Ukwaluka / Ukusoka: A gender analysis of the symbolism of male circumcision as perceived by amaxhosa men and women in Clermont - Kwadabeka, Durban

Master's Thesis, 2005

97 Pages













Male circumcision evokes emotive responses with those who either support or oppose the practice. It is an area of human interaction that has remained outside the public arena as a result of cultural taboos, but has increasingly come under public scrutiny due to the deaths of young boys as a result of unhygienic circumcision . Some taboos raise the spectre of death over anybody who dares to divulge the secrets of the ritual to outsiders. Male circumcision has resulted in public debates due to death and fatalities of some boys who undergo the ritual, but not much has been done to investigate the impact that male circumcision has on the social lives of the circumcised living in urban areas. This study investigates some of the reasons for the practice of traditional male initiation rituals by amaXhosa males who reside in Clermont­ KwaDabeka (Durban); and explores, analyses and assesses the social meaning and effects of male circumcision. An analysis is offered about some of the gendered constructions related to sexual pleasure as an effect of male circumcision as perceived by Xhosa men and women living in Clermont-KwaDabeka. The processes involved in circumcision rites for the circumciser and the circumcised are examined in order to establish the context for the study and to extrapolate the processes in order to reflect on the meaning of the ritual. The study highlights the ongoing debate as to whether circumcision may be practiced as a health intervention strategy, and suggests that male circumcision has no impact on the sexual pleasure experienced by women, and concludes that female orgasm (s) is a problematic issue that needs further investigation. The study also conceives male circumcision as a cultural practice, and as a social construction that is gendered. The study recommends further interrogation of the issues pertaining to culture, sex, sexuality, gender, masculinities and male circumcision in order that this will serve as an intervention towards socialization of boys, and help them in making informed decisions before undergoing initiation.


aluka ; Ukusoka; ender ; sexuality; culture; masculinity; sexual pleasure


I wish to express my indebtedness and sincere appreciation to the many individuals who made a valuable contribution to the completion of this project:

- Heavenly Father , you deserve praise all the time , for making things possible out of impossible situations
- To Vasu Reddy who supervised this dissertation, and who has been of great assistance throughout , and who shared my financial constraints and finally made it possible that I obtain financial assistance, and who taught me writing skills, especially because since it was six years since I last wrote academically
- To Dr Thenjiwe Magwaza with whom I shared my personal shortcomings and frustrations and who worked with my supervisor to make things possible, especially financially, when I had already given up. Her help has been most encouraging
- To the National Research Foundation Bursary who made my study possible by funding my studies during the time that I had no direction and had lost hope. May the NRF do the same for others
- To the Commission on Gender Equality (KZN), Commissioners Beatrice Ngcobo, Thabiso Dumisa , ex MP and CGE general secretary, Mr Mfanozelwe Shozi, Mrs Di Van Der Leeden [Pinetown region Transformation and Gender Equity coordinator], Thobile Yengwa [Regional
T.G.E coordinator) for broadening my horizon and building a foundation for me in respect of gender issues
- To the late, MaDimba Bhengu 'Dukada ' (my mother) who has been with me through thick and thin and taught me that the beginning of wisdom is to fear God
- To Vusi Sithole for sharing my frustrations all the time
- To my boys, Mikuwo and Ntsika for being considerate and understanding and willing to adapt to odd circumstances , thus allowing me to pursue my studies
- To my husband for assisting me in organising his amaXhosa friends living in Clermont with whom I also conducted interviews
- To Nokwa zi Hlophe, Florence Muthuki , Benedicta Daher, Dr Grace Sokoya for sharing ideas on the shortcomings and successes of this dissertation
- To Mrs Nokukhanya Ngcobo (Edgewood College of Education) for being with me all the time, sharing my frustrations and most of all for introducing me to relevant people knowledgeable about my study
- To Dennis Francis (Edgewood College of Education) for accepting me with warm hands and helped me in channeling the topic of this dissertation
- To my interviewees, both men and women, for allowing me to conduct interviews with them
- To Morris Sulman, Mr and Mrs Maxhawulana, for giving me a chance to explore and intervene in 'Xhosa men and women's terrain', and for identifying potential interviewees
- Mr A.B. Dlamini (Director of Education and Culture-Ethekwini) for giving me courage and support
- Mr C.B. Kati , who referred me to potential sources with the latest information on initiation rites
- To the learners at Buhlebemfundo Secondary school who identified my target group and accompanied me for data collection
- To Mr A.Z. Ndawo and Sithabile Ndawo for sharing my frustrations
- Finally, I am indebted to Mr Bhengu and Mr Sibiya (UKZN - Howard College, Library) for ensuring my access to necesary information.


This work is dedicated to my boys, Mikuwo and Ntsika Nkosi who were circumcised in June 2002 at Urnhlanga Hospital. They were circumcised on the advice of our family practitioner, Dr Akesh Mithoo. The work is also dedicated to my husband, Fortune Vusumuzi kaNkosi who has been with me throughout my studies, and to the late Philda Dukada Bhengu, my mother, and my brothers and sisters who made it possible for me to be educated. Finally, my love and appreciation to Ndozana, my father, whose untimely demise left a void in my life.


This research project investigates and analyses the symbolism and effects of ukwaluka (traditional male circumcision) as practiced and perceived by Xhosa men and women who reside in Clermont -KwaDabeka, Durban to establish the reasons for the practice of the ritual, despite some of the negative effects it has on abakhwetha.[1] Some of these negative effects are genital mutilation , death, pneumonia, septic wounds and dehydration.[2]

Ukwaluka (traditional male circumcision) is a Xhosa word that refers to the customary practice of male circumcision that implies the 'cutting' of flesh. The practice entails the ritualised process of cutting a specific section of a gendered and sexual body part of the male. Ukwaluka is interchangeabl y used as ukusoka (gifts given to newly initiated men). In this sense, the dissertation focuses on a gendered practice, if at this preliminary level we are dealing with the cutting of male flesh, namely the penis.

First, the effects of male circumcision on the social life of some circumcised Xhosa men living in Clermont, Durban will be explored. This is also done in relation to men of other ethnic groups who do not undergo the process, like amaZulu. According to Xhosa culture a man is not viewed as a 'man' without undergoing the ritual process of circumcision.[3] Also a circumcised 'man' according to Xhosa cultural teaching is not allowed to share anything with uncircumcised men (Funani 1990). Xhosa traditional circumcision is a rite of passage to manhood . Manhood , according to Xhosa culture, points to notions of masculinity which is accorded a dominant and privileged category within the patriarchal system, where patriarchy is understood as a system that promotes male privilege and power over female subservience and subordination. Connell ( 1994; 1995; 2000) for example, argues that masculinity is a gendered phenomenon that refers to how a man (a biological category which refers to maleness) comes to be defined. Connell further argues that masculinity is a privileged category within patriarchy. Based on this argument it is the intention of this study to also investigate if there is any difference between uncircumcised and circumcised Xhosa men living in Clermont, Durban.

Fabian (1983) also states that it is fair to say that the meaning and effect of symbolism contains some of the basic presuppositions of the symbolic approach in current anthropology. According to Fabian (1983: 133), the symbolic approach holds that symbols are the mode of knowledge of the cultures we study, and that symbolic analysis or interpretation provide anthropology with adequate methods of describing and understanding other cultures. Based on this argument, this study investigates, analyses and interprets the symbolism of male circumcision as perceived by amaXhosa men and women in Clermont-KwaDabeka, Durban to understand the reasons behind the practice.

Second, this project investigates the effects of male circumcisiOn on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner , as well as on the sexual enjoyment of the circumcised man . Hammond-Tooke (1974: 228) states that, "Mpondo students at Fort Hare and Lovedale frequently return home circumcised, probable because they have been in contact with Xhosa and Thembu girls who refuse to have anything to do with uncircumcised men". The uncircumcised is considered a boy all his life and may take no part in the councils and deliberations of men, and is looked down upon by women and may not marry (Schapera, 1937: 100-101). This suggests that initiation is also a symbolic ritual , suggesting that the boy undertakes a rite of passage to manhood. In gendered terms, initiation is an example of a form of cultural socialisation to manhood. Male circumcision ensures greater sexual pleasure because of ukubhungqa[4] (Funani, 1990: 30). This project contributes towards the largely unstudied effects of male circumcision in respect of sexual pleasure experienced by both males and females. 0' Hara and O'Hara (1993: 1) claim:

To date no study has investigated whether this dramatic alteration in the male genitalia affects the sexual pleasure experienced by the female partner or whether a woman can physically discern the difference between a penis with a foreskin. The impact that male circumcision has on the overall sexual experience for either partner is unknown .

Male circumcision as a cultural process is explored as the context for this research, and to allow for reflection about development within the practice . Male circumcision as a process also helps to highlight male mystique and male power, and shows that there is more behind the practice . For example, initiates have to undergo pain endurance in the bush during the process of circumcision that is a symbol of manhood . Whoever fails to pass this 'test' is regarded a failure for the rest of his life and is subject to societal sanctions. Ngaloshe (2000: 7) states that the traditional teaching that accompanies the ritual of circumcision is as important, if not more important, than the ritual itself.(lfhis emphasizes the point that a man circumcised in hospital is not regarded as a 'real man' according to Xhosa culture because he did not attend circumcision school where traditional teaching and pain endurance took place.

This is reinforced by the data collected . I was told by some interviewees (circumcised men) that at circumcision lodges boys (who are turned into men) are taught how to 'look after' their women when married. Hence, initiated men may travel to big cities such as Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg and search for jobs to enable them to provide for their wives and children. In gendered terms this perpetuates differential gender roles, as a woman assumes domestic roles in the private sector and a man takes leadership roles in his family and assumes his duties in the public sphere. Moore (1994) argues that such differentiation in gender roles perpetuates gender stereotypes in patriarchal society. It is interesting to note that some traditional teaching in circumcision lodges is about women. However , women are denied access to such information and whoever is found to divulge such information to outsiders, including women , is subject to death, or has to pay a fine that is worth a cow, to be eaten by the circumcised men (Interviewees, 2004) .

Male circumcision is a practice that excludes women from the spaces of the sacred ritual. The exclusion of women also contributes towards an understanding of the gendered implications of the ritual, reinforced by patriarchal customs of which circumcision is one example. This is also evidenced in the section where I focus on my personal experiences in the field as a woman entering a man's space. This study does not however 'condemn' circumcision as a cultural practice. Rather, the study acknowledges that every society has cultures that are distinguishable from other cultures. My project also endorses that culture is a way of life, and that culture is not static but dynamic and changing . As indicated, my intention is to critically highlight that traditional customs are constantly being challenged by modifications arising out of contact and interactions with other cultures and technological trends. These trends may also include the use by surgeons of one clamp for one initiate instead of using one umdlanga[5] for all the initiates. Iwish to state that adaptations and acceptance of change help to sustain and develop culture. In this regard Iargue that in the case of male circumcision, change is needed, for example intervention programmes introduced by the National Department of Health !n Eastern Cape with the aim to address death, genital mutilations amongst the initiates. Gender equity issues could be taken into consideration in democratising the practice. Ngaloshe (2000: 7) maintains that:

The heritage of the Black people of Southern Africa is a rich and enormously varied one, deep rooted in the soil of the past but still a vital force in the present. Almost unaltered in rural areas, it is, however , undergoing rapid change in the cities in reaction to contact with Western cultures and is fast disappearing.

Ngolashe's comment is evidence of change in the cities as compared to rural areas in terms of cultural practices , as is the same in the case of male circumcision evidenced by this study. The above observation is important because it equally suggests that culture is dynamic and fluid, and is open to change and adaptation.

Male Initiation Rituals in South Africa

Male initiation rituals and circumcision in the South Eastern regions of South Africa are well-established practices and documented by many scholars.[6] Today there is a concern worldwide focusing on the negative effects that adult male circumcision rituals have on the initiates (for example, Denniston et al , 1999). The South Africa

media have reported extensively on deaths resulting from circumcision, due largely to unhygienic practices (for example, Noganta , 1999; Ngudle, 2004 and Sowetan, 1998). Hatile (2009:1) states that death and serious health complications resulting from the Xhosa male initiation rites received extensive coverage in the media. Oppelt (2001: 1) for example, maintains "Promise Mkhawane was only 15 when he died, and Ally Pudikabekwa was 13. They died after attending initiation schools in the Northern Province. They never saw a doctor who could perhaps have saved their lives." These brief reports confirm that circumcision is not an entirely risk-free pr cess , and that problems abound amongst other African ethnic groups such as the amaXh<?sa, amaBhaca , Basotho, amaMpondomise, where the view is held that a man is not a man unless he undergoes the process of ritual male circumcision (Mcetywa, 1998). Due to fear of deat and mutilation, as a result of adult male circumcision rituals, many advocate abandoning the traditional practice of circumcision in favour of a surgical procedure conducted in hospit l.

While this might partially address the physical requirement of the ritual, the social and psychological effects of the procedure cannot be met by hospital intervention . In circumcision lodges, initiates learn a specific language called hlonipha . ('code switching '), which is only understood and used by "men" who are circumcised in the bush. Those who undergo circumcision in hospital are discriminated by supposed 'real men ' through the use of this language. This marginalisation' could lead to negative psychological effects such as internal conflict, as a result of feeling guilty.

According to Xhosa culture, the ritual of circumcision has much to do with the 'corning of age' of the young man. Without the performance of the ritual in the traditional way, which involves ululation by women at e sigcawini[7] to raise the spirit of a madl oz i[8] during umgidi [9], which takes place in a place called isiba y a[10] (which is only occupied by traditionall y circumcised men during umgidi , and no women are allowed to enter), the young man will never achieve the status of 'm n' and will forever remain a 'boy' in societal life. This issue raises direct concerns with notions of gender, manhood and masculinit y. Connell (1995), a key commentator on masculinit y, questions what constitute a man. His views are cited in reading these gendered aspects of the circumcision ritual later in my argument. Discussing the cultural constitution of gender, Moore (1994) also states that examples of societies which view women as 'polluting' either in general or at particular times, can be found all over the world, and there is no doubt that Xhosa society is one such example. 'Pollution ' is given as one reason by interviewees for women 's ostracisation during the performance of cultural traditions . Moore (1994) argues that women are undervalu ed universally. She claims further that women are closer to nature as they give birth and also as they menstruate e, which renders them unclean . She associates men with culture, and claims culture controls nature, and within patriarchy men control women. I was told by one male interviewee that "women are witchcrafts," therefore women are not supposed to come close to 'sacred places ' like isiba y a. This is another aspect of gender symbolism to be interrogated in the following discussion .

Male initiation as a rite of passage to manhood is a controversial debate amongst the so-called "traditionalists" who justi fy the practice in terms of cultural traditions in the African context. Traditionalist s reject the notion of intervention programm es introduced by the South African National Department of Health as a prevention of death among the initiates. Traditionalists claim this undermines the status of their tradition (Ndletyana, 2000). With the incidence of HIV I Aids increasing daily, changes in the routine procedures used traditionally in the male initiation ritual, are necessary to ensure the safety of the initiates. I was told by one male interviewee that the option to have the procedure conducted at hospital seemed to be a 'solution' for him. I later discovered during the interview session that the interviewee was of Mpondo origin, and not of Xhosa origin. It is interesting to note that Mpondo' s abandoned a compulsory circumcision tradition as explained by Mcetywa (1998). I was however informed that some Mpondo boys undergo traditional circumcision on a voluntary basis.

There is also contestation about male circumcision as a health intervention strategy. Some researchers find that male circumcision can be taken as a health intervention strategy (Kebaabetswe et al, 2003). Some scholars do not agree with hospital methods either. Bonner (2001 :143) argues that 'circumcision is a surgical procedure with associated risks' . She claims further that 'circumcision has strong religious and cultural significance for many groups hence there are ethical and practical barriers to implementing it as a health intervention strategy'. Male circumcision is motivated to enhance sexual pleasure (Funani , 1990). My study suggests that the question of sexual pleasure as an effect of circumcision is an important concern, which I address later in Chapter 3.

In a move to legitimise traditional medicine, South Africa's democratic parliament, post-1994, proposed that a statutory council be set up to regulate the 350 000 traditional healers. The parliamentary committee's proposals include setting up norms and standards for traditional healers by giving them medical certificates that will enable them to claim costs from their patient's medical scheme. The council proposed to look into the registration of all qualifying traditional healers, to promote training, develop a traditional medicine database, and formulate an ethical code of conduct. The committee 's report also proposes that the profession be divided into four categories: herbalists, diviners, midwives, and traditional surgeons who mainly do circumcisions (Baleta, 1998). According to the Traditional Initiation Schools Conference Report (held at Indaba Hotel, on 24-25 May 2004), the opening address by Sydney Mufamadi (then the Minister of Provincial and Local Government ) said that Government, in its commitment to basic rights, as guaranteed in the Constitution, had to prevent the deaths of young men at the initiation schools. The report also states that the country' s constitution protected the culture and customs of the various communities , and that those who practic e initiation had to ensure that the methods applied were not at odds with the provisions of ordinary criminal law.

From the above we note that the South African Government is in the process of taking control of traditional male circumcision as a solution to avoid death amongst the initiates. However the effect of male circumcision on the social lives of circumcised men in urban areas remains an area of enquiry in much the same way, as the effect on the sexual pleasure for the female partner is a factor of concern. This aspect leads to a further specification of my project.

As indicated earlier, this project prioritise s the practice and the effects of traditional male circumcision as perceived by Xhosa men and women who reside in Clermont , Durban. I establish the reasons behind the persistent practice of the ritual. This study also attempts to raise awareness, especially among the people considering the ritual, especially the boys at their young age, to question, reflect and understand how this cultural practice has much to say about sex, sexuality and gender. My aim is to also demystify cultural stereotypes that emanate from the practice. These issues may also be linked, for example, to intervention programmes that deal with problems related to health effects as a result of non-hygienic processes . According to Xhosa culture, sexuality is an uncomplicated and important phenomenon that refers to male and femal e sex, both of which focus on reproduction and procreation in a patriarchal sense. U m e tsho [11] is not taboo, and children are allowed to speak about it with adults, as well as to practice it in the form of ukuhlo bon ga [12] This practice is called ukujola [13] and a circumcised man is not allowed to engage in such practice s.

Much has been written on Xhosa traditional male circumcision and sexuality focusing on the ritual. [14] However , there is a dearth of documentation on the effects that male circumcision have on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner. Much emphasis is placed on the rite of passage to manhood in the context of culture and male sexual pleasure is motivated as one of the reasons why male circumcision is conducted. This project therefore intends to contribute towards this largely unstudied area.

In a ·related sense, according to Xhosa culture, gender roles are rigidly defined. Masculine and feminine genders are taken as normal and acceptable. Masculine gender, as indicated earlier, is dominant over the feminine gender. Anything beyond the two is regarded as abnormal and opens itself up to the wrath of the community as a disgrace. As far as I was able to establish, no studies have focused on Clermont­ KwaDabeka, Durban that investigate and document the effects that male circumcision has on the social lives of the circumcised man. Having identified this as a gap, my dissertation has been undertaken, in part, to address this gap. The study will only focus on amaXhosa male initiation ritual.

The project is based on the hypothesis that male circumcision is gendered. There is an assumption that male circumcision has no effect on the social lives of the circumcised Xhosa men living in urban areas, like Clermont-KwaDabeka. The study also assumes that male circumcision has no effect on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner. Rather, male circumcision is a tool to perpetuate patriarchal society. As a result, men remain in control over women, and continue to initiate and lead sex. At certain stages women are men 's sexual objects as a result of male circumcision as ikrwala [15] engages in sexual cleansing with a woman he does not love, and who will be abandoned thereafter (Meintjes, 1998).

Structure of the study

In order to motivate the argument that "ukwaluka / ukusoka' is a gendered practice in respect of amaXhosa men and women in Clermont-KwaDabeka, the argument in this dissertation will be structured as follows . Chapt e r 1 provides a brief exposition and elucidation of some of the important theoretical issues, concepts and studies that directly inform this study. Given the fact that this study is written from the (inter) disciplinary perspective of gender studies, the critical and theoretical literature considers texts that reinforce, underpin and develop my argument. It is not the intention to rewrite these 'theories', but rather to show how they accentuate my argument in understanding circumcision as an important cultural practice in gendered terms. Chapter 2 in turn, extends the ideas extrapolated in chapter 1 and provides a brief context in respect of Xhosa initiation rites in order to foreground the contextual cohort of this study. This section of the argument considers some of the critical literature (largely historical and anthropological) that addresses circumcision as a social, cultural and symbolic process. Chapter 3 turns specifically to the subjects of circumcision from Clermont-KwaDabeka , and zeroes in on the people, the environment, and their narratives, together with my analysis of the issues generated by the data. Chapter 4 focuses on some tentative conclusions in the light of the findings, and makes some recommendations for further investigation.



This chapter has a dual purpose . I firstly explain the theoretical framework underpinning this study and secondly, report on the research methodology undertaken.

1.1 Theoretical framework

Critical and theoretical studies of gender, sex and sexuality, history, anthropology, and sociology provide a broad framework within which this study is located. This project is likely to draw upon some (not) all the critical and theoretical sources listed below . The aim is to demonstrate the concepts in this dissertation. Given the fact that this study is written from the interdisciplinary perspective of gender studies, the critical and theoretical literature considers texts that reinforce and develop my argument. Based on the short descriptive title of this dissertation, the primary theory will be focused in relation to sex, sexuality, masculinity, gender, circumcision and on a focused ethnography.

1.1.1 Feminism, gender, sex, and sexuality

This study adopts a feminist approach to determine the gendered implications of traditional Xhosa male circumcision. A feminist research method emphasises that women be given a space to make sense of their lives and experiences. There is no single meaning of what feminism is; hence we talk of feminisms because of differences within feminists. Feminism according to Beasley (1999: ix) is a contested term, which lacks clarity and is one of those terms that inconveniently defy simple explanation. Beasley ( 1999) states that feminism 's complexity and diversity provide obstacles to those wishing to gain a satisfactory grasp of its meanings. Beasley (1999:

xiii) notes the following:

In contrast to this lack of uniformity in response to the question of 'what is feminism ?' there has often been a considerable degree of consistency in the images said to represent feminism and feminists. When you consider that images may refer to styles of dress, haircuts, ways of behaving , attitudes and so on, you can probabl y conjure up a number of graphic pictures yourself.

Beasley argues that this view of feminism suggests an impulse to tie feminism down to something and to ignore considerable differences over the characteristics of feminism. According to Beasley (1999:3) feminism is innovative, inventive, and rebellious. He further mentions that feminist thinkers see their work as attending to the significance of sexual perspectives and offer a challenge to masculine bias. Traditional Xhosa male circumcision rites are well documented from the 'malestream' perspective (to use Beasley's term in defining traditional thought. My study similarly questions 'male authority' in the symbolic meanings that accrue to male circumcision. A feminist reading of male circumcision , undertaken in my study seeks to also understand and explain the experiences and differences between men and women , and the cultural values that construct the differences .

Many feminism(s) abound, such as liberal feminism (which draws on the idea of political liberalism) and is elucidated in works by Bird and Briller ( 1969), Friedan (1963) and Steinem (1983) which sees the oppression of women primarily in terms of the inequality between the sexes. Friedan ( 1963:71) states that in battles for women 's freedom to participate in the major work and decisions of society as the equals of men, feminists denied their very nature as women, which is fulfilled only through sexual passivity, acceptance of male domination , and nurturing motherhood . Liberals often formulate an understanding of the genders in terms of a separation of private life (relationships , family life, for example) from public issues (such as the law, politics, religion ). The approach to the analysis of gender inequality postulated by liberal feminist thinkers has some influence on my study in order to capture the interconnectedness of different aspects of women 's subordination.

Radical f e minism, in turn, views the oppression of women in respect of patriarchy (a system that valorises men over women) and this is manifested in sexuality, personal

relationships and the family. For these feminists, male power is manifested in male dominated institutions such as work, religion , home, culture, etc.[16]

So c ialistf e minism primarily sees the oppression of women in terms of the subordinate position women hold in relation to patriar chy and capitalism (for example, Eisenstein, 1979; Mitchell, 1990; Roberts and Mizuta , 1993). Capitalism for these feminists is an extension of a mode of production that reinforces patriarchal power and creates the sexual division of labour between women and men. Eisenstein (1979:47) argues that 'instead of seeing sex or class, or race or class, or sex, or race, we need to see the process and relations of power '. Eisenstein (1979:61) further states that feminism leads us to oppose patriarchy and to focus on the transformation of society by creating a more egalitarian society. Thir d Wo r ld f e minism , as another strand of feminism, is important in that in the 1970s and 1980s many women of colour criticised scholarship in feminism that underemphasised race, class, and culture.[17]

Feminists have used gender as the central orgamzmg category of analysis to understand and explain the unequal distribution of power between men and women . Gender refers, for example, to the process of socialisation of boys into men, and girls into womenhood . Gender is therefore a social category that refers to the social, political , cultural, factors which organise the relations between men and women . Feminists claim that gender is the cultural interpretation of sex and that gender is culturally constructed (Butler, 1999:11). According to Connell (1995: 72), gender is also produced within social relations. He argues that gender exists precisely to the extent that biology does not determine the social. Simone de Beauvoir (cited in Butler, 1999:12) suggests that one is not born a woman, but, rather, b ec om es a woman. The idea of 'becoming ' implies that gender is constructed via social and cultural processes. Butler for instance problematises the above notion of gender and argues that there is nothing in Beauvoir's account that guarantees that the "one" who becomes a woman is necessarily female. According to Xhosa culture, borrowing Beauvoir's account of gender, one is not born a man; rather, one becomes a man through, for example, the process of traditional male circumcision. Using Butler's ( 1999) account of gender, this study also agrees with Butler (1999) that gender is an identity constituted in time, instituted in an exterior space through a stylised repetition of acts. The effect of gender is produced through the stylisation of the body and, hence, must be understood as the way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self (Butler, 1993; 1999). The above definition of gender points to the complexity of the concept, and the relevance of such a definition for circumcision.

Rubin (1984: 307) for her part states that in the English language, the word "sex" has two very different meanings. It means gender and gender identity, as in "female sex" or "the male sex". But sex also refers to sexual activity, lust, intercourse, and arousal as in "to have sex". Similarly my study addresses sex within relationships, and in the context of circumcision in respect of amaXhosa who reside in Clermont-KwaDabeka. The semantic merging of sex and sexuality reflects a cultural assumption that sexuality is reducible to sexual intercourse and that it is a function of the relations between women and men. According to Bristow (1997: 1) 'sexuality is surely connected with sex', despite the fact that sex is a complicated phenomenon especially in terms of definition . Bristow (1997) claims that if sexuality designates sexual desire, then sexuality would appear to also embrace ideas about pleasure, physiology, fantasy and anatomy. On refl ction, then, sexuality emerges as a term that refers to both internal and external phenomena, to both the realm of the psyche and the material world. The cultural alignment of gender with sexuality has given rise to the idea that a theory of sexuality may be derived directly out of a theory of gender. Rubin (1984) argues that 'sex as we know it [...] is itself a social product'. Given the diverse theoretical approaches to sexuality, this study considers Bristow's (1997) view that sexuality embraces ideas about pleasure and physiology. Bristow's view was earlier researched by Alfred Kinsey (a prominent American sexologist working in the 1950s). Kinsey rediscovered the importance of the clitoris for female pleasure.

McClaren (1999: 146) states that a man seeking to arouse a woman should know how to locate the clitoris (defined as "the size of a split pea") and this brings about clitoral­ induced climax. McClaren (1999) declares that compared to the clitoral induced climax, vaginal orgasm has 'a richer' ,'deeper', and 'finer quality'. The absence of the foreskin from a male genital (penis) and the relationship to female sexual pleasure is a question this study addresses. McClaren (1999) in the same study also questions intercourse between men and women in heterosexual relationships. He asserts that women's emotional capacities were improved by experience, which he claims is indicated by the positive correlation between coital orgasms before and after marriage. Some of these ideas in regard to sexuality help to reinforce my argument that investigates and analyses the effects of traditional Xhosa male circumcision on the sexual enjoyment of the female partner.

1.1.2 Circumcision

Circumcision cannot be isolated from genders, sexualities, culture and power and a vast critical literature exists on the subject. [18] In investigating corning-of-age in Sambia, Herdt (1994) addresses the difficult issues surrounding the earliest sources of gender-identity formation and states that clinical work on sex and gender allow for an interactionalist model of cultural and behavioural interpretation. Herdt (1994) remarks that the complexity of sex and gender requires certain sensitivity to interdisciplinary research. Herdt (1994) states that according to ritual ideology, boys must be detached from their mothers and thereafter strictly separated from all females. Ritual taboos and secrecy help maintain the physical, social, and psychological distance between males and females. Boys must be radically resocialised and traumatized (Herdt, 1994:315). Herdt's study serves as reference literature in my study of Xhosa traditional male circumcision from the critical point of view. According to Xhosa culture a circumcised men is expected to find him a woman to marry. Investigating corning of

age m Samoa, Mead ( 1928) contends that casual homosexual practices occurred amongst circumcised Samoan men. For Mead (1928: 61):

There were several pairs of boys in the village who had been circumcised together and were still inseparable companions , often sleeping together in the house of one of them . Casual homosexual practices occurred in such relationships .

Meads account is relevant to this study that questions the symbolism of circumcision amongst the Xhosa. There is also a developing critical and theoretical body of knowledge on the subject of circumcision , especially female circumcision. The latter is a deeply contested phenomenon. Some view female circumcision as mutilation and injury (Walker and Parmar, 1993); others see female circumcision as a virtuous act of purity where women are often willing and active agents in the transmission of cultural ethos (see Abusharaf, 2001; Boyle, 2002; Hernlud and Shell-Duncan, 2000). It should be noted that my study does not engage the debate whether male circumcision is a form of mutilation , but rather addresses how non-hygienic practices could lead to a form of mutilation. The issue whether male circumcision is generally seen as a form of mutilation does not fall within the scope of this project. I am rather advancing the view that male circumcision has much to tell us about the promotion and propagation of masculinity and male power instead.

1.1.3 Masculinity and the body

Ideas about masculinity and the body cannot be separated from circumcision. Connell (1995:70), a key commentator on masculinity states that masculinity is, in effect, defined as non-femininity. Such a definition underscores the differences between genders in a rigidly defined binary that distinguishes men from women. Connell (1995) claims that masculinity is a gendered phenomenon that refers to how a man (a biological category which refers to maleness) comes to be defined . For Connell ( 1995) masculinity is a place in gendered relations , the practices through which men and women engage in that place in gender, and the effects of those practices in bodily practices, personality and culture. Male and female are biological terms that refer to anatomical, primarily genital difference. Man and woman on the other hand are gendered terms that refer to social, behavioural and experiential difference. These are categories with coded behaviours which young boys and girls must learn in order to become men or women. Connell also claims that masculinity is a privileged category within patriarchy. In this context, masculinity cannot be separated from the body, identity and social systems.

There is a growth of interest in bodily matters from a range of disciplinary perspectives that question conventional distinctions between biology and culture (for example, Scott and Morgan, 1993; Hancock et al, 2000). Themes that are discussed involve the social construction of the body, the various ways in which the different aspects of the body are given new and varied meanings. The body, as such, cannot be approached as a transparent slate that has no meaning in relation to culture. Masculinities point to conceptions of manhood, which is not far removed from bodily conceptions, and body parts. Turner (1995) contends that descriptions of the body as "representation ", as "a medium of social value", and as "community" are prevalent in detailed ethnographic accounts of local ritual surrounding the body, including circumcision rituals. Circumcision says much about the body because the process implies the cutting' of flesh from a male genital organ and the mark left symbolises manhood and accords power to a circumcised men. Masculinity and the body are issues that recur in my study because Xhosa circumcision has much to say about these issues. As a form of bodily modification in relation to specific body parts of both males and females, circumcision practices have often been outlined by interesting ethnographic studies (see for example, Abusharaf, 2001). The ethnographic aspect is a central aspect used to illuminate my argument.

1.1.4 Focused Ethnography-Circumcision

Ethnography in this study is important to the extent that the subjects interviewed provided some of the "factual" and experiential data for this project. Bryman (2001) notices that definitions of ethnography suggest a certain convergence around core elements, while simultaneously pointing to some divergence as well. For example, Bryman (2001: ix) contends that ethnography is the art and science of describing a group or culture. Bryman (2001) states that ethnography is a research process in which the anthropologist closely observes, records, and engages in the daily life of another culture. Similarly I utilise ethnography to refer to the written account that is the product of ethnographic research . Bryman (2001: x) suggests certain key features of ethnography that I similarly subscribe to in my study. Ethnograph y, according to Bryman (200 1) focuses on firstly understandin g aspects of society and culture, secondly, to collect descriptive data via fieldwork, and thirdly, to render the collected data intelligible and significant to fellow academics and other readers. Denzin (1997:

xii) similarly advances the view that theory, writing, and ethnography are inseparable material practices. He states that writing, theory and ethnography create the conditions that locate the social inside the text. He concludes that those who write culture also write theory and those who write theory also write culture. My study considers ethnography as a fundamental part of the research methodology that is focused on understanding how we arrive at the symbolic meanings associated with male circumcision by amaXhosa men and women living in Clermont-KwaDabeka.

1.2 Research Methodology

This section focuses on the methods and approaches utilised in the collection of data from interviewees on the Xhosa male initiation rites in Clermont-KwaDabeka.

1.2.1 Background and Position of Researcher

I have been an educator (teacher) at Buhlebernfundo Secondary School in Clermont­ KwaDabeka since 1993 specialising in Life skills (Guidance and Counselling), and Human and Social Science. As indicated earlier, there are many Xhosa people living in Clermont-KwaDabeka and in Sub - 5 areas, and their children attend neighbouring schools, of which Buhlebernfundo is one.

I became interested in the topic of circumcision in 2002, stimulated, in part, by pupils in a group discussion in the classroom; where amongst the group there was an ikhankatha (a traditional attendant /guardian), called Morris Sulman. The topic was about gender roles in the classroom and I introduced the topic at the surface level, facilitated a group discussion , with the aim to demystify gender stereotypes. In that discussion a debate developed because of a resistance to change, especially by boys, for instance in respect of domestic chores such as cleaning the classroom. Boys argued it has always been, and will always be a girl's responsibility to clean up after men. Boy 's maintained it was their responsibility to take care of girls, and in adulthood especially for men to take care of their women.

Morris told me that he was taught at entabeni (circumcision lodge) that the main duty of a man is to look after a woman. Hence one of the rewards of circumcised men is the right to get married. In effect, this suggests that circumcision prepares men for marriage. This he explained in gendered terms : a woman has to perform household duties, and a man has to find a job and be financially sound in order to care for women in Xhosa culture . Our discussion in the classroom enriched my knowledge of Xhosa ritual initiation rites, and sparked my interest in further research. However, at that time I had no intellectual tools. I became quite interested in programmes on television that focused on septic wounds as a result of male circumcision rites. I wanted to pursue circumcision and traced Morris, as he was no longer a student at our school at the time of this study. Fortunately, he resides in Clermont-KwaDabeka and I identified him as one of my interviewees for this study.

After a conversation with Morris , a series of informal discussions took place in my workplace concerning septic wounds during initiation. This topic often became the subject of staff room conversation , especially during breaks. This was done purposely when either of my Xhosa colleagues was present in order to ascertain their views pertaining to initiation rites in Xhosa , and to determine if they were willing to talk about this issue. This made my task easier, and in later interviews I conducted with them, more specific questions focused on achieving this study's objectives .

As a teacher, researcher, and community worker I am also involved with community outreach projects that reinforce my acquaintance with Clermont-KwaDabeka and Sub 5 area. For example, as a committee member and a facilitator of Transformation and Gender Equity in the Department of Education and Culture in KwaZulu-Natal, I have worked with the Clermont-KwaDabeka community at large, and interacted with them on a number of occasions through workshops conducted on behalf of the Commission on Gender Equality. Also through sports activities (such as drummies), I interact with this community. I am a founder and a coordinator of the drummies at Buhlebemfundo Secondary School, who perform on special occasions in the community, such as the celebration of world health day. These relationships facilitated my understanding of the Clermont-KwaDabeka and Sub 5 communities when I conducted interviews. As a woman perceived to be 'interfering' in a 'man's domain' , I did not face much resistance as I expected from interviewees as was the case reported by Funani (1990) and Ngaloshe (2000). The latter employed the services of other men which she terms 'sources by proxy' (2000: 28). These men collected data on her behalf, and the data was later narrated to her, a method Ngaloshe (2000: 28) describes as the 'oral tradition'. I gathered the data utilised in my project, and will give an account of how, as a woman, I entered the network of a male domain. Equally I did not face much resistance from Xhosa women who narrated their sexual experiences to me. Perhaps as I indicated earlier, talking about umetsho (sex) is not taboo to Xhosa women who engage in practices of ukujola (having sweethearts) during their teenage life.

1.2.2 Research design

My study uses a qualitative approach to data collection. This approach uses written, spoken and observed data or behaviour. The qualitative approach tells a story from the interviewees ' point of view, thus providing the rich descriptive information necessary to demystify taboos and to break silences about issues pertaining to sex and sexuality that are under discussion. Qualitative methods are generally used for identification, description and explanation, an approach relevant for this research. According to Edgerton (1974: 3), the best tool for studying 'alien' culture and coming to understand it, is the intellect, sensitivity, and emotion of another human being and the fact that culture must be seen through the eyes of those who live in it. Edgerton (1974) also claims that to get hold of the realities of human feelings under investigation, the principle of 'naturalism' needs to be employed. Naturalism, according to Edgerton (1974:4) "requires that human behaviour be viewed in the context in which it naturally occurs (as part of an ongoing life in a society rather than of an experiment in a laboratory)". The principle of naturalism is therefore employed to capture the realities of the feelings of Xhosa males and females who reside in Clermont­ KwaDabeka pertaining to Xhosa male initiation rites . This gendered project also utilises feminist concepts. According to Bowles and Duelli-Klein (1983) feminist research is different from patriarchal or male-dominated research and raises the issue of subjectivity versus objectivity by claiming that feminist research cannot be value free. Bowles and Duelli-Klein (1983) also state that feminist research must be grounded in female culture and experience. In accordance with the above methodological approach, I use oral narratives focused on past and present experiences pertaining to ukwaluka . By bringing in interviewees' narratives I want to demonstrate that by 'talking about sex' women and men also demystify the taboos about sex and sexuality. It is demystified because in talking about sex, the secrecy, silence and mysticism about sex is thereby also challenged. Equally so I want to demystify the taboos about the ritualised practice of circumcision. The narratives also challenge conventional social science research methods whereby in most cases there is a tendency by some researchers to speak on behalf of women. I do not speak on behalf of women. In my study, however , I present the experiences, and perceptions of both men and women regarding the impact of traditional circumcision on their lives. I present data in the manner it was communicated to me. Observations and field notes were made during interview sessions and have been incorporated as part of the data for the purpose of analysis. Fieldwork was carried out through in-depth interviews that lasted between thirty minutes to an hour per interview. To overcome linguistic problems and the dominance of the researcher, interview questions were also designed in isiZulu and English , and were open-ended to evoke a comprehensive account of interviewee's experiences and perceptions regarding the impact of traditional circumcision rites on their lives.


[1] nitiates.

[2] See for example, Ngudle (2004); Noganta (1999); Funani (1990); Hatile (2000); Ngaloshe (2000);

Meintjes (1998); Gitjwa (1970;1976); Bettelheim (1962); Bonner (2001); Contch (1986); Gupta (2003);

Ngxamngxa (1971); Malherbe (1975 ).

[3] See for example, Meintjes (1998); Funani (1990); Gitywa (1970; 1976).

[4] No foreskin .

[5] A knife.

[6] See for example, Funani (1990); Ngaloshe (2000); Hammond-Tooke (1974;1993); Mcetywa (1998); Schapera (1937); Meintjes (1998); Warren -Brown (1998).

[7] An important and respected place amongst the Nguni tribes which is situated between a cattle kraal and a homestead where cultural functions are performed.

[8] Ancestors .

[9] Celebration party.

[10] Cattle kraal-amongst the Nguni symbolises the wealth of umnumzane (the head of the family) .

[11] Sex

[12] Sex between the thighs without penetration in the vagina .

[13] Sweetheart /lover.

[14] See Crowley (1990); Gitywa (1970;1976) ; Laidler (1922); Ramphele (1990); Turner (1915); Malherbe

\1975) ; Funani (1990); Ngaloshe (2000).

[15] A newly initiated man.

[16] See for example the work of Daly (1978); Echols (1989); Hame and Miller (1996).

[17] See for example : Collins (1990); Davis (1983); Hooks (1984); Mohanty, Russo, and Torres (1991); Moraga and Anzaldua (1983); Smith (1983). Mohanty (1991) for example contends that the histories of colonialism, capitalism, race and gender are inextricably interrelated .

[18] See for example: Abusharaf (2001); Bonner (2001); Funani (1990); Gollaher (2000); Hatile (2000);

Hull and Budiharsana (2001); Koso-Thomas, (1987); Mcetywa (1998); Meintjes (1998); Ndletyana (2000); Gupta (2003); Contch (1986); Ngaloshe (2000) and Turner (1995).

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Ukwaluka / Ukusoka: A gender analysis of the symbolism of male circumcision as perceived by amaxhosa men and women in Clermont - Kwadabeka, Durban
University of KwaZulu-Natal  (Howard College)
Gender Studies
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ukwaluka, ukusoka, clermont, kwadabeka, durban
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Promise Makhosazane Nkosi (Author), 2005, Ukwaluka / Ukusoka: A gender analysis of the symbolism of male circumcision as perceived by amaxhosa men and women in Clermont - Kwadabeka, Durban, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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