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"Puberty rites as cultural responses to the prevention of HIV in Zimbabwe: the case of Varemba circumcision and initiation rites in the Mwenezi district.

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The HIV and AIDS pandemic is ubiquitous and indiscriminate in its global onslaught and has caused untold suffering worldwide; the youth in particular are of great concern here. Research on HIV and AIDS has most often focused on heightening social awareness and the use of contraceptives, rather than addressing critical issues regarding this scourge. Research on the role of traditional institutions in socialising young people and improving their awareness of sexual health in the context of HIV and AIDS is currently minimal. Researchers have a tendency of focusing on the biological causes and effects of the pandemic, thus circumventing critical aspects such as the need for behavioural change. The purpose of this study was to determine how cultural traditions under the guise of initiation rites could constitute a body of relevant pedagogy required by young people at the onset of puberty, to develop positive behaviours and attitudes that will render them less vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. The goal of this study was also to establish how the circumcision and initiation ritual as a cultural resource could contribute to strategies aimed at the prevention of HIV and AIDS. Using the phenomenology of religion and social scientific methods, this study focused on the circumcision and initiation rituals of the Varemba people in Mwenezi district of Zimbabwe. In-depth interviews and observation were used to collect data. The participants who were from the Varemba ethnic group, therefore provided rich data. The participants were selected through non-probability purposive sampling and non-probability convenience sampling. Since the topic of this study was sensitive, the research depended on the availability and willingness of the participants to provide information. The findings revealed that lessons learnt by the initiates during the initiation rituals directly or indirectly constituted a relevant traditional pedagogy that has the potential to change the sexual behaviours of the individuals in the prevention of HIV and AIDS. Initiation rituals have the capacity to bring about moral and social transformation in the society by guiding the youth through the important stages of life and providing moral lessons on sex and sexuality. The study concluded that initiation rituals have the potential to contribute to intervention strategies to curb HIV and AIDS through the fostering of behavioural change in the youth. This study recommended that despite the differences between ritual strategies and the medical approach to the prevention of HIV and AIDS, a holistic approach should be adopted where the various strategies and approaches are encouraged to form a symbiotic relationship in the fight against HIV and AIDS.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.