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Talks on clear-cut solutions to circumcision initiated

Doctors and traditional leaders have begun negotiating to allow doctors to assist with circumcisions to reduce initiation-related deaths and injuries.

In September this year, doctors and traditional leaders started negotiations to allow doctors to assist with circumcisions in an effort to reduce the number of initiation-related deaths and injuries in Pondoland.

A Bhekisisa article on the victims of botched traditional circumcisions in the area has played a pivotal role in this development. “The boys who lost their manhood”, published on August 16, resulted in the health organisation TB/HIV Care contacting Dingeman Rijken, a doctor at the Holy Cross Hospital near Flagstaff at the time. He was quoted in the article. 

“After reading the story, I googled Dr Rijken’s contact details and got in touch with him,” said Carlos Orte from TB/HIV Care. 

“I thought there must be a way to collaborate, as our doctors have been conducting medical male circumcisions in the Eastern Cape for quite some time. We have, however, had serious problems with the uptake of our services, as medical circumcision is often not acceptable from a traditional point of view.”  

According to Rijken, the story led to a solid collaboration.

“Because I had strong relationships with traditional leaders and the royal house in Eastern Pondoland, I was able to put TB/HIV Care in touch with them and together we presented a proposal to the royal house on how we could work with them.” 

“The terribly messed-up lives of boys described in the article … shocked the leadership into speeding up their efforts to come up with a plan to make circumcisions safer,” he said. 

“It has also helped to increase awareness of the issue among provincial and national government leaders and is also partly why Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has asked me and Community Development Foundation director Nkululeko Nxesi to write an advisory report for him with suggestions on how to solve this appalling situation.” 

However, a week before the December 2013 initiation season, negotiations became “extremely complicated”, with traditional leaders saying they didn’t have enough time to implement the discussed plans and postponing “solutions” until the next initiation season in June.

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.