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Meanwhile in Africa

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  • Meanwhile in Africa

    I live in an area where the HIV/AIDS rate is one of the highest in the world. For years our government has been taking various measures to try and cut the rate, including free condoms* handed out all over the place, it was added to the school syllabus, AIDS tests at clinics are free, and at one point they had almost daily programs about safe sex on TV. Even during kids shows. Drastic measures were called for - and still are as the area continues to have an alarmingly high infection rate.

    A few years ago they added free circumcisions to the mix. So driving home today I saw this sign - 1 million men circumcised in the province (out of a population of 10 million, so presumably 20% of 5 million men).

    Now, to add some context, this province is known as the Zulu Kingdom (the king is more ceremonial than anything else, but if he called his people to rise for a cause, the majority would follow without question**). And in Zulu culture, when a boy turns 13, he is circumcised (usually by a community elder or a witch doctor, obviously no formal or proper instruments - needless to say, it often ends badly).

    So it's not clear how many of these 1 million people would have been circumcised irrespective, vs how many were mutilated because of the State's pro-circumcision campaigns.

    An example of the adverts we see on TV regarding this can be seen at this link

    A few years ago, two different bills were presented in parliament (unsurprisingly both failed), one was to make infant circumcision compulsory. The second was to prohibit it in kids under 13 years old. The first failed due to the practicalities when hospitals are already inadequately staffed, the latter due to various religious organisations objecting. Although they were quite happy to pass a bill prohibiting the cutting off of a dog's tail - which I think was a good idea, but surely such a right on a child's genitals is at least as strong as an animal's right to its own anatomy.

    Anyway - without any more digressions - I don't know how the rest of you feel when you see a sign like this, but it makes me sad that a country that prides itself on being very progressive (well, on some things anyway) is still pushing a myth and subsidising genital mutilation.

    *Side anecdote: some of these free condoms had instructions stapled to them, as in the staple went through the actual condom - that got a lot of laughs at the time. In retrospect, that actually isn't so funny.
    **Contextual side note: a senior government official recently called him a "tin pot dictator", so he threatened to violently revolt against the government. Within days, the president cancelled some important meetings to go and visit him, and as a sign of respect, the president bowed down at the king's feet. So he does have some genuine power. He is also the biggest land owner in the country, owning 2.8 million hectares of land.
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  • #2
    It's notable that circumcision was not part of Zulu culture until the money started flowing in after the 2007 controlled trials:

    And I believe South Africa still has a law banning non-therapeutic circumcision under the age of 16, but it has religious/cultural exemptions.
    -Ron Low
    847 414-1692 Chicago


    • #3
      My theory on the reasoning boils down to a quote from the book 1984:
      "The aim of the Party was not merely to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which it might not be able to control. Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy, inside marriage as well as outside it. ... Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema. This again was never put into plain words, but in an indirect way it was rubbed into every Party member from childhood onwards. ... The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it."

      Sexually frustrated people are easier to control, I think it is as simple as that. Religious organisations have been doing that for [literally] ages.

      I assume it has never been studied, and likely never will be - but I would love to know if there is a pattern between violent crimes rates in circumcised vs intact men. Not saying it is a direct cause, but it could be an aggravating factor.


      • #4
        We know that baby foreskins are used in certain cosmetics, that is as true here as it is in the States, UK etc. I don't know of any use of adult foreskins (after they have been removed, that is).

        It is plausible that those who are getting paid to collect baby foreskins are trying to incentivise parents to mutilate their kids - a father who has been brainwashed into thinking that circumcised is good is more likely to circumcise his son. Although that could backfire if a man notices the sharp decline after the procedure and becomes and intactivist. I guess one could do some digging and find who the big donors to these campaigns are, and make an educated guess from there. But I would also guess that it is more complicated than that in any case.

        Meanwhile our former president's defense, under oath while being accused of rape, was that he didn't get AIDS because he showered afterward. He has been duly mocked for years about it (the Queen might have been trolling him when she awarded him the Order of Bath) - but the studies seem to suggest that he wasn't wrong. Or at least that cleaning your penis immediately after sex is more effective at reducing the risk of infection than circumcision. That being said - in the trial he did confirm that he was circumcised (unsurprising for a traditionalist Zulu), and the judge received a round of laughter when he asked the prosecution if they wished to inspect to confirm his answer.

        I was mutilated when I was a few days old, so I can't comment first hand - but surely it isn't that hard to retract your foreskin and rinse off the area after sex?


        • #5
          What boggles my mind was that there was never any concrete evidence it would work.

          Now, over ten years after the controlled trials, there's news from the South African province of Mpumalanga that a higher infection rate has been found in circumcised rather than intact men:


          • #6
            It's interesting that Quackwatch is so harsh on all forms of "alternative medicine", but is generally pro-circumcision. From a consistency point of view, you would expect them to oppose both equally. E.g. they are quick to talk against to talk against turmeric for cancer patients, when WHO commissioned studies have shown that the success rate of treatment in conjunction with taking large amounts of turmeric is higher, and they have not been able to identify any side-effects. I.e. it is cheap, easy, and worst case scenario, it does no harm when used in conjunction with other treatments. Yet they are quite happy to tell people to chop off a chunk of their sons' genitals just in case it might slightly lower their odds of getting AIDS later in life, assuming they couldn't be bothered to clean themselves properly and aren't responsible enough to take adequate precautions. And this treatment comes with a long list of risks, and a success rate in preventing UTIs that isn't even as high as the death rate from the procedure.

            I don't trust that website at all, by their own definition, the website is quackery as it is run by an industrial psychologist without medical training. Its funding is also suspect. But anyway.

            Reality : Yes, I do seem to have digressed quite dramatically. I can use my standard excuse that I have been diagnosed as ADHD, so it's not my fault (seeing as people seem to think like that these days)

            My point was "this is what's happening in South Africa, doesn't it make you feel sick?" - but I wasn't really going anywhere with it from there. That massive poster on the side of a building, paid for with my tax money, is being used to spread propaganda to encourage uneducated people to get unnecessary cosmetic surgery (once again, paid for with my tax money) that will both lower their quality of life and won't be beneficial to them at all. I am basically just venting some random annoyance, seeing as I have nowhere else to vent it...


            • #7