Initiation deaths: Time to rethink custom, says MEC

2014-07-06 06:00

The time has come for those who are adamant that the Xhosa traditional circumcision rite be practised as it has been traditionally done, to rethink their stance, Eastern Cape Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Fikile Xasa says.

Xasa made the remarks in an interview with City Press as the death toll of initiates in the Eastern Cape continues to rise despite government interventions. The MEC fell short of saying the rite should be modernised.

So far 23 initiates have died in the Eastern Cape, mostly in the Transkei areas of the province, which have always been problematic.

Click here to view the gallery: Deadly rite of passage

Xasa expressed shock that government interventions seem to be yielding no results. It was time “we all went [back] to the drawing board”, he said.

Talking point: Does Xasa have a point or should he leave culture alone? Leave your comment below or join the conversation: @City_Press.

“Our commitment is not to accept deaths in the name of this custom. Times are changing and we must put pressure on those who still think it should be done like in the past – when our children are continuing to die each year.

“This is shocking. We are not accepting the rate of deaths. We know that our people are reluctant to change an old custom, but can we continue to watch these boys die? I don’t think that is right,” Xasa said.

Most of the boys die at the initiation schools because of dehydration, he added.

Others have died because of septic complications due to their [amakhankatha] or traditional guardians’ refusal to use antibiotics. Yet others have reportedly been assaulted.

“We are still going to wait for postmortem reports to determine what are the other causes of these deaths,” said Xasa.

He said it was obvious that some of the deaths were avoidable.

Government interventions have included the use of monitoring teams made up of medical doctors, male nurses, officials from social development and traditional leaders. The fact that they seemed to have little success was “very worrying”, said Xasa

“I thought that these interventions were going to work, but am afraid to say, they have not worked so far. One boy dying, is one too many. Clearly we can’t continue like this,” he said.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the situation called for tougher action from government.

“As things stand, every 24 hours we are losing between three and six boys who die at initiation schools. The problem is concentrated in the Transkei areas,” Kupelo said.

It was not part of the Xhosa custom for initiates to be tortured and assaulted in initiation schools, yet this was too often the case, he said.

Government would continue to monitor initiation schools around the province. Some 37 off-road bakkies have been deployed around the province and in hot spots. R20 million had been set aside to deal with the situation.

Tsolo, East London, Qumbu, Libode, Mthatha, Ngqeleni, Port St Johns and Lusikisiki are among the hot spots.

By the weekend at least 64 initiates had been admitted to hospitals around the province.

In Lusikisiki, at least 80 initiates had been rescued from initiation schools and placed at a rescue centre.

“This is a man-made crisis ... Criminal elements ... have now taken over the custom and made a shame and mockery of it. The law must take its course and those who have been found to have done wrong must be arrested and prosecuted,” Kupelo said.

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