Conversations about Poverty and Circumcision

IMG_2747Tonight is my last night in South Africa–we fly home tomorrow.  I have had the most amazing time, but at the same time, I am ready to go home.  My thoughts are full, my heart is full, and I miss my little family!  I know I will continue to reflect on all that I saw and learned here, but in the meantime, I wanted to offer up one last post.
 
Yesterday, we were in Khayelitsha township, which is both rapidly growing but also very poor.  Here are some statistics from last year:
        42% are infected with HIV/AIDS
         55% are single parents (mostly mothers)
        39% are orphans
       56% unemployment
       77% are living in shacks
 
Our primary guide was Pastor Monwabisi, a local pastor who was tortured terribly for his activism in the 1980s. (vol. 5 of the TRC holds his story).  We met at his church with a variety of other pastors, too, and shared stories and lunch.  It was interesting to hear about the work that they are doing, especially trying to address the social and economic problems of their communities.   Then we walked around the township and had more conversation, and saw the little beauty shops, stores, and other aspects of the area. To be honest, that was a little unsettling for me, because I always struggle when seeing such poverty (and the condition of the local dogs–one was covered in fleas, another had one back leg hanging, another had a terribly matted tail, etc., etc.).  I feel my privilege uncomfortably in those situations, and feel a gulf between us that is shameful, really.  And yet I just drive away back to my nice hotel….

 

      The most interesting thing I saw yesterday, however, was out in a field:  two circumcision shacks.  Boys usually enter around 18, and they usually stay for three weeks (at the most four) by themselves.  They are consecrated with chalk when they enter & they aren’t allowed to wash the whole time.  A traditional practitioner performs the rite, and everyone does this, including Christians.  This has been a very controversial practice, because many people have died from infection.  They are trying to be a little more careful, so now (the pastor told me) every Friday someone from the hospital goes around and checks on the young men.  A few tribes (like the Sotho, and the Venda, I read) also practice female circumcision, but this is much less common–the Xhosa, for example, don’t do it.  This is true even though it is technically illegal in South Africa and the WHO doesn’t list SA as a country where it occurs.  I am reading Mandela’s autobiography and he goes into great detail about his own circumcision ceremony.  It reinforced for me the patriarchal nature of much of South African culture/society, and reminded me how deep-seated ideas of manhood and male authority can be.

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