Cultural practices that violate human rights must be addressed, President Cyril Ramaphosa said to the National House of Traditional Leaders on Tuesday.
In his annual address to the house, Ramaphosa said once it becomes law, the Customary Initiation Bill, currently before the National Council of Provinces, should serve as a critical empowering law to regulate the practice of customary initiation.
"We need to address the abuse of cultural practices that result in the violation of human rights," Ramaphosa said.
"Customary initiation is a rite of passage for our young people to manhood and adulthood.
"But it has become increasingly infiltrated by unscrupulous people and many young men are being maimed or lose their lives.
"It cannot be that every year we sit here and say the same thing about more needing to be done but the death toll continues to rise."
He urged traditional leaders "as custodians of culture" to take the practice back into their hands and improve it.
"We further call on you to work with the South African Police Service to ensure those who are involved in these unscrupulous practices are arrested and charged. This includes forceful abductions to initiation schools," Ramaphosa said.
He also said more must be done for the empowerment of women and to end all forms of gender-based violence and femicide.
"As we said in the State of the Nation Address, the empowerment of women is critical to inclusive economic growth," Ramaphosa said.
"We want all women, rural and urban, to participate in and benefit from platforms such as SheTradesZA, which aims to connect women-owned businesses to global value chains and markets.
"Women need to benefit from all funding initiatives introduced by various government departments."
Ramaphosa said that in July 2018 the National House of Traditional Leaders established a task team to work on the powers and functions of traditional leaders, supported by officials from the traditional affairs department. It was now expected that consultation on the draft will be held within government.
"These are complex matters that should be afforded enough attention and time," Ramaphosa said.
"There is also the matter of succession disputes, which continue to demean the institution of traditional leadership."
He said the provincial houses of traditional leaders, with the help of the traditional affairs department, is required to document all customary laws of succession and the genealogies of all traditional leadership.
"This will help in curbing the number of traditional leadership disputes."
He said traditional leadership has its own internal mechanisms to resolve disputes. He added that the houses of traditional leaders must ensure that these mechanisms are applied so that disputes are not referred to the courts prematurely.
"A significant milestone has been achieved since we last met," Ramaphosa said. "In November, I signed the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill into law."
This was met with applause from traditional leaders.
"For the first time, we have a piece of legislation that provides for the recognition of Khoi and San leadership.
"We will soon determine the date on which this important act will take effect so that the actual work of implementation can take place."
Critics of the bill said last year, when Ramaphosa signed it into law, it will effectively re-establish apartheid-era bantustans.
Ramaphosa's address will be debated by the House on Thursday.