The Summer Initiation Season has left behind 17 deaths throughout the Eastern Cape Province, although the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Fikile Xasa is relieved that numbers are on a three-year low. According to a nine-year review by Xasa’s department, the following is the breakdown of circumcision-related deaths:
Year Number of Deaths
1. December 2009 36 initiates
2. December 2010 21 initiates
3. December 2011 36 initiates
4. December 2012 25 initiates
5. December 2013 43 initiates
6. December 2014 28 initiates
7. December 2015 46 initiates
8. December 2016 31 initiates
9. December 2017 17 initiates
For 2017, OR Tambo had nine deaths, Alfred Nzo two, Joe Gqabi one, BCMM one, Chris Hani one and Amathole three deaths.
The review also found that of 13 of the dead boys were at least 18 and had been in a legal initiate school, while three were under 18 and had attended illegal school. According to Xasa, the causes of death often include septicemia, gangrene, dehydration, suicide, renal failure and assault.
“One death is one too many hence the deaths are unnecessary and can be avoided through the collaboration between parents, key role players and co-ordination structures in all municipalities,” he said. The MEC added that the Customary Male Initiation Practice Act empowers all key role players to work together to “protect life, prevent injuries and prevent the physical and mental abuse of initiates.”
The Act ensures that traditional leaders take the primary responsibility for male initiation within their areas of jurisdiction in partnership with the provincial government and all other key stakeholders. The Act is there to protect our customary male initiation so that it is practiced within the confines of the Constitution and any
He added that in cases where there are clear signs of assault and dehydration, members of the SAPS must make arrests as soon as possible.
“Any person found to have physically abused, assaulted, disseminated liquor or denied an initiate access to clean drinking water is guilty of an applicable offence as stipulated in the Act,” Xasa said, “This includes admitting a child below the age of 18 years to an initiation school must be arrested and have his or her day in court.”
He commended the work done by the monitoring teams which have resulted in the closure of illegal schools, rescue of initiates and referral to hospitals.
“The number of deaths could have been higher, thanks to the work of the teams. Going forward our plans should focus on the hot spot areas. Matatiele and Mount Fletcher are on our list of priorities to raise awareness about the provisions of the Act and the consequences for non-compliance,” he said.
He added that he was aware that some parents have come forward to open cases against people who have circumcised their underage boys. In Mdantsane for instance a parent and an iingcibi appeared in court after they were charged with circumcising a boy aged below 18 years.
The MEC said the challenges in OR Tambo and in KSD areas in particular include;
- Gross overcrowding in most of the legal initiation schools with initiates numbers ranging from 100 to 300.
- Initiates being cut and immediately taken by relatives elsewhere unknown.
- Ill-treatment of initiates resulting in complications like septicemia and gangrene
- Refusing modern health care interventions in some initiation schools.
- Use of houses as Initiation schools in KSD which makes it difficult to trace illegal schools.
He said there was need for a data-base of all initiates who have been given permission to
undergo the ritual to assist in tracking the boys and the schools.