After seven days of torture at an illegal initiation school in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, Khaya’s* penis had to be amputated.
Three years ago, he and two friends from KwaNyuswa village were deprived of water, assaulted and tortured at the initiation school, along with 25 other initiates from nearby villages.
One of his friends also had his penis amputated, while another was lucky enough to survive intact.
They watched helplessly as one of their group collapsed and died before the rest of them were rescued by monitoring teams and police.
Khaya blames the ikhankatha (traditional nurse) responsible for the ibhoma (initiation school), who was allegedly constantly drunk and allowed strangers to touch them and dress their wounds.
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“They would dress our wounds so tightly that we could not even move. If you tried to move, the pain was unbearable. They would leave us lying there for many hours and refused to give us water. The only thing they would do was beat us with sticks continuously and demand that we sing,” he said.
Unable to stand the ridicule from his fellow initiates, Khaya left his village and moved to Durban, where his mother works as a domestic worker.
“Some of the people who were initiates with me are now making jokes about my condition. They make nasty comments. They say that because I have no penis, they can leave their girlfriends with me and I will not do anything because I have no manhood,” he said.
“That really hurts. I was being treated like an outcast by my own village and I had to move and start a new life away from them. I then convinced my mother that I should stay with her.”
Besides his fellow initiates, only his uncle knows about his condition – his mother has no idea. His family knew nothing of his decision to attend initiation school as Khaya went on his own.
In a telephone interview, the 24-year-old asked that his identity not be revealed. Although he has accepted life without a penis, he is not ready to let everyone else know.
After they were rescued, Khaya and his fellow initiates were admitted to the Holy Cross Hospital in Bizana.
“My penis was rotten by the time I arrived in hospital. It looked like blood had not been circulating for a while. One day, when they were removing the catheter, my penis fell off. It was heartbreaking. I just wished I had died just like the initiate I saw dying,” he said.
“For a while after that, it was embarrassing for me when I needed to urinate because I had to sit down like a girl. It was extremely painful.”
Last year, Khaya underwent a penis reconstruction operation at a urology clinic in Pretoria, which was funded by the nongovernmental organisation Community Development Foundation for SA, following an intervention by a support group for amputees in Lusikisiki, which helps men disfigured during initiation.
His penis was partially reconstructed during a skin graft operation, so now he can at least urinate standing up.
“That operation brought a little sense of dignity because it is not like before when there was absolutely nothing,” he said.
Khaya wants to become a social worker and help boys who have suffered like he has. But since his father died, he and his three siblings survive on his mother’s salary, which he said was less than R1 000 a month.
“I know how difficult things can be. There are times you wished you could die. When I went to initiation school, I wanted to be a man and not come back with a situation where I cannot even have children, as is the case right now,” he said.
“You need a lot of counselling and support. I am strong now, but it has been a difficult few years. Without the love and support from the Lusikisiki support group for amputees and the Community Development Foundation, I probably would have killed myself by now.”
* Not his real name