Monday, August 23, 2010

LA Times-Botched Circumcisions Increase Among Boys in South Africa

South African Boys from the Xhosa Tribe: Joe Alexander/AFP/Getty Images

(Story reported by Robyn Dixon and Kyle Pienaar for the LA Times)

In the windblown hills of the Eastern Cape, boys from the Xhosa tribe are in a hurry to be men.

At 20, Siphelele Zweni was ridiculed in his village. They called him nofontyela, a non-man, who'd gone too long without his coming-of-age circumcision.

But when it did take place, Zweni's circumcision and initiation was like a sadistic scene from "Lord of the Flies." It cost him, literally, the very thing he yearned for: his manhood.

"They taught me about being a man, but it was hell," says Zweni, defying a taboo about speaking out against the ritual, which in the Xhosa tribe traditionally had occurred when men were about 20.

But early in the last century, the traditional ways were lost in some areas as local rulers stopped circumcisions. 

The practice was revived in the 1980s and 1990s, and now younger and younger boys are desperate to have it done so they won't be nofontyela.

Swayed by the peer pressure, Zweni would have had his operation earlier but for the lack of traditional surgeons, who had disappeared during those long years of no circumcisions.

Medical research has shown that circumcision sharply reduces the spread of HIV and other diseases.

Hospital circumcisions are reviled in the Eastern Cape, however, leading young men to undergo dangerous bush procedures, often at the hands of con men, who pretend they know the traditional ways, or inexperienced teenagers.

The problem is that, in taking over a procedure traditionally done by elders, the young ones aren't doing it right. Alien new practices have crept in to the "initiation": severe beatings, harassment and a dangerous ritual of tightening the dressings on boys' wounds.

Boys as young as 13 are circumcised. Many live in single-parent households where the mothers have no say on the procedure.

(Click here to read the full story on the LA Times website)

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