Outrage over graphic circumcision website

A WEBSITE set up by a controversial Dutch doctor showing graphic images of mutilated and infected penises of Eastern Cape initiates has caused outrage among traditional leaders in the province.

Dr Dingeman Rijken, a former employee of the Eastern Cape department of health, said he set the website up “for the world to see”.

Dingeman Rijken
SPEAKING OUT: Dr Dingeman Rijken, a former department of health employee, who has exposed the horror of botched circumcisions on a controversial website Picture: FILE

Rijken said this was a last-ditch effort to show traditional leaders and local communities that initiation was not just a ritual, but in many cases resulted in genital mutilation that had led to the death of hundreds of young boys, while thousands have had their penises amputated or disfigured.

Rijken said he had on numerous occasions requested that initiates undergo medical circumcision but “weak” traditional leaders had shown no interest.

Instead, circumcision was being carried out by traditional surgeons who were sometimes incompetent or did not use sterilised equipment.

Speaking to the Saturday Dispatch this week and referring to traditional leaders, Rijken said the “self-proclaimed custodians of the ritual” called numerous meetings to discuss the death of initiates but there were never any solutions.

“Why do we sustain a ritual that slaughters boys in their prime or physically and mentally scars many others for life?” he asked.

“Many have lost their manhood while hundreds have suffered penile amputation. These deaths were avoidable. If the weak traditional leaders continue to do this, many innocent lives will be lost. These leaders need to wake up,” he said.

But the doctor’s website has come in for criticism from several quarters and he has been accused of exposing a sacred initiation custom to the world.

Over 200 graphic images on the website show close-ups of penises infected with gangrene and skin-loss while others show botched circumcisions.

Rijken said he had permission to publish the pictures from the initiates concerned. “I took those pictures because I was given consent by those involved, including the initiates themselves,” he said.

But Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders deputy chairman Prince Zolile Burns-Ncamashe said it was “disgusting” that a foreign national could “undermine” the country’s customs.

“If I had the power I would send officials to arrest this doctor immediately,” Burns-Ncamashe said.

Nkululeko Nxesi of the Community Development Foundation of South Africa, an NGO that runs initiation rescue centres, said the website was an embarrassment to the AmaXhosa nation.

“This [the website] will undermine the work that is being done by traditional leaders and government and us,” Nxesi said. “He [Rijken] should respect the cultural principles and processes of this nation. This embarrassing thing he has done assumes that there is nothing being done to curb this.”

Rijken is no stranger to controversy. He worked at Flagstaff’s Holy Cross Hospital and last year released a training manual to assist in the ritual. However, it was not well received as it carried a picture of an initiate being circumcised.

Rijken said that from 1995 until now, 819 boys had lost their lives undergoing the rite, while thousands had been left mutilated.

On the website he said many of the initiates huts are built in secluded locations and centralised initiation schools were needed.

Health department spokesman, Sizwe Kupelo said the department had distanced itself from Rijken, as he was a former employee.

Kupelo said it was suspected that the pictures may have been taken at a time when Rijken was in the department’s employ. “The department will investigate and may report the doctor to the Health Professions Council [of SA] if he is found to have violated the patients’ rights by publishing the pictures,” Kupelo said.

Rijken is due to leave for Malawi, where he will start work at a local hospital, within a few weeks.

He said boys would continue to die unless medically trained personnel carried out circumcisions.

The website – www.ulwaluko.co.za – contains graphic images. — bonganif@dispatch.co.za/ zwangam@dispatch.co.za

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  1. Over a hundred deaths a year, as well as some complete amputations. The sooner this bizarre and outdated tradition dies out, the better. No-one becomes a man by having parts of their manhood cut off anyway. Click on the link to see over 150 graphic photos of men who didn’t die but who were permanently injured by circumcision.

    Dr Rijken should be commended for opening people’s eyes to what goes on.

    • It’s not bizzare and outdated, it’s just that these ppl who butcher these young man do not know what they r doing, this is not their custom and as such they should not perform the ritual themselves….they must ask for help. The tradition is a Xhosa custom, not a Pondo and as a result they are botching it. However I agree the doctor did a good thing by publishing this, as a wake up call to the ppl concerned.

  2. Culture and tradition…. worth the life of a young man or woman? Dr Rijken should be receiving all the support necessary to change this barbaric mutilation that is called ‘tradition’. Those in power are supposedly the educated group. How educated do you have to be to stop the deaths and mutilation of so many of South Africa’s young people. Stand together and do something positive, instead of being sheep and following mindlessly a tradition where in the past was carried out by respected elders and now any old Dick, Tom or Harry can do. Care enough about your children and your neighbours children to say STOP!

  3. The photos induce a sense of shock and disgust.Unlike the Prince,I think the people who deserve to be arrested are those who are responsible for mutilating the young me.I also believe that any parent who sees the photos will ensure tha his child is handled by real people rather than mad beasts who seem to take delight in torturing and maiming people.

  4. Just look at those photos, each one representing a man whose life is in ruins – and all in the name of “becoming a man”! People should rise up and challenge a “culture” which does this, and enforces it by fear, if only fear of non-conformity, if not violence. Think for a moment – how can less of a member mean more of a man?

    And no doubt every photograph stands in for many more men who were not photographed. Even those who think they were unharmed will never know what marital relations could be like with complete equipment,

    As for the “traditional leaders” – Talk about shooting the messenger! They should hang their heads in shame. They should apologise to Dr Rijken, who has blown the whistle on this outrage against men. How can they show their faces to those men? Or to the families of those who have died?

  5. My initial reaction upon seeing these images is that I got off lightly when I was forcibly circumcised as an infant. Although I lived for many years in ignorance of the fact that I was denied by my parents the normal sex life I should have enjoyed, at least it was a sex life and I have children to show for it. Many of these young men have been brutally robbed of any sort of sex life, far less the opportunity to reproduce, which is surely every human’s birthright.

    I have grown weary of the argument that FGM is ghastly and that male circumcision is a sideshow by comparison. The skewed propaganda always highlights the worst cases of FGM and then contrasts this with the fact that many circumcised men are not at all bothered about being circumcised and enjoy what they consider to be normal sex lives. In fact there are many women who have been subjected to FGM, but do not feel that they are victims and enjoy what they consider to be normal sex lives. Conversely the graphic evidence gathered by Dr Rijken shows without a doubt that there are many young men who have clearly suffered terrible mutilation, amputation and death due to circumcision, or perhaps we can now officially call it what it actually always has been: MGM.

  6. Even a “perfect” circumcision alters sex dramatically. Foreskin feels REALLY good.

    Nobody should be circumcised while they are so young that it might be the product of coersion.

    Most of the US men who have died of AIDS were circumcised at birth. The only RCT on male to female HIV transmission showed circumcising INCREASED risk to Ugandan men’s partners.

  7. “He said boys would continue to die unless medically trained personnel carried out circumcisions.”

    Or, here’s an idea. Stop lying to people to convince them to mutilate their genitals?

  8. Dr.Rijken should be commended for his professionalism and common sense. The basic problem is with the traditional leaders who seem to have a vested interest in retaining the dark ages. In a true democracy there is no place for traditional leaders so get rid of them asap.

  9. Agree. Dr. Rijken should be commended for exposing this ritual which has been going on far too long in this modern age. The horrific mutilations, never seen before should never happen and not one single boy die if this ritual is done under proper medical conditions. The butchers who are resposible for this crime should be hounded out and prosecuted . Traditional leaders must refrain from protecting these ‘butchers’.

  10. @ Maseka: You are so ignorant about your country’s own history. Ulwaluko does not belong exclusively to Xhosas. Amampondo and Zulus performed this custom just like xhosas did but chose to suspend this practice during the Mfecane wars. I like the radical approach adopted by the doc, it raises questions about what these traditional leaders have been doing to deal with this endemic.

  11. The DOH should consider that it be compulsory for parents and their sons to attend a single lecture regarding this tradition prior to sending them to the bush. Those images are graphic enough to make you think twice.

  12. I am a circumcised Xhosa man and I’m proud. As long as people think circumcision is about the cutting of the foreskin or money, our custom will die. The passage to manhood is deeper than any of you ‘uncircumcised’ can ever comprehend. I believe that if we can take away the ‘gains-factor’ (paying surgeons and nurses), we would go a long way into curbing these senseless killings and mutilations because the ritual is a community-orientated one where all the members of the community should play their roles in transforming the initiates from boys to men who will in turn become respected and respectful members of the same communities that ‘made’ them. No-one needs to be paid for this. Take away the so-called incentive and take the ritual back to communities and you will see results. As for this foreign doctor, nothing can be commended from what he did because he took a people’s sacred rite and put it out there for all to see without understanding the deep negative implications for the Xhosa Nation. I have a son who I will also take through the same path as I have travelled into becoming the respected and respectful member of society that I am today. I say again, I am a circumcised Xhosa man and I’m proud.

  13. I was genitally mutilated (circumcised) as a baby without my consent. Supposedly for the sake of the hygiene myth, yet, aha, my father kept his foreskin, of course. I lost the ability to experience full sensitivity, my sexual integrity was assaulted. All because of willfully ignorant parents.

    While I deplore the deaths and horrific outcomes of traditional circumcision – no circumcision is right. Any parent doing so is overstepping moral and ethical boundaries, while causing psychological, physiological and emotional harm. Even phimosis can be treated through stretching exercises.

    The foreskin contains 20 000 erogenous nerves, the clitoris 8 000. It is clear therefore that both female and male genital mutilation should be outlawed. The fact that MGM has not been illustrates the power of corporations to spread lies and the power of religion to go against what is clearly a human rights abuse. Any parent who insists on doing this to their child should know they run a certain risk of losing the emotional bond with their son. Feelings of intense anger, betrayal and depression are commonplace.

  14. Thank you to all who have left comments so far, voicing opinions with respect for others beliefs and traditions.

    As an `uncircumcised` man I have no right to comment on the tradition – however I believe that the passage to manhood is an excellent opportunity for the `young` men to learn respect for each other, for the women in their lives and for their land.

    However as a doctor I am bound to not only treat the sick, but to prevent the illnesses and diseases in the first place. I am compelled to report faulty medications or unethical practice.

    Please stop the obviously unsafe traditional circumcisions until all the schools and `doctors` are registered/ regulated and accountable.

  15. Well done to this Doctor for exposing this barbaric practice, which is outdated in the modern world. You cant be civilised and uncivilised at the same time? be one or the other and let it be known! If this is what they do to males what do women have to go through? If a forskin has to be removed for what ever reason, let it be done clinically at birth.

  16. Well done to this Doctor for exposing this barbaric practice, which is outdated in the modern world. You cant be civilised and uncivilised at the same time? be one or the other and let it be known! If this is what they do to males what do women have to go through? If a forskin has to be removed for what ever reason, let it be done clinically at birth. I was, I did not even know about it and there is nothing wrong with me.

  17. Finally people can see the dangers of initiation school.I commend the doctor for exposing this barbaric ritual,I cannot belive even now the goverment has not eliminated initiation schools,I do not care whether it is tradition or not, traditional circumcision has got no place in a modern and civilised society.Why do we let culture rob innocent young men of their right to sex and life and where is the moral tradition that prescribes pardons to life destroyers such as traditional surgeons.Those are kinds of questions that health ministers and traditional leaders never answer.

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