Laws alone cannot keep initiates safe

The Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders says there will never be enough government intervention and legislation to prevent the death of initiates until there are behavioural changes in their families.

The general manager for the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, Mzwethemba Nkantsu, said the government has done a lot to regulate how circumcision initiation is conducted throughout the province and is currently considering inputs to amend the provincial Initiation Act to align it with national legislation.

The Eastern Cape runs two initiation seasons: the winter initiation season, which has started but is expected to reach full swing during the school winter holidays; and the summer initiation season, which runs from late November through December and
January.

Both seasons have been characterized by increasing numbers of senseless deaths of young men during this passage to manhood. About 48 young men lost their lives during the summer initiation season.

Nkantsu said many families neglected their responsibilities and delegated their roles to traditional surgeons, traditional nurses and the government.

“The conviction rate when it comes to death of initiates is low, not because culprits don’t get arrested. They get arrested but families withdraw charges, sometimes due to a pressure from the community. They don’t follow up on court processes.

“Every season we see incidents of botched circumcisions, initiates being assaulted and being denied food and water,” said Nkantsu.

Some of the proposals that have been put forward as part of the amended bill include permitting boys from the age of 16 to be legally admitted into initiation schools and allowing active involvement of medical practitioners at the initiation schools.

Those 18 years and older will be able to attend initiation schools without getting consent from their parents.

The minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs will also determine the fee payable by parents.

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