POLITI­CIANS STEP IN TO END ‘RECK­LESS’ INI­TI­ATE DEATHS

Eastern Cape lead­ers have called on stake­hold­ers to join hands to avoid mak­ing ini­ti­a­tion a death sen­tence

CityPress - - News - LUBABALO NGCUKANA [email protected]­press.co.za

With ini­ti­ate deaths ris­ing dra­mat­i­cally only half­way through the sum­mer ini­ti­a­tion sea­son, two prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in the Eastern Cape have en­tered the fray in de­nounc­ing un­nec­es­sary deaths in the prov­ince as the num­ber of de­ceased has reached 19.

Mamkeli Ngam, provin­cial spokesper­son for the depart­ment of co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs in the Eastern Cape, has con­firmed that 19 ini­ti­ates have died so far this sea­son, and 12 bo­gus iing­cibi (tra­di­tional sur­geons) have been ar­rested.

Last year, at least 17 abakhwetha (ini­ti­ates) died dur­ing the sum­mer ini­ti­a­tion sea­son, mak­ing this sum­mer sea­son worse than the pre­vi­ous one.

This sea­son, most ini­ti­ates re­port­edly died due to de­hy­dra­tion ow­ing to hot tem­per­a­tures and be­ing de­prived of drink­ing wa­ter at am­ab­homa (ini­ti­a­tion schools).

The lat­est fig­ures take the num­ber of ini­ti­ates who have died na­tion­ally to 23, as two ini­ti­ates also died in North West and an­other two in the West­ern Cape.

ANC provin­cial chair­per­son Os­car Mabuyane has called on all stake­hold­ers to join hands in ad­dress­ing the scourge and avoid mak­ing ini­ti­a­tion a death sen­tence.

“Los­ing lives from the ini­ti­a­tion schools is an­other bad thing that con­tin­ues to haunt us as a prov­ince. We have lost a num­ber of young ini­ti­ates this sea­son alone, who had gone through cir­cum­ci­sion for them to un­dergo the pas­sage into man­hood.

“It can­not be right that when they are there they die. No par­ent [wants to] give birth to a child and look af­ter a child for 18 years, only to lose that child within a few days. It can’t be right. No child should lose life sim­ply be­cause they are de­hy­drated,” he said.

Mabuyane said con­ducive en­vi­ron­ments should be cre­ated for ini­ti­ates who have un­der­gone tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion to be able to cope.

He said to pro­tect the cul­ture of tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion it was im­por­tant not to mess with the tra­di­tion by be­ing reck­less.

“This rit­ual [of tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion] is im­por­tant to us. It is im­por­tant to our peo­ple here [in the Eastern Cape] in gen­eral. Let’s pro­tect it. Let us not make it a death sen­tence, so that our young chaps don’t have two minds when they are sup­posed to go through this.

“We should not ex­pe­ri­ence this kind of am­biva­lence about this. It must be done, but it must be done re­spon­si­bly. All those that are in­volved – com­mu­ni­ties, par­ents, tra­di­tional lead­ers and gov­ern­ment – must join ef­forts to stop these deaths,” Mabuyane said.

He said gov­ern­ment alone can­not suc­ceed on the is­sue and needs all the help from the rest of so­ci­ety to make a mean­ing­ful im­pact.

Mabuyane said it was wrong and an of­fence to deprive ini­ti­ates wa­ter, and it should be pun­ish­able.

“Those who have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to look af­ter ini­ti­a­tion, such as amakhankatha (tra­di­tional nurses), should be vig­i­lant be­cause boys to­day are not as strong as those of yes­ter­year. Nowa­days we eat ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied foods, which do not have good vi­ta­mins in them.

“So we plead with our peo­ple, they must ac­cept that times have changed. We must en­sure that when our boys un­dergo tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion they are in good health and equally so when they re­turn home,” said Mabuyane, who is also MEC for fi­nance, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs and tourism in the Eastern Cape.

Nqaba Bhanga, DA leader in the Eastern Cape, has called for cul­tural vil­lages to be es­tab­lished, where tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion can be cen­tralised.

“My view is that gov­ern­ment must open these cul­tural vil­lages where these boys can go and tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion is prac­tised and proper med­i­cal sup­port is pro­vided.

“The Xhosa tra­di­tion and the tra­di­tion of cir­cum­ci­sion is not about deaths, it’s about ed­u­ca­tion. And it kills some of us who have gone through this process of cir­cum­ci­sion to see young boys dy­ing like this be­cause they are not sup­posed to die there. They are sup­posed to come out ed­u­cated about not only their tra­di­tion, but also about fam­i­lies and con­tribut­ing to the na­tion,” he said.

Bhanga said tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion should be banned in ar­eas where there are con­stant deaths.

“If needs be, the gov­ern­ment must ban cir­cum­ci­sion in those ar­eas where you find that there are deaths. We can’t have our peo­ple be­ing slaugh­tered. There must be tougher laws to make sure that those who prac­tise this thing il­le­gally, who don’t have proper doc­u­men­ta­tion, get ar­rested and the sen­tences are harsher.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ngam, Eastern Cape MEC of co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs Fik­ile Xasa has wel­comed the ar­rests of the 12 bo­gus tra­di­tional sur­geons.

Ngam said 18 dock­ets of un­law­ful cir­cum­ci­sion and 19 in­quest dock­ets have been opened, and that the to­tal num­ber of cases re­lated to il­le­gal cir­cum­ci­sion opened by the po­lice since the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion sea­son stands at 37.

“Law en­force­ment is one of our pil­lars to pro­tect life, pre­vent in­juries and all forms of abuse ex­pe­ri­enced by ini­ti­ates be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the cus­tom­ary prac­tice of tra­di­tional male ini­ti­a­tion.

“No stone should be left un­turned to en­sure that the tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion prac­tice is not ex­ploited as a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise used for per­sonal en­rich­ment at the ex­pense of our chil­dren,” said Xasa.

Last year’s sum­mer ini­ti­a­tion sea­son was also marred by con­tro­ver­sies fol­low­ing the ar­rest of five ini­ti­ates who al­legedly as­saulted and killed an el­derly woman for “tres­pass­ing” on the ini­ti­ates’ turf in the Buf­falo City Metropoli­tan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in East Lon­don.

Last year’s win­ter sea­son, be­tween June and July, saw one of the low­est death rates in the past decade, with at least 11 recorded deaths, six of which were as a re­sult of a fire at a Qumbu-based ini­ti­a­tion school.

At least 19 ini­ti­ates died in tra­di­tional ini­ti­a­tion schools around the prov­ince in June this year.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

IN DAN­GER Ini­ti­ates are seen smeared with white clay on their faces, cov­ered in red and white blan­kets, dur­ing a ini­ti­a­tion rit­ual. This year’s death and ca­su­alty count is on the rise, forc­ing gov­ern­ment to take a stand

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