Law gets tougher over initiation

Those responsible for the death of boys in initiation schools across the Eastern Cape will finally face the full might of the law – and a possible 25 years in jail.

The Eastern Cape Customary Male Initiation Practice Bill of 2015 was passed this week after months of consultations with traditional leaders. Passed unanimously in the Bhisho legislature, it now only awaits the signature of Premier Phumulo Masualle to be gazetted into law.

At its centre is the role of traditional leaders as custodians of rites and customs who will now have to ensure compliance by both traditional surgeons (ingcibi) and traditional nurses (amakhankatha).

The Eastern Cape Application of Health Standards in Traditional Male Circumcision Act of 2001, which previously governed initiation in the province and focused on health standards, was repealed in favour of the new bill.

According to the new law, “[any] person who conducts or opens an initiation school without written permission from the MEC for health ... and written approval issued by the relevant traditional leadership, is guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, is liable to a fine not exceeding R20 000 or 12 months’ imprisonment, or both”.

“If the opening of such an illegal initiation school results in the injury or death of initiates, such person shall be charged with attempted murder or murder and, upon conviction, sentenced to not more than 25 years’ imprisonment, depending on the number of initiates involved.”

The bill further states that anyone who admits or approves the admission of a child younger than 18 to an initiation school will be sent to prison for six months, fined R10 000, or both.

To qualify as a traditional nurse, candidates have to have graduated from initiation school and have 10 years’ proven experience in caring for initiates. The traditional nurse may also not have been convicted of a crime. Amakhankatha would be required to register with their relevant traditional leadership and “conduct themselves in a fit and proper manner”.

Ingcibi, meanwhile, can only be eligible if they have trusted experience and a good track record, and at least five years of traceable experience under the supervision of a qualified traditional surgeon. To qualify, an ingcibi should have a written recommendation from a qualified traditional surgeon, traditional leader or initiation working committee.

Traditional leaders who neglect their duties to ensure safe traditional circumcision will face an inquiry chaired by an independent person and face sanctions if found guilty.

Chiefs also have to ensure that an initiation working committee is established in their area, and that it functions properly and takes responsibility for initiation schools. It is also the chiefs’ responsibility to identify and allocate appropriate sites for initiation schools.

Political parties welcomed the bill, with the ANC caucus calling on Masualle to sign it into law urgently so it can start being applied during the summer initiation season, which started last week.

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