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By Ido LekotaPolitical Notebook | Jul 01, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

IN HIS book,A Man Who is Not a Man, Thando Mgqolozana describes his feelings when he arrived at a hospital after a botched circumcision.

IN HIS book,A Man Who is Not a Man, Thando Mgqolozana describes his feelings when he arrived at a hospital after a botched circumcision.

"I was wishing they would hurry up and do what they had to do so that I could be admitted and placed in an empty side ward, where I wouldn't have to be seen by people. I was not used to human faces, or human smells, or speech, or anything. I was an animal, not a person, a completely different kind of being from these people. I did not belong here with them. I do not belong in any place with people, especially not women."

Mgqolozana's words capture the essence of those who go for circumcision feel or are expected to feel during their stay at the initiation school.

They are expected to have no connection with the outside world. As men in the making they are expected to be devoid of any feeling of belonging with the world, especially with women. The reasoning is that such feelings would "soften" them.

This would lead to failure to achieve the objective of going to initiation - to achieve manhood.

With so many youths dying of botched circumcisions, questions are being asked whether the practice of lebollo or ulwaluko remains worthwhile.

Already, since the lebollo season started this winter, 40 initiates have died in Eastern Cape.

On Tuesday, the spokesperson for the provincial health department said almost 300 other initiates had been hospitalised.

Those justifying the continuation of this practice argue that it is part of their culture.

They also argue that it has the social value of teaching the youth discipline and responsibility.

If Mgqolozana's words are anything to go by, then one should really question this.

What is the social value of a practice that alienates its disciples from their own? A practice that makes them feel like "an animal, not a person, a completely different kind of being from these people".

This is how Mgqolozana describes the hospital staff giving him medical attention.

In saying "I did not belong in any place with people, especially not women", Mgqolozana also raises questions about how the practice perpetuates discrimination on the basis of sex and patriarchy.

Upon completing their initiation, the boys become men - who now don't "hang around" with women.

They now spend time with male elders in the kraal, eating meat and drinking traditional beer while making decisions that have an effect on the lives of all, including the women.

One of the most devastating results Mgqolozana raises about lebollo is how society, including women, treat the victim of a circumcision that went wrong.

For example, a male hospital porter who sees Mgqolozana's rotting penis asks: "Shit! What have you done mkhwetha (initiate)?"

The porter says the penis could not just be like that. "You must have done something."

The initiate is now blamed for his botched circumcision.

Later on, a nurse makes the victim feel like a traitor.

She sings a song that insults the initiates who decide to come to the hospital with their circumcision injuries.

Mgqolozana describes the nurse's action as: "... bringing home to us the disgrace of being survived by our empty huts at the mountain, impressing on us our invalidity, the manhood rejects that we had become by fleeing to the hospital, and the sub-human status we are about to assume in society as a result."

Fortunately Mgqolozana has had the courage to confront all these challenges head-on. He has had the guts to come out and tell the world about the life he was expected by society to live - as a victim of a botched circumcision.

In the process he rid himself of the feelings of inadequacy that society wanted to impose on him.

Society wanted to banish him to a village named "Victimhood" but he relocated himself to "Victorhood".

The fact is that Mgqolozana is an outstanding example of self-assertion, but there are many others, unlike him, who remain trapped in "Victimhood".

No practice subjecting our youth to such dehumanisation - in the name of culture - can be allowed to continue.

We have many socialisation institutions such as the family, schools, churches and national youth service, where young people can learn discipline and responsibility.

Let's recapture these institutions and turn them into instruments of socialisation, where our children can learn about discipline, responsibility and the building of an egalitarian society.

As far as those who claim they go to the mountain to circumcise for health reasons, there are hospitals where the procedure can be done under hygienic conditions by professionals with unquestionable credentials.


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