Cogta calls for zero deaths as initiation season kicks off

JUNE 3, 2016

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Des van Rooyen says parents must ensure that their boys  return home safely by only using legal initiation schools. In 2015, around 40 initiates died in the mountains of the Eastern Cape.

“Safety of our young men and boys is not the sole responsibility of government but a societal responsibility.

“Responsible schools will not take any boy without the consent of his parents and only operate within government health guidelines,” said the Minister on Thursday during a media briefing on the winter initiation season.

The Ministry today launched a Zero Deaths Campaign in initiation schools, as the winter initiation season is already underway.

Government is on a mission to curb the loss of lives of initiates, who go through the cultural practice to transition into adulthood.

Minister Van Rooyen said approximately 101 initiates lost their lives during the 2015 winter and summer initiation seasons, and most cases were recorded in the Eastern Cape.

“We can no longer afford to fold our arms while the young initiates continue to die or are forever disfigured,” he said.

Many lives at initiation schools are destroyed due to botched procedures. The Minister said the department will continue to work with the Justice Cluster to ensure that those who kidnap young men, and those who open initiation schools illegally and for commercialisation reasons are dealt with accordingly.

“We cannot allow [a situation] where people who are not well trained and not experienced abuse initiates and treat them inhumanly, which results in the deaths of initiates,” said Minister van Rooyen.

Early in May, despite a statement of caution from the National House of Traditional Leaders urging parents not to send their boys for circumcision this winter, the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders had on the same day reportedly announced that it is ready for the winter 2016 circumcision season.

The winter circumcision season commences as the boys are finished with their mid-year exams.

40 initiates die in Eastern Cape in 2015

In December 2015, the Eastern Cape Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) announced 40 initiates had died in the mountains.

According to the department, 15 initiates were killed in the Chris Hani District Municipality, eight in Joe Gqabi, six in Alfred Nzo, six in OR Tambo, four in Amathole and one in the Buffalo City District Municipality.

In line with the circular issued by Cogta MEC Fikile Xasa at the beginning of the 2015 season outlining the responsibilities and obligations of traditional leaders to curb deaths, all traditional leaders in areas where deaths occurred were expected to provide full accounts.

MEC Xasa also said the number of illegal initiation schools continues to grow with some underage children undergoing the ritual without parental consent.

Many of the initiates died due to dehydration because traditional nurses including family members refuse to give water to initiates. Other deaths are as a result of assaults and septicaemia.

MEC Xasa said these could have been avoided if there was constant monitoring and immediate referral to hospitals of the sick by parents and amakhankatha (traditional nurses).

The MEC added that without the support from various stakeholders, including traditional initiation forums, traditional leaders and the Departments of Health and Social Development among others, there could have been more deaths.

“Our monitoring teams reached out to more than 10 000 initiates of which in excess of 300 were rescued and sent to hospitals and traditional centres,” said the MEC then.

Government getting more involved

There have been growing calls to reform the initiation rites, which have seen many young men being permanently dismembered or worse, losing their lives in the mountains – especially at illegal initiation schools that spring up at the start of the season. Some have even suggested that the circumcision takes places at hospitals and clinics.