The Makana district appears to have escaped some of the problems that have been associated with traditional circumcisions in other parts of the Eastern Cape.
The Makana district appears to have escaped some of the problems that have been associated with traditional circumcisions in other parts of the Eastern Cape. According to Khaya Deyi*, a local professional, careful precautions are carefully put in place to ensure that the Makana district produces some of the most successful rates of initiates, known as abakhwetha.
“It is not common here in Makana to have botched circumcisions, unlike other villages in the Transkei,” says Deyi.
He explains this by explaining that “this is because good health and the legal age limit are some of the criteria used for young men accepted for initiation. The traditional healers are also registered to ensure that they are held accountable if anything goes wrong.”
Botched circumcisions occur when an initiate fails to complete the course due to complications. If the traditional surgeon who performs the circumcision fails to remove the foreskin properly, this could result in the possible loss of parts or all of the penis.
Deyi says that circumcision wounds usually heal during the three to four week stay at the initiation school. He acknowledges that botched circumcisions are not a reflection of all initiation schools. In recent months, there has been an absence of cases reported at Settlers Hospital.
Martha Schwulst, the case manager, who took up her post in June, says “I have never heard of any cases of botched circumcisions at the hospital.”
The ritual of circumcisions is not one which is openly discussed in the Xhosa culture.
“It is not easy to talk about this issue; even with other men,” said Deyi. “It is just not ayoba [cool]to speak about such sensitive matters to boys who are yet to go for initiation.”
Blame and “botched circumcisions”
According to Deyi, the veil of secrecy which surrounds the practice of circumcision can be attributed to the need not to discourage future initiates from ‘going to the mountain’.
“For a boy who has never gone for initiation, discussing such matters might cause them to be scared to go there.”
When asked how the reports on botched circumcisions have created a sense of urgency for change in the handling of circumcisions, he dismissed such incidents as occurring mainly among the Amampondo tribe.
“The problem is due to people not knowing what they doing,” he said and “some traditional surgeons have only just started performing circumcisions and are inexperienced.”
Peer pressure challenge
Peer pressure is partially the reason for initiates opting for inexperienced surgeons over experienced ones.
“When we get together at school or varsity, we quickly establish who has or never been to initiation,” he said. “As a result the boys are teased by their friends.”
In order to feel a sense of belonging, these boys then put pressure on each other to get circumcised and then end up going to an inexperienced traditional surgeon. As a man who has personally gone through initiation, Deyi understands the shame that accompanies those men that have never gone through the process or who have survived a botched circumcision.
Although not a victim himself, he acknowledges that young men are often alienated if it is found that their procedure went wrong.
“During traditional ceremonies they are excluded because other men know about them.” They then feel that they are not truly men. Thando Mgqolozana, the author of the novel The Man Who is not a Man, said that it was the secrecy and silence which compelled him to talk openly about what happens at initiation schools.
Silence not a solution
He admits that no two initiations can produce the same outcome but that the number of deaths reported each year should serve as a warning that silence is not a solution.
“Too many people are willing to remain quiet for the fear of being considered a sell-out and thus attracting the wrong attention.”
Mgqolozana says he chooses to defy tradition, dispelling the myth that talking about the subject serves as a form of betrayal on the part of an initiate.
He says, “The amount of denialism which persists on this matter is what has motivated me to act, so that I may encourage openness about this issue.”
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity
A young man’s story of his upcoming initiation. Footage may not be suitable for children. Video courtesy of the Siyayinqoba Youtube Channel.