The involvement of women in traditional male circumcision is back in the spotlight. The protracted debate has been revived by the recently released book titled “Zajik’ Izinto” by author Siphokazi Vannessa Mpofu.
Mpofu believes the involvement of women in this rite of passage of Xhosa boys into men could save lives as some of the initiates die during this ritual.
Every year, during the initiation season the Eastern Cape Province experiences deaths of initiates.
Mpofu says it is up to each generation to choose whether to build or destroy. She maintains that women can play a crucial role in changing the status quo.
“I am a firstborn girl and a firstborn girl in our tradition is considered as a man, as someone who speaks and negotiates with his brothers.”
Mpofu says the generational gap between parents and their children often leads to misunderstandings.
“Somehow we clash – us and our children. We clash because of the times. So, we need to communicate about things. We need to sit down and understand each other as parents and the children of today for the generations to come. Whatever we are doing, we are doing to correct the things that we did not like that were done by our parents for the generations to come.”
The idea of women becoming involved is gaining traction. Cultural Activist, Mncedi Liwani says women have a significant role in traditional circumcision.
“What we are accepting is the intervention of mothers that they must come to the fore and culturally, they have a responsibility, especially in the Xhosa culture. They have a responsibility whilst they are growing these boys. They are giving them guidance for them to be proper men. Now, if the women of this country could embrace their responsibility, first of becoming mothers to our boys, and we, as men, can take and teach them how to be good men, if ever we can do such, I think we will be in a good position to say, parents of our time have produced a good fabric of society.”
Traditional leaders say women have always been part of this rite of passage, but with limitations.
Chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, Chief Langa Mavuso says, “Mothers prepare boys for medical fitness of initiates, whether or not they do not have underlying diseases and so on, the beer is prepared by women, the diet for initiates is prepared by women and everything that would make sure that the boy becomes well, it is a woman that drives that, even the grass cutting for thatching the house is done by women. So, it is not correct to say women do not have a role in initiation.”
The pandemic is also creating difficulties with the custom. With the winter initiation season cancelled last year while the summer initiation season was suspended halfway due to a high infection rate among initiates in December, a decision is still to be made about the coming winter season.