Rastafarian circumcised against his will

By Melanie Peters Time of article published Jul 4, 2004

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A 22-year-old Cape Town man was taken by force and circumcised against his will this week. And far from sympathising with him, his father insists it was for his own good.

Litha Ntshoza, of Gugulethu, said he was dragged to a field near Cape Town International Airport on Friday and stripped naked by a group of Xhosa tribal elders and relatives who performed the traditional Xhosa initiation ceremony on him as he lay struggling in vain.

He is a Rastafarian convert and strongly opposes Xhosa initiation. The men who forcibly circumcised him also cut off his Rasta dreadlocks.

He said that after his foreskin was cut, he ran naked and bleeding back to Gugulethu, where, instead of helping him, members of the community ordered him to return to the initiation site to complete the ceremony.

He said two policemen took him back to the spot and told him that it was all part of becoming a man.

During the early hours of Saturday he escaped again and ran in the rain to a friend's house, where he was given clothes.

In severe pain and with an animal skin that had been tied by tribal elders around his genitalia to stop the bleeding, he went to hospital for treatment.

His ordeal started earlier on Friday, when he was told by his father, Wiseman Ntshoza, that they were going to visit relatives.

The young Ntshoza said as they neared the airport, he began to have an inkling of what was going to happen. But it was too late to escape.

He said relatives and tribal leaders had put pressure on his father, saying he was already 22 and had not gone through the rite of passage.

It is custom for South African tribes such as the Ndebele, Sotho and Xhosa to send teenage boys into the bush for up to eight weeks to learn the tribe's cultural and moral values, and to undergo ritual coming of age ceremonies that include circumcision.

The traditional winter Xhosa initiation season begins in June.

Ntshoza, who became a Rastafarian seven years ago, said he had made it clear to his father that he did not want to undergo this rite of passage because some of the Xhosa ways went against his Rasta religious beliefs.

"We don't believe in shedding blood or partaking in activities of blood-spilling. We are strict vegetarians and believe in being one with nature. If God intended us to be circumcised, man would have been born that way."

He said that during the ceremony, the tribal members held him down and used a knife that was not surgically clean,

increasing the risk of infection.

After his foreskin was cut, he said they wanted him to swallow it. They also cut off his dreadlocks. "I protested the whole time and refused to eat my own flesh. I feared for my life because there have been many stories of boys bleeding to death."

He said prior to the ritual, things had been tense at home because he refused to go through initiation. "They thought by forcibly taking me I would obey and do the cultural ritual. But now, because I ran away, I will not be viewed as a proper Xhosa man. This is a disgrace for my father."

Ntshoza Senior said his son had to undergo the rite of passage. "As a parent I have to decide what is good for him. There is a certain time when a boy has to become a man. This ritual is part of our tradition."

He said running away was very dangerous. He hoped his son had gone to a hospital.

He blamed the Rastafarians for misleading his son. "They are not his family or part of his culture."

Police spokesperson Nina Kirsten said the two policemen should not have got involved in the matter.

They should have taken Ntshoza to hospital and not back to the ceremony, she said.

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