Eastern Cape braces for initiation deaths

2011-11-19 18:31

As the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders prepares for tomorrow’s start of the December initiation season, thousands of families in the province will pray that their loved ones complete the ceremonies without incident.

The Xhosa rite of passage has, in recent years, been marred by botched and illegal circumcisions, and poor treatment of initiates – all of which caused illness and deaths.

There were about 13 000 legal and 2 300 illegal circumcisions in the mid-year season. In June alone, 26 young boys died in the province, while 10 more lost their private parts through amputation, and 313 were hospitalised.

This represented a healthy drop from June last year, when 41 deaths, 22 amputations and 389 hospital visits were reported out of a little under 18?500 youths who were registered. The age-old tradition has been under attack due to the high number of casualties.

Most of the deaths could be attributed to a combination of reasons, such as inexperienced and unregistered traditional surgeons, ill-treatment of initiates, and the way the ritual is carried out, said House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Ngangomhlaba Matanzima.

To combat these, traditional leaders will this December season focus on the men tasked with administering the custom, as well as areas where most fatalities occur. The House of Traditional Leaders’ programme of action will be launched during its sitting in Bhisho tomorrow.

Forums comprising traditional leaders, law-enforcement agencies, traditional surgeons and nurses, various non-governmental organisations, as well as provincial departments of health, social development and education, have been created to monitor the initiation schools.

Traditional surgeons and aides will meet in districts and localities in the province.

“The meetings will culminate in a provincial workshop scheduled for Sunday (today) at East London’s city hall, where surgeons and nurses will interface,” said Matanzima.

“They will get to know each other, share best practices, and be in a position to help each other out in times of need. This platform will also help us emphasise life-skills training for initiates, so that this ritual plays a meaningful role.”

Focus areas would be Pondoland – especially Libode and Ngqeleni, where some of the most gruesome cases often come from – and the largely rural Mbizana, Lusikisiki, Ntabankulu and Mount Ayliff.

“In Mbizana the ritual was done away with in the past by one of their chiefs but brought back by the youth without consulting the elders.

“But now the elders want to have a voice in how the ritual is done, and it’s heartening to see communities wanting to play a role in this rite,” he said, urging mayors to join the forums.

The number of illegal circumcisions increased from a little under 1 500 in June 2010 to 2?308 this year, a number made up of surgeons working without certification and youths who partake without parents’ and traditional leaders’ knowledge.

“We don’t want to fight these unregistered people because they are our people, but we want to encourage them to do the right thing and get registered,” Matanzima said.

“If they’re found to be without the certificate and not registered, particularly surgeons, they’ll face the full might of the law.”

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