‘Give us cars to check on schools’
Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape have asked for more resources to beef up their fight to prevent more fatalities as the winter initiation death toll reached 11 this week. Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, said government needed to buy vehicles for all 243 traditional leaders in the province to enable them to monitor initiation processes.
“If you go to Limpopo, they have 185 traditional leaders and all are provided with vehicles by the government. In the North West, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, it is the same thing,” he said.
“We need cars, fast, for all the chiefs, so that they can perform their duties as traditional leaders.
“In this province, there is the problem of abakhwetha [initiates] who are dying in amabhoma [initiation schools] because traditional leaders cannot reach the places where these schools are located. We have a difficulty with initiation. Kids are dying.
“So, during the season, we would want to see traditional leaders moving about and checking on these matters and visiting initiation schools. But without transport, it becomes difficult.”
When the winter initiation season started three weeks ago, the department of health announced that it would assist by providing 35 bakkies for monitoring purposes at initiation schools for 45 days.
Nkosi Gcobani Tyali, the chairperson of the OR Tambo district’s traditional initiation forum, said monitors could not be expected to excel at their jobs with limited resources. He cited the example of a bakkie which was provided by Nyandeni Local Municipality for conducting visits to initiation schools. It had to be returned only three weeks into the winter season, despite the fact that this was the most critical initiation time, when monitors experienced the most challenges.
“Transport and communication are the most fundamental tools we need to deal with the challenges of initiation,” said Tyali.
“It is not enough for traditional leaders to be given cars temporarily only during the season.”
He said the awareness campaign embarked upon by the forum, warning of the dangers of illegal initiation schools, should not be seasonal but should be conducted year-round.
“People say chiefs are redundant and useless. They forget that we are not accorded the same support and resources as other office bearers,” he said.
Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said joint efforts between traditional leaders and government had contributed to the reduction of deaths at initiation schools, which was a positive outcome.
He said the 11 initiates who had died, including the six who were killed by fire at an initiation school in Qumbu two weeks ago, was tragic. This meant that, in effect, five initiates had perished from complications related to the initiation or to a botched circumcision.
Kupelo said it was also the first time that less than 10 initiates had died in the third week of the winter initiation season, particularly in the OR Tambo region, a known hot spot for initiation deaths.
Since the beginning of the season, at least two initiates have died in the OR Tambo district.
Kupelo said more effort was needed to ensure zero deaths, but the low number of fatalities was positive.
“One death is one death too many. But this is the beginning of good things,” Kupelo said.
Mamkeli Ngam, provincial spokesperson for the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, could not be reached for comment.
IT’S ABOUT REACH Chief Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, chairperson Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, is appealing to government for vehicles to monitor initiation processes Are you concerned about a family member who is about to undergo traditional initiation in the Eastern Cape? Would you like to check if the traditional surgeon they have chosen is skilled and registered with the province's department of health?