Traditional leaders fume over initiation suspension

accreditation
0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Authorities have banned the summer initiation season due to a resurgence of Covid-19 infections in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Denvor de Wee
Authorities have banned the summer initiation season due to a resurgence of Covid-19 infections in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Denvor de Wee

NEWS


Government seems to be reconsidering its decision to suspend the summer initiation season after receiving a backlash from traditional leaders who raised their concerns about the ban.

On Thursday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, met with the SA National Civic Organisation with police management and the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders in Port Elizabeth to discuss the implications of a continued ban on traditional initiation (ulwaluko).

The meeting took place only a few days after Deputy Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Obed Bapela raised the ire of traditional leaders when he announced that ulwaluko would remain suspended due to fears that Covid-19 safety protocols might not be observed at traditional initiation schools.

“Minister Dlamini-Zuma and I are satisfied that adequate attention is being given to this matter by the provincial government, traditional leaders and the different departments,” said Mkhize.

He added that they expected a submission from traditional leaders next week on how they planned to adhere to Covid-19 safety protocols during initiation. This would be discussed by Cabinet. A risk-adjusted approach would inform the decision of whether traditional initiations should proceed during the summer season.

The traditional initiation rite of passage to manhood was first suspended in March this year at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown, which affected the winter initiation season.

Mkhize said government had already highlighted a number of issues that needed to be addressed in the submission by traditional leaders, including the rate of Covid-19 infections in specific areas and the need for every centre involved to be reported to avoid the death of initiates.

“But we’re quite confident that there’s been adequate consultation on the matter and that this will continue with the support of the provincial government. So, for now, we’re awaiting a report and will submit it to Cabinet for consideration. Thereafter, a decision will be made and communicated,” said Mkhize.

The traditional initiation rite of passage to manhood was first suspended in March this year at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown, which affected the winter initiation season.

Fears that a continued suspension would result in the mushrooming of bogus initiation schools around the Eastern Cape have been justified, with some illegal initiation schools already identified and shut down early this week in Mdantsane, East London, and other parts of the province.

At least one initiate has died in the OR Tambo district in Gxulu, near Libode, after undergoing illegal traditional initiation.

This week, Bapela warned that those who practised traditional initiation despite the ban would be dealt with severely.

Read: HIV and circumcision: How Covid-19 has disrupted the programme

He said the decision to temporarily suspend initiations was not made lightly in view of the risks associated with the virus. This, he said, still posed a big risk to human life.

“The process to suspend the initiation included broader consultations with various sectors across the country. To this effect, we continue urging our traditional leaders and communities to observe the suspension of initiation. We all have to educate communities about the dangers of the coronavirus, especially as it relates to this important cultural practice,” said Bapela.

“To this end, government and all stakeholders will not tolerate bogus initiation schools or anyone found to be disobeying the order of initiation suspension in the wake of Covid-19. Those caught running illegal initiation schools will face the full force of the law, in line with Disaster Management Act regulations.”

The Eastern Cape government also reiterated this week that the suspension of traditional initiations was still in place and had to be respected.

“We note the announcement by some of our traditional leaders that they would proceed with ulwaluko in the Eastern Cape. We wish to remind all the people of our province that ulwaluko remains suspended here and around the country until further notice by government.”

Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said: “Anyone who practises or undergoes ulwaluko while it’s still suspended by government will be embarking on an illegal action. We’ll continue closing down illegal structures set up for initiations, and those people guilty of breaking the law will be prosecuted.”

The Eastern Cape government also reiterated this week that the suspension of traditional initiations was still in place and had to be respected. Picture: Leon Sadiki

Traditional leaders welcomed the announcement by Mkhize that government would revisit its decision on continuing the initiation season, but labelled Bapela’s threat as irresponsible.

Nkosi Langa Mavuso, acting chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, said they were happy that government was still considering the matter. He said their biggest fear as traditional leaders was that there would be many illegal initiation schools popping up once schoolboys finished writing their year-end exams.

He said that after they had made a decision as a province to open initiation schools, they had submitted a risk-adjusted strategy to Cabinet several weeks ago.

“What’s contained in that risk-adjusted strategy is that every boy must be tested for Covid-19, as will ingcibi [traditional surgeons] and amakhankatha [traditional nurses]. We said parents should supervise their initiates and ensure they were in well-ventilated initiation schools where safety protocols were adhered to,” explained Mavuso.

He said the traditional leaders wanted parents to take responsibility for their sons’ lives, adding that there were hospital wards set aside for Covid-19-positive initiates. He said the minister of health had received certain queries about the risk-adjusted strategy, which they had since addressed and it would be sent back to Mkhize for Cabinet’s consideration.

We note the announcement by some of our traditional leaders that they would proceed with ulwaluko in the Eastern Cape. We wish to remind all the people of our province that ulwaluko remains suspended here and around the country until further notice by government
Eastern Cape government

Mavuso said areas like the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, which had been identified as a resurging Covid-19 hotspot, would not be allowed to practise traditional initiations.

“Those who want to undergo traditional initiation should only be allowed to do so under strict Covid-19 safety protocols. We’re also observing that numbers of positive cases are increasing in the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, which might result in initiations not being allowed there. Where there’s a resurgence or second wave of infections, we’ll close initiation schools,” said Mavuso.

Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, chairperson of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, said they planned to comply with the Covid-19 safety protocols and the laws governing traditional initiations in the Eastern Cape.

“We’re expecting to get a positive response from government by Wednesday,” said Nonkonyana.

He added that the mushrooming of illegal initiation schools was a huge concern for traditional leaders and they feared the situation might get out of control.


facebook
twitter
linkedin
instagram

Lubabalo Ngcukana 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
lubabalo.ngcukana@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24

E-Editions

Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
Were the knee-jerk travel bans imposed on SA following our detection of the Omicron variant necessary?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
We are being punished
49% - 66 votes
Rather safe than sorry
29% - 40 votes
They have every right
22% - 30 votes
Vote