Once again the 2017 winter season has unleashed many hopefuls who aspire to be responsible citizens by being inducted into manhood or womanhood. Young men and women who still hold this tradition dear and respect it, volunteer themselves to walk this sacred journey and experience has also shown that both men and women are eager to undergo through this cultural practice.
For generations, Africans have always held that the only way to be a real man is to go to a traditional initiation schools. Traditional male initiation is regarded as a sacred and indispensable cultural rite intended to prepare initiates for the responsibilities of adulthood and community wellbeing. In many traditional initiation ceremonies, boys and men are educated about their responsibilities and duties as adult members in their communities.
The Constitution of South Africa establishes a right to ‘participate in the cultural life of choice. The Children’s Act (No. 38 of 2005) allows for the circumcision of males over 16 years of age, with consent and carried out in the prescribed manner. In this instance, the intention of the law is to allow for traditional circumcision of boys over 16 who belong to groups in which the practice is customary. This represents a legal concession to particular cultural groups.
CoGTA Deputy Minister, honourable Obed Bapela indicated that South Africans have particularly every reason and strong grounds for ensuring cultural rights, based on our historical experience of oppression. In the past, indigenous cultures were denigrated, suppressed and regarded as primitive. This negative treatment was seen by Africans as an attack on indigenous cultures and also an assault on the dignity and identity of many. Given this historical injustice, it is exceptionally important that people have their dignity restored by being able to practise their culture and embrace their identity.
To this effect, 2017 like every other year has seen thousands of youths embark on this road through various initiation schools in provinces taking part in this cultural practice:
- Eastern Cape Province;
- Free State Province;
- KwaZulu-Natal COGTA and Provincial House of Traditional Leaders;
- Gauteng Province;
- Limpopo Province;
- Northern Cape Province;
- Mpumalanga Province; and
- Western Cape Province.
Preparations for this season has been done and the National Initiation Task Team that is chaired by the Deputy Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders called a meeting on 24 March 2017 to assess the state of readiness from provinces for the 2016/2017 summer initiation season and assessed the state of readiness for the coming 2017 winter initiation season.
The meeting was attended by among others, the following:
- National House of Traditional Leaders;
- Free State Provincial House of Traditional Leaders and Free State COGTA;
- Gauteng COGTA;
- Mpumalanga Provincial House of Traditional Leaders and Provincial COGTA;
- Limpopo Provincial House of Traditional Leaders;
- North West CATA;
- Department of Health;
- The South African Police Services (National);
- Ekurhuleni Local Municipality;
- Right to Care;
- Human Sciences Research Council.
The Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Honorable Des van Rooyen called upon parents, legal guardians and communities to walk this initiation journey alongside their children, guided by the theme – “We Love Our Tradition, We Value Life of Our Youth” in pursuit of the “Zero Deaths” campaign.
Tragically, to some, this quest for manhood or womanhood comes with a heavy price to pay. Sometimes, scores of these initiates experience medical complications and require treatment for, among other things, septicemia, gangrene, severe dehydration, genital mutilation, penile amputations and deaths.
It is disappointing that at the start of the winter initiation season, there are already deaths of this future leaders reported in various provinces. In Mpumalanga, where initiates went to various initiation schools on 24 May 2017, six (6) precious lives were lost – (3 boys and 3 girls). The year 2017 in Mpumalanga constitutes the fourth year in which male initiates enroll in large numbers, it is somewhat heartening to note this lower death rate compared to 2013, when more than 30 male initiates lost their lives in the same province during the winter season.
Even though there is an improvement, Minister van Rooyen said that this is still a major problem and all stakeholders should come together to address it as one death is one too many. Nevertheless, the Minister expressed his appreciation for the parents, traditional leaders and all Mpumalanga stakeholders for their improved effort in reducing the number of fatalities.
The rest of the Provinces are at the beginning of their initiation season and already there are unfortunate reports of initiates’ deaths reported – Five (5) in the Eastern Cape and one (1) in Western Cape. “As government, we convey our sincerest condolences to the bereaved families”, said Minister van Rooyen.
There are also disturbing reports of the mushrooming of illegal initiation schools and abductions of youths by unscrupulous people who are only looking at making money in this period. Deputy Minister Bapela called on all South Africans to unite against bogus p initiation schools that contribute to the high rate of deaths of initiates that we have been recording in many season. The Department of Traditional Affairs will continue to work together with all stakeholders to ensure that bogus schools shut down and perpetrators arrested and prosecuted. CoGTA leadership working together with other stakeholders will conduct unannounced visits to a number of provinces as part of the interventions and monitoring. This visits are part of the process and efforts to crack down and bring to book the perpetrators of such crimes during initiation season to book.
As CoGTA we are encouraged by a greater political will from across the country in dealing with the challenges inherent in the management of initiation schools. Traditional leaders as the custodians of our cultures and traditions also bear much responsibility which they have thus far embraced and are playing a leadership role. Deputy Minister Bapela urged others to also play their part in ensuring the safety of all initiates and called upon the partnership with various stakeholders both within and outside of government. Together, we should recognise the urgent need for action so as to find ways of protecting this sacred cultural practice and ensure the health and well-being of initiates.
Even though this situation creates a moral dilemma, on the one hand, the right of people to participate in their cultural practices ought to be protected, but not at the expense of other important right, “like the right to life”. This therefore means that initiates should be protected at all times to ensure that this cultural practice continues into generations to come. Protecting initiates does not imply that the practice should be abolished. To this effect, the Customary Initiation Bill is still going through Parliamentary process, will once enacted assist to regulate this age old traditional custom.
Communities are urged to report any illegal activities/unregistered initiation schools to the authorities for appropriate action. This could be done by going to the nearest police station or use the hotline number 0800 111 166.
Amidst all the challenges, there is a positive story unfolding today in the country. The initiation season of AmaNdebele of Nzunza has come to an end today (26 June 2017) with about 30 000 young men returning back home. The initiates have completed a period of two months guided by the lunar month. The new moon that was cited yesterday, marked the last day of the Amandebele initiation schools.
CoGTA congratulates all new amaSokana and urge them to put into practice their teachings and protect the vulnerable in our society, women, children and the elderly.
“Now that their initiation season is over, we encourage them to go back to school, catch up on lost time whilst they were learning culture, custom and customary law so that they can have a better future”, said Deputy Minister Bapela.
Minister van Rooyen congratulates Amandebele for completion of this sacred process and also wished all initiates a safe and productive winter initiation period across the country.
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