The winter month of June represents a kind of “circumcision season” among the Xhosa, who predominate in the Eastern Cape, and who use circumcision to mark a teenage boy’s journey into manhood. The most famous Xhosa circumcisee, of course, is Nelson Mandela (see his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, chapter four).
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The reason circumcision is dangerous is that it is usually accompanied by privation – the initiates are usually secluded in the bush, in less than hygenic conditions, and have gone without food or water for some days before they’re circumcised. Sometimes the cuts turn septic, and the danger signs are not always picked up by those supervising the initiates.
The Eastern Cape’s Department of Health has been working with the province’s traditional leaders to curb problems associated with initiations, but it seems they remain as deadly as ever.