Imagine a woman known as Four -Five --township slang for 'penis'. Manana Thamani earned this strange nickname through her work campaigning for medical male circumcision (MMC) in Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg. It is one she wears with pride.
Thamani (37) works for the Centre for HIV and AIDS Prevention Studies (CHAPS), an organisation specialising in medical male circumcision. Thamani is one of their leading recruiters, determined to get all men in her community circumcised. Every morning Thamani puts on a t-shirt that reads "Sharpen your four five"-- a reference to getting circumcised--and targets taverns, taxi ranks, and shopping malls,to spread the message that circumcision is good for men and their partners, improving their sexual health and sexual pleasure.
This energetic mother of two has crossed gender and cultural barriers, persuading thousands of men from to undergo circumcision at her local clinic. "You still find many men and women who believe that circumcision is a taboo topic to be discussed with a woman," said Thamani. "It is only when you start talking about benefits such as oral sex and how it can improve their sex life that they then want to hear more about it." This Hammanskraal-born woman, who laughs when locals call her Four-Five, has become a darling of her community.
One of her MMC recruits, who asked not to be named, praised her for her courage to engage men with a difficult topic. "The first day I bumped into Thamani I was shocked that there are women who have the guts to talk to men openly about circumcision. It is not something I ever discussed with my wife. I'm happy that finally the fear of being circumcised was defeated and I don't have to clean the foreskin again." he says.
A woman whose partner was recruited by Thamani praised her for bringing change, especially in the fight against HIV in their community. "I'm so happy that my partner is now circumcised and knows his HIV status. I have always wanted to talk to him about our sex life but wasn't sure how he would take it. The whole issue of circumcision changed a lot of things. The education about sex, HIV and circumcision has added value to us being able to talk about anything. Thamani has not only led many strangers to circumcision through her hard work, but she persuaded her husband to have the procedure.
"At first my husband was reluctant to go for circumcision but as I started learning about it I opened up about the benefits that it has for both of us, and he went. I'm happy about the contribution I have made in many households in my community. It is a milestone towared a free HIV generation," she concludes.