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”.

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 will undermine the work that is being done by traditional leaders and government and us,” Nxesi said. “He 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 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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