If titles sold books, this 2009 offering would be a bestseller. Thando Mgqolozana, a nursing graduate, writes about the scourge of circumcisions gone wrong with the authority of someone close to the action. The Eastern Cape, his birthplace, is notorious for this practice, year after bleeding year.
There is no doubt that circumcision – the scared rite of passage into manhood still holds allure in the eyes of many traditionalists who adamantly hold there’s no better way for a boy to be made into a man.
But as with all good intentions, there are always the unscrupulous elements that lie in ambush by the wayside, waiting for a chance to make a quick buck, and invariably bring the age-old ritual into disrepute.
Every year in the winter, young men lose their manhood to botched operations performed by the unsteady hand of untrained ingciibi – isiXhosa for traditional surgeons, like the narrator in this book, who considers himself more of a survivor than a victim. These are the lucky ones; the more unfortunate lose their lives.
Mgqolozana writes about another segment of these youth eager to be men – those whose circumcisions go awry and are forced to go into hospital to right the wrongs of tradition. They are looked down upon as sissies who bring shame to the proud institution of circumcision.
The narrator chooses a path many young men – too blinded by loyalty to a tradition that would rather disown them than forgive their flaws – have avoided at all cost, even to the detriment of their own health and well-being.
Such a man, who does not complete the rite at the mountain but seeks western medical help, is, in Xhosa tradition, not a man.
The story of Lumkile will resonate with many who themselves are ‘bogus’ men or have lost relatives to this myopia called tradition, that forces initiates to die with their “pride” still intact rather than seek medical help.
The World Health organization estimates by doing 150 000 adult male circumcisions in one year, it could avert 10 000 infections a year in KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. The province has about two million uncircumcised males. (Source: Discovery Magazine, Summer 2011)
In a classic case of double standards, the would-be initiates, like Lumkile – Bravo in his previous life as a young thug in the city – are expected to undergo an HIV test, while the elders frown upon western medical intervention.
For the record though, the Department of Health has thrown its weight behind the annual ritual, lending expertise where needed.
There’s a lot of urban Cape Town colloquialism in the book – A Man Who Is Not a Man, which will cause readers not familiar with the language to read haltingly. But this is a necessary addition to the literature on circumcision, a practice that will still be with us for a long time to come.
© makatilemedia 04/2011