Death toll

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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

Fik­ile Xasa

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