South Africa: Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders Calls for a Safe Winter Initiation Season

Group of Xhosa initiates (file photo).
14 June 2022
Provincial Government of South Africa
press release

The CEO of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, Mr Mzwethemba Nkantsu, has called on all involved in the winter initiation season, including initiation schools, parents, health workers, NGO partners and others to work together to ensure that the 2022 winter initiation season takes place safely without putting the health and lives of young men at risk.

The Eastern Cape winter initiation season commence on 17 June 2022, and approximately 40 000 young men are expected to undergo customary male initiation (CMI) this year.

Says Nkantsu, "This is a sacred and serious time for young men and they deserve to go through initiation safely and without fear. We want them to emerge from this important process as healthy men who are ready to become responsible, successful adults. We live by our philosophy of Masibuyele kundalashe; mabaye bephila, babuye bephilile, siyazingca ngesiko lethu – our culture is sacred, let our young men go to initiation schools and return as healthy and responsible men.

 Reasons for death rates

"We established that there are six main reasons for initiation death rates in the Eastern Cape. These include illegal schools, pre-existing medical conditions, dehydration which is based on a myth that if you don't drink your circumcision wound will heal faster, increased drug and alcohol use by both initiates and traditional surgeons and nurses at initiation schools, poor and unhygienic conditions and the spread of HIV and viral hepatitis."

Interventions to prevent issues

To address and prevent these issues, the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders has instituted important interventions parents, teachers and community leaders need to help implement:

  • · A health screening for initiates from 10 June 2022, before they proceed to initiation schools which allows for any potential health issues including COVID-19, to be picked up and dealt with.
  • · Education about the types of emergency support available to all initiates in case there are any adverse outcomes.

In the Eastern Cape, the traditional rite of passage is guided by the Customary Male Initiation Act 2 of 2021. Initiation is more than merely the circumcision procedure. Initiation is a complex series of cultural practices allowing senior, respected figures in the community to communicate values and ways of living through psychological, social and symbolic interactions and teachings to young men from the age of 18.

Nkantsu says that, "In addition, district initiation forums visit initiation schools to establish whether the CMI Act is adhered to as well as culturally appropriate medical staff who do on-site and post-initiation checks. We need the community to report illegal schools and anything that may be threatening to the safety of the initiates.

"We are also working with SAPS, the Department of Social Development, and trusted NGO partners to improve the safety of the initiation process. In this regard, The ECHOTL has partnered with Right to Care in OR Tambo, Amathole and Alfred Nzo districts and the Population Services International in Chris Hani and Buffalo City districts. Together with our NGO partners, we are ensuring that circumcision is performed in a manner that does not contaminate our culture or tradition.

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