Fikile Xasa has two grandsons who will be undergoing traditional initiation in the next few years. So he hopes that the scourge of initiate deaths – which has seen 700 young men lose their lives on their passage to manhood in the province in the past 11 years – comes to an end, not only for the sake of the children he loves, but for society at large.
Xasa, the province’s MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, is also a Xhosa man and went through the customary practice himself, as did his two adult sons. This is why he is so desperate to rescue the image of a tradition hijacked by unscrupulous traditional surgeons and nurses who, in their bid for a quick buck, have caused the deaths of hundreds of initiates.
The situation is beginning to improve under the leadership of Xasa and Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima, the chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, who have been crisscrossing the province preaching safe traditional initiation.
This partnership between the two and their institutions culminated in the signing into law of the new Customary Male Initiation Practice Act in December last year, which was enforced for the first time this winter initiation season.
“My grandsons are still very young. They too would have to undergo this same custom,” said Xasa this week. “We want to ensure for future generations that no initiates die because this never happened in the past. So for me, this is not just only work, but it is also personal because I believe in the custom.”
The number of initiates who died this winter season dropped to a historic low, from 26 last year to 11.
Of those, six died tragically when their ibhoma (hut) caught fire in Qumbu. A man who visited the initiation school died trying to save the boys from the fire. Another initiate died in Ngcobo after he was shot dead when he went to visit his girlfriend.
Four initiates died as a result of botched circumcisions, bringing the number of people who died in initiation schools to 12.
“The new act sent a very big message to everybody who is involved, and we intensified our awareness campaigns. We communicated with all structures, all municipalities, all traditional leaders and the community in general,” said Xasa.
He said the new law also guided the formation of initiation monitoring forums across the province – at 52 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
RITES OF PASSAGE Cooperation between stakeholders in the Eastern Cape has seen a significant decrease in the number of initiate deaths