Conflicting interests between public health and custodians of indigenous knowledge with regards to curation and dissemination of information about Xhosa initiation rites

Master Thesis


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This practice of traditional male circumcision among the Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa is accompanied by a high level of secrecy: details of the practice may not be shared with non-members such as women, uninitiated boys and strangers. To address the issue of injuries and deaths resulting from poorly performed unhygienic circumcision by untrained practitioners, the Department of Public Health in the Eastern Cape passed the Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act No 6 of 2001. In order to explore the conflicting interests between public health and custodians of indigenous knowledge of curation and dissemination of information about Xhosa initiation rites, sociocultural theory through a systematic review of literature is used. Meta-ethnography design and a qualitative research approach is also used, as well as NVivo 11 qualitative data analysis software to analyse the data. Eighteen databases were used, and searches were conducted on 9 June 2016 and 13 October 2018. Using the systematic review screening process and PRISMA checklist, articles were screened against inclusion criteria, resulting in nine articles being included in the final review. Apart from the aforementioned findings that the practice excludes non-members from participating and disseminating information, and that traditional practitioners lack basic skills and knowledge necessary for procedures, findings also showed that the establishment of the Circumcision Act was the major reason for the conflict that exists between public health and Xhosa people: Xhosa people do not want secret information about the practice to be disseminated to non-members. In conclusion it is recommended that the Xhosa-speaking community make some Traditional Male Circumcision (TMC) information available while still preserving the fundamental secret information for traditional purposes. For example, access to pertinent information should be given to public health officials to enable assistance in addressing botched circumcisions.