‘State doesn’t care about the safety of initiates’
The head of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders has slammed national government for doing too little to prevent the deaths of initiates.
Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima said the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs receives too little funding to meaningfully intervene and ensure initiates’ safety.
“As traditional leaders, we blame national government, because even though they can see there is a problem with traditional initiation, they are not providing any assistance. Our province is left on its own,” he said.
Matanzima said government was breaking its own laws, including the Traditional Leadership and Government Act of 2003, which prescribes that national government fund the functions of traditional leaders, which includes overseeing initiation.
“They are only good at talking. They are a government of talk, but no action.”
He said government should be aware that traditional leaders are the custodians of people’s traditions and customs, recognised by law and protected by the Constitution.
“But national government does not care. All they care about is to go around with TV cameras talking about traditional initiation, focusing on the bad things that are happening. We do not appreciate that. All that we want is for government during initiation season to come to us and say, here are the cars, here is the money to hire people who will assist in monitoring and rescue missions,” he says. He said traditional leaders were “not excited” about deputy cooperative governance minister Obed Bapela’s frequent visits to the Eastern Cape every initiation season, making “empty promises”. “For us to see that he is working he must bring the resources,” he said. But Matanzima also had strong words for “weak” traditional leaders who allow illegal initiation schools to proliferate in their villages. He said custom requires that when a family takes a boy to initiation school, they must first report to the “great place”, where they inform the chief about who the traditional surgeon (ingcibi) would be, and the traditional nurse (ikhankatha) responsible for the initiation school.
But this kind of protocol was no longer followed and traditional leaders seemed indifferent, Matanzima said. An initiation school not known at the great place by the traditional leaders would be illegal.
“The tradition is the responsibility of a traditional leader and when there is no guidance that comes from the great place, from a chief, that’s when you find problems,” he said.
Matanzima said traditional initiation had been hijacked by some who wanted to make quick money out of the practice. And unlike in the old days, when a traditional nurse was a wise, older man of good social standing, anyone now could take on the job.
“The traditional nurses are often young men who are in and out of prison,” he said.
WARNING Government is all talk no action, says Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima