An illegal traditional surgeon has been found guilty of circumcising an underage boy.
Although their son emerged relatively unscathed after being circumcised without their consent in June at the age of 15, Andile and Yandiswa Payiya say they were traumatised by what happened.
Twenty-three young men died in the Eastern Cape’s summer initiation season, which ended last month.
The Payiyas’ son, Hlomla, was circumcised by Lelethu Zilibele (34), who was sentenced on Thursday to a fine of R8 000 and was given a three-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, by the East London Magistrates’ Court.
Andile said they were lucky their son did not die like so many others had at the hands of illegal traditional surgeons.
He said that, although he told his son back in early 2017 that he was too young and had to wait until he was 18 to undergo the rite, Zilibele recruited him for initiation.
Zilibele, he said, was a family friend from Ezigodweni village outside East London, and he knew him well.
“I did not expect him of all people to do something so cruel and criminal to my family,” Andile said.
Zilibele could have received a harsher sentence, but Magistrate Annemarie Elliot sentenced him for contravening the Traditional Circumcision Act of 2001, not for offences relating to the Customary Male Initiation Practice Act of 2016, which carries a stiffer sentence – a maximum fine of R20 000, 12 months in prison or both.
Andile, however, said he was satisfied with the sentence because he had nothing against the Zilibele family, though relations were tense after what had happened. Andile said what hurt him the most was that Zilibele had not apologised.
Zilibele told the court he circumcised about 20 initiates a season and charged them each R400 and a bottle of brandy.
He admitted to prosecutor Lerato Phakisi Nqinileyo that he had been operating as a bogus traditional surgeon since 2006 and did not have a permit to perform the rite.
Zilibele, who works as a security guard, told the court he was only 22 when he started circumcising youngsters in the East London area.
He conceded that illegal traditional surgeons were largely to blame for initiate deaths in the province.
Buffalo City Metro traditional initiation forum chairperson Nkosi Phakamile Makinana testified in aggravation of sentence that Zilibele should receive a harsher sentence to send a message to other illegal surgeons.
Zilibele’s lawyer, Phindile Ntoni, said his client was his family’s breadwinner who supported his mother, girlfriend and two children on his salary of R4 000 a month.
Elliot rejected earlier claims by Zilibele that he was forced by tsotsis to perform illegal circumcisions or that Hlomla begged him to circumcise him.
“What’s happening is pure criminality and has nothing to do with the traditional initiation practice,” she said.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Thepo Ndwalaza said the judgment was fair, but they would have preferred a harsher sentence.
“We are satisfied. Not necessarily happy, but satisfied with the decision of the court,” he said.
Fikile Xasa, the MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs in the Eastern Cape, said they were concerned that Zilibele was convicted under the old act and not under the new laws.
The Customary Male Initiation Practice Act was passed in 2016, after which the outdated law was repealed.
According to the new law, it is an offence for anyone to open an initiation school without written permission from the province’s health MEC, as well as written approval from the relevant traditional leadership.
The new law, passed before Hlomla’s illegal circumcision, requires a traditional surgeon to receive written permission from parents, bans the circumcision of underage boys and requires initiates to have a medical certificate from a doctor declaring him fit enough to undergo the ritual.
Eastern Cape cooperative governance and traditional affairs spokesperson Mamkeli Ngam said other illegal surgeons had been convicted and fined between 2017 and early last year, though he could not say how many.