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Tribal rite robs youths of manhood
Robert Block - East London
The Sunday Times (London), p. 18, 29 December 1996
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Sitting in loose hospital gowns, the youths looked sorry for themselves. They had reason to be. They had fallen into the hands of 'bush surgeons' who subjected them to crude circumcisions to mark their coming of age.
...the quest for manhood has
left more than 50 young Xhosa men
suffering infections and severe blood loss.
At least two have had to have their penises amputated.
Every year a number of boys dies from their injuries.
"All I wanted was to be a man," said one of the teenagers, on the verge of tears. "I'm not going to see that dream come true."
Each year doctors at Greys hospital in the Eastern Cape treat dozens of boys for horrific disfigurements inflicted during tribal circumcision ceremonies. These are usually carried out over Christmas when the youths return home on holiday from jobs in the cities.
In recent weeks the quest for manhood has left more than 50 young Xhosa men suffering infections and severe blood loss. At least two have had to have their penises amputated. Every year a number of boys dies from their injuries.
The mutilations and deaths have prompted calls for the closure of many 'initiation schools' and next month the Eastern Cape is planning to introduce the first legislation to regulate the circumcision ceremonies. The move has been attacked by traditionalists who see circumcision as an inalienable African rite of passage.
The initiation is supposed to be a joyous affair for Xhosa families and a crowning achievement in every Xhosa boy's life. President Nelson Mandela, the son of a Xhosa chief and himself the proud graduate of an initiation school, said in his autobiography: "I count my days as a man from the date of my circumcision."
Inrecent years, however, circumcisions that were once carried out by skilled elders have been performed by unscrupulous tribal practitioners for profit. Some of the victims report being operated on by men wearing balaclavas to hide their identity.
According to one study, 34 initiates died in the Eastern Cape, the poorest part of South Africa, after the operation last year. Another 13 suffered irreparable organ mutilation and 743 needed treatment of some kind for their injuries. In August, 26 boys from the region had their penises reconstructed by plastic surgeons as part of a project funded by the South African Red Cross.
Refusal to undergo the process
can result in
forfeiting the right to inherit property.
Youths who balk at the initiation are often scorned
and prevented from marrying in their area.
Traditional circumcision has always been treated as a secret part of African culture and discussion of the methods used is taboo. The ceremony is a solemn ritual supposed to make men of boys and women of girls - female circumcision is also rife in South Africa.
Refusal to undergo the process can result in forfeiting the right to inherit property. Youths who balk at the initiation are often scorned and prevented from marrying in their area.
Trudie Thomas, the Eastern Cape health and welfare officer, said the local government was not pushing for the practice to be outlawed but for traditional surgeons to be licensed.
Traditionalists reject charges that many of the bush schools' patients are doomed to abnormal sex lives or no sex lives at all. They accuse those who call for regulation of seeking to wipe out black culture. The teenagers at Greys hospital might not agree.
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