Government goes high-tech to bust illegal initiation schools

2018-06-17 12:19
Xhosa boys participate in the sacred and ancient ritual of initiation Picture: Leon Sadiki

Xhosa boys participate in the sacred and ancient ritual of initiation Picture: Leon Sadiki

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Unscrupulous traditional surgeons (iingcibi) and unregistered traditional nurses (amakhankatha) be warned: big brother is coming for you.

In a bid to curb the ever-increasing number of initiate deaths, government is looking at introducing technological devices such as drones to uncover hidden illegal initiation schools.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Eastern Cape launch of the winter initiation season, Deputy Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Obed Bapela said government was concerned about the mushrooming of illegal schools, which are usually inaccessible because they are hidden deep in mountainous forests.

These illegal schools (amabhoma) are believed to be the reason for the deaths of initiates (abakhwetha) in the Eastern Cape.

“Technology is advancing. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, we have to look at new innovations. I know they [drones] are expensive, but government can hire them for a month so that every district or local municipality can have them during the season to see into the forests and at the top of mountains,” said Bapela.

“It will help spot activities, which will then help the police to go in. I think the drones will help us. Also, a special chip can be put in every ibhoma [initiation school] so that it can be linked to an app that we can use to detect where the problems are. But the drone definitely can spot activities that the naked eye will not see.”

He said they were still trying to source funding from Treasury and hoped they would have done so by next year so that they could implement the plan.

Bapela said his department was also concerned about the influx of boys from Gauteng after the suspension of initiations in the province following kidnapping incidents last year.

“What is happening is that boys from Gauteng flock to other provinces, so there are going to be high numbers coming to the Eastern Cape.

“We told them [in Gauteng] that when they suspend the practice, they are giving the Eastern Cape a challenge because when these boys come here, they don’t even know which initiation schools are legal and which are not,” he said.

Bapela said this could contribute to more deaths in the Eastern Cape because of the additional numbers of initiates.

“So we should not be surprised if the number of deaths rises in the Eastern Cape ... Already in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, they have received hundreds of boys from Gauteng who are Pedi, Venda, Ndebele and Tsonga.

“Then those who are Xhosa are heading to the Eastern Cape. So chiefs must be vigilant to unknown initiation schools in their areas,” he said.

However, he called on initiation forums and traditional leaders not to chase away anyone from Gauteng, but rather to make sure that they were in legal initiation schools, that they had undergone the pre-medical screening, were older than 18 and had permission to undergo initiation.

He said that, because there was no proper engagement with other provinces when Gauteng decided to close its schools, they would engage the province immediately after this season’s initiation.

National House of Traditional Leaders of SA chairperson Kgosi SE Mahlangu said they were happy to see a drop in the death rate last year.

Last year’s winter season saw the lowest number of deaths in a decade, with 11 initiates dying, six of whom were killed during an accidental fire at an initiation school in Qumbu.

Mahlangu called on traditional leaders to be vigilant and to ensure boys returned alive.

“Traditional leaders with their headmen must ensure that they know all the initiation schools in their villages, and know the identity of traditional surgeons and traditional nurses. We must also know the number of boys who have undergone initiation.

“Traditional leaders should also ensure that the new act is followed to the letter, working with the police and other stakeholders,” he said.

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana called on people to stop using traditional initiation as a money-making scheme.

Nonkonyana said that, since the Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Act was signed by Premier Phumulo Masualle, they had held awareness campaigns in their communities.

This was to explain what the new act meant, especially to those people running illegal schools, as well as to parents who give consent for their underage (younger than 18) boys to undergo initiation, and chiefs who do not play their role.

“The law is clear: initiation schools should be known and be accessible; traditional nurses and traditional surgeons should be people who are known, have experience and are approved by their communities,” he said.

If an initiate dies at an initiation school, those people running the school could face up to 25 years in jail for murder, according to the new act.

As part of interventions during this winter season, local initiation forums – consisting of traditional leaders, local stakeholders, police and medical professionals – have been set up, said Nonkonyana.

He said that, even though they did not have technological instruments to monitor initiation schools, they knew their villages well.

Nonkonyana said leaders should ensure drugs and alcohol were not taken into these schools.

“We must be wide awake and know everything that is happening in our villages. There should be no initiation school that is erected without the knowledge of a local traditional leader,” he said.

Dr Mtandeki Xamlashe from the provincial health department said his department had hired 35 bakkies that will be used by district medical officers who are male professional nurses and who will be visiting initiation schools to check on initiates as well as doctors.

He warned parents not to allow would-be initiates to drink alcohol before undergoing initiation, as this resulted in excessive bleeding and complications during the surgery.

“The problem is that boys take alcohol before initiation and, because of excessive bleeding, if the wound is not properly managed by the traditional nurse, it could lead to amputations,” said Xamlashe.

Read more on:    education  |  initiation

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