Genocide In The Eastern Cape
This is probably the most difficult article I have ever written for Just Curious. I am about to question a traditional practice that has been ingrained in my head for years, as a descendent of royalty and a man who is more inclined with African culture than most of our readers, I am doing what I am actually not supposed to be doing, talking about circumcision in a public forum. I refuse to be silent while boys continue to die in other parts of this country, when in fact they do not really have to lose their lives in order to gain their manhood.
Guys, allow me to call a spade a spade – there is something wrong with the circumcision practice in the Eastern Cape area and it borders on Genocide! There I have said it, the truth of the matter is that you and I can only remain silent for so long. The other day I was watching Cutting Edge and they were tackling the issue of boys dying in the mountain school, the female producer dared to go where our politicians fear to tread – she wanted to know why boys were losing their manhood, penises falling off like dried peaches. All you had to do was log on to Facebook and see the reactions that people had with regards to the program, most men who had been to komeng were furious, while girlie-girls were cringing – it was riveting TV, but what impact did it have besides giving SABC 1 great ARs?
I have never been to Pondoland, and I do not even know which side to point it, but reports indicate that as of 21 June 2010, 28 boys died of botched initiations and many more died around the greater Eastern Cape area, not Johannesburg or Nelspruit, but the Eastern Cape. This is nothing new; we read and hear about these reports every year. I repeat, there is something fundamentally wrong with most initiations schools in the Eastern Cape. Yes, I am generalizing in the hope that someone, somewhere with more powers than this little site will read this little article and be moved to act. The problem I have at the moment is that no one in the political sector is standing up and saying something, everyone is silent. I know it would be improper for a Zulu president to question this Xhosa practice, but how many Xhosa men sit in parliament and say nothing? Vavi is very vocal when it comes to striking, why is it that people of his calibre are not asking questions and trying to find solutions to the matter?
Circumcision has been part of our culture for years and it is not about to fade away any time soon. I am from the Limpopo area, were circumcision is practiced by Vendas, Tsongas and Bapedi. You rarely, if ever, hear stories of boys dying while at the mountain school. I am 26 years old and in my village we have had more initiations than I care to remember and here is a fact - NEVER – NEVER HAS ANYONE EVER DIED IN THE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL. That means that there is something that people in Limpopo are doing right. I am not in any way attacking the Xhosa culture and its people, that is not my intention – I am just trying to tackle the matter without pussyfooting around it.
This is a sensitive matter that has everyone rubbed up the wrong way. I spoke to a University cultural lecture about this, asking him why boys continued to die in the Eastern Cape, while it rarely happened in Limpopo area. Those who have gone will agree with me, that the practice in Limpopo is still conducted by the custodians of culture, those who have been doing it for years and not everyone can just start an initiation school. We all know it has now become a money making scheme. It was like five hundred in my time. Now what seems to be the problem in the Eastern Cape area is that inexperienced people are entrusted with nip-tucking di-dang, and every Tom, Harry and Dick can suddenly start their own school. This is not the case in the Limpopo area, were the chief is involved in the opening of the initiation school and the selection of the best snip-master. The most important thing about the whole process is the aftercare of the initiate and that person’s di-dang, if one is not experienced enough to make sure that the initiate and his di-dang gets the right aftercare, it becomes septic and eventually falls off or has to be chopped off.
I am sure there also many underlying factors that contribute to the high number of deaths in the Eastern Cape area that also need to be unpacked. I could be wrong, but generally, in the Eastern Cape area boys go while they are a bit older, so di-dang takes longer to heal, add an inexperienced team = disaster. Whereas in Limpopo the teenage years are considered the right time to get done. There is also the factor of the season, in Limpopo, it’s always done in winter – but pick up a newspaper around December and you’ll hear about another sad tale of an initiate who will not make it home for Christmas, even though it mostly occurs in winter in the Eastern Cape. For those who don’t know, it heals much quicker in winter than summer. I know that no parent would send their child to die, but I also wonder where are the parents, what role should they are play in this instance. I am not saying Limpopo is the beacon of all good things, it has its flaws but for this discussion, it serves as a good reference.
The custodians of the Xhosa culture should be the ones making the most noise, because I refuse to believe that it is all bad in the Eastern Cape, if done the right way– no one has to die or have their di-dang chopped off. I have plenty Xhosa friends who tell good tales about their experience there, usually after too much Johnny Walker. At the moment the custodians remain silent and attack journalists for not respecting culture or being African enough. I refuse to subscribe to a culture that wants to kill boys, that is murder!
As a nation, we are very vocal about woman abuse, media rights and human rights violation but no one is stepping up to create and enforce legislature that will protect the interest of these young men. I wish I had a solution on how to best deal with this, but I do not and I always hope that through a robust debate, someone can come up with a better solution. Should we just keep quiet and swear that if ever we have children, we will not send them to a mountain school in the Eastern Cape area, while we continue sipping cognac in front of the TV? What is happening in the Eastern Cape area is genocide.
I hope that with this will get you talking about this matter, as I believe that there are those who are just as gatvol as I am. This article is about saying what is happening and being frank about it.
By Phathu Makwarela ©