Initiation season claims its first life

2016-12-04 06:02
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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East London - The summer initiation season has claimed its first life this week with the death of a 19-year-old man at an initiation school in Nkululekweni, near Mthatha.

Phindokuhle Luziya (19) died on Tuesday from what police believe was dehydration, according to Mthatha police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela.

“We are still verifying whether the initiation school [he had attended] was legal. We are also trying to find the traditional surgeon who circumcised him, so we can confirm whether he is registered or not,” he said.

“We cannot reveal any further details, as police are still investigating circumstances around the death.”

Crackdowns this week by traditional leaders, together with police and officials from the Eastern Cape departments of health and cooperative governance, led to the arrest of one illegal, unregistered traditional surgeon in East London. Three more were on the run.

In an attempt to prevent scores of initiates from dying – 75 young men lost their lives last year alone – the provincial government has tasked the province’s traditional leaders with policing the custom in the areas over which they preside.

READ: 'My penis fell off'

On Thursday, crackdowns on initiation schools by the Nyandeni Circumcision Forum saw one illegal initiation school shut down and the rescue of an initiate suffering from severe dehydration.

Raids and inspections were conducted by police and a team of traditional leaders, nongovernmental organisation volunteers, and professional nurses from Nyandeni – which includes the towns of Libode, Ngqeleni and Port St John’s, a hot spot of illegal initiation schools and bogus traditional surgeons.

But inspections of registered schools showed that there were problems with them too.

At a legal school in Ngqubusini, Ngqeleni, seven initiates camped out in four initiation huts. One, a 19-year-old whose name is known to City Press, had to be rescued and admitted to nearby St Barnabas Hospital.

Although his traditional nurse denied it, the young man said he hadn’t taken in any water in two days. Many traditional nurses and initiates believe that depriving themselves of water will make them heal faster.

Professional nurse Siboniwe Mahleka set about treating his badly infected wound, administered a drip and an injection and decided to admit him to hospital. The initiate battled to urinate and Mhleka had to assist him with a catheter. The young man was eager to be rescued; he did not hesitate when told to get into the car. He did not even look back, neither did he say goodbye.

READ: Maimed for life

“If we would leave this initiate here he might not make it. Even the colour of his eyes is worrying. His pulse is 140, which is not normal. We cannot leave him here in the state that he is in. He would die,” Mahleka said as he walked the trembling young man to the waiting car. Other initiates Mahleka examined appeared to be in good shape and were left alone.

At another legal initiation school at Mchonco Forest in Libode, an 18-year-old initiate was found alone in a small hut made of grass and covered in plastic.

The initiate hid in the hut, but was fetched out by local chief Inkosi Gwadiso. Once in the open, the terrified young man claimed his traditional nurse [ikhankatha], who is supposed to be with him all the time, had gone to look for traditional medicine for him. Some dagga was found in the hut and confiscated by police.

About two metres away, an initiation school had been burnt down a few days before. Empty brandy and beer bottles were strewn around the site. The young man said three initiates who had occupied the initiation hut had already graduated.

In Dumase village, also in Ngqeleni, an illegal school was found and immediately shut down. The three initiates, two 16-year-olds and one aged 18, fled into a nearby forest. Forum members later tried to get in touch with their families.

The illegal and rickety school, made of mud, looked as if it was about to collapse. When the local headman was called, he said the school was not registered under the authority of any traditional leader.

Report illegal schools and traditional doctors here:

At another, legal, initiation school at Mangwaneni village in Ngqeleni, 11 initiates between the ages of 16 and 21 years old were found in their corrugated iron bhoma. They had been circumcised on Thursday morning. One of the initiates was found to have been illegally circumcised by a traditional surgeon called Sibabalwe, who was not at the school at the time.

The 17-year-old initiate had been circumcised without the consent of a guardian. It is also illegal to circumcise initiates under the age of 18.

Mahleka then examined the other initiates and found no problems with their wounds, and told them to return to their ibhoma without need for treatment.

Cooperative governance and traditional affairs spokesperson Mamkeli Ngam confirmed the death of the initiate near Mthatha.

But Ngam said this year was a major improvement compared to the same period last year, when six initiates had died in the first two weeks alone.

“We can say that things are still in control for now. We are positive that we will make a significant improvement from the last year’s summer initiation season,” he said.

“What we are doing differently this time around is that we have placed traditional leaders at the forefront of the fight against these deaths.”

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