It’s all systems go for the summer initiation season in the Eastern Cape, which officially began this past Thursday.
Thousands of boys are expected to flock to traditional initiation schools, following intense lobbying by the Eastern Cape government and traditional leaders for the rituals to take place in the province.
This was after the practice was suspended early this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, even before Thursday, at least five initiates (abakhwetha) had already died in the province’s OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts due to botched circumcisions.
The five included the first initiate to die this year in Gxulu, in the Nyandeni Local Municipality, under the OR Tambo district, last month.
The other four initiates passed more than a week ago.
Mamkeli Ngam, spokesperson for the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs in the Eastern Cape, called on parents to play a leading role in the initiation (ulwaluko) of their sons.
He said government’s role was merely that of providing support to parents and traditional leaders, who were the custodians of the practice.
Ngam said the four initiates who had died had undergone ulwaluko immediately after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that initiations could proceed only in the Eastern Cape this summer.
They had not waited for the official opening date of the season.
Ngam said a bogus ingcibi (traditional surgeon) was arrested in Port Elizabeth last week after illegally circumcising three boys, despite initiations being banned in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which has been declared by government as a Covid-19 hotspot.
Another man was arrested in Ezibeleni in Komani (formerly Queenstown) after he had illegally circumcised his younger brother using an okapi knife, said Ngam.
He added that a big influx of initiates was expected this summer season, as many boys had had to wait for Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted.
“We are also aware that there’s been a lot of eagerness among parents and communities in general to have their sons undergo ulwaluko, so the numbers could be bigger than normal,” Ngam said.
“However, we’re ready to offer support in hotspot areas, although ulwaluko isn’t a government initiative. It’s the responsibility of parents and ourselves to assist and intervene through monitoring teams. But on our side, it’s all systems go,” said Ngam.
The screening and testing of initiates, amakhankatha (traditional nurses) and ingcibi was ongoing to ensure they were fit to take part in the practice, he added.
The medical screening, which included a Covid-19 test, was what determined whether a boy could undergo the ritual.
“Boys who test positive for Covid-19 won’t be allowed to undergo traditional male initiation.
“We’re expecting parents to comply so that those who test positive are isolated. They can only be circumcised when they’ve fully recovered and have tested negative,” he said.
Ngam said 17 candidate initiates had already tested positive for the virus in Buffalo City and had been turned away from initiation schools.
“Our teams are monitoring amabhoma [traditional initiation schools] by doing spot checks and will be going around testing initiates at the schools,” Ngam said.
Cooperative governance and traditional affairs member of the executive council Xolile Nqatha condemned the recent deaths of initiates.
Nqatha said that government had not taken over the responsibility of sending boys to initiation schools from their parents.
“It remains parents’ responsibility before, during and after ulwaluko to take care of their children.
“As parents, we must guide our sons as they navigate to full and mature manhood. We appeal to parents and families to work together by following the regulations of lockdown alert level 1 to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 … Our government commits, as we always do, to continue using our authority to stamp out illegal amabhoma,” said Nqatha.