As part of the initiation process young men undergo circumcision. In recent years, this age-old tradition has come under the spotlight as the media reports more amputations and deaths from infections among initiates.
As of December 2013, at least 30 boys had died while undergoing initiation during the summer months, according to the Eastern Cape government.
At first, it was not clear why young men were dying in the initiation schools, but it came to light that some performing the circumcisions were not properly trained, and some of the tools used were not sterilised properly and unhygienic.
Concerns about this may prompt some parents to look at other options – including medical male circumcisions.
Why opt for medical male circumcisions?
Some of the benefits include consultations and check ups with a medical doctor. This will include counselling about what to expect and a chance to be tested for HIV.
In large clinical trials conducted in South Africa and other African countries, medical male circumcision has been shown to reduce – but not eliminate – men’s risk of contracting HIV. The procedure may also reduce the risk of some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but even so all circumcised men are advised to also use condoms to protect them from STIs and HIV.
At the traditional initiation schools however young men are often not told what will happen to them beforehand. Boys often only hear about what happens from other men – the full realisation of what’s in store for them may only come when they are face-to-face with the ingcibi, or the initiator.
The problem is that often traditional circumcisions can be a painful experience and one that men endure with perhaps little explanation of what to expect. They are simply cut and have to wait out the healing period with no information of aid. This is because within traditional circumcision, the emphasis is more on a young man’s passage from boyhood to manhood.
But opting for a safer cut does not mean parents have to give up on age-old customs.
In South Africa, medical male circumcision can be done hand-in-hand with initiation schools, acknowledging the traditional right-of-passage meaning. Some doctors have even begun to work with ingcibi to make sure circumcisions are safe and that traditional culture is not sidelined. Some ingcibi have even been trained by doctors.