Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

South Africa Zulus to revive circumcision to fight Aids

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini , file image
King Goodwill Zwelithini's region is one of the worst-affected by Aids

The king of South Africa's Zulus has proposed reintroducing circumcision - formerly practised as a ritual by Zulus - to help fight the spread of HIV/Aids.

The authorities are reportedly in talks with King Goodwill Zwelithini on how to bring back the practice.

It was banned by King Shaka in the 19th Century because he said it robbed him of young warriors for months at a time.

Some studies suggest circumcising men can halve their chances of contracting the Aids virus.

However, experts stress that the best way to avoid becoming infected with HIV during sexual encounters is to use condoms.

Overall more than five million South Africans are infected with HIV - the highest number of infections for a single country.

President Jacob Zuma recently announced major changes to the Aids policy which have been welcome by society and Aids activists.

Positive reaction

Kwa-Zulu Natal Province has one of the highest HIV infection rates of any South African province.

Addressing a Zulu festival, King Goodwill suggested his solution to the problem.

5.2m people with HIV
17% of people aged 15-49 HIV-positive
1.5m adults need Aids drugs in 2009
106,000 children under 15 need ARVs
413,000 new infections in 2009
59,000 of these are children
Source: Statistics South Africa

"In the context of the fight against HIV and Aids, I should announce my intention to revive the practice of circumcision amongst young men," Sapa news agency quoted him as saying.

Kwa-Zulu Natal's regional head Zweli Mkhize welcomed the king's call.

"Circumcision will assist in the fight against the pandemic, although on its own does not prevent the spread of sexual transmitted diseases," Sapa quoted him as saying.

AFP news agency reported that the authorities in KwaZulu-Natal were in talks with the king about the practicalities of reintroducing circumcision.

The king's suggestion came as Zulu ceremonies were under scrutiny for a different reason.

He was addressing Zulus gathered for the Ukweshwama ceremony - a thanksgiving festival where young men kill a bull with their hands as a rite of passage.

Animal Rights Africa bitterly criticised the practice as "cruel" and "protracted" but the group lost a legal bid on Friday to have the festival banned.

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