Barely a week into the Eastern Cape’s summer initiation season and three initiates have already died.
The province’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs department (Cogta) spokesperson, Mamkeli Ngam, said they were shocked by the deaths so early on.
Two of the initiates, Thembelihle Mapasa and Siphelele Bobo, both 20, died in Centane in the Amathole district this week.
One died on Thursday and the other on Friday, the day this year’s summer initiation season officially launched.
Ngam said Mapasa was circumcised on November 6 and Bobo on November 7.
The third initiate, Tshepiso Nksoesa (18), died on Thursday after he become ill at an initiation school near Matatiele.
He started vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea.
Ngam said no one had been arrested in connection with the deaths in Centane, which were believed to have been caused by dehydration.
He said Cogta MEC Fikile Xasa sent officials from the department to conduct an investigation into what happened.
Ngam said parents of initiates need to take more responsibility with regard to which initiation schools their children are sent to.
“We are disappointed. Ours is to intervene and remind parents about their role because the issue of ukwaluka [traditional initiation] is a family and parental responsibility, with the support of the community and traditional leadership institutions,” Ngam said.
“We can only continue to encourage parents to take the issue of ukwaluka seriously. There cannot be a situation where they completely outsource the initiation of their children.
“Parents and families must support one another so that they are next to their children at initiation school 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to avoid these unnecessary deaths.”
Ngam said in instances where initiates show signs of illness, they must be immediately taken to a doctor.
“We are here to save lives and to protect the dignity and sacredness of traditional initiation,” he said.
There were no reported deaths in the OR Tambo region so far, which is usually a hot spot for initiation deaths during the summer season.
Nkosi Mkhanyiseli Dudumayo, provincial secretary of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA said a traditional surgeon (ingcibi) was arrested on Thursday in the OR Tambo region after he allegedly circumcised a 16-year-old boy. Only males above the age of 18 are allowed to undergo traditional initiation by law.
“We are shocked by the deaths because we always strive and hope that there would be no deaths of children in initiation schools, but we are glad that law enforcement is coming to the party because in Nyandeni, Libode – which falls under the OR Tambo district – there is a traditional surgeon who was arrested on Thursday for illegally circumcising an underage boy,” Dudumayo said.
Meanwhile, during last year’s summer season, 17 initiates died in initiation schools across the province, mostly in the OR Tambo region.
Last year’s winter season saw one of the lowest death rates in the past decade, with 11 recorded deaths, six of which were a result of fire at an initiation school in Qumbu.
However, the numbers started climbing again in June this year, with 19 initiates reported dead in traditional initiation schools around the province during the winter initiation season.