Culture can hold people together, providing a sense of belonging. Like religion, it gives traditional communities a set of social rules to live by.
But, when culture goes wrong, it can be devastating.
Initiation, or ulwaluko &ndash in the form of male circumcision &ndash is an example. It has caused nearly 100 deaths this past initiation season and left other boys without penises or with mutilated penises. The ceremony that was supposed to give them manhood has, in fact, deprived them of it. They are highly unlikely to find a wife, to marry, or to have children.
An overloaded public healthcare system is unable to provide expensive and sophisticated treatments such as reconstruction or artificial fertilisation.
In Pondoland in the Eastern Cape, 20-year-olds acted as traditional nurses, or amakhankatha, without any training in how to nurse a wound. Irresponsible behaviour, such as punishing initiates with extremely tight penile bandages, causes more injury. Such practitioners should be charged and punished.
The government should provide training for traditional nurses and circumcisers, and should regulate the practice &ndash ideally, there should be an exam for practitioners. Medical ways of circumcision should be integrated with traditional practices, as has been done in parts of Zimbabwe and Kenya.
The health department’s medical circumcision programme was launched countrywide in 2010 and should be used as a resource for initiation schools.
Lastly, free counselling should be available to victims of botched circumcisions. There is none to be had now: How is a boy who has lost his penis supposed to cope by himself?