Winter initiation starts ... and the young suffer and die

A group of initiates at a initiation school in Libode, outside Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. A number of initiates have been reported dead and many hospitalised during the initiation season.Picture:Leon Sadiki/Citypress
A group of initiates at a initiation school in Libode, outside Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. A number of initiates have been reported dead and many hospitalised during the initiation season.Picture:Leon Sadiki/Citypress

As winter circumcision starts, parents, traditional leaders and officials are calling for crackdown on surgeons targeting underage boys

A seven-year-old boy is one of the victims of illegal circumcision in the Eastern Cape.

Several incidents of illegal circumcisions were reported in the province even before the winter initiation season had started.

The season was officially opened only last Tuesday at EmaXesibeni by cooperative governance and traditional affairs (COGTA) MEC Xolile Nqatha and Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders of South Africa chairperson, Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana.

A 35-year-old man and six others have already been arrested in different parts of the province for illegally circumcising under-aged boys.

Mamkeli Ngam, Cogta provincial spokesperson, said three people were arrested in Buffalo City, three in the OR Tambo region and one in Mhlontlo for allegedly carrying out illegal circumcisions.

“These arrests prove that our teams are ready to roll and to make sure that traditional surgeons [iingcibi] who break the law get arrested. Our approach this season is that arrests must be effected, coupled with successful prosecution,” said Ngam.

He said of concern was that the circumcised boys were increasingly way below the prescribed legal age for circumcision of 18.

Ngam said in Scenery Park in East London, boys aged between 12 and 14 had been circumcised by bogus and unscrupulous traditional surgeons “who are only interested in financial gain from the rite”.

Last week, six under-aged initiates [abakhwetha] were rescued from an illegal initiation school in Lusikisiki, said Ngam.

He said the traditional surgeon who circumcised the six boys ran away and police were still searching for him.

“We want to emphasise the rule of law, and those that break the law will be arrested. We want to make sure that all traditional surgeons who break the law are held accountable. We are also calling on parents to report cases of their children who are illegally circumcised so that the law can take its course,” said Ngam.

With the winter initiation season now under way and schools closing, hundreds of boys are expected to undergo traditional initiation [ulwaluko] in the coming weeks.

Preparations are already under way to monitor initiation schools [amabhoma] around the province. A budget of R20 million has been set aside for this season and 81 bakkies have been made available by the state.

Nonkonyana said their only goal was zero deaths in the province.

Last year 19 initiates died during the winter initiation season, while 23 died during the summer initiation period in December.

Nonkonyana said traditional leaders have been having campaigns during the off season, which included visiting schools, and door-to-door visits to homesteads and churches to raise awareness.

“We want to do everything possible to ensure that we eliminate these unnecessary deaths. We believe that the rite of ulwaluko [traditional initiation] is not supposed to kill anyone,” said Nonkonyana.

He said it was disturbing that people were defying the law, which states that boys should be 18 and older before they can undergo traditional initiation.

“The sore point is that the parents seem to leave this thing in the hands of traditional leaders and our initiation forums. I think there is a need for each and every parent to be involved in the interest of the welfare of the initiates. Few parents report these things, hence we are determined to amend the law so that parents who fail to report these [cases] can be criminally liable and be charged,” he said.

Nonkonyana said many traditional leaders in the villages were inundated with boys who were prepared to follow the correct channels and were seeking permission to undergo initiation from their chiefs, including going through the mandatory medical pre-screening.

He said it was appalling that a seven-year-old was a victim of a bogus surgeon.

Meanwhile, a distraught father from Zibungu in Libode has called for the arrest of controversial and notorious bogus traditional surgeon, Mtshiyelwa “Mtshayina” Ndoda, who has been circumcising under-aged boys for years but has somehow managed to evade arrest.

The father said his 12-year-old son was one of several boys who were circumcised by Ndoda recently, allegedly without their parents’ consent.

“This old man [Ndoda] is finishing [killing] our children every year yet there is nothing being done by the community or the government about that. We are asking for justice in Libode, especially in Zibungu and for Mtshayina to be arrested and our children rescued from him,” said the concerned father, who cannot be named to protect his underage son.

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