Photo: Masixole Feni.

For many South Africans, the practice of traditional circumcision is vital for males if they wish their community to regard them as men and no longer boys.

For most it is a significant experience, but for some it can be unbearable. Andile Sonwabo from Gugulethu said that his circumcision experience caused him to want to commit suicide.

“My mother is a single parent and I never bonded with my father’s family. When I had to go to the mountain in January, my uncle made sure that I will never forget the experience. I was teased, beaten and starved because I was gay,” he said.

Sonwabo said that life on the mountain is difficult especially if you do not know anyone.

“The person who was in charge of me, my uncle, told me that when I leave the mountain I will know how it feels to be a man and that being gay is not manly.”

A respected man in the community, Bhayi, who runs a circumcision school in Gugulethu, said that he wants those who are ready to be men “not females” in his school.

“In our culture, circumcision was intended for those who are manly not weak. And if you are weak, chances are you won’t survive or there will be complications that we do not discuss with other people,” he said.

Siya Modise is gay and went through a Sotho circumcision. He said that he went to the mountain for close to two months.

“Everything was okay until my leaders found out that I was gay. I do not want to share what happened, but I promised myself, if it happens that one of my family members is gay, I will do my best to protect him by not sending him to the mountain,” says Modise.

Pastor Simon Nododile of Gugulethu said that people can never run away from their cultures and its requirements. “It’s not about your sexuality,” he says, “but it’s about how strong you are. Some of those boys who think they are gay and are more woman-like will have a horrible experience.”

Axolile Zonke, who is heterosexual, said that if you are gay and you want to be a man, you have to put your gayness aside and become a man.

“It’s not within our tradition and in African culture to be gay. We do not have to introduce to our ancestors some Western lifestyle. How are our leaders going to accommodate being gay in the mountains when most of the time the men are naked? Are they not going to be attracted to other men and be distracted?” asks Zonke.

Anele Grootboom, a member of Triangle Project says that most gay people do not go to the mountains because they believe that they will be ill-treated. Those who go through the experience go to please their family members.

“Our elders and some heterosexual people should understand that cultural circumcision will not stop people from living their lifestyle. And being circumcised and culturally mistreated will not stop people from being attracted to the same sex,” says Grootboom.


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