Coronavirus: Traditional circumcision schools in Eastern Cape suspended

2020-03-23 16:24

A special council meeting in Bhisho on Friday took a decision to implement the Eastern Cape Provincial Integrated Containment plan for the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, GroundUp reported.

Among the decisions taken by the executive council of the Eastern Cape government was to suspend circumcision and imigidi (homecoming celebrations for initiates).

On Saturday morning, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced that the province was the seventh to register its first confirmed Covid-19 case – a 28-year-old woman who had travelled to Germany.

On Friday, Premier Oscar Mabuyane said the province was behind other provinces in dealing with the coronavirus.

"All traditional initiation is suspended for the duration of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic," said the premier.

"We call on the people of the province to take heed of every message being issued by government because the intention is to protect all of us."

READ | 'I had to take a stand': Meet the Port Elizabeth doctor fighting to end misery caused by deadly initiations

The traditional gatherings involve the coming together of families who travel from various provinces. Boys who live and study in the Western Cape and Gauteng come home for circumcision.

Chief Velile Mfunda, chairperson of the Cacadu traditional leaders, said: "We are all shocked, but we must heed the call for the safety of our lives and children. Coronavirus has arrived in East London and that means we are also not safe here. We will meet with the initiation forums and discuss the importance of heeding this call."

'This is shocking and disappointing'

But some traditional nurses (amakhankatha) and surgeons (ingcibi) say the ceremonies are their bread and butter and they wish they had been consulted.

Mike Kopisani of the Kampala Initiation School in St Albans, near Port Elizabeth, circumcises hundreds of boys every year. He said: "This is shocking and disappointing because we were never consulted. We were not even taught or given a chance on how we can fight this virus at initiation schools.

"This past weekend, I had seven appointments with the parents of boys who want to be circumcised in June. All over the country, boys come to my school because I work both as ikhankatha and ingcibi. Last year in December, 483 initiates graduated from my school."

Mboneli Dingela, an ingcibi from Motherwell, said: "I am really shocked with this decision, but we can’t change it. We should have been consulted first and also taught about hygiene measures to implement at initiation schools to prevent this virus.

"I am a father of three and I am unemployed. Circumcising boys helps me to be able to provide for my family."

READ | Coronavirus: Positive cases in SA jump to 240 as Eastern Cape records its first case

The provincial chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, said: "We were all shocked, but after a meeting with MEC Xolile Nqatha, we were relieved. He said the suspension only applied to March and April circumcision seasons.

"We will sit down with the MEC as we monitor the spread of the virus. We will ask for the circumcision to resume in winter."

Nonkonyana said there were already reports of cases of illegal initiation schools.

"We have sent our teams to Chris Hani, Komani, OR Tambo and Port St John’s to rescue our boys after we received reports that there were illegal circumcision schools in these districts. So far, we don’t know how many boys were circumcised."

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Read more on:    coronavirus  |  tradition
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