Hands off our culture, chief tells officials

A traditional leader within the Shangani community has urged the government not to interfere with the cultural activities of the people in the country – especially the practice of circumcision within the Shangaani community.

Chief Gezani – advising government to keep its hands off their cultural ceremonies, despite a number of deaths.
Chief Gezani – advising government to keep its hands off their cultural ceremonies, despite a number of deaths.

Speaking to the press on the sidelines of a graduation ceremony of 550 Shangani young men who had undergone circumcision, Amos Hanyani, who is Chief Gezani, said the Shangaani community should be allowed to conduct its circumcision ceremonies without government interference.

“We are even against the involvement of police officers, who sometimes come and threaten to arrest people over our circumcision methods,” he added. “This has been a thorn in the flesh to us and we are advising government to keep its hands off the circumcision ceremonies that we normally conduct.”

The government had intervened after reports that some men had died after undergoing circumcision due to unhygienic practices by the Shangani community. The government, through the National AIDS Council, now supervises all circumcision ceremonies.

Masvingo Provincial Aids Action co-ordinator Evos Makoni said that, since their involvement in 2009, no deaths had been reported.

He said the AIDS council was working harmoniously with the Shangaani community to ensure that HIV and AIDS was not spread while conducting circumcision ceremonies.

Makoni mentioned that circumcision could reduce the chance of getting AIDS, but was no guarantee against infection.

“We are telling people that, despite being circumcised, one can still contract the HIV virus, so being circumcised is not a ticket for promiscuity,” said Makoni.

He said the NAC only monitored the health aspect of the circumcision ceremonies and did not interfere with the cultural practices of the community.

About 1,600 young men were circumcised during this year’s Shangaani ceremony in Chikombedzi near the Mozambican and South African borders.

Meanwhile, Zanu (PF) factions in Masvingo have come into the fray and on different sides of the argument.

Masvingo provincial affairs minister Kudakwashe Bhasikiti has ordered the Shangaani people to force their children to be circumcised, while Chief Fortune Charumbira has called on the community not to force anyone to undergo the process.

Charumbira who was the guest of honour at a function held last week at

Chief Sengwe’s homestead where 1,054 young Shangaani men were graduating after being circumcised, said the process should be voluntary.

Earlier, Bhasikiti had ordered the Shangani people to force their children to get circumcised, arguing that it was part of their culture.

“This is a clear reflection of factional fighting within the ruling party because two officials from the same party cannot give contradictory statements to the same gathering,” said one political analyst. “Charumbira belongs to the Munangagwa camp and Bhasikiti is from the Mujuru camp, that is why they clashed publicly.”

Zanu (PF) considers Chiredzi district as a stronghold, despite the remoteness of the area. The southern areas of the district dominated by the Shangani community have barely been touched by the modern era and rates of literacy are very low.

Meanwhile Chief Charumbira revealed a major government circumcision programme.

“To achieve zero new HIV cases, we need to implement evidence-informed interventions,” said Charumbira. “We hope to circumcise 1.2m sexually active males by 2015 and reduce new HIV cases by half.”

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