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42 boys perish - but silence

By Mbuyiselo Botha and Nomonde Nyembe | 2012-07-27 07:27:04.0 | COMMENTS [ 98 ]

THE figures of young boys dying at initiation schools are shocking. The death toll, as at July 11, was 42, in just three weeks.

According to reports, this is nearly double last years' figure of 26.

South Africa is now 18 years into democracy but the shame of young boys dying in Eastern Cape initiation schools continues unabated.

Why do we, as a caring, compassionate, democratic society, look the other way? Why do we allow certain cultural practices to rob young people of their future?

We are reminded of the work of gender activist and author Dr Gary Barker, whose comments in his book Dying to be Men describes the debilitating association of notions of manhood, issues of violence and HIV - that some young people will die for in their quest to become so-called "proper" or "real" men.

What it means to be a "proper" man and the fact that it has been reduced to the practice of circumcision is detrimental not only to the young men who go through the process but to society as a whole.

A society where manhood is ascribed only to individuals who have gone to initiation school is one that does not value men as whole beings with other aspects to their humanity. However, this does not affirm the notion that you can still be a man without being subjected to inhumane treatment.

Too often, not enough attention is paid when people's rights are trampled on with impunity. What message does the silence send to these young men who are expected to go through this route without any guarantee that they will come back alive?

It is our view that any other traditional law is subjected to our supreme law, the Constitution.

There are those who would argue that constitutional protection of culture gives them carte blanche to engage in practices that are not only harmful but may, in fact, lead to death. This is not so. Cultural and religious practices are protected to the extent that they are consistent with other rights in the Constitution (sections 15(3)(b) and 31(2)).

We are concerned that there is not a universal outcry from all of us to these statistics.

We wonder if this silence is a result of us fearing to be labelled as "Eurocentric" or "sell-outs" out there to please the white master.

The Children's Act prohibits the circumcision of young men and joins a number of other provincial acts that regulate male circumcision in Free State, Limpopo and Eastern Cape.

Parents themselves are under an obligation to consent to the circumcision before it occurs.

There is a need for active citizenry in if we are to stop practices that not only harm but endanger people's lives.

We must hold our government to account and using the law to do so is our constitutional mandate. Doing otherwise would be betraying those who died for us to have those freedoms.

  • Botha and Nyembe are the government and media relations manager, and research fellow, respectively, at Sonke Gender Justice Network


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@ Mbuyiselo Botha and Nomonde Nyembe

we keep that culture the same way we keep feed the Zulu polygamist culture hambanofa

2012-07-27 08:56:17.0 | 0 replies


Kwaaaaaaa no guys la fentsa maan, phela Shakashaka will be agry with us for disclosing his troops's names as he is the one leading them upfront.

2012-07-27 09:17:42.0 | 0 replies

This non sense should be banned

2012-07-27 09:20:41.0 | 0 replies

We do not need Dr Gary Barker to tell us about our cultures and beliefs
i mean realy.. think twice my brother : 2 live like wild animals is culture

2012-07-27 09:22:56.0 | 0 replies

Initiation remains of the most painful "self inflicted” torture anyone can ever go through. Had I known what they were doing there, I dont think I would hv gone, I would hv most probably gone to Jozi or KZN lol. Nothing can ever prepare you for that. U are made to believe you have a choice, in terms of doing it or not, bt in actual fact you dont. Society dictates that you should do it, to fit in and be a proper man. With all that said it has shaped my life for the better. When you are a "man" you are expected to act in a certain way, respect yourself, parents and society, never act in a manner that will shame your family. I think I have done well in this regard. The single significant thing abt initiation is that it taught me there are days and times in life where u just cant see the light at the end of the tunnel, you learn that with perseverance, dedication and the will to never give up all is possible, Same as initiation there are days when you would look at your manhood, and you would think, this thing can never work again, it will nevrr heal. Gradually in time it gets better the pain slowly fades away, u can get it up lo. I have a problem with articles like this, they shoot down Initiation and yet they dont offer any solutions. There is nothing wrong with the tradition of initiation its still the same that was done many decades ago, something gets chopped and in time it should heal. The people who are practising the tradition are messing it up, not taking into consideration the impact of HIV, circumcision of kids, inexperience of the doctors who are supposed to take care of the initiates, rough treatment of the initiates, unqualified surgeons etc. The solution is not to get rid of the tradition instead what could work is for the goverment to have registered school and registered surgeons, doctors etc. Where would b initiates can walk in hv everything done, till they have healed. After that they go home, All of this must happen in the mountains of coz not some stupid hospital.

2012-07-27 09:23:03.0 | 0 replies

Guys help me out here, I am all for tradition and cultural norms, but what happens on these trips that is so fatal? What age does these boys go out and do what ever it is they do? What can be done to keep the tradition, but ensure the safety of these boys? I understand back in the day the survival of the fittest and becoming a man and all, but can we not do this and still keep them alive?

2012-07-27 09:23:23.0 | 0 replies

What kind of culture sends their young off to experience such an outdated and barbaric custom? Being cicumcised does not a man make. A man is defined by his actions and how he treats and supports his family not being forced into a 3 week ritual bcos he is of a certain age.

2012-07-27 09:25:42.0 | 0 replies

The uncircumcised must shut up....
wena o lepedi la mpara twii

2012-07-27 09:30:13.0 | 0 replies

little red monsters

2012-07-27 09:30:48.0 | 0 replies

What it means to being a man:
1. A sense of Loyalty
2. Intellect
3. A sense of trust
4. Honesty
5. Respect
6. A Great father and husband who takes care of his family and wife

What more do we have to add ?:

1. Lust ?
2. Arrogance?
3. Pride?
4. Aggression ?
5. Desire for sinful pleasures?

As a woman,i do not have more facts than these,you be the JUDGE ...

2012-07-27 09:30:57.0 | 0 replies

And why all the hype about circumcision? It's just skin guys...

2012-07-27 09:33:55.0 | 0 replies