all tell stories of severe beatings at the hands of the

­people who are supposed to nurse them back to good health.

Many of these initiates will never experience satisfying ­sexual

relationships because their penises have been amputated.

Traditional leaders at a meeting at the Nyandeni Great Place in

Libode on Friday expressed their anger at the ruining of young lives by bogus

traditional surgeons and nurses who, they say, are only interested in ­money

rather than the ­wellbeing of the initiates.

Now questions are being asked about why the initiates ­arrive at

hospitals only after their conditions have worsened.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe ­Kupelo asked

this question to one of the initiates with a penis he ­described as “appearing

to have been sliced like a piece of meat”.

He could not provide an ­answer.

He chatted casually and ­answered questions, confident that his

condition would ­improve.

Godongwana would not say what the diagnosis was on this initiate,

who had just ­arrived when City Press visited the ­hospital.

About four silent nurses, showing little emotion, ­surrounded the

initiate’s bed to dress his ­penis.

When Godongwana asked the initiate if he had passed ­water since

arriving at the hospital, he half answered that he had and that the doctor had

­inserted a catheter to help him urinate, which he did soon ­afterwards.

“In some cases, initiates with damaged penises fill up to three

plastic urinating bags when they finally are able to urinate because it is

painful due to the organ being swollen,” ­Godongwana says.

Kidney failure is not ­uncommon among initiates whose

­circumcisions have been botched and many become ­suicidal upon realising that

they cannot have sexual ­intercourse or have children.

Kupelo said those whose ­penises were amputated were referred for

psychiatric assessment, but very few were ­prepared for the abnormal life they

will lead without the ­“ubudoda” (male reproductive organ).

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