Summer initiation season still suspended: Cogta

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Young men at an initiation school in Port Elizabeth.
Young men at an initiation school in Port Elizabeth.
GALLO IMAGES: Graeme Williams

It's normally a busy time of the year. The first set of boys would already be in the various initiation schools and their families would be preparing a feast for the day they come back.

Relatives from far and near would be invited and the whole neighbourhood would rejoice when a boy comes back a man from the bush.  

But then 2020 happened and everything changed. 

This year's initiation seasons have been put on hold to do the rampant rise of infections of the coronavirus. 

Traditional affairs deputy minister Obed Bapela has announced that just like the winter initiation season was suspended because of Covid-19, so has the summer initiation season.

“As a country, we are urged to remain vigilant and do more to contribute to the fight against Covid-19 and to protect initiates from exposure to this unrelenting brutal virus. Our resolve to continue with the suspension will go a long way to set South Africa on course to defeat Covid-19 which still a major cause of deaths across the country as numbers have been rising at an alarming rate. To this end, it is deemed necessary to temporarily maintain the suspension of the initiation practices,” the deputy minister says.

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He says the decision to continue the suspension was not taken lightly, but it is necessary to save lives.

“In recent weeks we have seen cluster spikes of infections in numerous areas across the country signalling the dreaded possibility of a resurgence. In light of this, the country has to take the necessary precautions to curtail any potential of exposing initiates to conditions that might place them in vulnerable positions in respect of contracting the Coronavirus.

“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,” he says.

In his statement, the deputy minister also assured members of the public that government would condemn any bogus initiation schools or those contravening the Covid-19 regulations.

“To this end, government and all stakeholders will not tolerate bogus initiation schools and anyone who is found to be disobeying the order of initiation suspension in the wake of COVID-19. For those caught running illegal initiation schools will face the full might of the law in line with Disaster Management Act regulations. With infection numbers increasing again, let’s work together to defeat Coronavirus,” he adds.

Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) general-secretary Zolani Mkiva could not comment on the announcement saying they still need to “apply” their minds.

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The deputy minister’s announcement comes after the House of Traditional Leaders in the Eastern Cape had asked the ban be lifted so that there will be no “mushrooming of illegal schools”.

Nkosi Langa Mavuso, acting chairperson of the house, was quoted by Health-e News saying they would not allow initiation schools to operate in areas where Covid-19 numbers were increasing.

“We will not allow circumcision to take place at Joe Gqabi, Alfred Nzo, and the Nelson Mandela Bay municipalities, because of high numbers of Covid-19 cases in those areas.”

In their proposal to reopen initiation schools under Covid-19 restrictions, Mavuso says the the ingcibi (the man responsible for the circumcision) and ikhankatha  (the guardian of the initiates) must wear masks. To adhere to social distancing rules, only two initiates will be allowed in a hut.

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