Young boys honour an age-old tradition - PHOTO EXTRA
LEAVING Johannesburg in the early hours of Tuesday June 22, I pause to think about how controversial the once celebrated traditional practice of ulwaluko (initiation) of young Xhosa boys has become.
In recent years the practice has been marred by the mutilation or death of young initiates at the hands of unscrupulous pseudo-traditional surgeons, who take advantage of the young boys' naivety in their quest to make a quick buck. Many have been scarred for life while others lost their manhood.
Traditional circumcisions take place over the June and December holidays.
My journey is taking me to the small Karoo town of Cradock in Eastern Cape, where I will be documenting the passage to manhood of young Xhosa boys.
I had to ask myself why I was tackling this project. Perhaps a part of me wants to show that if done correctly - by accredited surgeons under good conditions - there are still areas where ulwaluko remains the pride of the people practising it.
My first meeting is with ingcibi (traditional surgeon) Rontom who will be circumcising 15 boys that day.
What makes Rontom different from other ingcibis is that he is accredited with the Department of Health - meaning he has undergone the basic training on hygiene and how to treat complicated cases.
This was the beginning of my four-week visit in the bush documenting the passage of the young boys into manhood. Some I would later regard as my friends - despite resistance and objections initially to having a camera lens shoved into their intrepid faces.
Ulwaluko is an integral part of the Xhosa culture which signifies the transition from boyhood to manhood.
It is 4pm and a group of boys emerge naked from the river to begin a new stage in their young lives.
This is Rontom's moment . He has been doing this since 1967.
With his old goat-hide bag over his shoulder, Rontom steps forward and pulls out a shiny spear from his bag. He runs his index finger over its sharp blade as he prepares for action.
The boys sit down, with their legs apart and Rontom goes into action moving from one young man to another - changing spears as his assistants sterilise them after each use.
With each cut, the initiates shout "Aah ndiyindoda!" (I am a man).
Four weeks later, the initiates leave the initiation school as young men, to be welcome by their families into the their new lives.