Fewer initiates die
Eleven boys were reported to have died this season compared with 26 last year
The Eastern Cape has recorded the lowest number of initiate deaths in decades this season. As the winter initiation season draws to a close this week, stakeholders credited the new Customary Male Initiation Practice Act signed into law by Premier Phumulo Masualle in November last year for the decrease.
Mninawa Nyusile, chair of the cooperative governance and traditional affairs portfolio committee in the provincial legislature, described this initiation season as an important breakthrough with the deaths of initiates having been more than halved. Only 11 initiates were reported to have died this season compared with 26 last year.
Nkululeko Nxesi, director of the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Community Development Foundation of SA, which runs a number of intervention efforts aimed at dealing with botched traditional circumcisions, warned against focusing on numbers as that could lead to complacency next season.
He said with enough resources this problem could be eliminated completely. Some of the initiatives the organisation has introduced include the establishment of a camp in Tsolo for underaged boys and those that are vulnerable to being kidnapped and taken to illegal initiation schools.
“We kept 38 boys from ages 12 to 17, mostly from the Nyandeni area, which also has high numbers of deaths every winter season, throughout the season ... In December, we are targeting 2 000 boys.
“In the camp, we teach them about how to identify and go to a legal initiation school, life skills, and about HIV and Aids.
“We grouped them as clubs so that when they go back into society they can fight against bullying and the kidnapping to illegal initiation schools. So we think this is one of the critical interventions that assisted this season,” Nxesi said.
Provincial government spokesperson Sonwabo Mbananga said another milestone this season was the increase in the number of interested parties collaborating and participating in awareness campaigns. He said chiefs, NGOs, parents and law enforcement agencies worked together in identifying illegal initiation schools and visited legal (registered) schools to oversee the process and ensure the initiates were being properly cared for.
Nyusile said even the communities that they had visited and warned about the dangers of illegal initiation schools noted the impact that had been made by the act. He lamented that there were still areas where some traditional surgeons were not registered and were therefore illegally circumcising boys.
He expressed particular concern about Flagstaff – a town in the OR Tambo District Municipality, where a notorious illegal traditional surgeon called Lusikisiki is in jail. Another illegal surgeon has taken over on the instruction of the convicted man. He was believed to be on the run from police.
In Mbizana, some of the illegal initiation schools were inaccessible as they were located in dense forests, he explained, adding that there were other areas, including Pondoland, that needed stakeholders to double their efforts.
Nyusile said all law enforcement agencies, including the National Prosecuting Authority, also needed to come to the party as some police officers were not familiar with the Customary Male Initiation Practice Act, making it difficult for communities to report cases of illegal initiation activity.
Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, also hailed parents for having heeded the campaign.
He said a majority had taken charge of their sons’ traditional initiation process to safeguard their children’s lives.
He urged the government to continue with the campaign and educate more traditional leaders and chiefs so that they also reach out to their subjects.
Matanzima said the 19 traditional nurses and surgeons that had been arrested during this season’s campaign should be tried in court and jailed if convicted. This would serve as a lesson and a deterrent to those still wanting to run illegal schools.
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