Initiate deaths cause alarm despite decrease

2017-12-24 06:04
Initiates at Qaqambile Siyongwana’s initiation school outside Mthatha. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Initiates at Qaqambile Siyongwana’s initiation school outside Mthatha. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Initiation season ended this week after at least 16 young men died in Eastern Cape initiation schools.

The year-on-year death toll for the summer initiation season has decreased dramatically from 46 deaths in 2015 and 29 deaths in 2016.

However, this summer’s death toll is an increase from this year’s winter initiation season, in which 11 initiates died in July.

Provincial cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa told City Press the traditional nurses and surgeons responsible for the deaths would be prosecuted. He said parents around the province opened at least 59 criminal cases against traditional surgeons (ingcibi) and nurses (amakankatha).

The cases opened included assault, murder, attempted murder and contravening the province’s new initiation laws.

At least 19 people have been arrested so far.

“We are deeply concerned about the deaths. We lost [10] boys in OR Tambo district; two in Alfred Nzo; one in Joe Gqabi; two in Amathole; and one in Chris Hani.

“We are implementing the law which aims to prevent deaths and make sure boys are not abused at initiation schools,” Xasa said.

He said some initiates died after being prevented from taking medication at initiation schools. Taking antiretroviral drugs or asthma medication, for instance, is regarded as taboo, Xasa said, adding that if an initiate takes Western medicine at an initiation school he is stigmatised and castigated by his peers.

“We need to strengthen our campaigns and deal with these issues, as well as misconceptions such as not giving initiates water during the first days after the [circumcision] procedure, because one of the biggest killers here is dehydration. “[We need to] force people to give them water and allow them to take their medication,” he said.


An estimated 19 000 initiates underwent traditional initiation this past month, but some ingcibi continued to break the law and initiate boys younger than 18.

Xasa said he would hold up good ingcibi as an example to those who broke the law or neglected their duties.

Qaqambile Siyongwana (46) runs the Siyongwana Initiation School in Silverton village, outside Mthatha. In his 10 years of practice, he has circumcised thousands of boys – 65 this summer alone – and has never lost an initiate. His secret? Discipline.

He decided to continue the work of his late father, who was a traditional surgeon, after two boys in the rugby team Siyongwana coached died after botched circumcisions in 2006.

“I was so upset that they could be killed by a traditional practice that was meant to build them and mould them as young men. My father had already taught me everything, so I decided to be a traditional surgeon to save boys from dying,” he said.

Siyongwana said he religiously follows up to see how his initiates are healing, unlike many other ingcibi. If he cannot visit personally, he checks with his five amakankatha every 30 minutes by phone. Experienced men, the amakankatha are required to stay with the initiates at all times.

“In my initiation school you will not even find a cigarette butt. You won’t find a single beer bottle or see people smoking dagga and drugs. This is an initiation school where nonsense is not tolerated,” Siyongwana said.

“We don’t allow people to come from the village drunk and use the initiation school as a hang-out spot and assault initiates. We are very strict on that. Also, no one is allowed to touch these initiates except myself and these traditional nurses.

“In most cases you find a man, just because he was circumcised, demanding to treat initiates. That we don’t allow.”

Xasa said his department planned to use Siyongwana’s initiation school as a model during workshops and campaigns next year.

Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, chairman of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, said they were “devastated” about this summer’s deaths.

“We have realised there are loopholes that we need to address with our government. One of them is restoring full powers of traditional leaders.

“We want a Constitution that will bestow powers on traditional leaders, enabling them to govern. Traditional courts must be empowered to deal with the people who circumcise boys illegally,” Nonkonyana said.

Read more on:    eastern cape  |  health

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.