EASTERN PROVINCE HERALD, Port Elizabeth, Tuesday, 23 July 1996: Page 4.





The deaths and dreadful mutilation of young Transkei men undergoing 
circumcision initiation rites have shocked the nation.
    Many will share the grief of families who have so unnecessarily 
lost sons in the youthful bloom of life.
    The quest for manhood by the 53 candidates turned into a 
nightmare at the hands of the Lusikisiki "bush surgeon" and the 
inadequate aftercare that followed. Survivors have been hospitalised 
with septic wounds and dehydration, and some will now have to undergo 
amputation. These will be both physically and mentally scarred in a 
nightmare way, losing the manhood they sought through timehonoured 
    It would be quite inappropriate for this newspaper  to comment on 
the merits of such circumcision. That is a matter of tradition.
    But the surgical method and aftercare are different. There is 
always the AIDS risk. And the Lusikisiki tragedy is not the first 
botched bush circumcision. There have been others, and the warning 
bells have been sounded before.
    Thankfully, now it has become a matter of urgency and is 
receiving attention at the highest level.
    Certainly, there will always be a place for traditional healing 
and traditional medicines. but traditional methods have long been 
surpassed by sophisticated medical science - available to all in this 
country. And modern medicine can ensure that the horrors of 
Lusikisiki are not repeated.
    The time has surely arrived for such sophisticated procedures to 
be incorporated into the traditional rites.


EP HERALD, PO Box 1117, Port Elizabeth 6000
Tel 041-5047911  Fax 041-554966


COMMENT: Circumcision is a very important custom; this editor is at 
pains not to criticise either the institution nor the practice. But 
he misses the point that part of the institution is the "ordeal" 
aspect that accompanies traditional circumcision rites. As to the 
importance: when Pres Mandela visited his home town in the Eastern 
Cape he let slip (deliberately, I think) that he went through the 
traditional circumcision school. This was because he is seen as a 
progressive liberal and he was just re-inforcing his credentials with 
the traditionalists who feel threatened by the dominant middle 
classes in the ANC hierarchy.

Apart from the centrality of the rite in traditional initiation, a 
further complication is the exaggerated claims for "manhood" - part 
of the role circumcision ordeals play in "macho" gender stereotyping 
in this society. Note that as the youths under discussion are realy 
school boys, they are always reported as "young men" as they have 
been circumcised.
"bush surgeons" - There is a code implicit here; "going to the bush" 
is an euphemism for "going for initiation", refering both to the 
custom of withdrawing from society for the rituals and "bush" as SA 
speak for the "Boondocks" or the equivalent Australian "outback".

Traditionally, in pre-colonial days, the death penalty was incurred 
for witchcraft and inept circumcisers. There has been a spate of 
witchcraft "executions" in the Northern Province during the last year 
(in access of 300) and its government is taking urgent steps by 
officially recognising that the possibility of witchcraft exists, but 
outlawing witchcraft accusations. We are a society in transition... 

(File revised 15 May 2008)